Bites and bugs in the jungle

Trip Start Oct 01, 2012
Trip End Oct 01, 2015

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Flag of Bolivia  , Beni Dept,
Friday, November 16, 2012

We awoke feeling the effects of yesterday's bike ride, our bums felt bruised and our hands felt like they should be permanently in a claw like position as if we were still gripping imaginary handle bars.
It was around 2.30am when we checking out of our hostel and walked bleary eyed to the square where we would be meeting our tour guide. Instead of a bus all that was there was a lone taxi assuring us he was there to take us to the bus. We got in and retraced the route we had done yesterday up to coroico down to yolosa where our bus would be waiting for us. We pulled up alongside a row of little huts selling numerous snacks which were randomly open at this early hour. Numerous cars and lorries pulled up and our taxi driver decided now would be a great time to wash his car.
After 45 minutes our bus arrived and with everyone else sleeping we boarded quietly and were on our way. We awoke at around 6 and seemed to be parked up on the side of the road, drifting in and out of sleep we finally awoke at around 8 sweating from the jungle humidity still parked on the side of the road. We stepped off the bus and the guide told us there was a big problem and we needed to get back on the bus so he could talk to the group. We were informed that the road was closed due to roadworks and wouldn't be re opened till 4pm, he had tried to bribe the construction workers to let us through but with no luck, we just had to wait it out. There was a house next door to where we were stuck and the lady who lived there had kindly offered to cook breakfast and lunch for us and allow us to sit in her garden which opened out onto the jungle and eventually led down to a river. We felt very lucky and accepted the offer straight away and she got to work with preparing breakfast.
We got chatting to the others in our group, a couple of Canadians, Norwegians, Aussies , a German and a Dutch girl made up our group of 12 and we sat and swapped stories of our travels so far.
After breakfast we all changed into our swim stuff- everyone had to get changed on the bus, the majority of us were girls and so the 3 boys hovered around awkwardly until we were done. We walked through some jungle and eventually made it to the water where we all gratefully sank into the cold water. We had to stay on the nearest side of the river as the current on the far side was moving too fast, on the far side there was no bank just steep canyon faces rising high into the sky above.
The sound of the jungle surrounded us as did lots of Mosquitos and with the fear of getting more bites like in Arequipa I got out of the water put some repellent and some clothes on and chilled on the rocks on the river bed. Noticing themselves being bitten most people did the same and as we sat there with the river washing past us we watched in amazement at all the butterflies that surrounded us. We had never seen such an array of different butterflies, some huge, some small, all the most beautiful colours, people were trying to take a photo but just as quickly as the butterfly poised in an elegant position around our feet it would take flight again fluttering manically in the air until it found its next resting point.
We chilled there for the majority of the morning basking in the new climate and making the most of being able to take full breaths of air.
After lunch we spent the afternoon playing cards and at 4 the road re opened as promised and we were off, we were told it should only be a 3 hour journey to guanay where our boat was waiting for us. Unfortunately the guide must of thought we were further down the road than we were as we didn't arrive till 10pm that night. The road to guanay was basically just an extension of the worlds most dangerous road, a thin winding road on the edge of a cliff with huge drops to one side, it was even scarier in a large bus as I looked out the window and couldn't see road just a big drop.
If you didn't look down though the views were incredible, jungle stretching across hills and valleys as far as the eye could see. We had to stop in a small town so the tyre could be fixed- wed apparently also suffered a puncture somewhere on route, luckily the shops here sold some kind of cheap rum which we purchased for when we got to camp and much to Tai's delight just as we were about to board the bus again a man so old he stooped over came past pushing a trolley which contained some kind of old metal
contraption that made slush puppies. The old guys luck was in when the majority of people purchased one of his drinks. Tai was a very happy boy!
We passed through guanay village, Bolivian people don't seem to have any idea of time or have any set schedules. It was around 10pm and kids of all ages were still on the streets, children were looking after children with girls that couldn't of been more than 10 balancing babies on there hips. Every house here seems to have a shop area on the front of it, and every shop sells the same variety of snacks. If a house has no shop then the doors which seem to be either corrugated metal or double wooden panels are just left open with a clear view into the owners living area.
We arrived at the river bank which was right next to the town and a bridge and were told we would be setting up camp here for the night. The promise of deserted river banks surrounded by nothing but pristine untouched jungle was a far cry from the reality we were facing however it was dark and so we couldn't see that much. There was some abandoned wooden planks by our camp and we arranged them to form a seating area. We soon got our sighting of a large bug- a big green thing that looked like a flying leaf. A few of the girls screamed and I wondered what I'd let myself in for.
By the time dinner was ready it was about midnight and we sat on our make shift seats eating our dinner with the lights of our head torch. On the other side of the river bank we noticed a police car shining it's lights in our direction and saying something in audible over the crap speaker system, we wondered if we were going to get in trouble for camping here as we were right next to a town.
