Unfortunately the dry weather combined with farmers deliberately or accidentally starting fires, meant that there were bush fires everywhere. At one point we wondered if our camp was safe as the whole sky turned orange at night and flames could be seen all along the horizon moving at speed towards us
! Fortunately the camp was still intact when we woke after our first night’s sleep and we went for a walk along dry riverbeds and through fields of waist high grasses (not sure how sensible this was considering the bush fires but our guide seemed to think it safe) to hunt for anacondas. Walking in the blazing sun was hard going but after an hour or so we found an anaconda, only a young one but already quite large. It was amazing to see it up close but I would have preferred it if the guides had left it alone and not pulled it out of its hiding place as it was clearly annoyed. Later that day we went piranha fishing and I succeeded in catching a small white piranha which had a beautiful golden glow. Tom also caught some kind of small catfish. I think they were supposed to be for dinner but we put our catches back in the river after a quick photo!
On our final day we went back in the boat and went to visit a large caiman called Fidel who lives on a certain bend in the river and has become quite tame. Our guide fed him some chicken and a few of us (Tom included) gave him a stroke! Another highlight that day was watching three pink river dolphins catching fish. Unlike their ocean cousins, these dolphins are a pale pink colour, have tiny eyes (large eyes are unnecessary in murky water) and a tiny hump in place of a large dorsal fin.
Returning along the river back to our starting point we started the bumpy three hour jeep journey back to Rurrenabaque, spotting some flamingos and passing tiny villages with wooden thatch roofed houses
. Back in Rurrenabaque we checked into the pleasant Hotel Oriental located on the leafy plaza and had a lovely trout dinner at Casa de Campo. The next day we caught the 12pm bus back to La Paz. We were reluctant to leave tropical Rurrenabaque and return to high altitude La Paz and would have preferred to continue on our journey to Santa Cruz (our next destination) by staying in the Amazon region and going via Trinidad. But unfortunately we had left some baggage in La Paz to avoid carrying everything on the Choro trail so we had no choice but to go back. We had heard lots of nightmare stories about the gruelling 18-24 hour bus ride from Rurrenabaque to La Paz and were dreading it. The road was unpaved and bumpy for the majority of the journey but it wasn’t as bad as we had thought. We made it in 18 hours exactly and drove through some incredible rainforest scenery before it got dark. The plane would have only taken an hour but would have been more expensive and the thought of going on a tiny plane with only one engine was too much for me (although statistically speaking probably much safer than Bolivian buses!). Back in La Paz we enjoyed a restful day ready for another marathon (17 hour) bus journey south-east to the city of Santa Cruz and then on a further three hours to Samaipata, our next destination.
Our 3 day tour of the Pampas was a real highlight for us. Travelling in motorised canoe down the Rio Yacuma, we spotted a huge amount of wildlife: hundreds of capybara (including large families), caiman (including small and very cute babies), freshwater turtles comically arranged in size order along logs, squirrel monkeys, red howler monkeys, jabiru storks, herons, egrets, eagles, cormorants anhinga and many other birds. It is dry season so the normally flooded grasslands are dry and the wildlife concentrates along the river in large numbers. For spotting wildlife, only the savannahs of east Africa could rival this place I should think.