In the jungle, the mighty jungle – Rurrenabaque, Bolivia

The next day we boarded our flight (on the tiniest plane ever) to Rurrenabaque to explore the Bolivian amazon. We happened to run into some friends we had met in Cusco on our same flight, Fabio and Dan, and decided to join them on their Pampas Tour. Dan and Fabio were also traveling with Alex, Jenny, Alaina, and Helen whom they met at their hostel in La Paz and were all doing same tour. They had booked their tour in La Paz, but we were able to jump on their tour when we arrived in Rurrenabaque. We left the following morning for our adventure in the pampas lowlands. First, we had a three hour drive (on a dirt road) to reach the Rio Yacuma. Alex, Helen and I were in one car with a couple from Taiwan and the other 5 were in another car. Alex and I sat it the very back seat and it was quite an adventurous ride. It wasn’t too bad at first, but then the driver turned off the air conditioner and the back seat got really hot. Alex and I tried to get anyone’s attention to turn the air back on or to roll down a window but no one would answer us so we just started hysterically laughing. Then the road got pretty bumpy and we started laughing even harder. I finally had to tap the Taiwanese couple to roll down a window so we could get some air in the back seat.

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When we reached the river we were so excited to get out of the car. The 8 of us then got into a very narrow boat for our 3 hour ride down the river to our accommodation for the next two nights. It was an absolutely stunning 3 hour ride with picturesque views all around us. On our way we saw pink dolphins, monkeys, and all sorts of birds. We came across another group feeding the monkeys bananas, which made our tour guide really upset. Many tours feed the monkeys bananas but as there are no bananas in the pampas, it is not a natural food source for them. The tour companies who are encouraging this are introducing a food source that is foreign to these monkeys and because these tours feed them every day they have come to expect them. It is really sad to think that these tours are ruining the natural habitat and are not respecting the pampas wildlife.

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When we reached our accommodation for the night I noticed a few caiman alligators hanging around. This place must have been their home as they were always there when I looked for them. We had dinner and then walked to the bar area to watch the sunset. At first the sunset wasn’t as beautiful as I had expected, but within minutes it turned so many different colors and became more and more beautiful. After sunset, we went on a night cruise through the pampas to look for the eyes of alligators. The moon that night was so bright it created a halo like circle encompassing the moon, it was something I had never seen before and rather striking.

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The agenda the next morning consisted of searching for Anacondas in the marsh. There were a few groups there all searching for them. One tour guide found one a few minutes into the search and grabbed him and poked him with a stick to unravel him. It was so disturbing to watch and this time our guide was beyond disgusted. It is frowned upon to touch the wildlife let alone try to drag him out of his habitat. The only reason they disturb these animals is because disrespectful tourists want to take a picture with the anaconda and do not realize the consequences this has on the wildlife. They then began to pass the snake around from person to person so each one could get a picture. Our group couldn’t watch any longer and we left to go back into the marsh to continue our search of anacondas. Fabio was so disturbed, he went back to where the group of tourists were taking pictures and expressed his disappointment and how taking a species out of his natural habitat is beyond disrespectful. When he rejoined our group, he told us that he just got into a fight with 20 people. Needless to say, we were all very proud of him. We walked around the marsh for another 2 hours, but we soon lost people one by one. Alex, Jenny, and I were the only three that lasted the whole time but unfortunately we did not find any more anacondas. We headed back to our Eco lodge for lunch and a little downtime.

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In the afternoon we jumped on the boat and headed out to swim with pink dolphins. There was quite a few around us but none wanting to really play with us. They mainly swam around but never got very close. I even tried to chase some of them but they would just swim away. There was one point that was really awesome, 5 or so of the dolphins right in front of us jumped in and out of the water basically giving us a show, which was the highlight of the swim for me. After a few hours we got back in the boat and headed to the same place we looked for anacondas to watch the sunset. Our guide wanted to take a picture with me and the sunset and told me to look at the beer. It was a very awkward moment for me, while all the others were screaming for me to “look into his eyes”. He then told me he was going to make that picture his profile picture on FaceBook, it was interesting to say the least. We headed back to the lodge, hung out for a bit, and then headed to bed.

