Our taxi was reasonably punctual, by Bolivian standards, and we got driven Grandy style to the airport. The airport was nice but about the size of Tesco express it was tiny, our flight was delayed by 2 ½ hours so we killed time by phoning Rob via viber! I made a huge error by persuading James we should go through security early and then realised our plane was delayed and there was no wifi, we had to talk to each other! When the plane finally arrived we thought it was a joke, it was the smallest plane ever made with only 12 passenger seats, you could see the pilots and you had to crouch to even get through the door. There were no life jackets and the seats looked like padded school chairs screwed into the floor. I was more than a little nervous as we took off and I had every right to be, turbulence doesn't even come close to describing the flight, it was as if we were flying on a bouncy castle. There were some incredible views as we bounced our way over the Andes but I struggled to pay attention on anything other than not throwing up. I managed to have a little nap and was woken abruptly to BEEP, BEEP a loud warning noise from the cabin, James and I gave each other a worrying glance and later found out that this was a warning to the pilots that they were too close to the mountains and probably about to crash! The landing strip was made from half concrete and half grass. And we'd thought the airport in La Paz was tiny. Rurrenbaque 'airport' can only be described as three sheds. As we stepped out of the plane and into the sheds the warm air hit us, we were in the jungle.
We were disappointed as our Guide was supposed to meet us at the airport and he was nowhere to be seen, luckily we have great initiative and got the minibus transfer to Rurrenbaque. The town had a similar feel to Asian towns with scooters being the main mode of transport, small shops, street food and of course the heat. We found a very cheap hostel, had some food, played pool in the courtyard and lazed in the hammocks. In the evening an American called Jeff and an Englishman named Stashu challenged us to a game of pool. I, having previously potted about two balls over three games had the game of my life but we still lost but all ended well as we went out to Moskkito bar for a few drinks to commiserate. The guys were really friendly and had both done a lot of traveling, it was Stashu's 6 month anniversary in South America, hence the few drinks. Jeff was really inspiring and a brave traveller, hitchhiking his way everywhere which made for fantastic stories and pictures of the real back and beyond.
We were up early to the sound of pouring rain and went to the Mashaquipe office to begin our pampas tour. We were on the tour with a Dutch couple who were really nice but as geeky as Collett (not as fun though!). We had a 3 hour drive through small villages and lots of fields to our lodge in the pampas. On the way we saw a sloth, hanging upside down in a tree, he was so lovely and it was great to see one of my favourite animals in the wild.
The lodge was nice but after our lunch it started to pour so we had a while to chill out before our first trip on our little boat. Fortunately we only had to endure the poor weather for another 30 minutes and it started to clear. We were on the water for only a few hours but saw lots of wildlife in this short space of time. James and I loved looking out from the boat to see what animals we could see in the trees or in the water. Our guide said we were lucky as we saw three different types of monkey in one afternoon. We had a good dinner and had a chance to write down, a very big list, all the animals and birds we had seen as well as naming other exotic birds we have noticed on our trip so far using Christians bird book.
It was a reasonably early start and the sun was shining again so we could enjoy some much needed heat. The animals were also taking the opportunity to enjoy the sun and although we did see caimans (crocodiles) yesterday they were mostly submerged in the river. However, today we saw them in all their glory, hundreds of them throughout the day ranging from HUGE scary ones basking in the sun to smaller ones that got into the water as soon as we got near them. The highlight of my trip was the spider monkeys. Unfortunately some of the cheaper tour groups feed the monkeys, or they used too, and this means they are very comfortable with humans and the boat. This meant we got up close and personal to the animals but of course we didn't feed them or touch them. James got really, really up close, one jumped on his head and started to nibble his cap and then two, who were playing jumped on his leg and started to dry hump! I was wetting myself it was so funny. They were really cute and we were all pleased that they came so close, but hope that the other companies don't continue feeding them. When the monkeys got bored of us and realised we had no food we started to head back for lunch. This was when James had his highlight of the trip, a swim in the river. We got to an area where we had some fantastic Amazon pink river dolphin sightings and although they didn't come too close to the boat James got in and swam with these beautiful creatures. Although this alone sounds pretty amazing there was also some dangers lurking in the water, three types of piranhas ('but don't worry', Christian said 'they only bite if they can smell blood!') and if that wasn't scary enough there were over four caimans on the edge of the water and as James got in one of the caimans decided to go for a dip! Christian laughed and said 'don't worry, they haven't attacked a person in years!' James was delighted that he has now swum in the Amazon and survived.
