A Travellerspoint blog

Welcome to the Jungle!

Raw, untouched and a paradise on this earth

sunny 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 :)

Posted by TomAndKat 18:26 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Surviving Death Road

"The least scary road we've been on"

semi-overcast 20 °C

Next stop La Paz, the highest capital city (yes bolivia has two capitals) in the world. It is the gateway to death road and the Bolivian Amazon rainforest. And a dirty gateway at that! Although a bit run down, dirty and crowded with vehicles, it's nestled in beautiful mountains. This is also the first place we've encountered that has a lot of beggars. We've hardly seen any before this, but here a lot of older women line the pavements asking for coins. This of course tugs at our heart strings and we give where we can and feel bad we can't give to them all. 

La Paz is where we organized our bike ride down death road as well as our upcoming journey to the Amazon jungle. But before heading down death road, we took in the city's "witches market". It was basically an area with lots of small shops selling very weird and creepy things. There were a lot of "love" potions, talismans, frog legs etc. but the worst and most common thing were various sizes of dried lama fetuses. It's common here to bury one under new houses or establishments as an offering to the pachamama aka Mother Earth. Creepy! 

The main event was Death Road, the worlds most dangerous road. The only way down is by bicycle with a tour guide, unless you are a local with a death wish! The road was closed for public access a few years back and is now one of the prime tourist attractions in the area. We began our tour early, at 4700m above sea level high in the snow capped mountains. It was really cold and we cycled downhill at crazy speeds on asphalt for 45 minutes before we reached the beginning of death road. The view on the way down was amazing going from baron landscapes to the first signs of rainforest at the top of Death Road. After lunch we headed down the stone clad bumpy road at a much slower, cautious speed than before due to the sheer cliff at one side of the road. Our guide would throughout the journey give us instructions on the road ahead, frequently telling us that on this or that part of the road someone had gone off the edge, so be careful and do as he says. I personally chose to believe that he was only saying this to get our attention and make sure we were careful... I can only hope I was right! Unfortunately for Tom and fortunately for me, there was a lot of cloud so we were not able to see all the way down to the bottom. It rained for most of the way down but we didn't really mind. You have to cycle through waterfalls and rivers that pass over the road anyway! The drop was pretty scary at times and it took us about 2.5 hours to get down to the bottom. Once we got low enough we left the clouds and were greeted by the hot sun where we took our gear off and sunned ourselves. My hands were destroyed after the journey as I was gripping my handles and the breaks so hard for almost 4 hours! While the rest of our group headed back to La Paz, we took a local Trufi upto the mountain town of Coroico. As we sat in the crazy Trufi, flying round mountain roads, it quickly dawned on is that the Death Road was probably the LEAST dangerous road we'd taken in Bolivia. That Trufi was by far the craziest we've had with our legs in the air at several points and the wheels often less than 1 metre from the edge of the cliff. I should be used to these nightmare drivers by now, but it's still always the worst part of my day. 

In Coroico we met an English guy and a German girl who we had coffee and then dinner with. Coroico is a small village in the mountain, not a spectacular looking place, but it had amazing views - especially from the balcony of our hostel! So we spent the next day making food, reading, tanning and enjoying the beauty around us. I am also pleased to inform that Tom is actually NOT immune to bug bites and was bitten several times that day! We have seen a lot of posters and rally's surrounding the bolivian election and that Sunday Election Day was finally upon us. All the locals were gathered in the town square awaiting the results and when they came the town broke out in celebration. Alcohol which had been banned for the past 3 days was being served again, fireworks and firecrackers were being let of continuously and a brass band played live music until 2 in the morning. The next day we headed back to La Paz on another scary journey with another crazy driver, driving like mad even when the fog descended and no one could see further then a meter ahead! I was glad to get off.

