Crazy Caimans and Dancing Dolphins

Published: June 17th 2013
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Blog 19th May - 4th June

La Paz - Rurrenabaque - Las Pampas - La Paz - Lake Titicaca

We arrived in La Paz in the dark. Unsure of what to expect from the highest capital city in the world, as the dawn appeared, we were not disappointed. The city's buildings literally cling to the sides of the canyons and spill downwards. Surrounded by mountains and snow capped peaks La Paz is dizzying not only because of the altitude but also it's impressiveness. Unfortunately our hostel only remains in our minds because of the dinginess of the room, the intense cold, the noise and the treacherous dash to the bathroom that was a considerable distance outside. Having had such a fantastic time on the salt flat tour the rain and cold in La Paz tried to dampen our spirits but we sucked it up and decided to get to grips with the city.

We meandered the streets at a leisurely pace, our lungs gasping for breath, as the vertical roads made us work for our views. Bolivia was still in turmoil with protests and road blockades in full force in the capital. We were surrounded by the noise of flares and bangers going off everywhere and met by heavily armoured police patrolling the streets. We even managed to intercept a huge procession of 'native' tribes from around the country filling the main streets in order to decide the next course of action against the government. Trying to avoid any trouble we lost ourselves in the 'Witches Market', my mouth gaping in shock as stall after stall were selling llama foetuses for local rituals. This was a bit beyond my comfort zone but I soon preoccupied myself with the hoards of alpaca tourist tat on sale, much to Charlie's dismay.

Our next adventure was set to take us into the the Bolivian section of the Amazon basin. We booked what we thought would be a fantastic tour that would involve getting to Rurrenabaque, the town in the heart of the jungle, by river over 3 days. Oh how 'authentic' and 'adventurous' this sounded. In reality it turned out to be further from our romantic vision than we could have imagined.

We should have known that organisation wasn't high on the list when our pick up was set for midnight. Due to the blockades the company couldn't get hold of a bus so allocated us all to a fleet of taxis. 10 minutes down the road we realised this was not an upgrade. Our taxi driver wound down the window (and refused to put it up) sending a freezing gale into the car, he cranked the music up to full volume and added his own freestyle backing vocals, he then sped off down the narrow winding road through intense fog without being able to see 1 metre ahead. This journey from hell had everyone gripping the seats as the cliff face suddenly appeared and we realised how dangerous a journey this was. Having descended over 3,000 metres in the dense fog, popped a tyre and changed taxis half way through, we arrived 9 hours later in a small village near the river and were handed our soaking wet baggage. Exhausted, thankful to have survived, and hearing from our fellow travellers that that the journey was more terrifying the 'death road' we were keen to begin the journey we had signed up for.

12 of us boarded the long boat in the dense mist and set off down the river. Unfortunately our night long tormenting journey had not bonded us with our two other travel companions in the taxi. These two Americans ( one aptly the spitting image of Karl Pilkington from 'Idiot Abroad'😉 turned out to have no social skills whatsoever. We have met wonderful Americans on our trip but these two were in a class of their own and certainly are not representative. Having already alienated us in the car they then proceeded to offend everyone else on the trip. To give you a taste of their obnoxious behaviour, one was a proud self confessed racist and happy to share his views unprovoked and the other told a girl who mentioned she couldn't swim or ride a bike that she had "no skills whatsoever and may as well have cancer". This is only a snippet of the kind of clangers they came out with and needless to say their presence impacted the dynamics of the whole group. My desperate attempts to bond everyone, over our broth dinner, through the telling of jokes completely bombed as Charlie and I realised this was a losing battle and the group would never gel.

