Watching the River Flow: Rurrenabaque & the Pampas

Trip Start Jan 30, 2010
Trip End Sep 12, 2010

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Where I stayed
Hostal Oriental

Flag of Bolivia  ,
Friday, April 23, 2010

Rurrenabaque, gateway to Bolivia's Amazon basin and Parque National Madidi, is a laid back riverside town of 20,000 with its own simple charms - dirt streets lined with outdoor cafes and market stalls and a vibrant local scene. When our 19-seat toy plane touched down on a short, bumpy dirt runway, the heat and humidity were oppressive. A week of on and off rains was settling in and and mosquitoes were out en force. Rurre is smaller than the guide books led us to believe. Tour offices abound and the backpacker set cruise the streets in search of a budget trip into the jungle or pampas (grassland area along the river Yacuma). We, being about twice the age of the average tourist here, went for the most expensive option, not a big splurge given that we are in dirt cheap Bolivia. We booked a world-renown jungle lodge, Chalalan, which turned out to be well worth every bolivar. 
We connected with the Norwegian friends we met in Samaipata, Morton, Elisabeth, Camilla (11) and Emelie (7). After our five days at Chalalan, our two families went on a three day pampas tour, staying in jungle lodge on the Yacuma River, more basic than Chalalan but quite comfortable. Here, we saw a huge range of bird life along the river, including many types of heron, kingfishers, storks, parrots, macaws, toucons, the five foot tall Jinjubu stork, among many more. The only mammals we encountered were many capybara and several cows! We hiked in the pampas , but were dismayed to see evidence of deforestation and cattle grazing. After that, we stuck to the river, where the kids fished for, and caught, piranha. You can't catch those in Norway! The piranha here are quite small, yielding little more than a mouthful of bones. 
Back in Rurre, we stayed in town for a few days, spending most of our time in hammocks at our well-used hostel, the Oriental. There's not much to do in in town besides relax in hammocks, so Hostel Oriental, with a courtyard full of them, qualifies as the perfect Rurre accommodation. On our way to dinner one night, we happened to bump into a friend from our hostel in Sucre, a Palestinian named Sammy. He joined us for a fabulous fish dinner, at a restaurant that serves diners one dish, the "house special". This night, it was foil wrapped, thick, juicy white fish. No one could tell us what kind of fish it was, but the meal was, indeed, very special. We'd run into Sammy once before since Sucre, on the Uyuni Salt Plain! There is a definite "gringo trail" wending through South America, and we regularly saw familiar faces from places one, two or more stops back.   
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