Welcome to the Jungle

Trip Start Jun 16, 2007
Trip End Nov 13, 2007

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Thursday 26th July 2007 - Sunday 29th July 2007

We began our jungle tour from Rurrenbaqe where we met our guide and canoes on the banks of the river Beni.  We travelled with the same Australian couple from the pampas, and a couple from Dublin.   We had a 5 hour trip up the river Beni and then onto the River Tuichi (Tuichi meaning ugly and dangerous!) and so we were pleased to see our canoe was bigger and more powerful than that on the pampas.  Half way we stopped for a picnic lunch on the side of the Tuichi river.   The river was wide in parts, and sometimes became very shallow, and so we saw why we needed 3 guys to man the canoe - one to drive and steer, one bailing out, and another at the front who had a stick to keep checking the depth of the water!  Every now and then they had to lift the outboard out of the water and punt with staffs.  This is dry season and we had to navigate around huge trees that had fallen into the river due to landslides of the bank, and occasional rapids!  A fun journey!
01  Picnic lunch of side of Tuchi River
We arrived at the part of the river near the lodge, which was a half hour hike through the jungle from the river.  We were given quick instructions to watch where walking and not touch anything!

The lodge was set besides a wildlife rich lake which was filled by a natural spring, and was in a beautiful location.  The lodge is owned, was built by, and is staffed by  the community of San Jose, a village 3 hours further upstream, and is the only village within the Madidi National Park. It is often cited as a model for sustainable tourism with all profits going back into the community.  It was a beautiful place with the lodge building and all its furniture built out of mahogany, and other natural materials.  The food was fantastic, and the lodge kept spotlessly clean.
06 Lake Chalan
The Madidi (meaning Ant) National Park is 4.7 million acres and only has 22 Park Rangers.  It is one of the most biodiverse places in the world as it encompasses a  huge range of habitats, from rainforest's to glaciers at 6000m, and lush wetlands. 

Our first afternoon was spent in a paddle canoe on the lake spotting wildlife, trees and plants.  We saw a red howler monkey, a pair of beautiful macaws and other birds.  The macaws are the most faithful of birds and only have one partner for life, living for years.  If one dies the other is so depressed and lonely it commits suicide by eating toxic fruit! 

That night there was a nocturnal hike to find tarantulas and other bugs.  Claire opted out, preferring to pretend such creatures did not exist in order to survive her jungle experience.  The rest headed into the jungle and the guide led us to the base of a large tree where a known tarantula lived.  The spider would not come out if the torches were on and so we had to wait in pitch dark whilst the guide poked a stick in the hole to tempt the tarantula out.  On signal, we all switched our torches on to find the biggest spider I have ever seen.  It was massive and I did not think tarantulas were that big.  I did take a photo but Claire did not ever want to see it, and so it was reluctantly deleted from camera!  We also saw a few other types of spider, a poisonous caterpillar which would leave you in agony for 24 hours if touched, and a few other bugs.   
02 Crazy caterpillars
The following day we took a full day hike through the rain forest spotting wildlife.  We were lucky to see 4 types of monkey: squirrel, cappuccino, black spider and one type only discovered a year ago.  This was called a Golden Palace Titi Monkey, as there was a bid on the Internet to name it in order to raise money for conversation projects, and the Golden Palace casino won!  The squirrel and cappuccino monkeys played in the trees above our heads, eating fruit and jumping between branches.  We had to be careful not to be hit on the head by debris, but were so lucky to see these monkeys up close in the wild.
12 Capuchin monkey
We also saw a wide variety of birds, including the red necked woodpecker, and more brightly coloured macaws which make an incredible amount of noise. 

We stopped for a picnic lunch by the river and fished for an hour or so!  This time the guide caught a giant piranha, Ross a type of fish called a Reuter, and Claire a large leaf! 
08 Caught a fish!  (and returned it safely!)
On the afternoon hike back to the lodge we came across a 50 strong herd of wild pigs and had to hide behind a large tree.  The pigs were black and hairy, and make ferocious noises, and stank!  This smell was due to a gland they have which releases a stench to confuse their predators, such as jaguar and puma. 

We also saw lots of bugs, including a wide variety of ants, including army ants, leaf cutter ants (fantastic to watch!), and the giant hunting ant which eats scorpions and is poisonous to humans.  We learnt about the trees and plants, and their medicinal uses, and had a fantastic time!  Unfortunately we still did not see a snake but were warned about the deadliest snake in the forest, called the bushmaster.  Our guide had seen one 2 weeks before and it was 2 m long.  We also, not surprisingly, didnīt see the jaguars who live in the forest, but we did see the footprint of a puma! 

That night we ate a traditional meal of catfish wrapped in leaves, and then canoed on the lake spotting caimen and bats.  We saw baby caimen close up and lots of bats.  There was then traditional music and dancing in the lodge.

The next day was more leisurely and we did a small hike to a look out point with a view across the Madidi park to the distant mountains.    We also spent time relaxing in hammocks and more time in a canoe on the lake.  We saw more birds and wildlife and had a great day.

The next day we headed back to Rurrenbaque.  The journey only took 3 hours this time as it was down river. 

We were to catch a lunchtime flight to La Paz, only taking 45 minutes as opposed to the 15 hour bus journey here.  We knew it would be small plane, but were still amazed by the field (runway), and the tiny propeller aircraft with luggage stored in the planeīs nose!  The journey can only be described as 45 minutes of pure terror and we have sworn never to fly in a small aircraft again.  The 16 seater plane, passed within spitting distance of the ice capped mountains, and was twisted and blown about beyond belief!  a heart stopping drop in height caused terror and Ross nearly tore the seat in front of him out of the floor, complete with occupant.  Despite the pain we managed to capture a few pics and hope you appreciate the efforts!   (Jay - donīt tell me the safety record of Air Amazonas)
09 Mini with wings
Arrived back in La Paz at 4000m and was a shock to be at high altitude again.  Staying in La Paz for couple of days to acclimatise and head to Uyuni on the night bus at 9pm on Tuesday 31st July for our trip to the salt lakes.  We have paid double the standard fare to ensure the best bus possible after our last night bus experience!

Jungle was the most fantastic experience (minus the bus and plane), and might be tempted back in to the Amazon basin in Brazil later in our trip! 

The weather in England looks horrendous and hope you all okay. 

A massive belated HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Stilton, Welsh and Lucy!  Hope you all had a great day.  Thinking of you. 

lots of love Claire and Ross xxx

P.s and wishing Lucy and Mark a very happy 1st wedding anniversary!
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