When we asked our guide what they were saying he informed us that they'd spotted people getting up to no good in the bushes and were telling them to stop it!
A stray dog befriended us that night and say guard of our camp barking loudly at every little noise- everytime we looked into the nearby bushes with our head torches but there was nothing or no one there, still it was sweet we had a guard dog, we named him bob the Bolivian dog and he was still there in the morning when we woke up keeping guard.
Our guide- Ivan had told us not to leave any clothes outside as moths lay there eggs, the eggs will get into our skin and worms will grow! What a lovely thought.
The following morning we could see the full extent of where we had stayed, a small beach surrounded by roads and buildings, on the opposite bank people had just stood at the top and thrown litter off the sides allowing it to fall down the bank- sometimes it may of reached the river but a lot of it just clung to the side. One of the buildings opposite seemed to be a school of some kind and when we all awoke the children took great pleasure in shouting gringo gringo at us whilst we had our breakfast. Carmen our cook had prepared a delicious feast of eggs, French toast, bread and fresh fruit it was delicious. Before long it was time to set off and we climbed into our boat which was a slight larger version of a dug out canoe with bench seating in rows and a tarpaulin roof. The seats were not the most comfy things especially when we were still feeling the effects the mountain biking but we were about to set off on our adventure so we didn't mind.
The boat moved at quite a quick speed and we were grateful of the breeze cooling down our already sweaty bodies. Steep walls rose the rivers edges separated sometimes with sandy beaches but mainly the water of the river just washed straight into the walls on either side. Birds flew overhead and we spotted our first capybara - an animal which is part of the rodent family.
We pulled over into a beach and one of the guides had spotted a mango tree and immediately started throwing rocks knocking the mangoes down and collecting them all in a piece of fabric. There was a cow skull balancing on a log, Ivan told us someone had probably taken it from a nearby village. We began our walk through the jungle and as soon as we were under the canopy of some palm trees we paused and were told some information on the area feeling lucky to have found some shade. Ivan told us around 30 Years ago there was a gold rush in Bolivia, locals would stand on the river banks with nothing but a pan, panning for gold for up to 14 hours a day and would find around 5,6g a day. The gold obviously started to diminish and now people doing the same will only find half a gram a week. Big companies arrived a set up gold mining stations along the river and these are now finding around 5-6kilos every 15 days. Later on we saw some of the big mining stations and it reminded us of Disney land and the set from the runaway mine train.
We continued walking following a small creek deeper into the jungle for about an hour until we came to the natural pool, we were all so hot and grateful for the swim, the pool had a waterfall falling into it and we all jumped in the water as quickly as we could. The pool was shaded slightly by the jungle canopy and as birds sang around us we felt like we were in paradise.
We then started the walk back, one of the girls fell off a stepping stone into the river we were crossing and as we helped her we lost the rest of the group. Confident we knew the way we carried on until we came to a section none of us recognised. After some deliberation we decided on one of the routes and I understood how easy it would be to get lost in the jungle.
We made it make thankfully and dinner was waiting for us. Since we'd gone the guides had found a pineapple tree and had managed to pick one from it.
We got back on the boat and had a long afternoon ahead of us as we had to make up time from yesterday. We passed numerous mining stations and we even saw a snake swimming in the river next to the boat. We stopped at a little village in our way to camp and people stocked up on some local spirits- we still are unsure what they are. To Tai's delight they were selling home made coconut ice lollies from one of the houses so he obviously got himself one with a big smile on his face.
As the sun was setting we arrived at a beach that Ivan told us would be flooded in a few weeks as the wet season began. Unfortunately being on a beach meant sand flies and as it was dusk there were thousands of them swarming around us all. We longed for darkness as this meant they would go away, as the sun set we tried some of the spirits we bough earlier and Carmen made us all popcorn. As darkness fell it was time to get back in the boat and cross the river for our night walk- I was petrified and almost in tears at the prospect of this. We crossed the river looking for a place to dock the boat and climbed out and scrambled up a river bank. Ivan told us that 80%25 of the animals in the jungle were nocturnal and it was important to be quiet so we could hear the jungle and how different it sounds at night time.
The sounds were incredible- it was almost like we were surrounded by music, bugs, birds, monkeys and frogs all contributing to the final song that we heard. The beauty of the noises didn't deter me from the fact that there were lots of bugs and as we were through the jungle my head torch was darting around everywhere checking for creepy crawlies that were trying to get us.
