Having a nap on Aaron's boot
After a couple of days of catching up and resting in La Paz we decided it was time to go into the mighty Amazon jungle. Seeing as we had a bit of time up our sleeve we opted for both a Pampas and a Jungle trip. The difference between the 2 is mostly the landscape and the modes of transportation. The pampas is very open and focuses on river travel while the jungle is much more closed in and dense and the only real way to see things is to walk.
We opted to fly to Rurrenabaque rather than take what we had heard was a nightmarish bus ride so we booked our flights and headed off to the airport. Now if flying is not your thing I would suggest taking the bus if you ever head into Rurre. The plane was a tiny little 18 seater with 2 propellers. The take off and flight was fine as we passed in-between….yes in between not above… some absolutely stunning mountain ranges. We then started passing over dense jungle so we knew we must be close….Aaron spotted a dirt strip a few km in front of us and the English lady behind
look who's in the background
us started freaking out saying “we can’t land on that!! No he’s going to fast!!” Well land on it we did, and in incredible style. Luckily for us on the day we flew there was a nice strong cross wind, which meant the plan had to land on a HUGE angle and as soon as the wheels touched the ground the back end of the plane started skidding all over the place from side to side and we actually ended up off the dirt strip.
So, with my stomach in my throat and Aaron wanting more, we jumped off the plane, grabbed our bags and started looking for the bus which should have been there to pick us up for our tour, which we quickly located and even more quickly worked out did not have a Catherine and Aaron registered to start the pampas trip on that day. Sensational!! So we hitched a very cramped and uncomfortable ride into town to go and get angry with someone…..turns out the office in La Paz had given the incorrect arrival date so we were not due to start till the next day. We spent the next 30 minutes shuffling round our
alligator killing an anaconda
jungle trip and our return flight to La Paz and then trekked off to a hostel. Thankfully this hostel was amazing and at less than 10 pounds for both of us in a private room with breakfast and many many hammocks swinging in the breeze we soon forgot the frustrations of the morning and got straight to a nap in the hammocks.
So the next morning we drowned ourselves in mosquito repellant and trotted off to meet our group for the Pampas…..2 British people, 2 Aussies, one Spaniard and one Serbian. We located our driver and were crushed into the 4x4 for an interesting 4 hour drive to meet the little boat we would spend the next 3 days cruising the river in. The drive was incredibly bumpy along a dirt track and given that our 4x4 was the first ever model of Toyota Land cruiser we had a very uncomfortable journey. I don’t think the shock absorbers, springs or tyres had been changed since it was made…. Aaron was particularly unhappy as there were no seatbelts and captain safety insists we wear them at all times. It got particularly interesting when the driver agreed to let a Swiss
my.....what big teeth you have
guy who was hitching a ride have a drive of the 4x4 and twice, starting in the first 5 seconds, he nearly got us killed by pulling out in front of a very large fast moving bus. Way to please the locals. Thankfully after a hairy 15 minutes he decided he had had his fun and handed the wheel back to the driver. Lucky timing too, as 2 minutes after this one of the front tyres exploded and we nearly rolled whilst going into a ditch. So, we all pilled out of the car, Aaron removed the tree that was stuck in the tyre and every other vehicle that passed pulled over to take a sneaky peak while our driver changed the tyre in the ditch. We felt much more comfortable after this change as the new tyre was already bald, it even had a hole in the side…
After this adventure we stopped at a roadside stall for a drink and toilet break. Even Aaron refused to use this toilet for a number 1, it was the most revolting thing I have ever seen in my life, particularly as the girl who walked in before Aaron had a
peek a boo
stomach bug. Needless to say we all found a bush.
So we finally reached our boat (canoe), dusted ourselves off and headed off down the river. Getting to this point was half the adventure of the whole trip!
I think it is safe to say we found our Pampas trip incredible. Within 5 minutes of being in the canoe we spotted our first Caimen (alligator) and I discovered I did not feel entirely comfortable in the tiny canoe that had about a cm of hull above the water. And whenever anyone moved it would rock from side to side in a frightening way given the hundreds of man eating alligators surrounding us, and they were only the ones above the water! I have always been quite proud that my only phobia is pigeons (weird I know) but I can now add a new phobia…..being in a crappy little canoe with about 3 too many people for its size whilst surrounded by alligators! (Aaron comment - or just alligators in general…)
We had done a lot of research into which company to do both our Pampas and Jungle trip with as there are a lot of companies that
handle the animals, take hunting trips with you and then give you the skin of the animal to take as a souvenir. This was not at all why we had come all this way and we found the pictures of some of these things that were in a lot of eco friendly groups upsetting enough. So we paid significantly more money to ensure there was no mistreatment and that we chose 2 conservation friendly companies.
Over the 3 days we saw literally hundreds of alligators, many many different types of birds, tarantulas, monkeys, pink dolphins, piranhas, capybaras (a massive massive rodent) and the famous anaconda! Some of the highlights were:
- Going caiman spotting at night time (in the tiny rocking boat) when they are most active (and hungry) and all you can see is their spooky freaky eyes glowing 1cm above the water….hundreds of creepy eyes but thankfully I had had 3 beers by then so managed to keep my heart rate at a normal level
- Having tiny squirrel monkeys climb all over Aaron
- Having bats in our room
- Seeing an anaconda
- Seeing an alligator eating an anaconda!! Apparently this is very rare
little squirrell monkey
Aaron going swimming with the pink dolphins - apparently they keep the alligators and piranhas away but I was not willing to test this theory. Especially after a girl in our group was told she could not go swimming because she had some badly scratched sand fly bites on her legs which would attract the predators
- The group we had - we had such an amazing time with Dan, Becky, Pete and Ailsa (British/Aussie couples) with loads of crude and hilarious banter
- Having Pete in our group who was completely mad about animals and has spent 10 years working as a safari guide in Africa and knew just about as much as our guide. He had so many stories and so much fascinating information to pass on!
