(Day 22 - 28)
13.12.2009 - 19.12.2009 35 °C
Sorry for the long post all, but after 7 days we had so much to say.
Sadly our flight on the 13th was canceled due to bad weather so we stayed an extra day in La Paz and the next day we were off to the Bolivian side of the Amazon basin. We took off in an 18-seater plane for Rurrenabaque. It was really tiny and the first time we have had both an aisle AND window seat at the same time! The flight was relatively smooth and so was the landing considering the runway is a long piece of grass!
On arrival we were off on a small metal boat (like a fisherman type one) for 3hours up the river Beni then the river Tuichi deep into the jungle. It was very exciting to be there. The river was quite wide and the jungle on each side lush and mysterious, with lots of butterflies skimming the surface of the river around us. Anyone whose known me (Steph) for a while knows my fascination for butterflies, I couldn’t be happier!
We settled ourselves at the jungle lodge and had some lunch before heading off for a short journey by boat to a path on the opposite ridge of the Rio Tuichi which would lead us to the viewing of Maccaws. We walked for a while before reaching the viewing point and sat there observing them for at least an hour. It was quite amazing to see them evolve in their natural environment on the cliffs (rather than the odd one in a cage or at the zoo!), the colours of their feathers brighter reds, blues and greens than we’d ever seen before. They were a tad too far for good photos which was a pity as the way the light caught their colours while they were flying was really beautiful.
Video of the macaws breeding spot
After dinner, our guide Angelo, a Bolivian man with the kindest smile, took us on a night walk of the jungle. The thick of the jungle at night is unreal, we switched off our torches at some point and couldn’t see each other at 30cm distance, it was so dark.
This walk was supposed to be to spot animals, but there was nothing in sight and I thought to myself that all his sudden stops and indications to keep quiet were a bit of a show. Then again it was a nice walk and quite an experience to be walking in the jungle at night, so it didn’t matter. Hmm, then we started leaving the path and bundu bashing in the jungle, climbing over fallen tree trunks, sabre out to cut branches on our path and everything. It was all very exciting suddenly. That is until Angelo started engraving arrows into the trees and back tracking on our path and our torch light getting dimmer and dimmer as each minute passes!! Were we lost??? Martin and I tried to be relaxed about it and ask him jokingly if we were, and he says “No, no”, and the bundu bashing continues.. for at least another hour. We say nothing and just follow but by then even though Martin smiles at me reassuringly, my level of anxiety is reaching levels close to hysteria (in my head – outside its just silence) when we suddenly end up in front of our lodge. Angelo maintains he knew where we were all along but we still have our doubts!! Its funny now but was quite scary then..
Waking up in the morning to the sound of howler monkeys in the distance and other wildlife was really cool. However, my trust in Angelo-the-guide has all but vanished but he greets us like family at breakfast and off we go again for a walk. During this walk we spot a couple of spiders, wild pigs which make clicking noises, some birds but nothing spectacular like a Jaguar or even Tarantulas. Angelo also pointed out the trees which were used for medical use and even put one to good use on Martin to take away the sting when some red ants bit him. I myself was quite safe as I had tucked my trousers in my socks, and look like a total idiot, but am safe.
Anyway after lunch we headed back to Rurrenabaque for our overnight before heading to La Pampas the next day. The jungle lodge had neither electricity nor running water and whilst this was a great experience, never was a shower more appreciated after 2 days of 35 degrees and humidity at its peak!
We were joined by another guest for part of this tour, GB who is Dutch, and it was nice to have an addition. We all left in a rickety old 4X4 for the Pampas (the swampy grasslands area). It took us 3 hours along a very bumpy and dusty road to get there. As all windows were down, by the time we arrived we were all covered in a thick layer of dust.
We hopped into a boat and travelled the remaining 3hours to our lodge along the river Yacuma leading to the Pampas reserve. From then on this boat would be our mode of transport. This was absolutely amazing. As soon as we started going, we were seeing all sorts of wildlife; and really close to the boat too. We saw hundreds of alligators and the bigger, more aggressive caiman. A different animal was seen every few meters. To me (Martin) it felt a bit like being at a zoo, although it was 100% untamed.
During our time here we have seen: Alligators, Caimans, Pink River Dolphins, Toucans, Different parrots, Squirrel monkeys, Howler Monkeys, Capybara (a large guinea-pig type of animal who is said to be the largest living rodent in the world) and many different types of birds.
On our first night, we went for sundowners; there is a lodge that doubles up as “Sunset Bar” where you can have a “Big” beer and watch the sun go down. When returning to our lodge after dark we used flashlights to see the alligators’ eyes in the dark. We literally saw hundreds of bright red eyes all reflected in the water, looking devilish towards us as we drifted past with no engines running. We even got rather close to one individual who disliked the fact that we were shining a bright light in his eyes and taking pics (cant blame him) and came speedily straight for us in “attack mode” before going under the boat at the last minute. Adrenaline rush!
The following day we dressed in our combat uniform of deet mozzie spray, long shirt and pants, hat, extra deet spray and water to spend 4 hours in the pampas swamps. It was an extremely hot morning to say the least! No anacondas though nor any other snakes for that matter, but a really cool walk trudging in our wellies through the swamps.
In the afternoon we went in search of some pink river dolphins. As it isn’t the full rainy season yet, the water levels aren’t high everywhere and luckily for us the dolphins stick to some deeper spots, which made it is easy to find them.
We did a sunrise trip the next morning just paddling (with no motor on) just listening to the sounds of the animals and the Howler Monkey’s call, quite amazing. Then some Piranha fishing and finally headed back to Rurrenabaque after an early lunch.
We had a leisurely afternoon and a relaxed meal with a lovely swiss couple, Phillip and Karin, whom we met at our hotel. Little did we know of the day that was awaiting us when we woke up..
The Epic Journey Back
The rain started at about 2h in the morning and we just knew this meant trouble.
As expected our flight was cancelled and would probably be the next day too, this is due to the grassy runway that gets water-logged.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and we decided to take a jeep back to La Paz with a Dutch couple, Rik & Kyra, and an Aussie girl Kim, who were all on our flight and also had places to be! This was meant to last 10 to 12 hours drive. The other option was to take a bus for 19 hours along "Death Road". The jeep LOOKED the better option.
Our jeep broke down after 2 hours and after waiting for 3 hours in the mud and heat of the day while the drivers tried to fix the problem, we were then squeezed into a rusty broken minicab, who squeezed us in another random one a few hours later and so on.
To cut a LOOOONG story short, 15 hours later we had changed cars 4 times, had a breakdown, driven along the steepest mountain roads you can imagine and again were covered in dust. No need to say we were not happy but its one adventure we are not about to forget!!