We saw lots of beetles, crickets, and even a lizard. We also saw a very cool bug (I never thought I'd say cool and bug in the same sentence) it had two bright neon green circles on its back that glowed so brightly it was as if they had lights under them- it was very avatar esq. as we were walking one of the girls behind started screaming as a spider as big as the palm of our hands dropped down from its web in front of her face. Stood frozen for a while it soon climbed back up and we carried on. We stopped by an area which seemed as though it had recently been on fire and Ivan said that the communities are only allowed to grow agriculture in an area of up to 1km away from the river otherwise it's illegal as this part of the jungle was a national park. As we were stood explaining we saw a head torch come bobbing towards us. In the dark it's impossible to see who the light belongs to. Ivan called a few names of people from the boat- no answer, the light still carried on approaching, he called out again- still no answer. The person was pretty much right near us then, Ivan held into his machete and approached them, within seconds came laughs and pats on the back and we all breathed a sigh of relief, it was a guy from one of the local communities. Screw walking alone in the jungle at night- I don't think I'm cut out for jungle life.
We saw more spiders, leaf bugs and a frog on the way back but the most impressive thing was still the noise, it was incredible. We jumped back on the boat and head back to camp. The sky was lighting up around us and although there was no rain or thunder yet it seemed a storm was on its way. When we got back to camp the guides pegged out our tents preparing for the rain. Then we built a fire. The heat still hadn't subsided and we all sat a long way back from the lit fire. We ate our food but everytime we looked down at our bowls they were filled with more bugs so we put them to one side half empty. A campfire on the banks of the river was idyllic until it started to rain and we were forced back to our tents. Our 2 man tents felt like mini saunas and we tried our hardest to fall asleep quickly. We awoke the following morning to pancakes, mangoes and pineapple picked fresh the day before. We awoke at sunrise and the sky was a beautiful red colour and thankfully there weren't many sand flies around at this time in the morning. We ate our delicious breakfast and it was onto the boat once more. As we went down the river a group of blue and red macaws flew overhead.
There was two jungle hikes to do today. As we were in the boat going down the river to the first we pulled up alongside another boat, they were fisherman and had caught a large catfish, Ivan bartered and agreed to buy it for 40 bolivianos and 5 litres of fuel. Fuel in Bolivia costs around 3 bolivianos a litre- at the moment it's 11 bolivianos to the pound. The fish later went on to feed 16 of us.
Apparently there is a shortage of fuel in the indigenous communities as the government restricts fuel to the lowlands. What fuel they do get many try to smuggle across the border to brazil where they can get ten times as much money for it.
We carried on to our first hike area. The jungle here was really overgrown and the guide was having to use his machete to chop the trees and plants to make a path. We were trying to get to a river to swim in but the jungle became too dense and after an hour we had to turn back. on the way back we climbed a hill and were welcomed with a beautiful view of the river and the jungle surrounding it.
By the time we got back to the shore lunch was served- catfish and rice. We sat on the river bank and ate while Ivan told us stories of times him and his friends were lost in the jungle. One of the guys on the boat got lost for 3 weeks and luckily found a stream and lived on fish until he was rescued. Ivan said he'd only been lost for 3 hours but it was the most scary time of his life.
Our next walk was the biggest and the deepest yet. We walked in silence in single file into the jungle pushing aside plants and climbing over fallen trees. We stopped to look at different trees, we saw a walking tree- a tree that grows new routes and moves up to 5cm a year following water and the sun. We were told this was the best protection if you were being hunted by animals and you should cut out in the inner roots and climb inside making a fence around you with the outer roots. As the roots are covered in thorns no animal will try and get in to get you and will eventually lose interest and go away- apparently. Another tree we saw was the Curare tree, the deadliest tree in the amazon. If its sap goes in your eyes it can blind you or if some goes in your mouth it will poison you, the guide told us that fisherman take a quarter of a cup with them to the river, pour it in the water and fish in the nearby area will float to the surface.
We carried on walking deep into the jungle listening for animals with ever step, after an hour an a half we turned back and on our walk back saw some lizards and best of all monkeys swinging in the trees above our heads! It was so amazing watching them swing from branch to branch right above us. We were all buzzing when we got back to the boat and settled in for our final journey to rurrenbaque. On the way we passed the tuichi river as it joined the beni. The tuichi is where the Israeli guy who wrote the book I read got lost for 20 days by himself. As the river joined the Beni we knew that was the route he had planned to take before losing his raft.
At around 6 we arrived in rurrenbaque - most of the group were ferried off to a hostel but we decided to choose a cheaper one on town. We headed to the hostel in desperate need of a shower and afterwards inspected our bites. The Mosquitos and sand flies had gone to town on us, even my bum had been bitten from when we'd had to go to the toilet. Feeling clean and fresh we headed out for a beer and to meet the others for dinner.
After dinner we decided to head to a club on the bar mans recommendation, walking into the club I felt like I was about to faint- it was so hot my glasses steamed up but with our tickets we got a free beer so we coped with the heat and stayed for a while. I think we were the only travellers in there and everyone was salsa dancing everywhere- one guy that tai spotted seemed to be dancing more with himself than the girl in front of him. There was a lot of hip shaking, we tried to join in but must of stuck out like sore thumbs.
After a couple of hours our clothes were so wet they were like an extra layer of skin and we decided it was time to head back.
The jungle had been awesome- next stop the pampas!
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Dave the Legend on

Hahaha your glasses steamed up. One of the worst things to happen when you walk into a club trying to look cool.

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