The Pampas Jungle Tour, Madidi National Park, Rurrenabaque...
The Bolivian Amazon is an incredible place. I chose to visit the pampas (floodlands) as there is more wildlife to see there than in the thick of the jungle. As far as the wildlife that I saw I was far from disappointed... caimans, aligators, monkeys, anacondas, birds of paradise, birds of prey, pink dolphins, capaburas... and much to my delight a sloth
However I was a bit disappointed by my visit to the jungle over all. It would seem that the tourism there isn`t very responsible in terms of preserving the wildlife. I thought I had been careful in terms of the tour I chose to visit the Pampas. It was supposedly an eco tour and profits from the tour went to a small indigenous community in the jungle. The agency had good recommendations... but it would turn out they were no better than the cheaper, less legitimate tour agencies in the area. The eco lodge we stayed in over the 3 days was great and on the surface everything seemed as it should. But our guide had no real interest in giving us information about the wildlife... he didn`t seem to know much more than the basics and had no interest or involvement with conservation. I was the only person in the group who spoke Spanish and he spoke no English so I had to translate for the 3 days we were there. This was fine but it meant he couldn`t be bothered to explain too much unless I really questioned him... which I did a lot. The other disadvantage of me being the only spanish speaker was that he saw it as an opportunity to make sleazy remarks and hit on me the whole time as he knew no one else would understand.
On the first day we were traveling down the river in our dug out canoe simply to watch wildlife... which was exactly what I wanted. At one point we stopped to watch some yellow monkeys (this is an example of how bad our guide was... i have no idea their real name he just said they were yellow monkeys! Well we could have worked that one out for ourselves!) One monkey clambered down to have a closer look at us, in that inquisitive monkey-like way, and our guide said to me "oh he`s come to see if we`ve got biscuits" which worried me slightly. But the monkey didn`t get too close and the guide didn`t offer him anything so I didn`t think much more about it. Then the following day we encountered an Anaconda which should have been an incredible experience but unfortunately it seemed to be nothing but news of the serpent had been radioed around to other nearby groups and a photo opportunity ensued in which this poor anaconda was nothing short of terrorised by the various different tour groups who had congregated around it... people were grabbing and snatching at it`s body shouting in its face. Before I had time to protest the creature was thrusted into my hands. I really did not want to be touching wild animals and least of all wanted to be a part of causing any animals stress but it was almost unavoidable. Afterwards I wished I had stepped back and refused. I soon put the creature down and walked away from it all. I was upset that the guides had been encouraging tourists to snatch and grab at the animal and didn`t tell anyone how it should be handled (which in my opinion was not at all). All the way back to our canoe I kept quizzing my guide about whether it was bad for the Anaconda to be handled like that. He tried to disregard it at first and then got a little irritated by me and told me it was fine as long it is just cradled gently and is not held near its head... but neither he or any of the other guides told anyone this and people were squeezing it and grabbing it very close to its head.
Luckily that`s the only thing my guide allowed to happen on my tour but I spoke to people from other groups with the same company and they told me how their guide let them feed monkey`s bananas and biscuits out of their hands and one group even went out at night to hunt and capture baby caimans. There are so many reasons we shouldn`t be tampering with the wildlife there. I was so upset and disappointed with myself for being a part of it all. It can be a real lottery choosing guides here and so far I have been really lucky. I saw some thing that saddened me in Galapagos but my guide was certainly a conservationist and cared about the environment there. But unfortunately in the Bolivian amazon I got tricked by an agency that lied to me and I feel like it would have been hard to know that this was going to happen.
Anyway, you live and learn. It was an amazing experience to see these beautiful creatures in the natural habitat. The pink dolphins were a real highlight. They didn`t seem real! And the one thing that cheered me up with the adorable and hilarious sloth that we saw on the drive away from the pampas back to Rurrenabaque. He was just sat up in a tree and we stopped the car to have a look at him. He saw us and legged it to head for a neighbouring bush... 10 minutes later he had moved about 2 feet! He was so lovely. Much smaller than I imagined and moved like an arthritic elderly dwarf in a monkey suit! I`ve always wanted to see a sloth so it was a little dream come true that somewhat brightened my disappointing jungle experience!