After waiting around for a week in La Paz, wandering through markets and eating copious amount of Cuban set lunches, it was time to leave the security of the city and head into the sky for 40 minutes to the Amazonian town of Rurrenebaque.
Thank god the flight was so short, it was a bumpy, bumpy ride. Mike´s face was green the entire way! Tiny 12 seater planes over a mountain range are not the best idea, but anything is better than a 20 hour bus ride on the most dangerous road in the world! Flights here are often delayed or cancelled outright thanks to the grass landing strip, any hint of rain and the runway turns into a quagmire, making landing and taking off impossible.
La Paz seems a million miles from Rurrenebaque; there are no little andean ladies scurrying around carrying impossibly large loads on their back. The whole place feels more Caribbean than Bolivian. And best of all, it is h-o-t, a pleasant change from the cold of the mountains! Who ever would have guessed that it actually rains in the rainforest? It poured it down for about 20 minutes, quite possibly the heaviest rain I have ever had the misfortune of being stuck outside in! At least it took some of the humidity out of the air!
We had one night in Rurrenebaque before it was off on a 4 hour motorised canoe ride up the Rio Beni to our jungle lodge, located in the pristine, primary rainforest area of Serere. We decided to go with one of the more expensive, yet ecologically sound tour operators. We had heard horror stories of some of the less expensive tours having their guides jumping into the rivers to capture baby caiman and wrestling anacondas! The canoe ride was pretty uneventful, a fair bit of the rainforest on the banks of the river was a logging area, but once we were about 2 hours downstream, the banks fo the river were thick with trees. We managed to see a few river turtles, a big pink spoonbilled bird and a few black caiman!
Once we had landed in Serere it was off on a 40 minute walk through the forest to get to the camp. It is amazingly hot and humid in there, not to mention pretty dark as the forest canopy is so thick. The most noticeable part of forest life are the constant noises. Insects constantly buzz around you and birds and monkeys can be heard for miles around. On the walk alone we saw 2 species of monkey and loads of ants carrying bits of leaves!
Serere is amazing, there are only about 10 lodges for guests. I went there expecting a little hut with a dodgy, small bed and nothing else but it turned out to be better than some of the hotels we´ve been staying in. Each cabaña was ensuite with a shower (granted there was only cold water, but they even gave us sachets of shampoo and conditioner!!) and had the biggest, comfiest bed we´ve slept in since January! There is no electricity in Serere, and it later turned out that the radio link back to Rurrenebaque was broken so we were completely isolated! Our cabin was also complete with a 5 inch long cockroach! I thought I also saw a wild pig (which do exist in the rainforest) but it turns out that the lodge has about 30 domestic pigs which they use as waste disposal units (and not for bacon as we all hoped).
That afternoon we launched ourselves on rickety canoes on to the lake next to the ´casa grande´, hoping to not capsize after hearing what lurked underneath the brown water. Anacondas, pirhañas, caiman, electric eels, and even manta rays to name but a few of the deadly aquatic creatures! We spent about 2 hours out there looking for different kinds of birds and monkeys! After this it was over the the big house to relax for a while and eat!
Walking back to the cabañas in the dark is pretty eerie, the walk took about 15 minutes but seemed to take longer knowing once again the list of things which might harm you. Big cats are incredibly rare but do live in the area, and the thought that a puma or jaguar might just be waiting to pounce on its unsuspecting pray (ie you) is quite scary, even if it is virtually impossible! When we made it back to the cabin the mozzie net had been put down and chocolates placed on our pillows, we felt we really had gone up in the world! If only the bedsheets weren´t wet from the humidity!
Day 2 was Mikes birthday and I managed to have a quick word with the guide to see if anything could be rustled up. All the cooking was done on a fire and I had doubts that anything could be done without an oven, but it turned out that clever chef had a way around everything and managed to produce the best tasting chocolate cake, ever!! Before this we went on an epic 4 hour hike through the jungle, going off the track in search of macaws and howler monkeys, oh and red and black seeds to make necklaces with!! Even though the jungle is pretty flat, it was still hard work due to the heat and humidity. We also had a little lesson about more things that can potentially kill you in the rainforest, including the tree that the locals use for the poison on their darts. Oh, and if you are ever stung by a manta ray, termite mounds boiled with water and placed on the wound take away the pain. I must remember that one... If only there a natural remedy for itchy insect bites and swollen hands had been mentioned. By this point I resembled a walking mozzie bite, the pesky things there even bite through you clothes!!
Although we didn´t really see much more wildlife (the jungle is not like the Galapagos, animals here are generally scared of you, not inquisitive) it was still pretty cool to just be there, knowing where you are in the world. We did, however, see the tracks of giant tapir and jaguar; we´re still holding out for the sighting though!
Day 3 we went for another walk and this time actually saw some red and blue macaws, there must have been about 6 in a tree at the same time! Also today was the best day for monkeys, the animals I had most been looking forward to seeing. Unlike the monkeys we saw in India, they were not menacing, and were much cuter! Capuchin monkeys are the easiest to spot, you just wait for a rustle in the trees and look up!! We also went Pirahña fishing today, I was rather useless, but Mike caught three huge ones (tasted pretty nice, but just annoying to eat as there are sooo many bones). I did manage to catch some sardines, which in effect were used as bait to catch the pirahña so I wasn´t completely redundant!
The Casa Grande is decked out with sofas and hammocks and also has a few boardgames including scrabble. We had a few pretty intense games which almost brought about full blown arguments. No matter how much me and Erica (one of the people at the lodge) protested that ´´ño´´ is not a word in the English Language, the boys (including Mike) were adamant that they should be allowed it. We still won anyway...
The last day we just pottered around the big house, watching out for more monkeys and ´´tito´´, the resident caiman at the lodge. Little is more relaxing than spending a few hours swinging in a hammock overlooking the rainforest, watching birds fly past and monkeys in the background! We also had an hour of jungle craft time in which I made a few necklaces and a ring, whilst Mike lazed about upstairs, to much of a man to partake in such a girly activity!
We had a few more days in Rurrenebaque before our flight back, and it was a good job too as a few heavy showers had cancelled two days of flights before we were due to leave!
The flight back to La Paz was even bumpier than the flight out, made worse by dodgy stomach! We later found out that only a few carriers fly to La paz due to the fact that you have to descend so rapidly, the runway is virtually by the side of a mountain! It was great to get off the flight and be back on terra firma.