Pampas Tour: Rurrenabaque, Bolivian Amazon (450Km north of La Paz)
Amazingly well rested and showered, we were ready to meet the rest of the gang at the corner cafe as planned. Erin and Liz had decided during our 12 hour bonding car ride, that they would try to postpone their jungle trip in order to join us for three days in the pampas. (One has the choose when coming to this area which area to visit...the jungle being full of plant exploration while the pampas have more of the animals.) With little more than a "Is there space for us?", the decision was made, bags were collected, water was purchased and we were on our way...in a jeep that looked very similar to our transport the day before. Weary of more bumpy roads, we glanced at eachother and simply said "What the hell!"
We picked up our other two group members...who after much deliberation turned out to be two Frenchman, who somehow allowed themselves to be called "the frenchies" for the next few days without much protest. Good men. With tired expressions they introduced themselves as Pierre and Charles, and we learned that they had just arrived an hour before after having endured the bus ride from La Paz, which we had declined. Their's had turned into 21 hours, ouch.
Back in a jeep for 3 hours on another bumpy rode was the last place our bodies wanted to be, but we were happy to be together. At a rest stop, we watched a local child drench a barely mobile new puppy in a bucket of water, because of course the "he was in need of a bath". He became more mesmorized with his own image on Patrick's video camera and let the poor pup alone to shiver himself back to warmth.
Back on the rode, another flat tire. That would make 2 flats in 24 hours. Again, Patrick dirtied his trousers and hands in order to help, and we were back on the rode in no time. Perhaps with more tread this time! Lunch was again a meal fit for a king...with our first introduction to the local beverage made of maiz. Again, another puppy to keep us company. Our travelling group, still forming and blending, was slowly starting to take shape.
Above: A tire shop bolivia style
Finally we arrived at the boat launch, loaded our boat...bought a last few necessities like a bottle of wine, pringles, oreos and some more chocolate. It is funny how quickly these small things of comfort become necessity. The sun was out, our spirits were high, the frenchies were still a bit tired, but we forgave them...we'd been on the same road.
And so the motored ride in a very narrow little boat down the river bagen...3 more hours. Sabino, our guide, still quite quiet and reserved slowly began to explain about the animals that would begin to appear as we moved farther into the Pampas. Imagine a brownish river, with high river banks, without much visibility above them, teeming with a world of native animals. Caymans, alligators, turtles, monkeys, and the largest rodent you have ever seen...the capybara. We know now what inspired the ROUS's.
A noise like no other greeted us to our rather rustic camp and quickly one could recognize that the sounds came from high up in the trees. It was the Howler monkies...singing a chorus of unsettling vibration, similar perhaps to the sound of wind through a tunnel in harmony with a siren. Supposedly when they sing in the afternoon, it means rain the next day. We settled into our shared bunk spaces and made our way to the sunset bar, connected to our camp by a long winding walkway. I wondered as I watched the sunset and held an absurdly cold beer in my hand, what the monkies might know and where tomorrow's rain clouds might be during this otherwise spotless sunset.
Our after dinner adventure was a moonlight boat ride to experience the glowing eyes of the alligator...in the dark, when one shines a flash light at the banks of the river, one is awarded with a vast image of glowing eyeballs, thousands. The baby alligators come out of hiding and their eyes look like a blanket of stars in the distance. Sabino requested 10 minutes of silence, in the pitch darkness, as we floated down the river, and the sound of the pampas coming alive was chilling. A sudden loud splash, surprised even Sabino and someone let out a scream. Just the perfect adventure before falling asleep under a mosquito net, to the other sounds of the outside world...
Day 2 Pampas Tour
The rain had not stopped all night. Oour beds had stayed dry, though the rest of the lodge had a damp feel to every corner. We all glanced at eachother through the the musty mosquito nets and thought "Let's just stay in bed all day". However, Sandino had other plans. A little rain was not going to mess with the itinerary, so after a few grunts and don't wannas, we were putting on tall rubber boots and getting ready to go searching for an anaconda.