We ended the day with a steak in the steakhouse. Well, correction I had a steak, Tom had a cow. He decided to take on the restaurants man vs food challenge and ordered the 1200g Jack Daniels steak. After an hour of impressive consumption, he unfortunately had to admit defeat. With only 1-200g left he still got his prize t shirt and a very full and painful stomach. It was a good effort and I am truly impressed by tiny toms eating abilities!

Next up we will be flying to Rurrenebaque to go on our 4 day Amazon jungle tour and a Pampas tour!

Super excited! Until then dear friends, Ciao! 

Posted by TomAndKat 06:18 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Unexpectedly falling in love with Bolivia

Putting things into perspective

sunny 28 °C

So we left the mountainous, wet, cold capital behind us to head to the airport where we'd be basically gliding down for 30 minutes in a plane to the sub tropical low land area of Santa Cruz. 30 degrees, humid, but really a relief from the cold high altitude cities we've been in for the past week and a half (since the desert in Chile). After a bus ride into downtown Santa Cruz, we headed to a corner store where you can get a Trufi to Samaipata our next destination. A Trufi is (in this case) a 6 seater car which takes 7 people and all their luggage from one place to another place. Costs 34kr (£3) for a 3 hour journey in the sweltering heat. So as we flew round winding mountain bends (back up the mountains we came down from (ironically)), kathrin kept pointing out the flowers on the side of the road where people had died due to accidents. I had the utmost faith in our crazy driver. He doesn't want to die just as much as me. Besides, if anything did happen, we were wedged in to much for any real damage to occur! At one point kathrin did mention that she had a snickers, to which I replied "life saver". I perhaps spoke to soon in this incident, for two reasons. 1. It was a really hot day (I guess outside of kathrins control)... And 2. She is a stuffer (those who know Katty will understand). Enough said, the snickers was no longer a proportionate edible snickers and I was no longer "saved".

Man was that journey terrible!

Samaipata (our trufi destination) was a really lovely town. Surrounded by green lush mountains, it was clean and well maintained. Once the Trufi left us at the main plaza we had no idea which direction to head for our hostel - Andoriña - as we'd only emailed them and our phones had died (modern (stupid) travellers like ourselves don't write down information like this haha). Literally as soon as we'd looked in one direction this guy came upto us and asked where we were going and pointed in a direction and this old woman sitting on the street started pointing in another direction. Good intentions I'm sure, but not the most helpful! So we started off in one of the directions and turned out it was right. The hostel, or more like a B&B, was great - really quaint courtyard area and bedrooms with views of the whole town. Only downside to hear was that there was no wifi. Not normally a huge issue as we haven't really had much wifi in bolivia so far anyway, however kathrin wanted to apply for a job and we needed to research and plan our next steps. There was an Internet cafe nearby though that we could use. For the one full day we had in Samaipata we went to an Inca archaeological site situated on the top of a mountain. Breathtaking views of the surroundings, a small hike and the largest sculptured rock in the world, the morning was off a great start. We then ventured 20km away to Las Cuevas, another set of waterfalls (waterfalls are quite a popular attraction in South America haha). Not Iguazu Falls but still a beautiful paradisiacal area to spend lunch and an afternoon. We walked further up the river to another waterfall and kept walking through the sandy stream until the sun went down behind the mountains. A really relaxing enjoyable place!


Although bread is probably one of the main foods in the South American diet, we struggled to find bread in this little mountain town, searching high and low until we eventually came across a corner store on the opposite side of town. There are no supermarkets there as everyone gets their food, and indeed any other item one might need, from the "mercado" which is a building with loads of small stalls. Anything from zapallitos (the cRaZy cheap pumpkin courgette zucchini thing that we had in Argentina) to kitchen sinks to power tools to cows heads (yeah that was pretty minging). Again, anything one might need haha. It was unlike any market we've ever seen.

