Rurrenabaque and Madidi National Park (Chalalan Ecolodge)

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South America » Bolivia » Beni Department » Madidi
May 24th 2012
Published: June 21st 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

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 Video Playlist:

1: Rigo calling the spider monkeys 5 secs
The next morning, we got up early to get our taxi to La Paz airport. We ordered our breakfast for 8am (it cost a bit extra) but it didn´t come till 8.15. We rushed out to our taxi, after gulping down our breakfast and the owner of the hostel came out and gave us our money back!

We got our taxi to the airport and checked in. When it was time to board the plane we headed out onto the tarmac."Plane" is an overstatement. It was like a toy plane with propellers and held about 20 people. You couldn´t stand up straight in it! You could also see right into the cockpit- I still don´t know if that´s a good thing or a bad thing.

The flight started off bumpy, but once we levelled out we could enjoy the scenery of the Andes peaks. The flight was to be 35 minutes, but after about 25 minutes the plane turned around! The captain came over the intercom but we couldn´t really hear him the engine was so loud! There was an American man sitting in front of us who has lived in Bolivia for some time. He explained that the
view from the planeview from the planeview from the plane

The plane flew by the mountains. Anyone seen Alive? Im not scared of flying but this was ridiculous
panel was showing up that something was faulty, so they had to returned to La Paz. There was nobody in Rurre who could fix the plane (it basically lands in a field).

So a gruelling half hour later, we were back in the departures lounge at La Paz airport. A girl from our flight got so nervous she had to get oxygen when we got off the plane. We waited for over 2 hours and finally we were told we could get back on. Everyone was pretty nervous, one girl didn´t even get back on. However, we were relieved to hear that it was the panel that was faulty, not anything else.

The second flight to Rurre was a bit more nerve-wracking but we landed safely on a tarmac runway 35 minutes later. When the plane stopped we could see a group of people at the side waiting to get on- but no airport. We got off the plane and piled into a mini bus, with our backpacks tied to the top, and off we set for Rurre town. The plane took off with the returning passengers. Turns out the field they normally land on was flooded from the rain... the thought did occur to us as to why they don´t use the tarmac landing all the time!

The bus dropped us to the Amazonas office in Rurre, where we were met by a Chalalan staff member called Yed. He took us to the Chalalan offices just up the road to brief us for the following day. The champions league final was on the telly- Dave was glued to it- eventually Yed turned it off! Another couple, Mike and Sarah from Oregon were with us for the briefing. Yed showed us where we would be going and what we would be doing etc.

After that we got a bus to our hotel. Hotel Safari was lovely, facing the river, and even had a swimming pool. I went for a sleep while Dave watched the end of the match.

Dave then went for a swim in the pool then we got showered and headed to the town. We got vouchers for some local restaurants and bars from Amazsonas airlines, so we picked a restaurant called Juilianos. We had a great meal- and got a 12% ( 2 euro) discount!

We then wandered up to the

Or as Katie called them "big rats"
Moskkito Jungle Bar and got free Caiparihnas with our vouchers (for Caiparihnas see the Brazil blogs!).

We then had Pisco sours and Pina Coladas. THe rain came down so heavy every time we decided to leave so we ended up having more drinks than we intended. The Moskkito Bar was great, i was just a shed with a canopy over it and wooden tables and chairs. It burned down last February and they rebuilt it in 5 days. We managed to head home between showers (saw a toad on the way!) and headed to bed- we needed a good sleep as the bus was to pick us up at 7:30 the following morning!

The next morning we had breakfast in the hotel and the bus came to pick us up. We headed for the Chalalan offices where we met the others in our group. There were 3 other couples- Mike and Sarah, Katie and Simon from Sydney and Cecilia and Silvan from Paris.

We had a short walk to the banks of the Beni River where we boarded a dug out canoe. It was really comfortable with cushioned seats and a shade canopy. We got into the same canoe as Cecilia and Silvan, while the others got into a different canoe.

Our first stop was at a part of Rurre where the staff picked up supplies from the locals. We then headed upstream to the entrance of Madidi National Park, where we go our tickets and had to sign a declaration that we wouldn´t damage anything in the National Park.

After that, it was a 3 hour boat journey upstream. We saw Capybaras, Black Vultures and a Caiman.

We stopped for a snack on the banks of the river and got to know the others on the trip with us. Our snack was chicken, fruit, cake, sweets and Yuka (amazonian potato).

After our snack we got back on the canoe for another 2 hours. When we got off the boat there was a swarm of swallowtail butterflies on the bank. We grabbed our bags and started our 2km walk along the Jaguar Trail to the lodge.

It was so hot and humid, by the time we arrived we were knackered! We were welcomed by Will, the waiter, who had a tray of watermelon juice. Much needed!

