Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bolivian Amazon - Rurrenabaque

A normal bus ride on a local bus in Bolivia sets you back about $1 USD per hour of travel. On these buses, you should expect no toilet, no AC, no padding on your upright seat, no working toilet, bumps so high you catch air, turns so tight you need to hold on to something, indigenous people wearing layer upon layer of thick, colorful clothing and bowler hats, aisles filled with boxes and bags of fruit and vegetables being transported from home to market and vice versa, babies of all ages and the occasional small livestock. Oh, and a few waste bins scattered throughout the bus in case you need to spill your guts at any time.

Our trip to the Bolivian Amazon, Rurrenabaque, started off with a 19 hour bus ride for the low, low price of $8.50 USD. Too good to be true? Many people, even tramp style backpackers such as ourselves, opt for the 45 minute flight to the jungle, as the road is so notoriously horrendous it’s worth the extra bolivianos. We couldn’t pass up this price, and here’s what we got….. the worst bus ride I’ve ever been on in my entire life. It felt like La Paz’s “Death Road” for 14 of the 19 hours.

After 19 hours on this bus, and a combined total of about 19 minutes of sleep, we arrived to Rurre at 4:30 a.m. Booked a trek into the pampa, fell asleep on the sidewalk, and finally set out around 9. Three more hours of a bumpy jeep ride with our guide and three other travelers and we arrived to the Yacuma River. Our long, wooden boat was like an Amazon dream in the nearly delirious state we were in at that point, and for a few hours we enjoyed the smooth sailing and animal sight-seeing that only untouched nature like this can provide. Alligators, birds and turtles were all around, and the boat rides became such a tranquil part of our trip, when we weren’t in battle, that is. The war with the mosquitos never stopped – 30% deet became the norm, along with pants and long sleeves in the blazing, tropical heat.

We arrived at our eco lodge on the river, complete with fresh, cold water showers and a large screened in room for hammocks. A quick siesta in the hammock was much needed, as was the tasty vegetarian feast that followed. That night we got back into our trusty vessel and cruised the river at night – on the hunt for alligators and caiman (a subfamily of alligator found only in South America). The lack of any substantial electricity within hours leaves the night so clear and so calm – the only noise was that of the bugs and all that fills is the sky is about one billion shining stars. That, and fireflies all around, leaving the whole scene feeling like some mystical world you’re lucky enough to step into for that moment in time.

To see the bright eyes of the alligators at night, hovering just above the water, perpetually on the look-out, was a bit unnerving at first. To think all that separates them from you is the ancient wooden boat you’re floating in is enough to send chills down your spine, and the rush of adrenaline was quite amazing. With the engine cut, just floating down this enchanting river, we saw so many of these floating eyes all around us that you can’t help but feel that you are really in their world, as visiting spectators fortunate enough to be a part of it.

Sleep was easy under the mosquito nets, and the next day we set off for the pampa. Spent the day walking through what sometimes felt like a jungle field and other times seemed like a swamp. Our guide found a very aggressive alligator guarding its eggs, and its quick few steps toward us in an effort to get us away worked quite well – first and hopefully last time being chased by an alligator. Not long after we found a much less hostile anaconda relaxing in the tall grasses near a lake, and it was amazing to be so close to such a creature! Back on the boat we went in search for pink dolphins – the Amazon river dolphin, they live in fresh water and have a pink hue to them. We saw quite a few and very close to our little boat. Enjoyed a nice sunset at a place overlooking the pampa with a small ‘bar’ and a grassy area to play football. Amazing cold shower and an early night.

(our guide, Jamie, in the pampa)

(Douglas & the anaconda)

Like so many Saturday mornings start, we got up early and had a nice breakfast, then headed out for a nice day of fishin’! Arrived to our spot with our pieces of wood with string and a hook attached, and dropped line in hopes for some big… piranha. Standard, really. The first was caught by a nearby boat and we all had to get a close up look of those razor sharp teeth. Apparently they can easily kill a chicken, but it would take a whole lot of them to kill a human. Reassuring, I guess, as collectively we only caught a few throughout the afternoon. Enjoyed our last day of cruising around the river on our trusty dinghy, wind in the hair and fresh air all around. It was an incredible feeling to be so connected and intertwined with nature, and I can only imagine what a trip down the Amazon in Brazil must be like. Something to look forward to for the future, for sure!


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