By the way, for Lorraine's interest, I got Katty to eat and like tomatoes 😆 and not the cherry ones, but normal ones! Sure, there was a lot of forcing involved but I think the fresh, tasty and juicy vine tomatoes here really did most of the work. No one could resist them. And many of you may not know this but it is a common occurrence that Katty will claim she doesn't like something without having ever tried it. Now, I'll hand it to her; she was right about the olives in Italy, BUT, she was insistent about not liking raisins and she tasted the raisins here (again after a lot of "NO! Get it out of my face" talk) and boom, she liked them.

Next project - mushrooms. I'm going for the big one.

It really is for her own benefit 😊

On our last night in Samaipata we went to the main (and only) plaza to eat and I had to sit though a game of chess while kathrin used her "keen" check mating skills to take ages to check mate me. She was great at knocking off all the other pieces but she just couldn't finalise the deal. That was pretty hilarious and laborious at the same time haha. Probably more of a "you had to be there" moment but you know, I thought I'd mention it. It's not all huge green mountains, cascading waterfalls and wide open deserts. Sometimes it's the little things that provide just as much entertainment! 😁

Final day and we decided to hit up the Internet cafe to reply to Christian (who was then in La Paz where we were supposed to meet up again), search for a hostel in Santa Cruz and kathrin was going to apply for a job back home. The Internet there was SOO slow, and we'd only waited 5 minutes for Google to load before we gave up. A smiling, little-to-no toothed Bolivian beside me happily tried to explain me that I needed to be patient but it was hot, clammy and we needed to get another Trufi back to Santa Cruz. So we left and headed back down the Andes to the plains of Santa Cruz with another crazy Bolivian driver. Kathrin says she gained some more grey hairs with that journey. I maintained my trust in the bugger. Just!

Surprisingly and unexpectedly, and I speak on both of our behalves when I say this, Bolivia has exceeded our expectations tenfold and has (so far anyway) been our favourite country on our trip. As we travelled through Chile and Argentina, we heard of horror stories from passing travellers of horrid pee-smelling buses, cold dirty showers and bread that you can't sink you teeth into. On the contrary, I've had the best showers in South America here, the buses have been at worst a little crazy (someone peed on a bus in Chile as a matter of fact) and the homemade bread we had in Samaipata rivals that of the better breads in Europe. The people here are, mostly, very friendly and actually enjoy practicing their English skills on us (and laugh at our awful Spanish!). You really see their culture everywhere and they seem less stressed out in comparison to Argentines and Chileans. They don't hassle you in the street, they don't stare at you - in fact rather on the contrary as I've caught myself mostly staring at them! The countryside is so diverse and really anywhere you go there is either an amazing view, interesting architecture or just weird things that we've never seen before. Even though bowel movements haven't been, well optimal, we've still enjoyed the food. Saying that, yesterday we did actually order a "pique macho" which is basically a huge plate with a layer of chips covered in curry sauce topped off with a juicy steak and tomato stew. They like to pile lots of food on top of each other here. The steak was good though! Haha.

Anyway, once we arrived back in Santa Cruz we ordered a taxi from this helpful Bolivian and his insanely slow "taxi app" to head to the hostel. He negotiated the price with the taxi driver for us so he didn't rip us off which was really nice of him (Bolivia has really been full of pleasant surprises). We got a 5 bed dorm all to ourselves, however the best thing about this hostel is their 2 resident Toucans! Really beautiful birds that you can pay to see on tours in Argentina, yet they are just hopping around us here, attacking our toes! Very weird situation when this huge beaked toucan is jumping around on your table trying to eat your pens.


We spent the past two nights there catching up with friends and family via Skype and FaceTime which has been really lovely to do. The wifi was great, the hammocks were perfect and the two toucans provided endless hours of entertainment. Kathrin applied for the job back home and we planned the next month or so of our trip. The next 2 weeks are going to be chockablock with activities and buses and planes as we begin to venture from La Paz down Death Road and into the Amazon jungle!

Thanks again for reading and I hope you're enjoying keeping up with us! Also we love reading your comments 😬

Posted by TomAndKat 09:50 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

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