- Seeing Pete completely lose it. At one point we were following another group’s boat and we saw something very very disturbing. The guide was allowing the idiot who was sitting at the front of the boat to throw sticks at birds and alligators!! Now this upset all of us, but poor old Pete was beside himself. About 20 minutes later this boat pulled over and we slowly went past them
keeping watch on the surrounding alligators
and Pete screamed out “you’re a F****** Arse****!!!” to the Israeli guy who had been throwing the sticks. And we were all going “ok that’s great but now tell him why he’s a F****** Arse****!!! Otherwise he’ll think you are just out to get him”. So then with about a 2 minute gap between each word he yelled “DON’T……..THROW……..STICKS……!!!!!” the poor guy was so upset he couldn’t get his words out at a normal pace. This then became the mantra for our trip…… (Apologies for the swearing but this is how it happened!!).
After an exciting 3 days we headed back down the river to our starting point and got back into the same lovely 4x4 back to Rurrenabaque. We had a team dinner after we had all had showers and relived the exciting / interesting moments of the trip.
The next morning Aaron and I had an early start to head out on our jungle trip. This trip started off with a 3 hour boat trip into a part of the jungle which has been set up as a conservation zone. We met our guide Xenon and our translator Pablo (a volunteer from Spain), boarded the boat and
got ready for departure. We had noticed there was a family of locals hanging around the boat while we were loading up and it turns out the company we went with (Madidi) work closely with the communities who live very basic lives along the river and will give a free lift to anyone needing one when they are passing by as many of these families do not have motorized boats or no boat at all. One of the little girls in the family (Yelena) became fascinated with me and did not leave my side the whole trip. At one point she was checking her brothers hair for nits. But then she decided she needed protein and took the chance to eat them.
We were getting a constant commentary on the landscape and the animals we saw along the way from Xenon. When we arrived at our destination we scrambled up the bank of the river and walked for about half an hour to our cabin and settled in there before heading up to the big house for some lunch which was incredible and had more vegetables in it than I have seen since arriving in South America.
we met 2 of the lodge’s residents. A Macaw who had his wing damaged and is now unable to fly - the group at the lodge now take care of him and he hangs around outside the main lodge eating nuts and fruit. The other resident is a beautiful baby Spider monkey called Chimina who is about 5 months old and lost her mother. Chimina was so friendly and as I was kneeling down to take a photo of the Macaw she came and crawled up on my leg and went to sleep in my lap. Whenever we were outside she was always close by and always looking for a lap to sit on, or a shoe in Aaron’s case (see pic). They plan to release her back into the jungle when she is old and strong enough to survive by herself.
We spent the afternoon walking through the jungle with Xenon and Pablo and saw very dangerous bees, cappuccino monkeys, squirrel monkeys, insects everywhere and many many birds.
Xenon’s knowledge never ceased to amaze us through the 4 days we were there, he knew how to cure a mantaray attack using the bark off a particular tree
etc and knew about each and every animal we encountered. He also had the eyes of a hawk and incredible hearing and could identify a monkey a KM away…..he could also replicate all the calls of the animals and they would respond to him!!
A lot of the time we were walking on paths but if Xenon heard a monkey or bird close by we would leave the track to go in search. We would walk quite a long way from the track and zig zag all over the place but Xenon always knew how to get us back to the path. In fact he had to go on a rescue mission one afternoon when another group got lost and were 5 hours late returning. Xenon used his jungle skills, calls and machete to locate the group after only half an hour of searching and brought them back to the lodge safely.
We enjoyed a sensational dinner and then settled in for an early night.
The next day (day 2) we went for a morning and evening hike and saw so many different animals, even a very rare deer. We also went out on one of the lakes
the lovely Monita coming to say hello
in a little boat and saw a Spider monkey (Monita) who had been rescued and then released into the wild. Xenon made some monkey calls and she came swinging through the trees to say hello. She was pretty enthusiastic about saying hello and was hanging off the edge of branches trying to get into the boat!
On our 3rd day we went for a 7 hour walk to fartherest lake in the reserve. As always we saw many animals along the way and when we reached the lake we tested our hands at a bit of piranha fishing…..it seems there is local knowledge and technique in catching piranha as Xenon caught about 8, Aaron caught 2, Pablo caught one and I caught a grand total of zero.
On the way back we walked through Monita’s (the rescued monkey) area and Xenon warned us that is she saw me she would give me a big big hug and never let go. Apparently the volunteer who looked after her when she was first rescued was a blond haired woman and since then if Monita she sees a blond woman she hugs forever. As was inevitable Monita heard us and came
the rescued Macaw
swinging through the trees and then walked along behind me for about a KM. The trouble came when we stopped to get into the boat, Xenon had to stand in between me and the monkey so I could get into the boat so we could make a quick escape.
We finished up the afternoon making jewelry from nuts and seeds found locally, as always Chimina was ready to help and made sanding quite difficult when she wanted a cuddle.
We finished up our jungle break relaxing and learning from Xenon. Overall a completely enjoyable week in the Pampas & Jungle……back to Rurre on another 3 hour boat ride…..
Unfortunately, I was pick pocketed in La Paz and our small camera was stolen. This had some great photos and all of our videos on it.
Ciao for now
Catherine & Aaron
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