Where the wild things are

Trip Start Sep 14, 2009
Trip End Dec 09, 2009

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Where I stayed
Hostal Tucanes

Flag of Bolivia  ,
Saturday, October 17, 2009


  My how the scenery has changed... After our long stretch of hard work around Cochabamba, we made our way north to La Paz and eventually into the steamy jungle. A 45 minute flight in a tiny twin prop plane took us from the high and dry altiplano, over 18,000 foot peaks in the Cordillera Real and into the low, lush and humid rainforest on the fringe of the Amazon river basin. As we broke through the pea soup clouds I beheld an endless sea of green, tens of thousands of towering trees stretching toward the sun and lazy brown rivers cutting serpentine paths through the landscape. Landing on a dirt runway in the only swath of bare land for a million miles, I knew the experience would be unique.

 We first settled for a day in Rurrenabaque, a sleepy jungle town with beach bum vibes where the hot and sticky weather seemed to determine the relaxed pace of life. Tank tops and flip flops were the norm, and families of five packed onto a single motorcycle cruised past shirtless tienda owners in patio rocking chairs, cumbia music blaring from the speakers into the streets.
  The first half of our jungle experience took us on a longboat ride several hours up the mighty Beni river and to our first accommodation in the midst of the vast Parque Madidi, one of the most biologically diverse treasures in the world. Sleeping in wooden cabanas at night and hiking through the meandering jungle trails by day, we quickly became familiar with the savage wilderness surrounding us. Though a great deal of wildlife thrived in the area, the density of vegetation and sheer size of the national park kept us from encountering much face to face, instead displaying much more impressive fauna that proved just as ominous and intimidating. Though many of the indigenous names have slipped my mind, we became familiar with trees whose natural properties proved as powerful and at times deadly as any pharmacy Iīve encountered. The bark of one could be eaten or boiled and ingested as a remedy for the common cold and diarrhea, and the core of another might aid against headaches or rheumatoid arthritis. Within the leaves, roots, vines and bark of these longstanding giants dwelled cures for snake bites, upset stomach, toothaches, insomnia and a whole host of ailments suffered by local tribesmen. There even existed a 'viagra' tree, whose bark shavings "make men very strong", according to our chuckling guide, Freddy. Certain plants could be used as natural compasses, always stretching east toward the rising sun. Others had large hollow cores which could be pounded on with clubs as a resonant communication device for up to a mile across the jungle. Some grew new roots above ground each year and literally walked toward sunlight, others contained highly poisonous sap potent enough to kill a man with only several drops, and one silent killer stretched vines around a larger host tree and strangled them to death before taking itīs shape. The king of the jungle, the Soliman tree, towered over 350 feet above the jungle canopy, large enough to serve as a waypoint for pilots flying overhead. In only a day, we learned that this place was one to be respected.
  In addition to the plant life, we were fortunate to come across several species of fauna, including bright red macaws, giant tarantulas, scurrying armadillos, capuchin monkeys and a foraging pack of over 100 wild boar, who fled once they picked up our scent. The fresh tracks of a baby and mother jaguar also raised eyebrows, leaving us to wonder if we were actually the ones being watched.
 At night I had thought to sleep outside in my travel hammock and mosquito net, but was warned by my guide that this would be no protection against stinging insects and biting spiders, the blood-sucking vampire bat, or the bora-bora moth, who laid eggs in the skin to later hatch into sickening larvae straight from the unlucky host. "Oh, and watch out for poisonous snakes who hide under the toilet at night, " he warned. Needless to say, I slept inside and held my bladder 'til daybreak.

  Our next two days in the bush proved an interesting change as we headed back north past Rurrenabaque and into the swamplands of the Pampas. On the smaller and muddier Yacuma river we headed upstream in small motor boats toward our next junge accommodation, passing loads of wildlife on the way. In the water and on the muddy banks we came within armīs reach of alligators and six-foot caymans, as well as overweight capybaras, the worldīs largest rodent who waded in the shallow riverīs edge. Giant cranes, eagles, toucans and birds of paradise overlooked from trees and squirrel monkeys and howlers swung noisily from branches. It was truly a jungle of noise and activity from our put in all the way until our overnight cabana three hours up river. The following days were as exciting as they were questionable, given the activities lined up on our itinerary. In the morning we fished for piranhas with simple reels and chunks of fresh chicken meat on the ends. While catching them wasnīt too difficult, avoiding their razor-sharp teeth while removing the hooks turned out to be adrenaline-inducing. We also went for a dip in the cloudy river so as to get a close-up experience of one of the more unlikely inhabitants, the pink freshwater dolphin. Bobbing their heads above surface, they came within several feet of us as we treaded water nervously in the Yacuma. Only 20 feet away we could see drooling gators on the river bank, but were assured by our guides that the dolphins would keep any would-be predators at bay. "What about the piranhas?" I asked our guide. "Oh, donīt worry about them, " Freddy assured me, "the dolphins will eat them too". If this werenīt enough, we also donned rubber muck boots and spent an afternoon searching for anacondas in the mucky swamp. Sloshing through knee-high smelly swamp water for hours, we stumbled across a super venomous green mambo, an angry mother alligator whoīd been sleeping under the mud and eventually the prize itself - a seven-foot young anaconda. Excited as we were to encounter this giant serpent, we were told that the real big ones grew up to 30 feet long, feeding on alligators and baby cows for breakfast. This tidbit of information was enough to speed our return back to camp, and later to the less hostile terrain in the town of Rurrenabaque.
  For a simple snowboard bum like myself, this experience was nothing short of eye-opening.  As much as I enjoy the warm weather and animal watching, however, I am over these damn mosquitos - Iīm outta here!

  Thanks for your patience in the overdue blogs, and look out for the next update from Peru!

Saludos a todos,

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Torrey on

Good to hear the Pamapas are the same as they were 10 years ago. Pretty amazing array of wildlife eh? In Panama I was told of a viagra Ant that if it bit you in the right place, also made you very "strong". Keep up the fun!!

DekeDenver on

good to hear you are still alive. Watch out for dem creepy crawly's, they getcha in your sleep, not just in your dreams.
Sucka MC Out!

Linda Torres on

I particulary like the blue berd. Heis regal - and charming

mom on

Your adventures never cease to amaze ( and scare) me. Thanks for the newest update. I think about you every day. Continue to be safe and take good care of the kids. Love you bunches.

mason on

next chapter...

JR on

Ha, vijes como roosevelt. cuando vas a construir un nuevo canal. Bueno suerte amigo en la proxima parte de la viaje. me pondras postado, no? hasta pronto

Michelle Flake on

Your travels sound more and more amazing with each blog. Thanks for the updates and keep bathing in the sun (and especially keep writing about bathing in the sun) because it is cold up here in Summit County - only 15 degrees on my way to work!

Wilma Cain on

The photo swamp thing, caught my attention. It is amazing what the Navy Seals and the other military branches go through to serve their country. To be in the middle of a jungle with intimidating plants, spiders, snakes and alligators, and also the enemies. I don't think individuals really realize what the military goes through, to serve their country. It is a wild and crazy adventure.

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