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Published: December 20th 2008
Tiny gnats flew into my eyes, crazed by my headlamp into comacozies of crumpled wings and broken legs. I wiped them free with the back of myhand and turned off my light. The LCD light, though long-lasting, was very dim, and I waited for others in the boat to spot the caimons with their hand-held lights. Our boat, a wooden banana that tipped dangerously with every weight shift, moved forward silently, the engine cut by our guide. Between the clumps of grass linging at the waters edge, alligator eyes glowed like stones.
A baby caimon, flustered at our sudden apearance, scrambled from the water and onto shore. Our guide jumped from the boat and ran after him, grabbing the caimon with both hands like a puppy. We oohed and ahhed, taking turns with cameras and poses with the small reptile in our hands. The guide cautoned us against holding the caimon too tightly, since the warmth of our hands can hurt his cold-blooded skin. He was quickly returned to the water, and we to our beds.
Rurranabaque, a rural jungle town about twenty-hour bus ride and 45 minute flight from La Paz, acts as a gateway to the Bolivian
Amazon. Park Madidi, famous for its spread in National Geographic several years ago, is only one of several in the surrounding area. Piron Lajas and Alto Madidi are two other sections of the jungle with differing rules and regulations. Alto Madidi has very few rules in regards to hunting, thus making it more popular among individuals looking for longer and more ineractive treks into the jungle. Pirlon Lajas is populated by a few indigenous tribes who are allowed to hunt and use the forest for subsistance purposes.
My group consisted of three Israelis (MyRov, Ido--who I had met on the bus--and Secret), and an Australian(who had been living in Israel for the past several years) named Rella, a guide, a cook, and of course, me, the ever present observer of human life. Socially, the Pampas was a bit of a let down. My inability to speak or understand Hebrew provided me with many hours of wandering around camp by myself taking pictures or staring blankly into space at the dinner table, snapping bag to earth only when Ido or Rella translated a thirty minute conversation into one sentence. "We are just talking about food," Rella would say, before turning
back to the others. In some ways it was frustrating, since it felt alienating, but the time alone was well spent in that I played with the camp cat, dog, and family of yellow monkeys and took many pictures in the process.
In one of my mind-dwelling moments, I realized that being in the Pampas was much like camp, only for adults with less energy than we had had at the age of twelve. On the morning of day one of our three day trip, we met at Flecha´s office to deposit backpacks and load into the four-wheeler for our three-hour drive over a muddy, dusty, and rocky road to the boat launch. Half-way through we were given lunch. We climbed from the truck, wiping absently at our wet bottoms (fake plastic leather appearantly does not breath well in jungle weather), and stretched our arms tensed from the constand knocking about that left us feeling much like bowling pins. I tried to sleep, but bruised my head against the window I tried to use as a pillow.
The sun opened all its doors and bore hot love down upon us as we whirred along the river in our
banana boat. I slathered on lotion and covered my head with my sarong, feeling the dampness stick cloth to my skin like glue. I was thankful I had used the bathroom at the launch, despite the dead tarantula and poop floating inside the bowl, to change into my swimsuit. Partway through the trip we stopped for twenty minutes to swim with pink dolphins. Appearantly thier presence keeps piranhas at bay, but I still yelped nervously everytime I felt my feet brush the mud. The dolphins, shy as animals are, kept their distance and surfaced little, my pictures were mainly of water, and I eraced them later, keeping the best pictures in my mind.
The river, widest at fifty feet at the most, was lined with crocodiles, capabary, egrets, piles of turtles, eagles, kingfishers, and strange birds with feahtery crowns who burgled and shrieked as we drove by. It was like being at the zoo, animal after animal wallowed, drank, or enjoyed the cool breeze offered by the river. I had a hard time seeing a portion of shoreline more than twety feet long that was not inhabitated by at least one of the before-mentioned creatures. In three days I
had taken 500 pictures, my snap-happy finger posed like a gunslinger over the camera´s black button.
In camp we lounged in hammocks, some falling asleep, some reading, some feeding the family of small, yellow monkeys that chattered and leaped above our heads, the braver running down to take bits of food from our hands. In front of the lodge lounged Queen Africa, a ten foot caimon who had claimed the shoreline as her own. She hissed lowly when I walked by, swishing her tail and moving to deeper waters to watch me as I tossed bread to fish that swirled invisibly beneath the brown water.
We ate dinner in the late afternoon, salads of cucumbers, fried potatoes, soup, juice, bread, meat, and rice. I spent the evening catching toads who hopped about beneath the lamps catching bugs for thier own dinner. In the evening our guide (who´s name we never could pronounce) took us to another lodge to see the sunset, a rather disapointing experience due to the trees that blocked our view. Other lodges had also brought their tourists, and, like good little campers, we sipped beer and retold stories of the days events.
day was a breakfast of fried dough (our cook enjoyed frying things, we discovered), pancakes, fruit, and bread with jam. Afterwards, counselor no-name took us trekking for three hours through fields of tall grass and islands of trees in search of anacondas. We found another group of tourists out searching for anacondas as well, an Israeli, Italian, and two meek looking Japanese. With the combined resources, we found two anacondas, one in our first hour, his tail grabbed before he had the chance to slip into his nearby hole. The second anaconda, sunning himself over the edge of a jumble of sticks, slid quickly into his hole as Secret tried to grab his tail.
At two it was time for Piranha fishing. Our guide handed us each blocks of wood atached with hook and line. Small pieces of cow meat was cut and placed like appetizers on a board between us all. In an hour and a half I proved myself as a fisherwoman by catching four piranhas, four "sardines" (a small silver fish of similar size) and two small catfish. Everyone else succeeded in catching at least one fish, but still looked upon me with envious grumbles as
"Happy to eat--I mean, meet you my dear..."
I caught fish after fish, holding them above my head to show my guide. My first piranha bit the inside of my hand, breaking the skin with his tiny teeth, and making blood flow through the lines of my palm. I wondered how quickly my hand would disapear if I let it trail too long in the water. Our guide, a piranha pro, caught five large ones for dinner. The guts were pulled from their bellys and dropped into the water. A stick was then strung through the gills to keep them together.
We later ate them for dinner, the meat creamy and good, but bony. In the morning we said goodbye to the monkeys and cat, loaded ourselves into the boat for our return trip back to Rurrenabaque.
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