July 20, 2013 by 2sorefeet
After hearing horror stories about the bus from La Paz to Rurrenabaque, we opted to take a 25 minute scenic flight to reach our destination. (A bit of a no brainer considering the bus could take up to 35 hours). We took off from El Alto, the highest airport in the world and in no time we were passing the 6000 metre mountains that surround La Paz and descending into Madidi National Park in the Bolivian amazon basin.
After more than 7 months on the road we now realise the importance of choosing a good tour agency when booking tours, so after much deliberation we picked ‘Mashaquipe’, a local community from the amazon who founded their own eco-lodge in the jungle, and to our delight, they were the only agency who had sent someone to the airport to pick up their costumers!
There are 2 different types of jungle in the Bolivian amazon: The ‘real’ jungle the way you picture it (thick rainforest, 50 metre trees etc.) and the ‘pampas’, a low lying swamp land not dissimilar to the Everglades in Florida. While the jungle gives you a real feel for the amazon, at the pampas it is much easier to spot wildlife. With this in mind we decided to do a combo tour of 5days/4nights, starting with 3 nights in the jungle.
Setting off early in the morning, we had a 3 hour boat trip up the River Beni (a tributary of the Amazon) to our eco-lodge. We quickly found out why it is called a RAIN forest. It was wet, really wet despite it being “dry season!” But never mind, we had our trusty rain ponchos to help keep us nice and dry! 😀
After being introduced to the staff of the camp, we were brought a fantastic welcoming lunch and drink by our chef Wilson and introduced to the fellow gringos in our group – 2 young English girls, who were volunteering in a La Paz orphanage for 3 months & another travelling English couple. That afternoon give us our first opportunity to go for a trek in the jungle. Despite being surrounded by the constant sound of animals, our lovely guide Andres told us that there was no guarantee that we would actually see any wildlife in the jungle.
On the morning of the second day we crossed the river by boat to visit a secondary forest which boasted a completely different eco-system than the previous afternoon. After walking for 2 hours, we came across a small community who produced many different products from the large amount of sugar cane that grew in the area. As you can see from the pictures below, we even tried our hand at making some sugar cane juice!
In the afternoon we set off on a 4 hour trek to the deeper jungle, where we would be sleeping that night, this time without the comfort of our lodge… just a mosquito net and sleeping bag! The trek was fantastic and proved a lot more fruitful with wildlife. We saw an 80 strong group of wild boar with deafening screams, orange monkeys, tapir and an army of leaf cutter ants which was amazing. The night in the jungle wasn’t as scary as we had envisaged, partly due to the chef’s snoring drowning out the sound of the forest!
The next morning we were up before the sun to hear the jungle awake – a symphony of chirping birds and rustling of the trees was the soundtrack while we trekked 40 minutes (before breakfast!) uphill to a cliff edge for the perfect vantage point to see the misty, mystical rainforest rise and shine! Our guide for the trek in the jungle was Rodolfo, 59 years old with an experience that includes acting as the guide for the National Geographic magazine when they did a whole edition about the Madidi National Park. With his experience, he brought us right up to a viewpoint where we could see macaws nesting and feeding before flying out over the expanse of the amazon. It was such a beautiful sight seeing these colourful birds in full flight. Have a look at some of the pictures below.
To our delight, when we returned to the camp our chef had created the best breakfast we’ve had in South America: donuts, pancakes, empanadas (a pastry like speciality of South America), fruit and eggs…. And all over a wood fire & basic camping stove! Mashaquipe… we cannot recommend it enough! 😀
Bellies bulging, it was time for a 30 minute walk to the river where we built our own raft from tree trunks and string to sail back down the river to the lodge. Unfortunately we don’t have any pictures of this as we gave our cameras to the chef who returned by foot, but let’s just say it was interesting – especially when we realised that there were caymens (alligators) in the river!
A gentle relaxing afternoon making some handicrafts back at the camp (where we spotted a snake 10 meters away from us) and a night trek in the jungle which resulted in the sighting of quite a few tarantulas, worryingly close to our lodge brought an end to our time in the jungle. The following morning we set off for the second leg of our tour to the pampas!
A 6 hour combination of boat & jeep through one of the worst roads on the planet brought us to our new lodge for the evening. A similar setup with an eco-lodge, lovely staff and a much appreciated welcome drink awaited us. After lunch we set off to see the pampas by boat. As expected, there was an abundance of wildlife, caymens, kingfishers, herons, pink dolphins, cabybara (the largest rodent in the world), squirrel monkeys, howler monkeys and countless other birds. It was a real treat to see these animals in their natural habitat.
Unfortunately on the way back to the camp we got caught in a torrential rainstorm (there was no roof on the boat). 2 hours under the rain was not the most enjoyable experience and it dampened (excuse the pun) the mood a bit.
The next morning, our bones still wet, we set off to the swamp lands for a different experience. Inevitably with the previous days’ rainstorm, the swamp was a little higher than expected which prevented us from entering into the heartland, so we only managed a 30 minute walk (which we were not too disappointed about it in all honesty, it was horrible walking there!) Despite all this, luck was on our side. The eagle eyes of our guide spotted a faint movement in the grass/swamp. A closer inspection resulted in quite a rare sight, a baby anaconda feeding on a rat! The pictures aren’t the prettiest, but are still fascinating!
An afternoon doing a spot of piranha fishing brought our trip to an enjoyable end- but the adventure was not over yet! The trip back to Rurrenabaque by jeep proved to be longer than expected due to the fact that the road had turned into a complete mud bath! Pushing a jeep in the dark while in mud up to your knees is not the most pleasant experience, but none the less an adventure anyway!
Completely exhausted we arrived in Rurrenabaque to find out that there had been some bad weather while we were away and as a result the small airport had cancelled a lot of flights and there was a backlog of passengers waiting to get back to La Paz. As expected the delays also affected us, so we ended up spending my birthday hanging around the airport for most of the day before eventually finding out our flight was cancelled and postponed to the following day! Argh!
An adventurous end to an adventurous week!
John & Marie