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Published: November 3rd 2009
Amboro National Park
Fast moving clouds against the night sky
Having said goodbye to Cassie and Dave, we headed north to Rio de Janiero. Despite having visited before, being only six hours away (our perception of time has certainly altered this year) we couldn’t resist the temptation of returning to one of our favourite cities in the world. Especially as it would provide the perfect antidote to Sao Paulo, which will go down as one of our least favourite.
After a hectic few weeks, we opted to take a little time out and enjoy travelling without moving. It being off-season, we were lucky enough to be able to rent a fantastic apartment, situated only two blocks from Copacabana beach. Having seen the tourist attractions of Rio on our previous visit, we gave ourselves (and our cameras) a well deserved rest and enjoyed the simple pleasures in life, such as cooking for ourselves in a nice kitchen and having more than the four walls of a hotel room to call home. We even found ourselves becoming strangely gripped by a Brazilian reality TV programme, at this point we knew it was definitely time to move on.
In Brazil, more than anywhere else, we found the effects of the shifting world
A Typically Bolivian Taxi
The more observant amongst you will spot that in a previous life this taxi may just have been right-hand drive!
order of economic power to be tangible. On our previous visit to the country, six years ago, we received 5 Reals
for each of our, then sort after, Pounds Sterling. Now however, with the Brazilian economy burgeoning and the British doing quite the opposite, we received only 3 Reals
to the Pound. Add to this a little inflation and everything was basically twice as expensive as on our previous visit. On the positive side, we also noticed that it felt safer to walk the streets than on our previous visit. However, it’s impossible to know whether it’s Rio that has changed, or us.
We left Rio on an excruciatingly expensive 21 hour bus journey to Campo Grande. Determined to reach the cheaper climes of Bolivia, we stayed for only 15 minutes before boarding a bus to Corumba. We were then forced to spend the night here, as the border was closed when we arrived. Fortunately Corumba turned out to be probably the nicest border town we’ve ever visited and it gave us the opportunity to enjoy one last Caipirinha.
Having crossed the border into eastern Bolivia the change was immediately apparent, with the paved road coming to an
Sarah trying to relax, despite the over-friendly puppies!
abrupt end. It was obvious that things were about to get considerably less comfortable and hopefully cheaper. There is apparently a road “of sorts” linking Quijarro to the rest of Bolivia, but the only realistic way of travelling west, is by train, which has been ominously dubbed the Death Train
. Frustratingly we had to wait four days until we could get a seat on the train, which, despite its name, appears to be extremely popular. Fortunately we found a great place to stay, where we could relax by the pool and plan the rest of our trip.
Our journey on the Death Train
passed without incident (deaths or otherwise) and was surprisingly comfortable. It transpired that its name is derived from the days when people used to sit on the roof. Given what a bumpy ride it is, we’re not surprised that people fell to their deaths. The western terminus of the train is Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s largest city. From here we took a shared taxi to the infinitely more pleasant town of Samaipata.
The Lonely Planet says of Samaipata, “Get here quick, it is soon to become one of the
places to visit in Bolivia”. When the
Sadly he was alone!
Lonely Planet says this about somewhere, it is usually too late, far too late. However, on arrival we were pleased to find that although undeniably geared up for tourism, it was sufficiently far from the well beaten, north to south route through Bolivia, for it to not have been spoilt.
As well as a being a nice town, with plenty of excellent (and very un-Bolivian) restaurants, it provided a useful base from which to explore the surrounding area. First we went on a day trek in the hope of seeing condors. We walked for a couple of hours to a spot where these huge birds come to drink, and waited patiently. We hadn’t been there long when we caught our first glimpse of a condor. Sadly, the next few hours of waiting for more birds to arrive proved fruitless. Although a privilege to see them at all, we were unlucky not to have seen more, as our guide admitted it was the worst he’d ever had it in three years of visiting the site. You can’t win them all.
We are both agreed that our next trip, into Amboro National Park was one of the best things we’ve
done this year. Amboro is a vast potected area of jungle and allegedly home to more butterflies than anywhere else in the world. We can neither confirm nor deny this, but we certainly saw plenty of them. We saw a jungle trip as a must for our stay in Bolivia and were therefore keen to spend a decent amount of time in the park. The longest tour on offer seemed to be four days, so this was what we planned to do. The owner of our hostel introduced us to local guide who suggested that with five days we could do something a little out of the ordinary and follow a river in a linear route through the jungle. We didn’t take much persuading and he seemed genuinely excited when we agreed to a trip he only gets to do a couple of times a year.
The three of us set out, carrying our camping equipment and supplies for the five days. The first day involved little more than getting to the river. We saw a few day-trippers along the way, but after this we saw no one, until our return to civilisation. On the second day, we realised
quite how literally we were going to follow the river, as there was no path. Initially we walked along the river, traversing it repeatedly using improvised stepping stones and hacking our way through the dense vegetation on either bank. After a number of near misses involving slippery stones, we did away with our boots and spent most of the next three days wading through the river in anything from ankle-deep to waist-deep water.
Each evening we would find a suitable place to camp for the night, usually a beach on the river. Dinner would be a basic one pot affair cooked over the fire. Being off the beaten track, our guide was insistent that we kept the fire burning all night and we took it in turns to tend to it. We could never quite tell if it was showmanship on his part, but given that he did the lion’s share of the sitting up at night, we can only assume he was either an insomniac or genuinely concerned about wild animals. Needless to say we made it safely back to Samaipata without having even seen any animals of note, let alone been attacked by them.
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