and other jungle related cliches..
16.08.2010 23 °C
With our flight scheduled to leave for Rurrenabaque at 8.30am it was another early start for us to give enough time to get a taxi to the airport. We had decided to pack all of our jungle stuff into one rucksack and our hand luggage leaving the rest at the hostel. We got to the highest airport in the world (El Alto - the high one) without a hitch, but seeing the queues at Amaszonas´ check in desk, we knew for sure that our flight would not be leaving on time. The people infront of us were queuing for their 7.30am flight...
Eventually, around 9.30am we boarded our mini (19 seater) plane to our second mini adventure within our big adventure. The plane journey was pretty cool, as we flew inbetween the snow capped mountains flying away from La Paz, and into the dense jungle as we touched down in Rurrenabaque. The airport was seemingly non existant, as we stepped off onto the runway before being boarded onto a bus headed for the town centre, bags on roof. We passed the `airport´ on the way there, it was literally a tiny one storey building, smaller than most houses. We were dropped off at Amaszonas´ office where we immediately purchased our return flight tickets for the Tuesday.
We stayed at Hostal Los Tucanes de Rurre, which was perfect for our needs. After a quick comparison of the dozens of tour offices we made our choice based on gut instinct and the fact that the group already had four other English speakers in it (we saw on the form). It would have been much easier to make our decision if the tourist office was open because they have a notice board where other travellers leave their comments and recommendations for the jungle and pampas tours. Of course it was shut because of Independence day, a day we seem to always end up travelling on.
Our decision appeared to be a good one when we bumped into some fellow travellers we had met in Sucre and again in La Paz, and they informed us that the English speakers in the tour group were actually themselves! We booked our 3 day tour of the Pampas with a company named `Fluvial´. It cost 400Bs (about 40 pounds), which was the best price we could find both in La Paz and Rurrenabaque. It included all meals, accomodation and an English speaking guide (more on him later).
Later that night at the hostel we were pleased to see Tony, Graham and Lauren (the Irish trio we have been following around South America since Iguazu), who were just returning from their own Pampas tour. They booked through `Honey Tours´ in La Paz and had nothing but good things to tell us. After a quick poker lesson from Tony we settled for the night, ready for the early rise the next day.
We met at the Fluvial Tours office at 8:30am, where we securly stored one of our bags and hopped aboard the jeep that would transport us the three hours along a dirt road to the river where the tour would really start. As well as us, Helen and Elliot we were with Aiden and Garren (an Aussie and a South African who knew Helen and Elliot previously), Nicole (German) and John and Tony (South Korean). Eight out of nine of us in the back of the jeep (Nicole up front and the bags on the top) was a bit squashed, but we made the most of it. We stopped a few times along the way; to see alligators, to buy water and to let Aiden throw up! Lunch was served at a `restaurant´near the river and we dined on soup, rice and chorizo.
When we got to the river we were met by our guide- Vismar. A jolly-looking chubby fella he spoke alright English and directed us in to the boat, informing us that we would spend three hours sailing along the river, watching Alligators, Capybara and many different birds. He wasn´t lying! We saw many, many alligators, of all different sizes, lining the riverbanks sneaking through the water. We saw families of Capybaras, many different types of birds, turtles, cayman and even squirrel monkeys (one of which stole from the boat next to ours...thief).
We eventually made it to what would be home for the next two nights- a lodge on the edge of the river (all on stilts, thankfully!) with basic beds and toilets, but it did have electricity thanks to a giant (and very noisy) generator. After popcorn, juice and cookies we got back on the boat and headed out to Sunset bar to- you guessed it- see the sunset. By this point Jaz was feeling unexplicably rotten so indulged in a bottle of water whilst everybody else had an ice cold beer to welcome in the nightfall (and mosquitos!) We waited for complete darkness before returning to the lodge as we were going to search for alligators. When in the dark an alligator´s eyes will glow red if a light is shone upon them, so that´s exactly what we did. Vismar glided the boat along the river and being as quiet as we could be, we searched the waters and banks for alligators. There were loads. At one point Vismar turned the engine off and told us to turn our lights off and shut up so that we could take in the atmosphere of the river wildlife. So we were sat there in complete darkness knowing that hungry alligators were all around us, it was pretty creepy but also very cool, especially when we spotted all the fireflies flying over us.
That night´s dinner was soggy pasta in a watery tomato sauce with bland cheese. It still went down quite well for most though. Jaz was getting gradually worse so just about touched her food before going off to bed for a while whilst everybody else (except Aiden, who still wasn´t feeling great) played cards. A couple of hours after going to bed, whilst everybody else was asleep, Jaz woke up and threw up the contents of her stomach in to a carrier bag (which Liam later discarded of, thanks Guapo!) Turns out it was food poisoning. Fantastic.
The plan for the day was as follows: search for anacondas, swim with pink dolphins in the alligator-infested waters and watch the sunset again at a different bar. So, nice and early, we got up, donned our wellies (none of which fit anybody well) and suncream and once again climbed in to the boat.
We docked not long after leaving the lodge and started the ten minute walk to the wetlands. Initial thoughts as we stepped in to the wet, sludgy, muddy ground were "oh, this isn´t as bad as we thoght it would be", but then we stepped further in. The sludge was going up to our calves, taking a step was a massive effort, we had holes in our wellies and our only mission was to not fall over.
We searched in the first lot of wetlands for about an hour but all we found was an eel. With everybody getting frustrated in the midday heat, Vismar suggested that we go to a second wetland a "short walk away" where there would be more chance of finding the elusive snake due to the sludge being "so deep it´ll go over your boots".
