Saturday, 25 January 2014

Welcome to the Jungle

After a few day off at the Casa de Ciclista in La Paz it was time for a side trip into the Amazon jungle. I've had the opportunity to visit the Amazon ever since Colombia but I had been advised that the trips are best value in Bolivia and the jungle is "relatively" accessible from La Paz. The town of Rurrenabaque is about one full days bus ride from La Paz and is one of the main staging points for Amazon tours. (Or less than an hours flight if you have a slightly bigger budget.) Simon, Olivia and I staggered off the rickety old bus about 21 hours after leaving La Paz, yep pretty much a full days ride. Despite the humidity we all still had our raincoats on as there were several leaks in the roof of the bus letting a steady stream of water in from the rain outside.
The two main options in Rurrenabaque are a trip into the jungle with varying degrees of difficulty ranging from staying in a jungle lodge with all food supplied to trekking through the jungle for three days eating only what you catch. The other option is a trip to the "pampas" which isn't the jungle but you spend most of your day in boats on the river and you are far more likely to see a wider range of animals such as snakes, pink dolphins and caymans. Olivia had been unfortunate enough to have twisted her ankle for the second time in a week so herself and Simon opted for the pampas trip which involved less walking and I opted for the jungle. Tarzan.

The huge river Beni

For me the boat ride up along the huge river Beni was actually the highlight of the three day trip. It felt like something out of a Vietnam war movie heading up river, deeper into the jungle (...the horror). Among the touring cycling community there are chats about how much gear one carries and what is essential and non essential kit. I certainly wouldn't be travelling the lightest but I was glad to still have my mosquito net which covered the upper half of my body but which I had probably used only once since northern Canada. Clearly essential kit! I was some sight in my wellies, waterproof trousers, rain coat, hat and mosquito net. Not taking any chances I even had my cycling gloves on to cover up my hands so the only bit of me exposed was the tips of my fingers. Too much info probably but I was also some smell by the end of the three days trekking around covered up in all the gear in the high humidity. Before leaving La Paz I had heard of some pretty nasty infections and parasites one can pick up in this part of the Amazon as well as the usual malaria and dengue fever. I wasn't going to take any chances. Me not Tarzan.

No seriously I love nature.... and stuff..... and mosquitos... and spiders.... and snakes....
I'm a cyclist, get me outta here!
Over the three days I got to see some ants, (yep pretty cool), actually lots and lots of ants. Also saw puma footprints, some loud and pretty macaws and a very colourful Fake Coral snake. Not that it's not a genuine snake but a coral snake is venomous whereas the one in the photo is a fake Coral snake and not venomous. Apparently the rhyme goes: red touches black, venom lack. Red touches yellow kills a fellow. (Info thanks to my Canadian pals Karen and Mike who conveniently happen to be biologists when they aren't busy cycling the world. See )

A fake coral snake 
Ant junction

Two Macaws kissing in the trees
Drying out the wellies

Part of our camp
When I met back up with Simon and Olivia ( ) they had some pretty interesting stories of Olivia nearly getting bitten by a highly venomous baby cobra hiding by the toilet and a bunch of guys sinking their boat when they all decided to jump up as it looked like one of their guides was going to lose control of the cobra he was trying to catch and drop it into the small boat below.
We didn't hang around Rurrenabaque after we got back from our respective tours and managed to get the last three seats on a bus heading for La Paz that evening. Unfortunately being the last three seats they were right at the back of the bus making for an extremely bumpy ride. Numerous times we were launched several inches into the air and for once it wasn't because of team farts usual antics.
Less than an hour into our journey, after it had become dark, we had to get out our head  torches to make sure we could believe what we were seeing. Some extremely intoxicated guy standing in the aisle was in the process of urinating against one of the seats with someone in it! There were a few shouts when people realised what was going on but he wasn't put off the bus and of course went for a second attempt a hour later. Better put the rain coats back. Not much sleep was had that night. 
At around the half way stage at 8 am in the morning we were all dumped off the bus and told that we wouldn't be continuing until 5 pm because the road ahead was closed to clear a landslide.We were not happy campers with little to do in this tiny village for the whole day.
We were loaded back onto the bus shortly before five pm for our second bumpy night journey. There was a minor uprising when the bus stopped two hours later for a food break with half the bus wanting to continue straight through after the delay and the other bunch not wanting to arrive into La Paz in the middle of the night with nowhere to go as apparently it can be dangerous at that hour.

The skull of a cayman on the table in the office where we booked our tour

It was a relief to have finally made it back when we disembarked at around five in the morning. We were freezing outside the Casa by 6 am with no keys but thankfully Karen heard our second round of bell rings. It was just after sunrise and most definitely time for bed!
I've been lucky enough to do some amazing things on this trip but I'm not sure if my trip to the Amazon was worth the hassle!

Not much longer than a week after we returned from our trip to Rurrenebaque, the river Beni burst it's banks flooding the entire region, leaving more than 100 people dead and tens of thousands of cattle wiped out with Bolivian president Evo Morales declaring a national emergency. This area of Bolivia suffers from heavy flooding every year during the wet season but it was heavier than usual in 2014.

A large tree that we passed floating down the river Beni.

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