Bus to La Paz, really smelly Peru Tour – would not recommend!! There were some roadworks going in so we needed to walk a bit to get to the migration office and walk over the border to enter Bolivia. The plans was for the bus to pick us up the other side but some fairly rubbish instructions meant that this was a bit of a palava but Ricardo managed to get hold of the company and get the message to the driver to come and pick us up. We crossed at a place called desaguadero which was pretty grim, one of the meanings of its name is sewer and that seems appropriate!
That night we went to “sabor cubano” which was a lovely place with great food, then to a bar called sol y Luna, had some cocktails and chilled playing some pool before a good night’s sleep.
The next morning we were up and exploring La Paz which is a very cool city. We took the teleférico (cable car) to the top to reach el alto which is effectively a spill over city for La Paz but is now quite big in its own right. This afforded us some excellent views and Ricardo told us a bit about how the government had decided to build this teleférico without asking for permission and other gung-ho but pro-Bolivian activity that had led to a 15 year term given the popularity with the masses. However, it was pretty unpopular with the wealthy individuals that spent a lot of money on nice houses only to have a cable car right on top of them!
We then rode it all the way back down and past where we started then got a short taxi to la Valle de la Luna (the Moon Valley), which is a surreal place that does look like it’s not from this planet. Looking out from one of the various viewpoints I couldn’t help but think of the analogy of a giant field of was candles that had melted down to their bases. The material is clay and what you see is the result of rain over many many years eroding it down.
That night it was dinner at a nice mexican called la cueva then back to sabor cubano for some live music and drinks as we said farewell to Ricardo and thanked him for everything this far. Probably stayed up later than we should have given the early morning flight to the jungle next but ah well.
The flight to Rurrenabaque was followed by a short drive then an awesome boat ride into the heart of the jungle up the river with a 200 boliviano (£20) entrance fee. What really hit me after spending a couple of weeks at altitude was the heat and humidity, but the cooling breeze as the boat zipped along was excellent. We were going against the current and at times one of the boat hands had to use a big stick to punt us along where it got too shallow for the motor to work. There was also one point where both he and the skipper jumped in and were manually trying to haul the boat along a particularly shallow bit. The vessel came to a standstill and and Michael, Lisa and I looked at each other quizzically. Part of me was thinking that these guys must know what they’re doing so best to leave them to it… this thought was abruptly cut short when one responded, after being asked if we needed to help, “puede ser” (could be!). So after hastily chucking phone and wallet into rucksack I joined everyone else in the water and eventually we managed to get it moving in the right direction and into water deep enough for the motor to function effectively. I should also add that there was a quick question pre jump as to whether there were piranhas in this part, and the answer was no! We would be fishing for them at some point later though, so a completely justified query.
A quick interjection here about the wheelie suitcase versus big rucksack discussion (try not to get too excited…). Up to this point I had been extremely smug not having to carry stuff on my bag or faff with digging everything out if I wanted something buried deep. However, the walk from boat to camp was not easy and my neck muscles got a serious work out as I carried it on my head for this part… that being said, we were meant to drop these off at the tour office and pick them up at a different point but something went awry. Had it not done so, the wheely suitcase would have remained a clear winner throughout IMO!
We had two days under the canopy in the jungle and this was spent with a walk on the first day, dinner, night walk then a long trek the next morning. The scenes were incredible and our guide and cook, Zenon and Chachi were both amazing. Zen on tells me that he has been doing the job for 27 years and is always learning something new. The encyclopaedic knowledge the guy has about the flora and fauna around here is such that you can well believe it.
Mapajo – huge tree with roots that are above ground and like walls. Particularly good to spent the night if you get stuck out here. Sit with your back to wall and light a fire in front of you, as the jaguars go for the back of the neck and are afraid of fire.
Colomero – a sort of fruit that grows around here and the campsite had some,!cotton material is found in the middle of it. I learnt about this one as one fell and hit Zenon in the the back of the head as we were having lunch in the first day.
Hormigas del fuego (fire ants) – so named as when they it you it feels like fire. Apparently back in the day people were punished/ tortured to death by being tied to a tree full of these nasties.
We saw a few different types of monkeys (mostly capuchins and howlers) as well as various species of birds and on the second day spent quite a while stalking a herd of wild boar, which was no easy feat. They are very jumpy and with all the dry leaves on the ground was very hard to sneak up on them but with some perseverance we were rewarded with some good sightings. Zenon’s ability to find all these things was very impressive and he told us in the jungle you learn to see with your ears first.