We were organised into our lodges. Our lodge was lovely, with mosquito nets, a bathroom with a shower, and plenty of bottled water. There were no plugs, but a small strip light that was only to be used at night. The smell of polish was overpowering!

Wew headed back to the clearing where we arrived and into the dining room. Before going into any of the huts we had to take off our shoes so as not to ruin the polished floors. We had a great lunch, a full 3 courses. After that we had a nap before our first activity.

After all that we met our guide, Rigoberto, in the clearing for our first activity. He took us on a short trail through the woods. All the people who work at and run the Chalalan are indigenous Amazonians who are working to protect the rainforest. On our trail we first spotted some Waxeen birds who hang out by the lake. They are chunky birds with stubby wings so they can´t fly very far. We crossed a trail of busy leaf-cutter ants (see also Paraty blog!). Rigo told us that once a year the ant queens swarm. They are caught and roasted, then their backsides are cut off and eaten. This treats asthma and helps the tubes in the lungs open up.

We also saw these GIANT ants locally called "24 hour" ants. This is because when they bite you, you are in agony for 24 hours. We kept away from those. We also saw crickets, butterflies, bugs, cicadas...

That evening, after we showered and napped, there was a huge feast in the dining hut. We had local river catfish wrapped in heliconia leaves with garlic bark. The food was amazing. Afterwards, we chewed coca leaves. Coca is the plant cocaine comes from, and alot of people in Bolivia and Peru chew these leaves. Chewing the leaves keeps you alert, surpresses your apetite and is good for altitude sickness (if you´re high up). You take about 10 leaves and roll them into a ball with some baking soda, and put the ball in between your teeth and your cheek. The baking soda releases the alkaloides from the coca leaves.

Coca leaves also have spiritual attributes. We took 3 leaves and tore them 3 times. We then got a shot glass of hot milk, cinamon bark and liquor. We took these
Dancing at the Ecolodge traditional nightDancing at the Ecolodge traditional nightDancing at the Ecolodge traditional night

really tiring! I felt like a giant next to the locals
outside and threw the coca leaves onto the ground, as well as half of the drink. (the guides told us it was puma milk- but we don´t believe everything they tell us!). This ritual is done by the indigenous people as an offering to Pachamama (mother nature). THe indigenous people have a huge respect for the natural world, and before disturbing it (building it, walking on it etc) they make an offering to Pachamama to keep her sweet. After that a few of the staff started playing traditional music and we did some traditional dancing. We were so tired and warm by the end of it! We went to bed about 12 but we could still hear it going on till the wee hours.

The next morning we were up at 6:30am to be at breakfast for 7. At 8am we set off for our morning walk, along one of the trails. We saw a poison dart frog, we heard some howler monkeys (they sound really scary). We saw the bones of a howler monkey who was probably eaten by an ocelot. We saw a plant called açai, the brazilians drink the fruit juice of this tree, but the Bolivians use the bright-red roots to dye clothes. We also spotted a herd of wild pigs. We could smell them first, then hear them. We caught a glimpse of a few, but Rigo reckoned there were about 200 in the herd. Its difficult to see things in the dense forest. THey were drinking at the river and something spooked them so they charged. Luckily it wasn´t towards us, as these pigs are known to be really aggressive and pretty dangerous. We saw a garlic tree. THe bark contains the same compound as the garlic root we know, it was used in the cooking the previous night. We came across a hive of black bees. The local people allow the bees to fly into their hair and they bees eat their hair. We also saw a fig tree which was huuuuuge. The sap is used to kill a parasite that is carried by mosquitos. When the mosquitos bite you the eggs are left under your skin, and the youngsters hatch and eat your flesh. The sap kills this parasite, so the fig tree is really important to the indigenous people.

After lunch and our nap, we headed to the clearing

There were tonnes of fungi in Madidi, all different shapes sizes and colours. They contribute to the fast decay of dead material, making the rainforest more ecologically productive
to meet Rigo for our afternoon activity. While we waited for him, we relaxed in the hammocks on the porch of the dining hut. Next of all, I spotted a squirrel monkey out of the corner of my eye...and another one, and another one, and all of a sudden there were about 20 squirrel monkeys in the trees next to us, as well as about 40 capuchins. They were shaking the branches of the trees and the grapefruits were falling off, so we couldnt stand right under them just in case! They made so much racket and noise, and they hung around for a good half hour. On the boat trip, we spotted the same troop who were travelling along the banks of the lake in the trees. We saw lots of birds including Waxeens, an Amazon Kingfisher, a Tiger Heron, a Cormorant and we heard some Military Macaws calling in the distance. We also saw some Howler monkeys, who were way up in the canopy.