Unluckily for us the trip went from bad to worse as our first night was spent in a horrific karaoke surrounded hostel (not the jungle) in a windowless and curtainless hovel with people shouting and the TV blaring all night long. Things looked up the second night though as we camped in a more acceptable jungle setting. Each day we had some side trips and walks in the rainforest to break up the boat ride. The river bank was made up of deforested areas, dense jungle and gold mining machinery which is the main source of income for people in the area. We saw lots of bird life but not much else until we wondered deeper into the jungle. Our guide talked us through the medicinal remedies of the plants and trees as I continuously asked probing questions and became the group geek. Our jungle walk did find us coming face to face with vines and tendrils in every direction, millions of ants, macaws, a venomous snake and a baby tarantula. We stayed out until dark and the whole forest felt alive with activity and noise.

Three days later we arrived at Rurrenabaque, managed to shake off the Americans and hooked up with some fun like minded people from the tour to seek out our next adventure. Rurrenabaque is Surrounded by rainforst, mountains, and a meandering river. It was a great place to let our hair down with our new found friends and we even picked up some canine companions as the town was jam packed with stray dogs.

We set off on our 3 day Las Pampas tour in far better spirits and with a fantastic group of people. The wetland savannas are like being in a natural zoo. We were transported through the winding peaceful river on a shallow long boat and within minutes of setting off we had been unindated with sightings of crocodiles, caimans and alligators. The sun shone on us and we were David Attenborough in the making looking out at squirrel monkeys, stacks of turtles sunning themselves, sloths, families of capybara (like giant guinea pigs) and so many different types of birds. Everything was oblivious to our presence which made the spectacular trip even more exciting.

We camped out in thatched huts in the forest and the sound of the bats and rats above us just added to the fun of it. The Mosquitos were outrageous but the thrill of everything else helped us ignore the persistent itches. We awoke at sunrise and were taken on different trips throughout the day. We spent one morning anaconda hunting (something I never thought i would say) through stinky bogs. We had wellies to protect us from venomous water snakes but unfortunately the holes let in the water and we ended up wading in swampy water that was far deeper than our boots could take. Luckily we found one and that meant we could head back! We also went piranha fishing, charlie caught 3, and snacked on them for lunch. But the real highlight was swimming with the pink river dolphins.

They are not like your average Flipper but blind, have deformed long snouts and are salmon pink. Thinking this would be in a controlled environment we were a little surprised when our guide suddenly stopped the boat in a wide shallow area next to some crocodiles, alligators and caimans soaking up the sun and suggested we should slip into the brown muddy water. It is amazing how peer pressure seems ageless as against my better instincts I followed the group in and started flapping around manically trying to attract these alien creatures. Receiving nibbles from 'sardines' that were more likely to be piranhas we waited for the dolphins to come to us. We were rewarded with a group of 12 playing and flapping all around us. Luckily the reptiles kept their distance but unluckily one of our group got bitten by a playful young dolphin! That didn't stop the rest of us amazing at this completely surreal experience.

We took a ridiculously easy and stunning 25 minute flight back to La Paz before heading north to Copacabana on Lake Titicaca, the worlds largest high altitude lake. The sapphire blue lake sparkles in the sun against a backdrop of mountains and snow capped peaks. We took a weekend trip to Isla Del Sol, thought to be the birthplace of several revered entities including the sun itself. We felt on top of the world as we had panoramic views across the lake all the way to shore. We watched the sunset as the sky gave us a spectacular display of colour over the Inca ruins. We walked from the North to the South of the island and felt right at home as we made our way up winding cobbled paths, past small fields and flower gardens, feeling like we were in the Shire. After a fabulous break and fantastic fresh trout cooked to order every day in the markets we were set to make our way to Cusco for the Inca Trail.

Additional photos below
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17th June 2013

anaconda hunting and sloths
love the capybaras. So exotic! here we only have a battle with the moles digging up the lawn! You both look like truly well seasoned travellers! Wondeful pics, thanks xxx
25th June 2013

Wow and triple wow
Gosh... so sorry to hear about the boat trip from hell, but OMG - Lake Titicada and the jungle waterfalls look absolutely otherworldly beautiful. And the monkeys with the blue noses... David Attenborough move over!! xxx

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