After two months of cold nights and travelling at high altitude it was time to find some warmer weather on lower grounds so I headed in the direction of Rurrenbaque, the gateway to the Madidi National Park. Normally I travel via the cheapest route which is always the bus but on this occasion I decided to fly. The road between La Paz and Rurrenbaque was notorious for long delays and the 18 hour trip often became 2 days. Even though this is the adventurous way to travel, the thought of being stuck on a bus for up to 2 days (with no toilet mind you) really did not appeal. The flight cost $85 compared to the $10 bus ride and within 30 minutes the 19 seater plane was landing on a tarmac in the middle of the jungle!!!
I arrived with a horrible chest infection and as I stepped off the plane I was hit by an almighty blast of heat. Wow what a contrast this was to the weather I had just left behind. I was feeling pretty crap, hot and bothered so I decided to find a nice hotel with a swimming pool.
I took two days out relaxing by the pool and researching tours for the Madidi National Park during which time I was told of a special boat tour that was happening on the Rio Mamore, near Trinidad (no not the Trinidad you are thinking of), a place I had read about and wanted to go to but the destination by bus too far away but now I had the taste for flying and it was only a 40 minute flight. So I booked the tour that was to happen in 4 days time and by luck one of the 2 flights a week that departed for Trinidad was to leave on the day I needed it to leave. So with 3 days left in Rurrenbaque and feeling a little less crap I booked myself on a 3 day tour in the Madidi National Park.
Madidi National Park is reached by boat up the River Beni. The trip was nice but nothing special. I have been too many jungles and they all pretty much look the same it's just the animals that are different. On this occasion with such a short time we saw few animals but what we did see that made the trip worthwhile was the blue and red parrots. They were just beautiful and a pleasure to sit and watch as they squawked and flew above the tree tops.
The second day of the trip we slept in the jungle (I was feeling a little less crap this day but my nose was running like a tap!). The end of the day saw us fishing on the Rio Tuichi with just a little hand line each. I was very excited to be fishing in the Amazonas and was hoping for a big one!! The five of us on the tour had no luck with the fishing but our guide Louis did and he pulled in a nice big catfish (I think that nearly all of the fish caught in the muddy rivers are some type of catfish). We were told that the name of it was Huego (the word for juice in Spanish) but then you show the photo of it to someone else and it suddenly has another name!
That night in the Jungle I really wished I was back at the main camp sleeping in a proper bed and not on a sleep mat under a mosquito net under a tarp. At 4am the thunder started to roll overhead and the rains came down for the next 6 hours and we had to walk out in the morning through rivers (which the day before were just small streams). I could not wait to get on the boat and head back to the main camp for a shower but of course the boat to pick us up had a problem (and we knew this because they sent a messenger on foot) and we waited nearly 3 hours. With the weather being unsettled I was worried about my flight to Trinidad in the afternoon. Often flights get cancelled in bad weather and with the next flight not for 4 days I was crossing my fingers that it would still fly. Due to our morning delays I was also concerned that we would get back to Rurrenbaque late so I put the pressure on to make sure that we left in plenty of time to get back and thank god I did as my flight, due to the bad weather, was leaving an hour earlier.
From the runway to the airport the planes make their way along a dirt track so with all of the rain it was too muddy and so we had to catch a bus the few hundred metres to the end of the tarmac. Trinidad was not on the Gringo trail and so I was the only foreigner on the flight whereas the flights between Rurrenbaque and La Paz are mostly Gringo'. The flight was non eventful thankfully and we landed safely in Trinidad. Now Trinidad is quite a big place but the airport certainly didn't reflect this. Hobart airport 25years ago would of been considered quite luxurious compared to this one. Trinidad is a pretty crappy place, a s***hole really but is the gateway to the tranquil Rio Mamore.