After lunch we were back on the boat, on the lookout for more animals and rarer birds. We were not disappointed as we saw another group of howler monkeys, a family of capybaras (huge guinea pigs) and then blue bearded macaws (only found in Bolivian rainforest) flew above us. We were supposed to go piranha fishing but Christian forgot our line so we had to fish closer to the lodge where we went catfish fishing. On the first go James got a catfish and we all thought he must be the greatest fisherman of all time. The rest of the time none of us caught anything, well apart from a lot of sticks and I managed to get my line caught in the tree and Christian, ever so kindly, helped me to get it out. He yanked the wire and the hook and meat came shooting back, hitting me straight in the right boob! We fell about laughing with him apologising profusely. Even though we were all pretty useless it was so much fun and some more spider monkeys were intrigued by us and they kept us entertained too.
For our final day James and I got up to see the sunrise over the jungle and fields, it was really beautiful but the mossies hadn't gone to sleep yet so James now has about 30 bites on each foot. I couldn't bear the bugs so went back to bed pretty sharpish. When the 'real' morning came and we were back on the boat we saw some more wildlife, including toucans, which were really exciting, and then we went hunting for anacondas (and Jaguars-James was on the look out!). Unfortunately we didn't find any but it was fun looking for them anyway, wading through the marshy areas avoiding more caimans. James and I got excited as we saw paw prints in the mud but they were not from a Jaguar but a dog, distinctly less exciting! We had enjoyed the fishing so much yesterday that we requested another go. This time we were in an area that was full of piranhas. Almost as quick as you put the meat on it was gone. They were really tricky to catch as they were on and off the hook in a matter of seconds. Everyone had a few close calls but I managed to catch the first one (Paulie Waulie you must be so proud). It was a red-bellied piranha, only the most aggressive. I obviously acted really mature and, like a professional fisherman as it landed on the boat, I jumped out of the way screaming. Christian, laughing as usual, picked the little thing up so we could take a picture and then showed us how strong its jaws were, they really snap shut and have lots of tiny but very real teeth. The Dutch girl then proceeded to catch four more and we were able to see all the different types. James got very frustrated and we all laughed at him as he exclaimed when the Dutch girl caught her fourth 'oh you have got to be kidding me!' After Christian let us have another three lots of 'only five more minutes' we headed back for another delicious lunch and then the bumpy journey back to Rurrenbaque. On the way back we stopped in a tiny village for the guide to give them some supplies and there was a group of people huddled around one TV and they were watching the Olympics. We got a bit giddy with excitement when we saw it was Volleyball and saw Seb's face fill the screen as they panned around with the camera showing the line judges. The locals thought we were slightly mental as we were happier to see Seb than the game.
We had the afternoon and the next day in Rurrenbaque, where we had hoped to chill out maybe go to the local swimming pool but it decided to chuck it down again so we did a lot of reading and watched some more of the Olympics at a small bar. The following morning it was time to head back to La Paz in the plane of death, that wasn't as scary second time round. We got talking to a couple in the 'airport' who live in London but the guy grew up in Colchester it's a small world. The airport security made us laugh as we had to empty our pockets and the security guy peered into our bags for a matter of milliseconds, confirmed this was safe and we walked to the few chairs they had outside. We were then driven to the landing strip to wait for the incoming plane!
We had such a great time and on the last count we had seen over 35 different species. We're looking forward to heading back into the jungle in another country but perhaps we will wear mossie spray if we venture out for sunrise.