If you´re lucky, on the way to the bathroom at night you´ll see a boa
So after dropping Mum off at her departure gate, Alex and I killed 3 hours back in the cafe eating pancakes for breakfast until we could check in for our flight to Rurre. We then waited in the lounge for 11:15am to come and go and still no boarding call. The staff came and told us that there was bad weather at Rurre, and we therefore couldn´t fly yet - they would give more information at midday. Luckily the agony of waiting was slightly eased when Alex was able to produce a proper cup of tea from the cafe. At midday they said they´d give more information at 1pm, and finally, after 8 hours waiting in La Paz airport (or as I like to call it, a full working day), we boarded our little plane to the jungle. As we were boarding, half the passengers were told to wait and catch the later flight at 3pm, while we were told our bags would also be on the later flight. With very little further information, it later became apparent that this was because they wanted less weight to fly through the bad weather... if that doesn´t make a nervous flyer more nervous I don´t know what does!
The flight took 30 minutes and the view of La Paz and Lake Titicaca from the air was amazing. When we landed (safely) in Rurre we found that the runway was entirely surrounded by jungle, and didn´t even seem to have an airport; instead the return passengers were waiting on the runway behind a white line and we were put onto minibuses and driven directly to the Amaszonas airline office in Rurre. When we got there we were informed that the later flight had been cancelled, and so that meant no luggage until tomorrow morning, if we´re lucky!
The Chalalan Ecolodge staff collected us and took us to our hotel, which probably would have been quite nice, but because we had no luggage we weren´t exactly in the best mood to receive it. Instead we went for some lunch and a beer. We ended up in a restaurant opposite the Amaszonas office, and so gave them the Vs for a couple of hours and then killed the rest of the day buying toothbrushes and wandering along the river and about the town.
Day 114 - We woke up to loud sweeping and a loud German talking outside. Getting up didn`t take long since we were already wearing our clothes! We arrived at the Chalalan office to hear that the morning flight had, indeed taken off and our bags were on their way. At 10am they arrived, and we had only 2 minutes to put on some deoderant before being loaded onto the motorized dug-out canoe up the river to the Ecolodge. The journey took over 5 hours deep into the Madidi National park and we passed the last other lodges only 1 hour in. Luckily the scenery was unlike both the Pantanal and the Amazon boat, and it was a really serene and worthwhile in its own right. On the way we were given a snack of 3 x pieces of pork (here´s to not eating pork in Bolivia), 3 x plantain chips, fruit and cake. After 4 hours I had no choice but to request a toilet stop, and the boat pulled up on a river bar miles from any cover! It was very peaceful though and so unspoilt - proper jungle!
At the canoe landing we then had to walk 2 kilometres through the jungle to the lodge - a job that both Alex and I were not appropriately dressed for, and I got eaten alive by mosquitos and sandflies along the way. Once reunited with my bag and insect repellant things became more enjoyable! The lodge was really nice, with comfortable cabins (although no curtains and so no privacy once it gets dark) right by an Oxbow Lake... Alex and I took some time to remember and thank mr Bennetts for teaching us so well at school that we still know what an Oxbow Lake is.
We met our guide Rigoberto, who is from the local community and has 4 brothers and 5 sisters, plus the other guests which consisted of a french couple (who were the only other people in our group), 2 x spanish men, a father and son from England and an Irish couple... all really nice. Rigo told us we needed to us our torches everywhere we walked around the lodge at night because we "might be lucky enough to see a snake, tarantula or a boa"!
Once we arrived we we told that lunch was ready (at 4:30pm!) and enjoyed the first of many delicious, huge, 3 course meals. After lunch Rigo paddled our group around the lake and we sat there and took in huacachin (sp?!) birds, red and green, and blue and yellow mackaws, fly catchers, swallows, a black caiman and red howler, capuchin and yellow squirrel monkeys all together. We even saw one steal a birds´ egg! We returned when it got dark saw a bat skimming the lake for flies. Another huge meal at 7:30pm and then off for a nocturnal hike. Before heading off Alex encountered a big spider in the loo and after some squealing returned to the group where she then spotted our first tarantula! She tore her shirt in the panic! During the hike we saw an even bigger tarantula that was absolutely enormous! e also saw lots of insects, including a deadly spider, another spider eating a cockroach and a little Amazonian tree frog, clutched to a tree and looking at us.