Day one of the tour and there was just 3 of us (Mike & Anne, English but have lived in Malaga, Spain for the past 15 years) with another 9 joining us the following day. We caught a small fast boat and made our way up a smaller river to our flotel the 'Reina de Enin'. We would not be on the Rio Mamore until the following day. We were shown to our cabins and then lunch was served. Man what a spread, won't be going hungry on this tour. After lunch it was time to rest for an hour or so before heading out on the small boat to visit a community. We speed along the river for about an hour before reaching the community and on the way there and back we saw many Kingfisher birds, an alligator, a fish eagle and many other birds.
On the morning of day two we left the small river and made our way onto the Rio Mamore. By lunchtime another 7 passengers had caught up with us on the small fast boat.Fransisca from Italy, a French family of 3, a Bolivian lady from Potosi and a couple from Argentina (as you can see I am really great with names NOT). I was the only non Spanish speaking person on the boat but a few of the passengers spoke English (even as their first language) but over the next few days most of the conversations were beyond me as they were mainly in Espanol. After lunch several of us headed out to fish for the afternoon. Our fishing rods we just small tree limbs with fishing line tied on to the end. I pulled out two average sized fish quite quickly but then only little sardine sized ones after this. No-one else on the boat caught anything of size and so I was the only successful person of the day. It was a lot of fun and I was hoping that we would get the opportunity to go again over the next couple of days.
Dinner was always preceded with a bevy or two and cerveza (beer) was a norm to have with mid morning snacks!! So yes you had to be careful that your day didn't start too early. As we were a mature crowd there was never any excessive drinking just early drinking!!!
Day three and the boat started moving before sunrise as we had a lot of distance to travel to reach our destination. A new couple had arrived to the boat the night before after I had gone to bed. It was the owner of the boat and his wife. They met on the flotel 20 years ago and were here to celebrate. Today's activity was for the passengers to go out in two groups. One in the morning and one in the afternoon as the small boat was to be used as the flotel would spend most of the day travelling. What the activity was going to be I wasn't quite sure but I would be going out in the afternoon and then there would be night fishing around midnight.........now that would be fun!
Just before lunch we were told to put our swimmers on as we were going for a swim in the river! Hmmmm not sure if it was hot enough for me but what the hell. We got into the medium boat and went to shore to pick up some of the morning group and then we jumped in and drifted down the river towards the flotel on car tyre tubes. The water was a bit brisk but it was a lot of fun and the current carried you quite quickly along. Then it was lunch time again...yay more yummy food, a siesta in the hammock and then off on our activity. So there I was sitting in the small boat waiting for the others to join me when the next thing you know it's just me and the boatman (Pinocchio) off up the river ahead of the flotel. I had no idea what we were going to do!!! About 40 minutes up river we spotted a couple of alligators and then we pulled in close to shore. Pinocchio, the boatman, spoke very little English (less than my Spanish if that is possible) so I had no idea what we were doing but I heard the word 'playa' which is 'beach' so I thought we must of been heading to the other side of the river to walk on the beach BUT then I picked up on that we were NOW going to be fishing!!! This time I was given a hand line. Certainly wouldn't want to catch anything too big on that! So we fished and we fished and the only thing we were getting were small sardine size fish. The first sardine sized one I pulled in Pinocchio asked if I wanted a photo and I was like it's 'pequena'(small), I'll wait for the 'grande'(big) one! We had fished for quite a long time and we had only small bites and most of the time my bait of 'carne' (meat) was gone! Our conversation during this time was very limited and each time I got a bite I would comment that the fish biting on the other end of the line was pequena or the other words I would say was 'mas carne', 'more meat'. Just as the sun was starting to set the flotel passed us and everyone was out on deck cheering us on but we had nothing to report to them. Pinocchio asked if I wanted to go to the beach but I was like 'no way I just want to fish'! Then soon after I get what I think is a descent bite and I am pulling on my line to see what was going on. Pinocchio seeing that I had a bite was saying pequena as that was the only size