Crazy animals, the Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Bolivia

Trip Start Mar 15, 2006
Trip End Dec 20, 2006

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Sunday, October 1, 2006

It´s a while since I´ve written. From Uyuni I headed to Potosi on a horrible bumpy bus and arrived at 3am with no accommodation booked. The big thing to do in Potosi is to dress up in miners uniform and take a trip into the tin mines to see the medieval conditions that the workers face. If you are lucky they let you set off some dynamite. I didn´t really fancy that idea so headed on to Sucre, which is the official capital of Bolivia. It had some nice colonial buildings, and I was very tempted to buy some antiques but glad I resisted. There was a miners strike (very common here) blocking the road to La Paz so I flew (eventually... it was 7 hours late).
Flying into La Paz was amazing, as it is set high on the altiplano, ringed by mountains. La Paz itself is smoggy and crowded, but the ¨witches market¨ was quite interesting, selling a variety of charms and dried llama foetuses (given as an offering to mother earth ¨Pachamama¨ in August to ensure a good harvest).
From La Paz I flew to Rurrenabaque, base for trips into the Pampas (grassland) and jungle. The flight was pretty scary for a nervous flyer like myself, as it was a little propellar plane, and we flew very close to some mountains before landing on a grass runway. Landing in Rurrenabaque would have been about 20 degrees warmer than La Paz and it was pretty humid, so we spent the afternoon lounging in the hammocks.
I had decided to do a Pampas tour as I will be heading into the jungle in a couple of weeks anyway at Manu Biosphere. The next day I was suprised to find out that there were only 2 of us on the tour, myself and a Dutch guy Stijn, and we had the whole lodge to ourselves for the next 3 days which was lovely. It was a bit strange having candlelit dinners with someone other than Nick, and it would have been really romantic if he was there, but Stijn and I got along well and we were both very enthusiastic about the wildlife.
On our first boat trip down the river we were almost beside ourselves at seeing caiman crocodiles and capyburras (like overgrown rodents), but we were to see thousands more over the next few days. I couldn´t help being a bit spooked by the way the caimans would slither so silently into the water as you went past, leaving just their eyes above the water. By the time we headed back from our first boat trip it was dark, and with our flashlights we could see hundreds of red caiman eyes watching us.
The next day we went walking through the pamapas in search of anacondas. This also spooked me a bit even though our guide insisted the snakes were harmless. The other two were quite enthusiastic, tramping through the long grass hoping to scare one so it would be easier to spot, but I mostly stuck to the path. I did however find a little dead snake, which actually turned out to be poisonous, so after that I was even less enthusiastic to tramp through the grass. After walking for about 3 hours in 40 degree heat all we had found was some dead anacondas and an anteater up a tree, but we did eventually find one just as we were heading back. Actually there were 4 of them, all curled up together in a nest, and they really were quite harmless.
I had thought our guide was being quite brazen getting so close to the snakes, but later I heard from some people who had done other, less ´ecologically sound´ tours where the guide had chased after the snakes and picked them up, whirling them around in the air to make them tired before everyone took turns at draping them around their necks. I was glad I hadn´t signed up for that tour.
Actually the pampas in general was not exactly ecologically sound and doesn´t seem to be protected in any way, and there was quite a lot of little in the river from the villages upstream, as well as domestic animals such as cows, dogs and cats roaming around.

After lunch we headed out again in the boat to fish for pirahnas with some leftover meat. This was suprisingly easy, and within a few minutes we had each caught a fish, which we cooked up for dinner that night and washed down with Bolivian wine. It was peaceful on the river, and the sunset on the way back was spectacular.
On our last day we headed upsteam, where we found a group of spider monkeys. They were uncannily human-like, from their tiny little hands to their perfect little ears and human mannerisms.Next stop was to swim with the almost blind pink river dolphins (I couldn´t face getting into the water with all those caimans around...)
We were in a hurry driving back to Rurrenabaque as Stijn had a flight to catch. Our jeep had already broken down 3 times on the way to our camp, and had so many cracks in the windscreen that the driver would hold the windscreen up for reinforcement everytime we passed another vehicle, in case the windscreen caved in. On our drive back we managed to break down another 3 times, once driving right off the road so I thought we were going to roll when the steering became disengaged from the front wheels, but we managed to make it back to Rurrenabaque in time (and saw some very active sloths and a toucan on the way!)
My flight back to La Paz the next day was also not without incident. When we arrived at the airline office we were informed there was a ´´problem with the plane¨´ and we might not fly, but to check back in another couple of hours. 8 hours later we finally flew, and I have to say I´m not sure I´ve ever been more terrified in my life, imagining up all sort of ways the plane could crash, but we made it back to La Paz safely in the end.
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