Wednesday April 1, 2015 (Bolivia, South America)
Well, it’s not the Amazon. It’s the Beni river. And the Tuchi river. But they feed the Amazon, and they’re also piranha infested, so let’s just pretend for a minute.
We had an early morning flight to Rurrenabaque, Bolivia from La Paz. This was one of those “12 rows on the plane, 1 person per side” kind of flights. Tiny aircraft flying through the mountains. In about 30 minutes, you go from 4000m to about 200m in altitude. Quite the rapid switchup!
We were received on the runway by a small van which shuttled us to the “airport”. This was basically a house, behind which were cabs to take us into town to begin our tours.
Our guide Jose brought us out in a boat and we began heading deep into the jungle. The boat took a quick stop so we could learn how to get sugar out of sugar cane: using a trapiche, of course! This is a human-powered mill constructed of very strong wood. Toss stalks of sugar cane into the gears and crunch the heck out of it to extract the precious sugary water. Add some lemon and you’ve got a tasty drink!
We went on many hikes in the jungle, but didn’t get overly lucky on the wildlife spotting. I’ll just rhyme off a list of things we encountered including the pampas trip, which is more like a wetlands area and less a rainforest. We encountered: golden spiders, tarantulas (and many other scarily-large spiders), howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, tons of bird species including macaws, sloths, caiman, leafcutter ants, fire ants, bullet ants (the big boys that hurt like HECK when they bite!)… ooh, and a jaguar footprint. Fortunately (?) just the footprint.
At one point, we ran into a termite infested tree. The termites are easily damaged by the sun, so they make tunnels along the surface of the trees to carry material to and fro. Cut into these tunnels and out stream hundreds of termites. What’s the next step? Eating them, of course! We both tried it. Tasted like… wood.
You will also see pictures of the roots of the “male” walking tree. You will be able to discern why the locals call this particular species the male.
To keep hydrated, we also found ourselves drinking from water vines. These vines look like your typical jungle vine, but when slashed open release a remarkable amount of liquid fit for human consumption. Convenient!
The bugs were plentiful. They liked my hat, but perhaps they liked my legs more. The mosquitos and sand flies were battling it out to see who could damage my body and psyche the most. Jury’s still out on the winner. But I was definitely the loser.
The definite highlight was swimming with the pink river dolphins. The first day we just got dumped in the river (into a very strong current, I might add!). I was the first in the drink, and within a minute or so, dolphins were throwing up huge splashes around me as I flailed downstream. I accidentally kicked a few as they swam under me. They took that as the signal for play time, and promptly began biting my feet. Not with intent to injure, but these guys have some serious jaws on them. Eventually they calmed down and let me pet them a bit.
The second day saw a whole group of us sitting with four or five of the dolphins in a shallow cove of calmer waters. This time around, everybody got a chance to pet these wonderful creatures, and Sandra collected some incredible video footage!
Of important note is that all swimming with dolphins took place within a stone’s throw of where we spotted black caiman (basically an alligator) and where we successfully went piranha fishing. We’re told they’re nicer here in Bolivia and won’t attack you unless you’re thrashing around with an open wound. Duly noted.
The final note worthy of mention was the moment we found ourselves a two hour boat ride away from camp in the pampas. And Sandra had to pee. It was decided that our friends Sarah and Gabrielle (England and Italy, but living in Norway) would hold a blanket aloft while Sandra did her business in the vessel used to hold our fishing catch. Sandra could contain neither her laughter nor her bladder. A bit of pee in the bucket, and then over the side she goes! One of many times Sandra has been forced to overcome her pride in the name of comfort. Well done.
This has been our last big trip in South America. Hard to believe it, but after a few days rest in La Paz we’re off to South Africa!