We hastily arranged a tour for the next day, went out to the local gringo hangout, Moskito Bar, and had several cocktails and games of pool with a tour guide we befriended. We showed up bright and early (and slightly hungover) the next morning, only to discover that the tour was in fact full, so retired to some hammocks with our books. The next day however we were off on our Pampas tour.
The pampas is a huge area of swampy grassland which has an abundance of wildlife, and it is a better place than the jungle itself to see the animals. We spent most of our 3 days cruising around in a motorised dugout canoe spotting alligators, cayman, turtles, capybaras (the largest rodents in the world), pink river dolphins and loads of different types of birds. At our lodge there were 3 resident alligators, lots of monkeys and 2 huge jabiru storks who were building a nest high in the treetops, all of which we could watch as we chilled out in the hammocks looking out to the river. We went searching for anacondas (although to my relief we didnīt actually manage to find any) and fishing for piranas which we then cooked up for lunch - they are quite tasty!
The day after our pampas tour we set off again, this time for 2 days in the jungle
. I have always wanted to go to the Amazon jungle and it was fantastic to actually be there. We went for some walks and were shown medicinal and toxic plants, trees that tasted like garlic, green leaves that turned red when rubbed between your fingers, enormous ants and spiders, lizards and a tiny wee frog. It is much harder to see animals in the jungle as it is so dense and they are naturally shy, but we did manage to spot some wild pigs, monkeys and some toucans and our guide drew our attention to the sounds the various animals were making in the distance - he had incredible hearing and could spot movements in a tree or on the ground from miles away.
Then it was back to Rurre, another big night at the bar followed by some raucous kareoke in a private room at the Banana Disco, and we turned up for our flight the next day feeling slightly fragile. Having heard several different versions of what time check in was at the last minute we had found out the flight was leaving from Rurre so we got a bit of a sleep in and didnīt have the prospect of a 5 hour bus trip back. What we had instead though was a 5 hour wait, during which time no-one knew what time the plane was actually leaving, if at all. We waited outside the airline office for a few hours while our bags were checked in and various forms were filled in at a laborious pace - Bolivians seem to be quite good at painful beaucracy
. Finally a mini bus arrived but it was not nearly big enough for everyone so we faced another wait while it took the first group and came back. Eventually we ended up travelling to the airport on the back of a pick-up truck that was roped in to help speed things up a bit. We arrived at the airport for more queuing up to pay money to men to put stickers on our tickets and waiting, wondering when the plane would arrive. Finally we heard the wonderful sound of a plane landing, and all rushed out to watch it taxi to the terminal. Hmm, we thought, it looks bigger than the last one and doesnīt seem to have any windows. After the chaos of our day we were starting to wonder if weīd ever make it to La Paz in one piece, so it was with great trepidation that we climbed the stairs to board the aircraft. No posh seats and men handing out sandwiches this time! We were in a military transport plane which had canvas mesh seats with archaic looking seatbelts in 4 rows running lengthwise down the plane, so we sat jammed in facing eachother with our bags on our knees. The Israelis (who made up about 90% of the passengers) said a comforting good luck prayer and with a huge roar we took off, everyone being thrown to one side as we started to ascend. Forty-five minutes later we arrived safe and sound, but gasping for breath with the shock of suddenly being 4,000m above sea level again.
We decided to forgo the 18 hour bus trip on a dirt road and fly to Rurrenabaque, gateway to the Madidi National Park in the Bolivian Amazon basin. In an effort to save a few pesos we chose to book on a military flight which flew to an airport 2 hours by bus from Rurre, according to our travel agent. We turned up to the airport not quite knowing what to expect from a military flight and were pleasantly surprised to discover a robust looking plane with proper seats and a friendly man in uniform handing out sandwiches and coffee onboard. The view from the flight was amazing - we flew over the mountains surrounding La Paz, then the land suddenly plummeted downwards and turned into gentle hills covered in lush jungle. We touched town at the "airport" (basically a field in the middle of nowhere which didnīt even have a terminal) and were dismayed to discover that in fact Rurre was in fact a 5 hour bumpy, dusty bus ride away, but nevertheless we were very excited to have arrived in the Amazon