There were also spiders. Lots and lots of spiders, apparently it’s spider season. A few tarántulas too!
Gusano – caterpillar type thing that never goes through metamorphosis. So I suppose it had to make itself look funky to make up for it.
We packed a lot in and were extremely lucky to see all that we did. Apparently the group before us hadn’t seen nearly as much and spent three days there so you really can’t predict what you are going to get! Pretty tired but very pleased we jumped on the boat and headed back to Rurrenbaque, where the next stint of our jungle adventure awaited. We had a nice dinner at a place called El Nomadico run by an Aussie guy called Paul who had moved over here a while back.
Also to note – being out of altitude is amazing. I feel so much stronger and healthier generally, so not looking forward to going back up! It more than makes up for the profuse sweating that comes with jungle climate, and with long sleeves and bucketloads of DEET we have all done well with mosquito bites too. Only picked up a couple of new ones since the salcantay trek.
After a very basic breakfast the next day we were picked up and driven for a long and hot journey into the pampas (flatlands) of the amazon basin. The earth was dry and red, and was kicked up into a flurry by any vehicle that drove over it. I asked my compatriots in the back if they’d seen Mad Max and the driver chuckled, he knew what I was on about! Some parts were better than others and this was apparently the result of the odd truck we went past that was spraying water on the ground for that purpose.
We stopped for lunch (and all got ill shortly afterwards so reckon it was dubious…) then met our guide Luiz and jumped on a boat to spend a couple of hours on the river looking at the wildlife and reaching our lodge for the next few days.
That first afternoon we went out again to see a few animals then met up with a few other groups to have a drink and watch the sunset ahead of going out for our night boat trip. This is where you shine your flashlight from the side of the boat and are met with hundreds of yellow/red pin pricks of light reflected back at you. These are from the eyes of the Caimans (similar to crocodiles/alligators) and there are so many!
It was really hot and sticky that night, but we had kind of resigned ourselves to being uncomfortable as that is the price of being in the jungle. We had cabins and functional (tepid) showers so couldn’t complain too much. I think the bad food affected my group faster than me and they took an early night, I had a beer or two with another group (met some aussies, Germans and Spaniards), convincingly lost a game of pool against another guide then headed to bed myself.
The next morning we went anaconda hunting in the swamps (two of us made up, but neither Ines stomach feeling great) and squelched through some almost knee deep marshland and saw a few cool things… lots of crabs… but unfortunately no snakes. Luiz told us earlier that it’s better when it’s hot and sunny as they bask like the caimans do. It was looking like rain and so thankfully cooler but meant our hunt was to no avail. We got back to the lodge just in time to say goodbye to a few of the new people we had met, and then the heavens opened. Torrential rain for a few hours and we were glad to be inside unlike the others who had a couple of hours in it to get back to the harbour. We had a pleasant lunch, siesta then went out and saw lots of pink dolphins when it had stopped raining and had done an it of swimming “with them” (at a fair distance but still counts). I wasn’t entirely sure how Luiz knew we wouldn’t have problems with caimans or other hidden beasties, but figured if I gallantly stayed boat side of him and the open water would at least be second in the menu if things went south and this be able to make good my escape. That being said I definitely got nibbled a bit by something… but without drawing blood and so remained safe from the pirañas.
I made it out solo the next morning and had my own private tour around 6am on the river which yielded a slightly different array of wildlife and was extremely tranquil with no one else on the water. I also got some Spanish practice in as Luiz had no need to speak English. My real reward for rising early however materialised only once id got back to camp, and Luiz told me there were lots of monkeys about (I hadn’t noticed…) and suggested I asked the cook for some bananas to go and feed them. It was amazing, so many monkeys!! Tiny yellow monkeys!!
I reconnected with the group at breakfast and this time Mike and Lisa tagged teamed and this time the latter joined me to go fishing for pirañas. I managed an impressive zero fish (all those hours on lakes in Hampshire, Dad must be so proud…). Lisa somehow caught a dogfish despite us using cow as bait and was disappointed but Luiz instead was delighted and said it would be great to use as bait… then proceeded to catch 3 pirañas. Jerk. I was consoled by reminding myself I didn’t like fish anyway, so was only justice if they didn’t like me back but hoped there was some other meat for lunch. There was chicken, all was well! The piraña was ok to be honest and didn’t have much of a flavour, but I tried some nonetheless!