This never happened. What did happen is that Vismar lead us for two hours through dry lands, not explaining what we were doing so that the whole while we thought we were just getting to the wetlands. The heat was unbearable, we only had six bottles of water between nine of us and by the time Vismar sat us down an hour and a half in to the trek we were all very irritable. Vismar then explained that he had been looking for snakes on the dry land but was unsucessful so we´d now be heading back. Very glad that he knew what we had been doing for the last hour and a bit! As we came full circle back in to the first wetland area, we came upon a dead Anaconda. Earlier we had come across a dead alligator, the smell was like nothing we have ever experienced before.
Another rest stop and a fifteen minute walk and we were FINALLY back at the boat.
On the way back we demanded a pit stop at Sunset bar so that we could get our mitts on severly overpriced ice cold Coke before going back to the lodge for lunch. Lunch was soup, crispy chicken wings, potatoes and other such lark. Still feeling rather ropey, Jaz dared only to eat the bland foods but Liam assures that the chicken was good!
After lunch we finally had a couple of hours to ourselves, so everybody headed for the hammocks. The mixture of the gentle rocking motion, the afternoon sunshine and the chilled out tunes on the ipod eventually sent us to sleep
and we awoke half an hour before we were due to leave for that afternoons´activities. A quick shower later we were in our swimming gear and back in the boat.
Vismar lead the boat through parts of the river that were as yet unknown to us, looking for a colony of pink dolphins so we would be safe to swim. Apparently the pink dolphins ward off alligators, pirahnas and other such creatures by emitting a sound under the water that other animals just can´t bear. Rather cautiously, everybody eyed the water and noted where there were alligators along the banks before Elliot rather confidently whipped off his top and dove in to the (shallow) waters (soaking us all at the same time!) It wasn´t long before Tony, John, Liam, Aiden and Garren all followed (though John didn´t last very long- he had a bit of a panic attack and had to be helped in to a neighbouring boat by the rest of the lads). That just left the girls in the boat- Jaz, Helen and Nicole. Eventually, though, they went for it too and the boat was one of the only ones where everybody went in- Go Team!
This was a pretty cool experience, but would have been better if the dolphins had made a bit more of an appearance. You eventually forget all about the alligators surrounding you...until somebody points out that the one you had seen on the bank earlier is no longer there!
It was straight to another bar to see the sunset, only this was a bar with football and volleyball pitches. The lads were straight in there with a Bolivians v Foreigners football match (Liam has the cuts and bruises to prove it), which the foreigners ended up winning 3-2 (Liam scoring two- his first a "delicate chip over the rooted goalkeeper" and his second a "superb left-footed firebolt in to the top corner" - his words). A stolen camera (poor Aiden) and a Singani (Bolivian spirit) and 7up stop later we were back at the lodge for yet more food. This time it was alphabeti spaghetti with a tomato sauce. It was alright and Jaz managed to get a bit down, much to her joy.
Post-dinner it was time for Chuflay (Bolivian drink) and card games. About an hour after the generator went off Jaz and Aiden called it a night and the others were in about an hour or two later (some of them rather drunk hey, Helen?!) Once again the sound of monkeys and other such animals in the trees outside plagues any attempts to get to sleep, but they were soon forgotten... until Nicole´s alarm went off at 5am!
Most people wanted to get up for sunrise on our last day. We didn´t. So it was much to our relief when, shortly before Nicole´s alarm, Vismar came to our room and said there was no point as it was misty out and the view wouldn´t be that great. Instead, we got up at about 8:30, had breakfast (pancakes, pasties and other such random combinations) and packed our bags ready to leave that afternoon.
Our only activity of the day was pirahna fishing. Vismar prepared the `rods´before guiding us up-river in the boat. When we got there, however, he realised he had forgotten the bait. DOH! So he left us on the banks of the river (where there are usually alligators!) with our driver from the first day of the tour (not too sure why he was there) and told us he´be ten minutes. In those ten minutes our driver managed to make us climb some hill, ensuring that pretty much all of the group (Jaz and Helen were the exceptions) were covered in tics by the time Vismar got back.
Bai finally on the end of the rods, we started our fishing. Vismar informed us that pirahnas live in shallow areas of the water, so we weren´t too worried about throwing the `rod´out too far. We were pretty unsucessful, so when an alligator climbed aboard the bank and started following Nicole, we thought that a good time to move on. Back in to the boat we got and we found a new fishing spot. As soon as we got to our new spot, an alligator climbed aboard the bank where we would be standing. Vismar petted it on the nose and took off in a different direction to do some fishing himself. The rest of us took the obligatory photos and carried on fishing. All that is except Tony. Tony was touching the alligator and spent a good 15 minutes poking it with a stick, taunting it with meat and doing pretty much everything you shouldn´t to something that can eat you. He must have got some pretty good pictures, though, after another five minutes of shoving his camera in the animal´s face! Vismar eventually yelled over that enough was enough and about five minutes later, Tony heeded his advice.
Just as we were all getting good at the fishing and were looking like we might catch something (Elliot pulled two to the surface, Jaz one but they got away), Vismar came over- three dead pirahnas in hand- and told us we were leaving.
Lunch that day was awesome- tasty meat, mash potatoes, veg, salad and pirahna! It was a quick meal and then we were back in the boat for the long ride back. An hour and a half later- after a quick nap and a lot of sunbathing in the boat- we were back on dry land and preparing ourselves for the bumpy three-hour jeep ride back to Rurrenabaque. The jeep ride consisted of word games (Harry Potter!) and not much else.
That night the group- minus John and Tony, who had already left Rurre- met for dinner. Jaz had three mouthfuls and was very close to being ill again, so we left early but before that it was a really nice night.
The next morning we got on our 1.5 hour delayed flight back to La Paz where we once again made our way to the Wild Rover.
That´s all for now folks, we´ve been typing for hours!
Jaz and Liam xxx