The holes in our old rubber boots became very obvious after we crossed the river and began the trek through neck high jungle grasses. The warm earth, saturated with rain water, seeped into the holes. The socks that we all wore made no difference - except for saving us from blisters like the one Patrick got. The rain from above drenched our bodies, though it wasn't cold. Looking for anaconda is arduous work - in the rain it is almost impossible. After walking for 3 hours, we somehow convinced Sandino we could give up without feeling disappointed.
The agenda for after lunch was Pirahna fishing - something no one wanted to do in the rain either, but Sandino promised that when the rain began again, we would find shelter. Our fishing gear consisted of small pieces of wood, strung with fishing line and one old hook. Bait was small chunks of meat that we had to hook ourselves. At the first nibble, you had to yank the string and if lucky, a Pirahna would come flying into the boat. Inspired by the "flinging action", even Patrick got inspired to give it a try and caught 9 fish.
It started to rain, and as promised, Sabino took us to land. It was a family home/farm. In the building, three simple rooms were used as dining room, bedroom, kitchen and playroom for 4 children.The men sat around the table listening to the Bolivia soccer match, while one of the youngest children played around the hammocks, knawing on a piece of chicken bone left over from lunch. Suddenly, through the open door, Pierre or Charles saw something.
A pig had just been slaughtered beneath a tree. It would be one of the children's birthdays tomorrow and the family was preparing a big feast. The rain had stopped and somehow we thought this might be the right time to leave. As we left, we realized the sheep's skin on the fence had been another slaughter - shortly before we arrived. The head was sitting in a tree looking straight at us. We let out a very foreigner type reaction - and that seemed to entertain the family.
Still quite unsure what we had just witnessed, we made it back to camp, only to find that Erin and Liz's beds were covered in bat poop - uncovered by the cat that was playing in the rafters overhead. Where were we, I thought to myself.
Dinner was of course the day's catch, but the treat of the evening was Sandino. He began to weave the stories of his younger years that included time spent with indigenous shamans and medicine men, themyths of the cannibals living in Madidi and near death experiences with the anacondas. We hung ion every word, as the rain pattered again on the plastic tarp above our heads.
Day 3 Bolivian Pampas Tour
Again it had rained all night but somehow noone seemed to care. At breakfast, Sandino gifted us each with a shark's tooth necklace he had strung the night before, from a whole jaw he had found floating on the river's edge. The night's magic had spilled over into the next day.
We delayed our departure, hoping the rain would stop, which meant we had more time to play WOLF, drink cocoa and enjoy eachother. Despite the rain, we had some special guests stop by for breakfast. We were happy to share some of their favorites fruits with them!
Unable to delay any longer, we loaded our things and started the 3 hour trip back to the jeeps. The idea was to stop and swim with the pink river dolphins, who would be playing downstream. We arrived at the special spot and the first site of the pink flesh immerge out of the water is still like a mirage in our minds. The muddy waters kept us from seeing more than the dorsal fin, but somehow that was enough.
However, swimming with them was forbidden - a cayman was spotted in the water and Sabino said no way. If there had been more dolphins, they would have protected any swimmers from the jaws of the cayman, but with only 5 or so in the water, swimmers would not be safe. Be listened and obeyed.
Because of the rain, the view back was somehow wild and chaotic. There was an unease in the air. Further on, Sabino spied the tree we had seem two days earlier - however today's view was tragic. The nest that had been perched up high must have become saturated with rain water and its weight caused the fragile and decaying tree limb to come crashing down, babies and all. Now, mama bird stood up high, bellowing at the loss of her children. Nature can be cruel and there is nothing we can do.
We got back to the jeeps, muddy and wet. The road back was devastated and we almost got stuck two times. But we had Pringles and Oreas, so we were happy. And Patrick spied a Two toed Sloth, hanging up high in the trees. Somewhat of a miracle in this weather. Back in Rurre, we checkin back into the hotel, found clean and warm clothes, a hot shower and after a few drinks and dinner, it was time to fall into a deep, content slumber.