Raw, untouched and a paradise on this earth
31.03.2015 - 05.04.2015 30 °C
After surviving the worlds most dangerous road, we packed to head off to Rurrenabaque, a small town in the Amazon Basin from which is a good place to launch into the jungle. Instead of the 20 hour (at best) bumpy, muddy journey on a road prone to floods and natural disasters, we decided to take the much more expensive, but so worth it, 30 minute flight. The commercial plane was the tiniest we have ever been in - seriously, there was more room in our little Mini Cooper! There was one seat on each side, no overhead luggage compartment, no flight attendant and there wasn't even enough space for a door to the cockpit. When we landed in Rurrenabaque there wasnt even a building, just a landing strip and a bus of people waiting. No passport control, no luggage conveyor belt. Well, there was no belt, but there was a "find your luggage in this trailer here". Going from the cold, high altitude of 4200m in La Paz to the 400m, hot and humid topical climate of rurrenabaque was a relief! We spent the day booking our tour, eating market food and lazing by our awesome pool at the hostel. At 40kr/ 4 pounds a night, it really was a slice of paradise! Later, I began feeling very ill, threw up the food from the market stall, and was worried it would jeoporadise the whole jungle trip. However, morning came and miraculously I woke up completely fine, only a little dehydrated and hungry. We also found out that morning that poor Christian who was supposed to arrive also had his flight delayed by 21 hours so missed the start of his tour.
Day 1 in the jungle
And so we began our jungle adventure! We did so much and saw so many things that it is impossible to write it all down, and with just one other couple in our group, it was a truly a very personal and "up close" experience. We began with a 3 hour boat ride up the river beni to reach our camp, far into the amazon. After lunch we met a group who were just leaving and they smelt so bad, the flies followed them everywhere they went. There is no shower in the camp and they had been there for a while! Leni and Charlie, the other couple were really lovely and a lot better in spanish than us - a great asset when we wanted to communicate with our awesome guide, Jimmy. Our first activity was to trek for 4 hours through the thick, dense overergrown trail. We saw a multitude of oversized animals like this hamster/small dog thing with a red head, giant snails, a giant frog (our guide said that it was a small one) and lots of colourful and loud birds. As we trekked through the mud it began to rain and our guide made a fan for Kathrin and a water bottle holder for me out of leaves and wood that he stripped right on the spot. We learned about medicinal uses of some of the plants and roots in the jungle which was facinating - almost everything there can be used for something! We came across a wild pig mud bath and Jimmy told us that if the pigs eat something toxic they come here, eat the mud and it cures them due to its rich components. We saw some incredible trees, both in size and, weirdly, intelligence. There is this tree that can move up to a metre each year as it uses it's roots as stilts to walk around the jungle floor. Amazing.
Jimmy originally came from one of the indigenous tribes in the amazon so was very knowledgeable about almost everything. He told us stories of how to become a man in the jungle you must leave at 15 years of age and kill an animal - he claimed to have killed a jaguar, but we definitely doubt the bugger haha. Oh yeah, and I ate a live coconut worm. If you could get past the explosion of white goo in your mouth it was actually quite tasty, just like coconut, but I didn't manage to swallow it. Later that evening in the pitch black night, we participated in a ritual to the pachamama (mother earth) to see if we would be lucky to see animals the next day. It turns out we wouldn't be, but it was really lovely to sit there in candle light as Jimmy told us stories about his past and the history of the jungle tribes. We also chewed coca leaves and smoked some "jungle pot", as we called it, through the jawbone of a catfish that Jimmy had made. Was surreal and one of a kind!
