Our Amazon Adventure: Part Two

Trip Start Jul 05, 2012
Trip End Jun 19, 2013

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Flag of Bolivia  , Beni Department,
Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Our pampas tour tired us out so we spent a day swinging in a hammock, washing clothes and eating 1.50 set dinners. Seriously we got fish, spaghetti, rice and salad for 1.50! It was good too, a rarity in these parts. After having a good few days we were really excited for our second part of our amazon experience. We began by being greeted by our guide Norman (sounds very Bolivian) who actually smiled and said hello therefore already better than our pampas guide. We got on our boat and headed to the entrance point to Madidi national park. Here we paid our 11 entrance fee and then set off for the 3 hour journey, deep into the jungle. The river Beni was a lot wider here and that soon gave way to the river Tuichi where our lodge was located. Once arrived we found our group was with 2 English girls, nice small group so we didn't make much noise whilst trekking. There was another group of 4 and that was the total in the lodge. Our room had a comfy bed with open roof so we could hear the sounds at night. The bathrooms were spotless and the whole place was perfect. We were surrounded by the jungle no one near us, a great start and after a yummy lunch we were ready for our first trek. As I explained before animal sightings are rare apparently due to the dense jungle and as soon as we set off it was obvious trying to spot wildlife would be tough. The feeling of trekking through the amazon was awesome, everything seemed huge and there was much more a sense of adventure compared to the pampas, here animals would need to be found as opposed to them finding us. The humidity was immense and combined with our layer of DEET our skin was very sticky. Soon enough Norman started making weird noises, I thought he needed the loo but actually he had heard wild pigs. He imitated there sounds and sure enough they were getting louder and louder. God knows how Norman heard them originally but it was so cool hearing them snort away in the bushes. After 5 minutes waiting we got lucky and watched them cross the trail in front of us. One by one each quite big in size until the baby one, so small we've no idea how it kept up. When we passed there was a horrendous stench, at first I thought Mark had a problem but Norman explained the pigs were like skunks in the way they release a stinky gas when they get scared. Mark, himself actually has a similar ability....anyway that was our first wildlife sighting in under 20 minutes trekking so not bad! We trekked to a lookout point which offered superb views of the jungle complete with the andes in the background. Whilst relaxing for a while we sat down and soon noticed we had some friends. Leaf cutter ants. Or in our case, trouser cutter ants. These guys were huge and once they bit my trousers impossible to get off without killing them. Along the trek Norman explained about a few of the surreal trees we saw like the walking tree, which has exposed roots that looks like it has loads of legs and perhaps the greatest tree on earth: The Garlic Tree. I kid you not, peel back the bark and you have an entire tree made from garlic! We tasted it and its real people! Norman explained how people from local communities use it for cooking along with many other things found in the jungle. We also saw plenty of spiky trees, a self defense mechanism to keep any unwanted visitors away. I certainly wasn't gonna climb it. We arrived back to the lodge after a good 2 and a half hours walk and dived straight into the showers. Its been a long time since we've sweated that much but as soon as we got out we had to reapply our DEET before dinner. We then got a surprise as the other group showed us to the lodges resident tapir. This is such a cool animal and was hand reared by the people at the lodge as it had become separated from its mother. For dinner we had soup for starter, chicken mash and veg for main and fruit or pud. Straight after dinner we headed out for our night walk. Walking in the day is slightly eerie as you know theres wildlife but you cant see through the dense jungle but at night its a whole new level. Along the way Norman found us some pretty big creepy crawlies and then asked us to turn off our torches. We stood still for 5 minutes listening to the sounds of the jungle. Complete darkness except for the odd firefly. Amazing. After our walk we were shattered and went straight to bed, falling straight to sleep.

