Rurrenabaque, Deep in the jungle

Trip Start Feb 22, 2005
Trip End Jun 22, 2005

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Saturday, April 30, 2005

30th April
After sorting out our travel arrangements for the jungle, we set off at 10.30am from La Paz for another epic bus journey. This time 18 hrs down the worst road in the world. Our bus looked like something out of Mad Max, massive wheels and full of unsavoury smelling characters, all the other gringos had evidently taken the plane. The legroom must have contravened some kind on international transport regulation. But off we went, cheered by the prospect off the tropical climate. Graham the tough mountain man has been moaning about the lack of central heating ever since Cuzco, it has not bothered me, as it's much the same as a December evening at the Bond residence.
The journey down was a hair-raising experience and I was too nervous to sleep through the whole thing as planned. We had seats on the left side of the bus, which overlooked the cliff edge, the traffic drives on the wrong side of the road on this stretch to prevent the heavily loaded lorries travelling up to La Paz having to pass other vehicles on the cliff edge side. They also have the right of way over the traffic coming down hill so that they don't have to stop and make hill starts. So as you can see going down is a lot worse than coming up.
We made it to Rurrenbaque in the early morning and after little sleep on the bumpy journey, were due on the 1st day of our 2-day jungle trip. Luckily due to a cock up at the agency it was just the two of us and our guide. We took a dugout canoe up the river for an hour, then walked through the jungle, crossing log bridges, to reach our camp, a shelter and bench next to a stream.
Walter our guide lived with his family about a mile from the camp and explained that each local guide chooses his own spot to set up a camp, his 3 children came across to joined us and help out. He took us for a walk and using our limited Spanish he explained the names and medical properties of many of the trees and plants. He told us not to worry as most of the dangerous snakes and creepy crawlies don't come out until after dark. Apparently all the snakes are busy trying to catch the frogs at night. He explained that there was no point in carrying anti-venom as the only two poisonous snakes could kill a horse in 5 minutes so there was no anti-venom, GREAT!
Walter was a really nice bloke, he did everything. The most amazing thing about the jungle was the lack of mosquitoes. Walter explained that the water at our camp was safe for swimming, we both looked at each other thinking he was clearly mad but after seeing him let his own kids in we thought we'd bet give it ago.
That night we lay on our beds (which I can best describe as pasteing tables with mozi nets) and joked about the poisonous snakes climbing the trees above our heads. Needless to say the thought of getting up for a pee didn't even cross our mind. I wish I'd have had a tape recorder to catch the noise of the frogs, it was incredible.
The next morning we awoke to a fine breakfast cooked by Walter, he then dragged us off into the jungle for a long walk. The guy new everything about the jungle, I think his favourite word was "TOXICO". After a few hours of looking at spiders and frogs and a quiet moment looking out over the vastness of the jungle we headed back to the camp for a spot of lunch. We then went back to the river for another trip by dugout to Rurrenbeque. To my surprise the guy who's boat it was dragged me to the back where he smiled and gave me the handle to the outboard. I looked at him and smiled back, not sure if this was a good idea as the river was fast flowing with currents. I quickly realised he had ulterior motives as he left me to it and climbed down to the front of the boat to spend the journey chatting up Alex.
The next day we headed for the Pampas, an area close to the jungle, where the land is a little flatter and the river draws down the large animals to drink. We had a 4-hour jeep journey, followed by a 6-hour journey by dugout canoe to get to the spot we were staying. As we got in the jeep we realised that the other couple where from the UK and amazingly had come from Bolton too. After a bit of a chat we found out they new Leo, one of my mates. What a small world.
The jeep journey was real rough, a few days before it had rained and the dirt road had been turned into giant ruts. On arriving at the river we spotted a pod of fresh water pink dolphins. They are amazing, really long noses and funny looking faces. They start off pink when they're young and become grey, as they get older. We loaded up the dugout and set off on what was to be a very long journey.
We had arrived at the end of the wet season so the water levels where really high. This meant that rather than sticking to the tight twists and turns of the river we could turn across through the trees, which where half submerged in the water. Within the first half an hour we had come across a troop of squirrel monkeys, they were really interested in us and come down from their trees to have a closer look, even venturing onto the canoe. For the next six hours we cut our way down the river with wild life around every corner. Eagles, turtles, huge howler monkeys, cappuccino monkeys, giant stalks and herons, they all seemed to be there.
