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Published: September 5th 2013
We spent about a week total in La Paz, split into two distinct time periods (our western days and La Paz), broken up by a crazy beautiful week in part of the Amazon basin called Rurrenabaque. Our Western Days
By the time Mark and I arrived in La Paz we had spent just over five weeks either staying in shitty hostels or camping, spending all our days exploring new cities and landscapes and travelling on uncomfortable mini buses and vans. We both love travelling like this and were having an amazing time, however we needed a break. We wanted just a few days to recharge the batteries, get some quality sleep and have a hot shower with decent pressure so I could wash my hair properly – the allure of life’s little luxuries was too much for us and we booked ourselves into one of La Paz’s five star hotels. It was also my birthday so the timing was right and so was the price - our three nights in a two bedroom apartment (we were upgraded when we arrived) complete with two bathrooms, lounge, dining and kitchen was less than half of what we would pay for one
night in equivalent lodgings in Sydney. We bought some wine and cheese and happy danced our way around our apartment!
The next few days were filled with very non touristy activities such as going to the movies and getting wasted in a Mexican restaurant by drinking dirty dirty tequila with Brad – who we randomly bumped into again when shopping for an alpaca wool blanket – and by the time it came to leave La Paz for Rurrenabaque we were relaxed and rejuvenated, feeling only a little bit guilty and ready for the next adventure. Rurrenabaque
The flight to Rurrenabaque was a no brainer. We could have spent around 24 hours on a bus for a few dollars or 30 minutes in an aeroplane for less than $100 so, before I could make a cost benefit analysis, Mark made it clear that if we were to visit this part of the Amazon it would indeed be via the air. Learning from my mistakes in Asia, I completely agreed with him. The air was stifling as we departed the aircraft onto a dusty runway at Rurrenabaque. It was only 32 degrees but felt much hotter, we didn’t
care though, it was a nice change from the cold that we had been travelling in. The airport at Rurrenabaque was an old run down building with faded blue paint which was a short drive in a minivan down a dirt road from where the aircraft landed. The whole area was surrounded by small green mountains and despite the fact that it took no time for my body to become encased in a layer of sweat, I knew that I would like this place. We spent the afternoon looking for tour operators to take us into the pampas and relaxing in hammocks, trying to escape the heat.
We decided to go with dolphin tours, partly because they were one of the only operators we could find open in the afternoon and partly because we liked the lady trying to sell us the tour. She guaranteed that we would see caiman, capybara and pink dolphins, which we were both a little sceptical of, but the company had received relatively good reviews on trip advisor so we agreed to go with our gut. That night there was a loud crack of thunder and, for the second time on this trip, the
skies opened up. It was the heaviest and nosiest downpour I have ever experienced and many times during the night I wondered about the structural integrity of our cheap hostel room. It turns out, my concerns were not completely unfounded as, sometime during the black of the night, I woke up and realised I was getting wet. Following a quick furniture rearrangement I managed to fall back to sleep wondering if our tour would be cancelled.
I have since come to learn that the weather is no reason to cancel anything in Bolivia, so the next morning we found ourselves sitting in the back of a 4x4 troop carrier, making our way through the mud towards the long boats. The good news was that the rain had stopped, however the clouds lingered above, threatening us with further bad weather. It was less than five minutes on the long boat before we saw our first caiman – someone had spotted a turtle and we were moving slowly towards the tree that was dangling in the water where it was located. As the boat drew near, excitement flowed through the group because of the yellow headed turtle that we were able
Crazy birthday night with the clown and Brad!!
to observe so close. It didn’t take long before there was pointing and loud whispers about the two eyes poking out of the water right behind the turtle. Then another two eyes were spotted and the group could not believe how lucky we were! Two caiman in a matter of minutes! Cameras were out trying to capture a decent photo of what we all thought would be a rare sight.