that had been biting but my reply was 'no pequena'. He thought I was joking and so kept on saying pequena and I was replying 'no pequena' and then I was saying 'NO PEQUENA' and he takes the line from me and discovers that it aint no small fish on the end of my line! The fish comes to the surface and it is certainly a decent size and then it takes off and Pinocchio has to give it more line and so the process of pulling it back in starts again. This goes on for about 5-8 minutes and I am just sitting there stunned as to how we are going to get this bloody big thing in the boat that is on a hand line and blow me down the fish comes to the surface and Pinocchio grabs it by the tail and yanks it into the boat...OMG!!!! Now that's a fish I want a photo with!!!!! It was big, about 10kg's, and ugly!!! A catfish called 'General' (but have been told other names since from my photo). So we head back to the flotel and I give the thumbs up to everyone. So now I was known as the 'great fisherwoman'. The men were all very jealous and had to have their photos taken with it also. It was now time for a shower to get the fish off me and a well deserved beer for both me and Pinocchio. That night we headed out for some night fishing and there was quite a contingency. We took the medium boat and we headed not too far from our flotel. We fished from about 11pm - 2am but with no great success (I had more bites from mosquitoes than anything) but being out on the river watching the firer fly's dance above us under the sky filled with millions of stars and the milky way as clear as anything made it a great night never the less.
Day four and we spent the morning visiting a community and then a swim in the river. Lunch included my fish which was just delicious. We had fish at both lunch and dinner each day and the two girls in the kitchen prepared it differently every time and each time it was excellent. The flotel then continued on to a spot where 4 rivers met and here we saw dozens and dozens of pink dolphins. Now we had seen quite a few already over the past few days but this was just incredible. A group went out to fish and everyone was surprised when I said I wasn't going. I decided that I fished alone or not at all! I was quite enjoying my cerveza and watching the activity of birds and dolphins when it was suggested that we go out in the dugout canoe, sounds like a good idea so three of us and our paddler went out and got close up to the dolphins. It was one of those occasions that words cannot express the experience and that you need to experience it yourself to understand and appreciate the beauty of it. The flotel then continued on and we witnessed an amazing sunset!
Day 5 and our final day and I was up early to catch the sunrise and to spend a few final hours watching the river banks roll past. By 10am we were getting into the medium boat to make our final leg to the port of Santa Ana. We had a real treat on this 1.5 hour journey as we saw quite a few alligators sunning themselves on the river banks. Then we reached the port, well at least a river bank with a few boats and a couple of houses about. 2 vehicles were waiting for us and we were packed into them and off to the town centre of Santa Ana where a welcoming committee was waiting for us. Santa Ana doesn't see too many tourists and they are in the midst of promoting it as a tourist destination. We were ushered into the town hall and given a welcome by the town mayor himself and his constituates. It was very cute and then we were ushered out to the town plaza (which I must add was absolutely beautiful. Lush with plants, trees and flowers) where some of the local children put on a show of local dancing. Next was lunch in a local restaurant with a final feed of fish before heading off to the local airport to catch our chartered flights home. Now I have been in a small 10 seater plane before but never anything as small as the plane that we were about to get into...........how cool. However the four seater plane was to carry 6 people...hmmmm this will be interesting. Who will draw the short straw and sit in the back with the luggage. Well the Argentinean couple did and they sat on their own (very large) suitcase......no seatbelts too I might add, mind you I don't think seatbelts would of done too much if you did go down anyway! So up we went and for the next 45 minutes we admired the views from our windows as we were flying so close to the ground. There is so much water in this part of Bolivia and rivers and lakes are in abundance. It's also cow country and we could see the cattle spread over the green pastures below us. Soon we were landing in Trinidad and bidding our farewells as we went on our separate ways................Mike and Anne back to Spain, the Argentineans to Buenos Aires and me, well I'm just going to hang around this craphole of a town for just another day or two to soak up the heat before heading back to cold La Paz...