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The next day before heading back to Rurrenabaque, we went Parana fishing. Our guide knew the perfect spot where all the Parana’s would be and I ended up catching six of them and one sardine (on accident)! Fabio kept telling me not to be so loud to avoid disturbing the fish, but I think he was just jealous that I caught the most. It was really fun using our make-shift fishing rod of wood and fishing line. Jenny caught the biggest Parana and we ended up keeping that one for lunch. Once we had enough of them for everyone to try at lunch (a total of 9), we threw any extras we caught back in the water. Another group staying at the lodge only caught two, so we split ours up for everyone to share. I didn’t eat a whole one but tried a little of it and realized it actually tasted pretty good and not fishy at all. After we ate our catch we left the Pampas and headed back to Rurrenabaque to check into out hostel. As soon as we entered Wifi zone, Alex found out she got into medical school and was going to be a doctor! All 8 of us went out for dinner and drinks that night to celebrate her good news!

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The following morning we parted ways with Fabio, Helen, Alex, and Jenny. Alaina, Dan, and I decided we wanted to trek into the jungle. We spent a day between the pampas and the jungle relaxing and hanging around Rurrenabaque. The following day, Alaina, Dan and I left for the jungle and Farima headed south to Cochabamba. As Farima was eaten alive in the pampas, her legs covered with bites, she didn’t feel comfortable heading into the jungle for the possibility of getting more bites there. I would meet her in Cochabamba again in 3 days.

We left Rurrenabaque on a 3 ½ hour boat ride on the River Beni as the portal to our jungle tour. It was around 1 pm when we got to the jungle and we had lunch as soon as we arrived. There were a total of 6 of us in the group, Dan, Ian, Alaina, myself, our guide, Miguel, and our cook, Ronan. During lunch I was given two nicknames, “Californication”, from the owner of the tour company we went with (Max Jungle) and “Mi Hermana” (translation: My Sister) from my tour guide since I seemed to have resembled his sister. After lunch we each got a temporary tattoo (aka war paint) with the liquid created from a leaf and water and were then ready to enter the jungle. We didn’t end up seeing much that day since we had to hurry to get to where we wanted to camp before sunset. Ronan and Miguel cut down a bunch of trees to create our home and kitchen for the night. We tried to help as much as we could but didn’t really know what we were doing. Once camp was all set up, we sat by our fire (which was just a candle on top of a stick) while Ronan prepared dinner. Meanwhile, Miguel had made a ring out of a coconut and proposed to Alaina, moving quickly on the proposal during the first night!

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After dinner, another group joined us for a traditional offering to Pachamama. We dug a hole in the ground, placing coca leaves inside and then passed some rum around the group circle. We were to first offer some of the alcohol to Pachamama and then take a sip ourselves – everyone in the circle took turns. We then offered tobacco to Pachamama with everyone in the circle (who desired) taking a drag. I kindly declined. The owner then began to explain that we were all equal, despite our individual markings – whether we were a guide, tourist, Bolivian, gringo – and had all been bonded throughout the ceremony as well as our experience in the jungle. Nevertheless, he also explained that everyone is their own person and free to choose what parts of the ceremony to participate in and what parts to respectfully decline. Pachamama accepts all regardless of their different decisions. I liked our guide as he proved to be a very good speaker and also very insightful. I also very much enjoyed the ceremony and it turned out to be one of my favorite experiences of the jungle. Not one of my favorite experiences was sleeping with ants that night after the ceremony. They were all over my sleeping bag, too many to try to kill so I sucked it up and just slept with them.

