Jeep Safari and River Tales from the Amazon Basin

Trip Start Sep 17, 2012
Trip End Dec 06, 2012

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What I did
Amazon River Basin

Flag of Bolivia  ,
Thursday, October 25, 2012

Hola, Families and Loved Ones,

We´ve got a lot to report on since you last heard from us. Our four day jeep safari stint in Uyuni and across Bolivia's southern altiplano (high plains) was quite eventful, with many notable experiences.

It all began with an exhausting day of travel from Cochabamba to Uyuni via Oruro. For some of us it was our first time using rail as a means of transportation. Though it was many hours of sitting it turned out to be quite exhausting. We stopped briefly in a hostel in Uyuni where we got some sleep before heading out in the jeeps.

The desert plains of Uyuni were quite spectacular, and nothing quite like any of us had expected, with many breathtaking landmarks. First we stopped at a train graveyard where we spent all of our time taking photos and clambouring across ruined freight cars and engines. We also made many stops along our journey to various geological and ecological features.

One of the most astounding was the salt lakes.  A true geological treasure, these lakes are set in mountainous valleys and are home to flamingos and other incredible wildlife. What was equally interesting was that many of these lakes had a different coloured tint to the water which proved interesting and helped give many of the flamingos their bright colours.

That night, like most nights during our time on the jeep safari, was spent in a rundown cottage like hostel without any heat or coforts that we are used to. Our first hostel had an interesting vantage point of a crashed plane next to an ancient shrine dedicated to old world gods and inhabited by two human skulls, as well as a few femurs and other bones.

The nights out on the high plains are as radical as the hot days, with bitter cold temperatures and wind that cuts through even the thickest of clothes. Although the conditions were rough, our time was enjoyed (albeit in many layers) because we had the company of our friends and the encouragement of our wonderful eladers.

Having a personal cook eased the stress as well.  Her grinning face accompanied many delicious meals that she prepared at a moments notice both at the hostals and at pit stops along our journey.

The jeep rides were just as eventful and trying as nights spent in the hostels since we had hours to occupy without techonology. Split up into 3 jeeps our group passed the time playing a wide variety of games, from card games to charades that borught us closer together and provided hours of slap happy laughter.

Our newly purchased instruments got a test as well and many songs were either written or performed in the four days.  Sometimes to the great annoyance of our drivers. What else was occupying, was stopping at various rocks where the group got their daily excerscise running wild like children, climbing across bizarre natural rock formations that jutted out of the endless flat dessert. Personally my cameras memory card is more full of posed, silly, group inclusive pictures staged, in front of and on top of these amazing rocks.

Without a doubt, the most interesting site was the famous salt flats.  This seemingly endless white expanse stretches for miles across southern Bolivia, and is one of the worlds formost producers of salt.  It was an unreal experience to find ourselves so seemingly stranded in an uninhabitable, hellish landscap where the only life we saw was and island full of cacti and two rowdy llamas. We stopped for lunch at the the cactus island, where we had a stunning panoramic view of the salt flats and the mountains in the distance.

On our last night we were reminded of home with a delicious dinner of llama pizza, at the famous Minuteman Pizzeria. This stop in Uyuni for pizza, and the first hot shower in days, was made even more like home where our fanatic sports fans were able to finally check the scores after a nailbitting four days without updates. Of particular interest was the status of the Baltimore Oriels, who to Oliver and Julia´s great pleasure made the playoffs.

With our arrival in La Paz came the lovely Jake Slavik´s nineteenth birthday, which allowed all of us a night to celebrate.

From La Paz we headed to the jungle to search for more and different wildlife on an Amazon Basin safari! The final adventure before closing the Bolivian chapter of our journey.

My friend once told me that "It ain't a ball game unless there are a couple of curveballs".  His wisdom rang especially true when the group stood on the tarmac at the La Paz airport and looked out at our plane to Rurrenabaque, a lovely town situated on the shores of the Rio Beni, deep in the Amazon River Basin. The plane was a 20 seater and powered by two propellers. It had just enough room to fit our crew, the two pilots, and another chap who I can only assume paid extra to be in such fine company. The flight was hot, bumpy, and extremely uncomfortable and one that I am sure will become only more so with each retelling of our trip.

