Amazon Tour, Rurrenabaque, Bolivia
After a few days relaxing in La Paz we caught a flight to the small jungle town of Rurrenabaque. It was a surreal moment indeed when we stepped off the small plane in the steamy warmth of the Amazon basin. Just 45 minutes earlier we had been staring in awe at snow capped mountains surrounding La Paz.
We instantly took a liking to the town which is located along the River Beni. Reggae music filled the streets, wooden shacks served as pop up shops and the market was selling all sorts of tropical treats. We enjoyed a lovely fish dinner before heading back to our hostel to prepare for our 3 day jungle and 2 day pampas tour. Unfortunately I became really sick that night and we were beginning to worry that I'd caught dengue fever after just a few hours in the Amazon! Luckily it was just a 24 hour bug but it certainly made the first day a struggle!
On the first day of the tour we were met by our guide, Christian, who honestly looked like a 14 year old boy. My initial thoughts were 'how on earth will this kid protect us from jungle monsters?!' Turned out that he is 25, carries a big sharp knife and is very skilled in all aspects of surviving jungle life. We were sharing the tour with two Ozzy couples, who were brilliant, and an older english couple who, at times, were not so brilliant.
We took a 3 hour longboat upstream to the Mashaquipe ecolodge which would serve as our base for the next 2 nights. On the way we stopped at a small sugar cane plantation, the livelihood of a family living in the rainforest. Harry and Paul demonstrated the huge turnstile contraption which milked just one sugarcane of a bucket full of sugary liquid. We squeezed fresh limes into it and, hey presto, we had ourselves a delicious jungle cocktail!
From the lodge we did a couple of treks into the surrounding jungle which demonstrated just how amazing Mother Nature is. We came across anti-malarial trees (proven to work by our other guide, Billie, who suffered from malaria as a boy); bleeding trees; communication trees that can transmit sounds over 5km; medicinal plants to cure stomach upsets.....the list goes on. We ate fruit straight from the forest floor, dyed our bodies purple with a natural plant dye and learnt which plants to avoid. Unfortunately we had not seen any animals by this point since the older couple insisted on yapping the entire time; not conducive to spotting shy jaguars.
The first night in our hut (which adjoined the Ozzy couple, Jade and Paul) was rather chaotic due to the presence of a little mouse. We did not like the fact that, where rodents run, deadly snakes follow. Nor did we appreciate the droppings it had left across our bed. It continued to run between the rooms for a while which meant the four of us were like naughty kids who would not turn off the flashlights and go to sleep. We couldn't help but feel vulnerable amongst the constant jungle sounds but we were soon to learn just how vulnerable you can get....
Since the jungle is just as alive at night as it is by day, we embarked on a night walk armed with just our head torches. Not even 5 metres from our huts we encountered a tarantula as big as our hand with huge pincers but, reassuringly, not deadly. Having crept into the thick bush Billie instructed us all to turn off our torches. Nervous glances were exchanged before lights went off and we were left standing in absolute darkness listening for the sound of a big cat that Billie had heard. Height of vulnerability reached! Unfortunately we didn't get to see a jaguar, only it's tracks the next day.
For the third night we had the option of staying at the lodge or trekking deep into the jungle to camp...on the jungle floor...with nothing but a mosquito net as protection! Being the daredevils that we are (or not wanting to seem like wimps to the rest of the group who were all very excited at the prospect) we decided to camp. The ecolodge was like a 5 star resort compared to the campsite which was literally just a clearing in the bush with a wooden table, fire pit and some tarpaulin.
The older couple had left that morning so it was just the two of us and Christian on the hike; and what a difference it made! With Christian's expert animal sounds and superhero hearing we managed to track capuchin monkeys and a group of spider monkeys that, only 5 years ago, were on the endangered species list. Following Christian's unbelievable instinct, we often had to run full speed through the thick bush to catch the trail of a disappearing animal. Needless to say we were dripping with sweat in the thick heat and this only seemed to attract more bugs!
Feeling very happy with our sightings, we joined up with the Ozzys and their guide later in the day. We climbed to a viewpoint overlooking the macaw nesting spot and had a birds eye view of the tropical birds taking flight. Gliding dreamily in pairs between the valleys, it was a breathtaking sight.
After 7 hours of trekking we jumped at the chance of cooling off in the river before heading to camp. We'd all previously said that you wouldn't get us in the river for love nor money due to the high population of caimans (South American version of crocodiles) in some areas of the river but their existence seemed to temporarily escape our minds. The girls sat chatting at the edge, scrubbing away with soap whilst the boys forgot all about how dirty they were and dove headfirst into the currents of the river, eventually finding a log to use as a bodyboard.
We immediately set up our mosquito nets on arriving at camp then sat down to a well earned dinner. As the sun went down our area became a feeding frenzy for every type of bug in the jungle. Our bodies were on fire from all the bites so we soon took cover under our nets. Very little sleep was had on the hard ground, not to mention the deafening noises of the jungle at night. Hearing footsteps, howling, grunting, clicking, snapping etc did not make for a relaxing sleeping environment. Harry and I were up at 4:30am the next morning to catch our boat out of the jungle. Having never experienced such violent bug attacks before, we were happy to escape the jungle for fear of going into anaphylactic shock!
A few hours on the boat followed by more in a jeep brought us to our pampas lodgings. Set right on the river, we could see freshwater pink dolphins splashing around right outside our window. We soon set off on the longboat, weaving our way through the vegetation. After just a few minutes we were greeted by a big group of capuchin monkeys and it soon became clear that spotting wildlife is far easier in the open wetland that is the pampas. Small yellow squirrel monkeys even joined us on the boat at one point! We got snap happy with sightings of howler monkeys, turtles and loads of exotic birds.
On two occasions we were able to jump off the boat and swim amongst the dolphins. It was rather daunting at first since the water is deep brown in colour and you cannot see what lurks even a centimetre deep. Our guide, Eloy, did nothing to abate our fear when Harry asked if there were piranhas present. He responded 'yes, they are very dangerous if you are bleeding' to which Harry and I, who were already in the water, panicked at the amount of scratched and bleeding mosquito bites we were sporting!
When the sun had gone down we had the chance to get back on the boat to go in search of caimans. Looking for the reflection of their eyes in our torch lights we spotted two, one being of considerable size and, going against the reassurances of our guide, were in the exact same location as where we had been swimming with the dolphins!
If you can't tell by the length of this blog, it was our favourite week so far! An unbelievable experience! We hope everyone at home is OK and enjoyed the long Easter weekend.
Nicola & Harry
Copa Del Sh*thead Scoreboard: NH 110 - 125 HF