Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rurrenabaque Jungle - Pampas y Selva

After a week in La Paz, and missing our first flight over, we were finally able to kick the food-poisoning and make it to the jungle! Luckily, the airline we went with issued us a 70% refund on our missed flight, no questions asked - like that would be feasable with any North American airline!
When our tiny little 20 passenger plane finished its rickety climb over the Andes, it descended down into the lush, green, muggyness of the Bolivian jungle. The humidity in the air was near 100% when we exited the plane and we immediately peeled off our sweaters and shoes. After a bus ride into semi-civilization, we quickly found ourselves a decent hotel with a comfy bed and beautiful view of the little town of Rurrenabaque (Ruri) and the Beni River (which is part of the Amazon River).
We spent our first afternoon in the little town checking out all the local tour companies to see which would give us the best tour for the best price. We discovered that there are eco-friendly, somewhat expensive tours where you stay in nice lodges, mid-range still eco-friendly tours where you stay in decent shared rooms, and super cheap tours where they have you pitch a tent in the middle of the jungle and do your business behind a tree (yikes)! We opted for the middle ground and set off on a 3-day pampas, 2-day selva tour!
Day 1, we drove for a couple of hours on a dusty, rickety road with our guide and a young British couple who would be joining us. We arrived at a little lodge on the river and awaited lunch in the sweltering hot sun. We noticed some splashes in the water and were told that a group of pink river dolphins lived in the general vacinity! We were super stoked to head out and see some of the wildlife. We even bought some wicked hats to prepare ourselves for our adventure ahead!
We arrived in the pampas during the wet season, so we were surrounded by water and did our sight-seeing by boat. One definitely requires an experienced guide in this neck of the woods, as the pampas is basically a series of river and bush mazes. We winded around for hours and hours and didn't know how on earth our guide knew how to get home!
On our first day out, we were so lucky to see a capybara wading around on the riverbank.
And not even five minutes after our first exciting encounter, we stumbled upon a whole family of capybaras!!
The giant trees growing in the middle of the river were unlike anything we'd ever seen before.
Our guide, Ishmael, had an amazing eye, and pointed out every bird and reptile that we otherwise would have missed.
An abandoned river house.

The view from the front of our boat.
We were taken to a little cove where we could safely swim with the river dolphins. The guides also have to know the areas in which crocs and cayman live, as they aren't quite as friendly as the dolphins. Tyrone, being strong and manly and brave, was the first out of the boat and into the water! It was creepy looking - because the water is so thick with mud, you become surrounded by black and can't see more than a few inches depth into the water.
The British couple and I were a little slower to get into the black, murky water. However, it was a very welcome dip after melting in the boat all day.
Although Tyrone was the first to swim with the dolphins and accidentally kick one, I was the first to get bit by one of the playful, pepto-bismol pink creatures! He or she left me a few nice little needle-like teeth marks, but only managed to draw a few droplets of blood!
After our swim, we experienced an amazing pampas sunset. The quick and cheeky little dolphins managed to elude our photos for the most part, but we were determined to get at least one good photo of the pink guys before we left.

That night, our guide came and grabbed us from our rooms before dinner to show us a snake that someone spotted outside. This guy was tiny, but apparently highly poisonous... So flashlights are a very hot commodity when walking around in the jungle at night!
On the second morning, we woke up super early to paddle down the river by moonlight and listen to the buzzing and singing of the nocturnal creatures and crawlers. After an hour, we were greeted by an amazing sunrise.
As our morning bath, we again jumped into the little cove in search of the dolphins. Ty, of course, was the first to get in.
This is probably the best shot we got of the elusive guys after draining our camera battery a couple times!

Turtles, on the other hand, are patient posers. This little guy was just waiting for his chance to ham it up in front of the camera!