That being said, it is amazing how quickly nausea dissipates when you place two feet on firm ground, take a look around, and realize you are in paradise. The Rurrenabaque airport didn't even seem like a real place as much as it did the set of a movie. The dirt runway, the single room thatched roof terminal, and the miles of lush jungle surrounding, had us pinching ourselves all the way to the hostal. 

We dropped off our bags and eagerly searched for the town's high point, a cross placed atop a mountain overlooking Rurrenbaque and all of its surroundings. The hike, while not an easy one, was a perfect means to maintain some level of fitness before our trek to Machu Picchu in just a few short weeks, especially after having just sat in jeeps for the last several days during our safari in Uyuni. Moreover, watching the sun sink below the Rio Beni is just about as good of an introduction to Rurrenabaque as any. 

While I am sure many of us would have liked a few extra days in the quaint little town, it did not take much convincing to get the group piled into the jeeps destined for Santa Rosa, the starting point of our three day safari.

The safari, was essentially an introduction to the Amazon River Basin. We boarded two hand carved motorized boats (semi resembling long canoes) and headed upstream of the Rio Yacuma.

The first day we saw all sorts of creatures indigenous to the pampas region of the Basin, including alligators and caymans, herons and egrets, as well as monkeys and piranhas. We even saw a particularly interesting animal known as the Capybara, the largest rodent in the world! Noah said the Capybaras reminded him of the beasts from the movie, "The Princess Bride," an accurate description by all accounts.

Inca Land Tours, our guide company, have a cabin right on the shores of the Yacuma. Very fortunate, as by the end of the day we were all pretty exhausted. However, despite our weary selves, the day was not yet done, and as soon as night fell we clambered back into the boats one more time. Rafting down the river, hearing the sounds of the jungle, and seeing the plethora of stars overhead was about as good of post-dinner entertainment as we could have hoped for.  That is until the guides docked the boats and caught three wild baby alligators and brought them on board, allowing us to hold them and take pictures.

Day two proved to be just as eventful. After an early wake up call and a breakfast fit for kings, we donned our rubber boots and went trudging through the bogs in search of anacondas and cobras. It's a bit unnerving, walking through a swamp unable to see where you are stepping, not sure if what you are stepping on is a 20 foot alligator or a rather intimidating looking lilypad. Nevertheless, it was an incredible experience to be able to hold a wild anaconda and see the footprints of other creatures up close.

By lunch time, the heat and humidity was nearly intolerable so we opted to take a midday siesta before boarding the boats again for some late afternoon piranha fishing. Margaret proved to be particularly good at this as she was able to reel in seven piranhas in just over an hour. Hannah also seemed particularly adept at fishing, although not so much with piranhas as large twigs, a skill she seemed to be quite proud of. Needless to say, fun was had by all.

Our final day proved to be just as intriguing as the rest. We began on the shores, feeding fish to alligators, then migrated to the woods where we gave bananas to monkeys, and finished in the river itself, swimming with the dolphins.

These river dolphins are particularly interesting as they are pink, a side effect from eating the red algae located at the bottom of the river and which serves as a staple in the diet of the dolphins. After splashing around with the dolphins for a bit, we had to begin the journey back to the jeeps. However, as soon as the decision was made, the heavens opened up on us (only the second time it has rained since we have been down here). In monsoon like conditions, we sailed down the river. Luckily we all remembered to bring our raincoats! What an experience it was, soaked to the bone in the middle of the Amazon, watching as dolphins and caymans swam to our side. It would take a lot more than water to wipe those smiles off our faces!

This safari was the perfect way to close out our time in Bolivia, and while we are sad to bid goodbye to such an amazing country, we are all excited to start the next part of our adventure!

- Kyle and John 
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