Day 2 in the Amazon Jungle
The next morning, Katty woke up before the rest and with the help of Jimmy, was lucky enough to see a beautiful howler monkey family in a nearby tree. After yummy jungle banana pancakes made by our cook, Diego, we began a trek to visit a parrots nest. We had to cross the river first though that was too fast flowing to swim accross. When Jimmy took out a blow up kayak with "max 2 persons" written on the side, I joked that we would all sail across in it. Joke it was not and Jimmy got all 5 of us into the kayak, me at the front with my legs overboard as we paddled down and accross the river. Probably one of the most insane and crazy things I have ever done and I don't know how we made it over - it had pretty much filled up with water by the time we hit the bank. We were thoroughly soaked, not that it mattered though, as we then had to wade through some waist high water. I held my crotch, fearful of the amazon parasite that jumps up ones penis when they pee. Although Jimmy assured me that it wasn't in this part of the amazon, I was not taking any chances and kept a good grasp! Into the undergrowth we hiked, seeing beautiful red and blue parrots screeching overhead. We collected seeds, nuts and teeth from a wild pig skeleton and also ate some plant anaesthetic which made our mouths go all numb. The possibilities out there are endless. It had started to rain again and we slid down muddy hills full of undergrowth, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not haha. It was a lot of fun! Because of the weather we didn't get a great view of the parrots nests but we did see them flying around us - beautiful creatures - while we applied purple dye on our faces which Jimmy had extracted from leaves with his hands. It was super cool and then he cut a tree open, filled his hands with this milky liquid, rubbed it in his hands and created jungle glue. He then stuck leaves on Kathrin and Leni's ears as earrings and made them crowns of ivy.
Dirty and wet, we returned to the camp and decided the only sensible thing was to go for a swim. In the river we got swept away with the current and had a lengthy mud bath by the shore downstream, as the mud was really wet and kept the sand flies away. It was a fantastic day! Using our pig teeth, and some other things we found over the two days, we made some necklaces that Jimmy said would keep us safe on that night during our "nightwalk". With torch in hand, we tiptoed through the darkness that night looking for, well, everyone was looking for things whereas I was trying to not see all the giant spiders. Man were those things HUGE. At one point we couldnt go any further on our path as there was this exceptionally huge 3D looking spider nest crossing the path at least 2 metres in each direction. It looked like something from a horror movie. There were thousands of tiny little spider babies crawling around all over it. Thankfully we did NOT see the mother. A tree had also fallen across the path so we had to machete a new path to get round it. Unfortunately for me I was the tallest and the one that kept getting all the webs in his face. Uuurrrrggghh... We hunted for jaguars and wild pigs but with no luck, we only came across the prints of both animals.
The next morning we got up way too early and sadly left the jungle for a misty boat ride back to Rurrrenabaque.
That was it for the first part of the amazon experience as we then had 1 night in the "pampas", the outskirts of the amazon. Once back at base in the jungle town, we decided to change our flight so we could get an extra day in pampas, however, we had to pack and bring everything as we'd go straight from pampas to airport after the 3 days. We quickly packed and rushed off to the jeep!
Day 1 in the Pampas
After another insane Trufi ride for 3 hours on a straight but rocky and bumpy road (no surprise), we arrived at another super long and thin boat. As it's the wet season the "pampas" is flooded, so we went by boat to our Eco lodge which was made on stilts to stay high above the water. On the way we saw pink dolphins (which were actually quite ugly), birds, turtles and monkeys in the trees. It was so different to the jungle we felt like we were on another planet. It was lovely and sunny and we pretty much planked out on our boat chairs, similiar to beach chairs. We also saw this hilarious noisy bird called the paradise bird. It is big and clumsy and can only fly for max 20 seconds due to it's heavy second stomach. It basically hurtles itself from tree to tree making a racket. It is also called the cow bird by the locals. We used the rope swing to launch oursleves into the water from our eco lodge which was great fun and then headed over (by boat) to the "sunset bar". This was basically a little shack with benches and hammocks resting on a swamp where you could buy a beer, watch the sunset, then quickly run for your life back to your boat before the swarms of mosquitoes descended. Stragglers were left behind I tell you! Haha. Coincidentally, we met Christian there that night and turned out he was staying at the same lodge as us! Was nice to see him again but we quickly lost him when the sun went down and eveyone scrambled for the boats batting off the swarms.