Here's a funky jungle bird.
Our guide had a crazy ear for different animals. He would stop the boat and shush us (well, he would shush the British couple who never stopped talking and arguing about separate food cupboards when they moved in together at the end of the trip), so he could listen and then tell us what he heard. On this occasion, he heard Amarillo monkies and pulled the boat up so they could greet us! We also saw red and black Howler monkies and Cappuccino monkeys! Shortly after this photo, this curious little guy (about the size of a small cat) jumped into our boat for a ride.
We later made our way to a guest-house in the middle of the watery maze for some lunch. I, of course, made friends with another kitten. This little guy was brand new and nameless, so the owners let me call him Oreo! He enjoys hammock rides, chasing bugs, avoiding crocs, meowing and cat food.
This guy was floating nonchalantly outside of the guest house... waiting for his lunch.
Who would have thought you could get a beer in the middle of nowhere?! It was welcoming, cold, and cheap to boot!

We saw a lot of diving birds, including this one, which I belive is a type of fisher.
Ty chillin' on the boat on our final afternoon out in the pampas. We would stick our feet out to get a little breeze and the occasional splash - again, it was boiling hot out!!
On Day 4, we headed to the selva (the jungley part of the jungle). Our first stop along the river was at a sugar cane farm. Here we are running a log around in circles to manually press the sugar cane into juice.
Mixed with lime, the can juice was extremely refreshing!
Ty managed to track down one of the most vibrantly coloured butterflies either of us has ever seen!
Here a local boy paddles his boat across the river.
We had a lovely little private cabin for our jungle sleep.
We set off on a hike later that afternoon in search of parrots. We found some of the craziest looking plants along the way!
And some of the hugest, most poisonous ants! This photo doesn't quite emphasize how big they are - about the size of my pinky finger. Well, maybe not quite as fat - but definitely about 2.5 inches or more long! Their bite is supposed to feel like a gunshot!
We hiked for about an hour to the top of a bluff over-looking the jungle. This is our first encounter with the parrots (macaws). They live in the cliff-side that we were standing above and would fly back and forth atop the tree canopy.
Ty and I posing on the bluff... I hung onto that tree for dear life! There was a little memorial up there for a young Israely kid that wandered too close to the edge and fell off...
After our long hike, we took a quick boat ride to a little beach and were told to change into our swim suits. By the time we finished changing, our guide had finished fashioning a large raft out of beach logs and bark rope! We hopped on the raft and floated back home down the Amazon river to our campground as we watched the sun set.
When we returned to our little hut, we were greeted by Sally, our giant new salamander friend... Who later turned out to be a highly poisonous lizard of sorts that you should avoid touching at all costs. She was cool, though.
Too pooped from our early-morning wake-ups and all the hiking and rafting, I decided to go to bed after dinner that night. Ty and our guide set out for a night walk in the jungle rain to see what creepy-crawlies they could spot with their flashlights. They saw this lovely ghost-like spider...
...and this fuzzy-wuzzy tarantula...
...and satan.... who came in the form of a plate-sized spider with a giant, gaping pie-hole that probably sucks in souls...
I was glad I decided to sleep in our safe little hut with my mosquito-netting shield.
The next morning we woke up to buckets and buckets of rain! There aren't rain drops in the jungle - as you can see below, it is more like a continuous stream, like a billion faucets being left on low all at once.
We couldn't go for a hike that day, so we stayed under-cover and made necklaces instead.
Tyrone tied little knots for about 2 hours until he had blisters to create this pretty neclace for his mom.
We had a wet boat ride home to Rurrenabaque that afternoon. Blanca the dog decided to take a little shower on the bow of the boat, as she had been running around in mud puddles that day!
The next day we were off to the airport and on our way back to La Paz. We flew in with one airline and flew out with another... This particular one didn't have an airport... or benches. So we stood kinda confused on the side of the tarmac waiting for our plane to arrive!
We had an amazing time in the Amazon jungle! It was so different from anything we had experienced before and we were lucky to get a great local guide who was very knowledgable about the terrain and wildlife. We will definitely go back one day!!

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