Before bed I took a fairly visible shower thanks to no curtains and got into my mosquito net for bed.... although the jungle sounds are amazing, nothing compares to the frog cacophony of the Pantanal.
Day 115 - Not a bad sleep although I did get woken up by what sounded like an email chewing through the wall (a fairly normal sound in the house I grew up in). We spent the morning walking along trails through the jungle, following Rigo who would stop, look about, make some sort of animal noise, look around some more, and then walk on. Everytime we came to a stream we found the bridges missing, so Rigo had to makeshift a couple out of nearby vegetation. We saw some toucans with black beaks and red bottoms, but very little else. The other group weren´t even that lucky! We also saw lots of fresh tracks for wold pigs, a tapir and a jaguar. I asked Rigo what we should do if we see a jaguar and he responded "Rebecca, you must live her 1 year before you see a jaguar"... but just in case?!!
We arrived back at the lodge very sticky, and since we had an hour before lunch, jumped in the lake. It was so warm it felt like a bath! From the lake we could see a mackaw nest on the top of a tree trunk. We had lunch and then jumped back in! At 3:30pm we headed back out to take a trail around the lake and up to a mirador, which had fantastic view of the national park... nothing but our lodge, mountains and trees. On the way we saw ocelot and pig tracks, and could hear the pigs snorting nearby; so after the mirador we took the canoe across the lake and hiked another trail in search of our illusive pigs. Once again they evaded us, but we did see a load more monkeys.
After dark we went back out in the canoe to look for boas and caiman. Rigo was a good guide, and told us to be quiet so we could paddle right up to baby caimans lying in the water. We got so close and the caimans remained perfectly still, until we glided up so it was right next to me... all of a sudden it flipped round and swam off, and scared me to death! But that wasn´t the only nature scare for me - when I went to take a shower later that night a frog came flying out of nowhere, jumped on me and then ricoched around the room! Apparently you could hear the screams from our room, and as the french and Alex came to see what was happening, they all laughed at the cute little frog stood (no doubt) terrified on the door pane! I was a bit concerned that the shower might get him excited again, but he didn´t leave the door pane for the rest of the encounter. Poor little guy.
Day 116 - Today is Rigo´s 32nd birthday, and he started his day off with a 6am hike through the jungle before breakfast. After warning him that I need to eat before doing absolutely anything, he gave me two bananas before we left. We walked for two hours and saw a baby brown and black poisonous snake (the 2nd most dangerous in Madidi).
After breakfast we had 1.5 hours until we made the return journey back to Rurre, so Alex and I got right back in the lake for half an hour, and then sat in the hammocks on our balcony drinking coke to kill any bugs we had swallowed while practicing our dives. At 10am we headed along the trail back to the river while Rigo pushed our bags in a wheelbarrow. Then a 3 hour canoe ride downriver where we saw a family of capybaras and picked up a rogue tourist from some jetty with local worker men - the occurence still not explained.
At Rurre we walked to the Chalalan office and had 20 minutes to down a lemonade and buy the most delicious hummus and fried cheese sandwich - half of which we ate in the office and the other half on the bus to the airport. It turns out that Rurre does have an airport, but it is very tiny and we must have bypassed it on arrival. The airport was totally chaotic as two flights were departing and arriving at the very same time. After paying 2 x departure tax we sat sweltering in the outdoor departure gate with garden benches to sit on and watched one plane pull up to the grass area outside the airport. The security officer had to adandon his port to pick up his orange sticks and guide the plane in safely, before returning back to the departing passengers and his metal detector. Amazingly it all seemed to work as some passengers were directed onto the waiting plane, while the rest (including us) were ushered onto a minibus and driven to the runway where our plane was waiting.
The flight back to La Paz was much smoother and clearer than on the outbound flight, and the hostess actually had some time without the seatbelt sign on to serve drinks... she just about made it to the end of the gangway before we started to land! The views were amazing; total flat jungle and then, all of a sudden, ENORMOUS mountains and without even declining much we cruised over them and into La Paz.