After hearing some positive reviews we decided to pay a bit extra to visit a lake a further 2 hours upriver. We left after an epic breakfast about 7.30am and soon enough got treated to our next wildlife viewing. Capybaras, this time they were out in the open, a family of 3, we got a really good look at them whilst Norman explained how they can swim and hold their breath for up to 10 minutes if needed. We saw another 2 families of capybaras along the way again just chilling on the edge of the river and certainly not bothered about us. Once we arrived we trekked in the morning through a small coffee plantation where we tried some mandarins, limes and grapefruits. We spotted a pair of macaws high in the trees and even had a wren sing to us. However the highlight was when Norman somehow heard a monkey call. He made a sound and sure enough the monkey called back to him. He asked us if we fancied an adventure and of course we obliged before heading off route into the dense jungle to track the monkeys. Every so often we would stop, Norman would call, the monkeys would respond and we would head in the direction the sound came from. About 20 minutes later we found them, it was difficult at first to spot them but when they moved we could see them swing from branch to branch. Tracking them was very cool and to see them even better. The fact Norman cared enough to take us off trail to find them was really great but the adventure didn't end there. We then proceeded to get a bit lost. After half an hour of failing to find the trail, Norman asked us to stay while he went off to find it. We stood in the middle of the amazon hopelessly lost. Norman always said he knew where we were but i was not convinced however he reappeared and eventually we found our way back. Even getting lost was fun, having to dodge the massive spiders and ducking through the thick jungle. After returning to the start point we enjoyed a packed lunch, fish and chips! This put a smile on our faces and after we headed to the lake for some piranha fishing. Now earlier I said fishing was boring but I think I was a bit premature as I managed to catch my first piranha! It was much bigger than the pampas ones and had an awesome set of teeth on it. We were allowed to kill it and have it for dinner which was cool and soon enough Mark caught one and then another and caught 3 in total! We're now a fully fledged fishermen. Us 4-0 English girls. Our fishing trip was a success, we all had a good time and headed back to the boat. While we had a toilet break Norman shouted us urgently. I ran ahead to see what he wanted to find he had spotted some more monkeys, this time in a low tree right next to the patch of grass we were on. It gets better as this type of monkey were the Golden Palace monkey. Norman informed us they were only discovered in 2004, naming rights were auctioned off to raise funds for conservation in the Madidi national park. The winner: a Canadian casino, hence the name, for a $650,000 fee. It was a such a beautiful monkey, quite small with a reddish brown colour and cute face. There were 3 in total and for us to not only spot them but to see them so close was amazing. It was an incredible end to an awesome day. Although it didn't quite finish there as on the boat ride back we watched another family of capybaras swim right in front of our boat. In size order. Very cool. So apparently wildlife is rare to see in the jungle, not if you have Norman as your guide!

Our final day or rather just morning consisted of a trek along a different route kind of parallel to the river. Norman introduced us to some more interesting hidden secrets of the jungle like the parasite tree. The seeds of the tree can grow from anywhere, say halfway up another tree and will then grow both up and down looking for sunlight and the ground. It will then suffocate the tree by spiraling around it and steal all of the nutrients from the ground and sunlight by growing higher. If you try to chop it down or cut a root even more roots will grow making it nearly impossible to get rid of. Next we found the only tree that can cope with the parasite tree. A tree that can shed its own skin! Therefore the parasite tree cant cling on or grow around it! Who thought trees were so exciting. We were also shown the mother and father trees of the jungle. These are huge, our pictures will help! Norman was great at explaining everything, he clearly knows his stuff and is passionate about the jungle. Our last wildlife sighting was in the form of a deer. A male juvenile who stared at us as we passed on the trail nearby. At the end of the trail we reached the river where we would wait for a boat to bring us some rubber rings to tube our way back. I used this time to try and take photos of some of the beautiful and huge butterfly's and accidentally came across some fresh jaguar paw prints. We had joked everyday about seeing the elusive jaguar but even just seeing the huge prints made it real that they are somewhere out there in the endless jungle. Our boat came and we stripped off to our swim gear and relaxed on our rubber rings down the river Tuichi, not a care for the piranhas probably swimming around us. It was a great way to finish what was an amazing amazon experience gently drifting down the brown mysterious river. Hopefully one day we will return to the amazon and who knows maybe we might even get a glance of the elusive jaguar!
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