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The next morning we packed up camp and went on a walk through the jungle learning about various plants that were used as home remedies. For example, the bark of one tree when boiled in hot water, is used to help if you have diarrhea and stomach problems. I wish I could have taken some back with me for those just-in-case moments. Another tree bark is used for anti-malaria medication and anti-itch cream for bug bites. The anti-malaria medication tree, which we tried, tasted disgusting and I had to eat something else to get the taste out of my mouth. Our guide then cut down a small tree, turning it upside down and holding it up so we could drink the water coming out of it. The water was so refreshing and even tasted better than the bottled water I had grown accustomed to drinking in South America. Another tree, we learned is used for rubber as once you cut off the bark and combine the sap with a little bit of water it becomes a rubbery substance. Miguel used this rubber to stick flower earrings on mine and Alaina’s ears. I carved my name in this tree as a way to leave my mark in the jungle!

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Besides learning about different tree remedies, we were able to eat the fruit in the jungle including mangos, grapes, and some coconut. Inside the coconut we opened was a parasite. We learned that this type of parasite gets into a tiny hole in the coconut and grows as it eats the coconut inside. Miguel said it was okay to eat the parasite and that it tasted just like coconut. At first, I hesitated to eat the parasite but then gave in and tried it as I figured it as my only time in the jungle. I popped the parasite into my mouth, and surprisingly found out it did taste just like coconut. It is so fascinating to me that nature can be used to help cure certain sicknesses and it is all natural without any added chemicals or harmful substances like those found in most medications. Learning about the different trees, their different uses, and also eating the fruit found in the jungle, was definitely an enjoyable experience.

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After exploring for a few hours we headed to a new place to camp. Some group must have previously camped there before because all the wood had already been cut so it took us a lot less time to set up camp this time around. Dan and Ian built us a nice bench out of logs to sit on for the night. Before dinner, we headed down to the river to watch the sunset. The river and jungle all around made it a picturesque moment. Miguel and Ronan went swimming in the river, but the rest of us decided to pass. After dinner, Alaina and I went on a night walk through the jungle with Miguel and Ronan. The two boys were being babies and didn’t want to come so it was just us girls and the guides. We walked for around 2 hours seeing various animal eyes but I wasn’t really sure what animal I was seeing. I was hoping to see more spiders but we didn’t find that many. Every time Miguel told us to turn off our flashlights I got a bit nervous, but it would pass as soon as I got to turn my light back on. I was the one to stop the night walk because it was so muddy and I only had my sneakers on so I kept slipping and was covered in mud up to my knees. I changed out of my muddy clothes and cuddled in my mosquito net for another night of sleep listening to jungle noises.

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The next morning we slept in until 9 am, ate breakfast, and headed back to the spot where we would catch the boat back to Rurrenabaque. On our way back we found a jungle swing to have some fun on. Miguel made us jewelry with all the various nuts we had collected while exploring the jungle. Alaina and I both got necklaces, bracelets, and rings made for us. We said goodbye to Miguel as he was taking another group out that day and got on the boat to head back to town. We made plans to meet up with our cook, Ronan, for drinks later. Alaina, Dan, and I headed to the hostel to take showers and get ready.

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I had planned on leaving Rurrenabaque the next day but since flights were all booked up, I decided to have a lazy day and catch up on some writing. Dan and Alaina were supposed to leave that day at 3:30 pm but as their flight got canceled, they were put on my flight the following morning. Little did I know that since they were put on my flight at 7:30 am, that I would get booted to the 11:00 am flight.

Once I finally arrived in La Paz I got the first bus to Cochabamba, an 8 hour bus ride with no bathroom. At one point on the journey I had to go to the bathroom so badly that I had to have the driver stop the bus and use the nature bathroom on the side of the bus in broad daylight. As embarrassing as it was, I honestly could not hold it in any longer. I arrived in Cochabamba around 8 pm and met back up with Farima. I was so exhausted from a day of travel that we just watched a movie and headed to bed.

Edited by: Farima M.

 

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