We arrived at our camp, which was a cattle ranch. The sun began to set and then it happened; the air turned black and the bugs came out. I'm not the sort of person who's really that bothered by insects but this was like a scene from Indian Jones!
So ran for cover in our insect proof hut. When we arrived we found someone had arrived before us, namely some giant spiders and frogs etc. Peter and Ali the couple from Bolton seemed to take it all in their stride as they'd driven back to England from South Africa it the 70īs and had spent four month camping with lions etc. Peter had nearly died from Malaria so a few oversized insects were nothing to them. We had dinner with Juan Carlos our guide and Daniel our mad as a hatter interrupter. We all decided that we should have an early night and head back to the hut for some sleep. When we arrived two giant toads where sat on our doorstep, as if waiting to be let in. We sent them on their way and went inside. I headed over to my bed and spotted a giant cockroach in my wash bag, then another, then another. By this time Alex was not a happy bunny. She leapt around the room, as Peter and I tried to catch the buggers with a toothbrush and a wastepaper basket then chuck them out the door. When we had decided we had got rid of them all, we tucked ourselves into our mozi netted beds and fell asleep.
The next morning Peter told us that he and one of the ranch hands had just killed one the most poisonous snakes in Bolivia that was lurking outside in the woodpile. The Pampas is apparently a really good place to see anacondas, but because there was so much water around our guide reckoned that we would be very lucky to see one. After breakfast we got some horses from the farm and headed cross-country to the neighbouring farm along the river. The only way at this time of year was by horse back as the mud on the trail was really deep, Juan Carlos led the way and we followed. The horses where up to there knees in mud and really struggled to wade through in places. This was all quite exciting for me as I'd never been out on a horse before now. Alex is a bit of an old hand and I could see she want to go a bit faster on the dry stuff but it wasn't to be. When we got to the next farm we where greeted by the farm parrot, she flew down on to my horse and picked up the reigns, my horse however was having none of it and whacked her off with its tail. After the ride back, we all jumped in the dugout and went to find some pink dolphin to swim with. As soon as we got in the boat there they were there. I stripped off and jumped in and instantly they all swam off to the other side of the river. I swam around for a bit splashing on the top of the water trying to attract them but to no avail. Alex and the others looked at me swimming around in the brown river water, which later that night we would be alligator and cayman spotting in, and decided to give it a miss. Juan Carlos had a swim too but in the end the dolphins decided they didn't like the look of us. So we jumped in the boat and went for a ride up-river to see if we could spot some sloths. No luck again though, the sloth where nowhere to be seen. We motored back to the ranch slowly watching the sunset and listening to the howler monkey and frogs.
That evening after dinner we put on our head torches and went looking for alligators and cayman. Juan Carlos told us that the alligator are OK, but that the cayman are really aggressive, so we would not get too close to them. As soon as we were on the river the red eyes of the alligators and cayman were clear to see with a flashlight which was a little unnerving as about four hours earlier we had been in there trying to swim with the dolphins. As we motored along, Juan Carlos pointed out which were alligators and which where cayman. Spotting a small alligator about a meter long we motored up to it, as we got really close Juan Carlos said that actually it was a young cayman, at which point Alex was about a foot away from it. Then with a lightening fast move it shot off onto the bank. Alex leapt about two feet in the air and we all rolled about the boat laughing at her. After watching a very brave water rat swim across the middle of the river we headed home to bed, this time with only a couple of giant spiders for company.
The next morning was an early start. We woke in the dark at 4.30am and got straight in the boat to experience dawn on the river and search for the elusive sloths. The sunrise was amazing and brought relief from the mosquitoes that were out in full force. After about an hour of searching the trees, we spotted a round lump in one of the bows. The guide tried to wake him up by imitating a puma; the sloth lived up to his name and didn't move. After Juan Carlos had been through all the animal sounds he knew we headed back for breakfast. An hour later on our return journey the same sloth had managed to turn his head and we got a good look at him. On the way back to the pick-up point we stopped off for a swim at a popular dolphin spot, Alex and Ali went in and the dolphins played at popping up around them. We stopped and had lunch at a little bar and the lady who owned it showed us the Piranha that she had just caught and was about to make into soup. Just before we got to the jeep we spotted some capybaras, the worlds largest rodent. They are about the size of a pig with rat like teeth and short brown hair. Finally we saw an ostrich type bird, but sorry we can't remember its name. The next day we set off back to La Paz, another 18 hours by bus up the death road.
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