But we were wrong. As it turns out, caiman in the pampas are like flies at a barbeque. The banks of the dirty river were littered with caiman heating their cool blood with the afternoon sun. After about half an hour, you only pointed out a really big caiman and even that didn’t get so much as an aghhhh. While there are not as many capybara as caiman, I certainly saw enough of those to stop taking pictures every time I saw one and as for the pink dolphins, I finally understood why there was a “guarantee”! The pampas was filled with wildlife, from beautiful white birds, rows of turtles to families of monkeys – we were lucky enough to see baby caiman and capybaras! We even saw a
toucan and some macaws. We spent the next few days riding the boat up the river spotting animals and soaking up the tranquil environment. It was grand!
Once we arrived back in Rurrenabaque we began to investigate a traditional healing ceremony that a New Zealand couple were telling us about and 24 hours later we were booked in to stay at Wizards Mountain with a shaman who couldn’t have been much older than me. The place was magical! Located only a few minutes up the river from Rurrenabaque, nestled in the jungle, it was the most peaceful place I have ever been. There was a stream that cut through the area and when you followed it you came to a beautiful waterfall, the water so clear you could drink it straight from the ground. There were volunteers that stayed there, some participating in a three month fast, of both food and contact with people, but I instantly understood why they would do something that sounds so crazy! There is something to be said about surrounding yourself with nothing but the jungle and a person who has truly found peace. My experience there was moving but I won’t go into
details here, although I will no doubt share some of it over a beer or two with my friends. La Paz
I really like La Paz. I am not sure why because there are much more beautiful cities and a lot cleaner ones too. It was difficult to move around in because of the altitude and the hills and there seemed to be more people filling the streets than the streets were capable of holding! Perhaps I liked the grandeur of the terracotta houses that encompass the mountainside, which is evident no matter where you are in the city, or the traditional women that filled the streets wearing their colourful costumes and ridiculous bowlers hats, selling a myriad of fresh foods and market goods. Or perhaps it was just the fact that it was cheap, there was plenty of fun things to do and crazy places to visit.
We booked our tour downhill biking on the world’s most dangerous road, also known as ‘the death road’, and I was nervous. Not simply because I had no experience mountain biking on gravel roads but because my most recent experience with me and a push bike involved a gutter,
a busted front wheel, a near miss with a four wheel drive and a bruised ego. That, accompanied with the only reassurance I received from my husband, “at least there are no gutters”, meant that the morning of the ride, I felt sick with nerves. The night before we departed it had snowed in La Paz and the surrounding areas, which meant two things - 1) The taxis were covered in snow because in La Paz, the poorer you are, the higher up in the city you live and 2) It was fucking cold at the beginning of our ride. Luckily we began the ride with an easy 22km, tarred road and downhill ride through some spectacular snow-capped mountains. As we flew down the road at speed, my freezing hand gripped the break and the cool air filled my lungs. The sensation was incredible – it was a rush and after that I knew the day would be a blast!
It was not quite as easy cycling downhill on the gravel but I managed to stay on the bike all day, by gripping the break and not taking any risks (I know – BORING!) I watched the girl in
front of me have quite a decent stack which only made me grip the break tighter. The roads cuts through the side of a mountain and at places is only a few metres wide with a cliff drop on one side and a mountain side on the other. We were surprisingly instructed to keep to the left (cliff side) but throughout the day I did not really feel unsafe. After about five hours of riding downhill, I wouldn’t call it cycling because there was very little actual peddling, we ended up at a wildlife rescue sanctuary where there were 300 different types of animals that had been rescued from trafficking. We were able to spend the afternoon here before making our way back up the new replacement road to La Paz.
La Paz is a ‘muy interestante’ city and I enjoyed learning about the city and the country here – from the crazy stories you hear about San Pedro prison to the social and economic difficulties Bolivia has experienced due to loss of land and access to the ocean to the cultural rituals performed with the products purchased from the witches markets. I found it interesting to meet young
people who believed the superstitions of their ancestors but when I thought about it, it was not all that surprising. I think the funniest thing for me was learning about all the gafs that their current prime minister makes and realising that every country has their share of crazy politicians – an appropriate time for that realisation, I guess.
Happy voting everyone!
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