I got bitten a few times in the pampas but not so much as Kathrin. That night I counted over 85 bites on her butt alone! Poor thing had been peppered even though she had soaked herself in insect repellent.
After dinner we went for a ride in the boat again to look for caymans (small crocodile-ish reptiles). It was really peaceful as our guide, Victor, used a paddle to quietly move down the river. We heard all the night fauna which made totally different sounds to the day and saw plenty of cayman, their eyes shining up orange in the torch light.
Day 2 in Pampas
The next morning started with what we expected to be a fruitless search for anacondas in the nearby swamps. We had been told that no one had seen an anaconda since December so when someone started yelling "anaconda", we thought it too good to be true. But after fighting our way through high grass and swamp there he was. A 4/5 year old male anaconda, beautiful with a pattern resembling that of a leopard. We got to hold and touch him, so smooth and strong his tail tightening around our hands. We were super excited! We also visited the home of a black cayman, a beast at 4.5 metres long. It was pretty scary being so close, knowing that it could definitely eat us if it got the chance. During the rest of the day we went around on the boat and saw much more wildlife including a porcupine and a sloth in the trees. Even though we saw the anaconda that morning, the highlight of the day for me was the piranha fishing. Using a small wooden plank we wrapped around fishing line and put chunks of what looked like steak on the hooks and threw them overboard. Almost instantly you feel this vibration on the end of the line in the murky water and within a couple of seconds the meat would be all gone. Sometimes it was gone within 1-2 seconds of the hook being dropped in the water. You had to be quick with your technique to catch the hooks in their mouths before they munched the bait away. Kathrin impressively caught 3 small ones, whereas I only had 2 near misses where I got the piranha out of the water but they jumped off again. I did catch a cat fish at one stage though! Seeing these creatures that we have only ever seen in the movies was amazing. I even attempted to take the hook out of one of their mouths as its jaws were snapping at my fingers. Really surreal and my favourite part of the trip. Once I dropped a bit of meat into the water by mistake and instantly before it had completely submerged it was snapped up by a hungry piranha. Truly mind-blowing...
After the fishing we headed over to sunset bar again where we met the other couple from the jungle whom had spent one extra night there and had just arrived. We ate two of the piranhas we caught for dinner and Kathrin salvaged one of the jaw bones. Their teeth are razor sharp!
On our final day in the pampas we got up early and watched the beautiful sunrise from our boat, then swam with the pink dolphins. They circled us as we straddled in the water but they didn't come too close (this was thankfully not piranha infested water - apparently they only live in the shallow waters).
We then got the boat home to where another Trufi was waiting to take us to the airport. Now, to cut a long and stressful story short, the car broke down 4 TIMES on the way back to Rurrenabaque. Breakdown 1 - exhaust dragging along the floor so he tied it up with rope. Breakdown 2 - not surprising the rope had melted so he tied it up with metal. Breakdown 3 - metal over heated so he tied it up with a huge chain and some extra screws and bolts (by this time I was furious and out with him helping to chain it up because at this rate we would be cutting it fine with the flight). Breakdown 4 - the whole exhaust had dropped again and just as I was about to go ballistic with frustration and anger, he yanked off the exhaust from underneath the car and told me to pass it upto him on the roof. So we arrived at the airport with the exhaust strapped onto the roof with an hour before take off.
So that was the end of our amazon jungle adventure and we left the hot, green and beautiful tropical paradise to arrive 30 minutes later in gloomy, cloudy, cold, miserable and smelly - La Paz.
It is virtually impossible to describe what it was like, only that we had the times of our lives out there and would go back in a split second. It was one of the best experiences of our lives and one that that will be treasured for years to come!
Much love to everyone at home,
Tom and Kat