After dinner that night, we went on a night walk through the dense forest. We all had flashlights but it was pretty difficult to see where we were going! We saw so many
Howler monkey pelvisHowler monkey pelvisHowler monkey pelvis

Probably eaten by an ocelot- poor guy!
frogs out and about, as well as a chameleon. We wandered further into the forest and Rigo spotted a tarantulas burrow. We had to put all our lights out so he would come out. Pretty scary, as it was pitch black! Rigo got a stick and coaxed the spider out, and when we turned on our flashlights he was fully out of the burrow looking pretty scary. On we went, to a little stream where we saw the bright eyes of a caiman in the water. He was a pretty big one, but kept getting spooked by our lights, so again we had to keep turning them off so he would surface. Then Rigo started to wade through the water to get to the other side. We all followed him but I dont think I've ever been so scared in my life, the caiman was less than 10 feet away in the river! We got back to the clearing and had a cup of tea before bed (we're getting used to drinking black tea with no milk, its actually nice!).

That night, Dave wasn't feeling too well, and by the next morning, he was worse. So I went on the walk while Dave stayed in bed drinking tea that Rigo made him with 4 kinds of bark in it. It made him throw up. On the walk we saw social spiders who had spun a huge web and caught a massive beetle in it. We saw a huge green-backed beetle, aswell as scarlet macaws and termite mounds. Rigo could smell tapir scent, and found tracks that were less than an hour old...we really hoped we would see one! We could hear a troop of spider monkeys a good bit away, and Rigo called them and they called back. He reckoned the troop was a pretty big. We spotted some chestnut-fronted macaws flying overhead, but they were so far up! We also saw 2 toucans, again really high up so no photos!

In the afternoon Dave felt a bit better so after lunch (the kitchen staff cooked him plain rice) we headed off for the activity, which was a boat trip across the lake and a short walk to the "mirador" or lookout point. From the mirador we could see all across the lake, as well as the cloud forest in the distance, the natural habitat of the spectacled bear. We got chatting to Rigo up there and he was telling us that the national park is under threat, as the government plan to build a dam on the Beni river. This will prevent access to the park by boat, so the ecolodges will be inaccessible. The locals along the river will be forced to leave their land, and the wildlife in the river will be threatened. The government have also found oil under the park. The locals are angry because they own this land, but the government say they only own the top, not whats underneath. He seemed very worried about the whole thing, and doesn't know what they can do except protest. The ecolodge managers complained to the government about the damage it will do to the forest aswell as tourism and the local economy, and they invited government officials to come and stay at the lodge and see what they do. Instead, the government sent out police, accusing the ecolodge managers of processing and selling cocaine. The local communities do grow coca, but its just enough for the families to use, you wouldn't get much cocaine out of it! So the argument is ongoing, but Rigo
a hive of black beesa hive of black beesa hive of black bees

these bees are very important to the locals. They fly into your hair and eat it- giving you a haircut!
was not optimistic about the outcome.

We headed back to the lodge and had a bit of spare time before dinner, so myself, Dave, Mike, Sarah, Simon and Kate got some beers and sat at the lake and chilled out. We saw the stars come out; the Southern Cross, the Scorpion, and we saw the Milky Way. Simon and Kate had been in Chile and visited a star observatory, so they were able to tell us loads. We decided we were going to visit one when we went to Chile.

After dinner we went on our night boat trip, and saw an amazonian tree boa, as well as loads of baby caimans with their eyes lighting up. After the boat trip we were all pretty tired so we headed to bed. We had to be up early the next day to get our boat back to Rurre.

The next morning we had some breakfast, and packed our bags to head back to Rurre. On the boat trip back down the Beni river, we all fell asleep! Back in Rurre, we had a few hours to get something to eat and before we caught our flight at 6. We had nowhere booked in La Paz so we went online to find some accomodation. The only place we could find was a hotel (for about 30 euro) so we booked that. We had some lunch with Mike, Sarah, Simon and Kate. We went to the "airport" (a shed) and got back on our rickety plane to La Paz. We were so sad to be leaving Madidi and Rurre, it was such a great place.

There's a couple more photos to be added so keep checking back!

Additional photos below
Photos: 32, Displayed: 32


Waxeen birdWaxeen bird
Waxeen bird

these birds hang out by the lake. THey can´t fly very far and their wings are so heavy you can hear them beat when they flap them.
Bolivian Squirrel MonkeyBolivian Squirrel Monkey
Bolivian Squirrel Monkey

Not as cheeky as the ones in Dublin Zoo!
Tiger HeronTiger Heron
Tiger Heron

He was fishing in the lake while we passed him in the boat

22nd June 2012

waxeen is very cute! love it... but they are hoatzin!.. a rose by any other name....
goood to read your report! been there done that...loved it too!

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