Steve's Adventures in South America

I bought a one-way ticket to Venezuela and I'm not coming back until my tube of toothpaste runs out...

Madidi National Park

We fly into the beautiful Bolivian Jungle to spend time with snakes, spiders and monkeys!

Welcome to the Jungle

Had a lie in to 07:00 as oppose to 04:30 as a note in the hostel last night informed us that our Jungle flight to Rurrenabaque had changed from 06:50 to 09:20. Due to time constraints I didn't pack for the jungle, rather un-packed for it! i.e. Threw out what I knew I wouldn't need, e.g. sleeping bag, roll mat, etc. That still left me a full 18 Kg pack with all my clothes.

Stepping out of the hostel we were happy to immediately flag down a taxi for 45 Bs but then unhappy when we hit the main road. The taxi was only firing 2 of it's 4 cylinders and was severely underpowered. It's a half hour ride uphill to the airport and we were chugging along being passed by everything. A mini-bus full of passengers attempted to undertake. As it drew level it pulled out to overtake a lorry in front, causing our driver to take evasive action. We swerved into the outside barrier and slammed on the brakes. Our vehicles were so close I was absolutely certain contact had been made. I was wrong, we must have missed each other by an inch or so. Our driver simply blew his horn and shrugged it off. Sean and Monika went quiet in disbelief and I, riding shotgun, considered wearing a seat belt. If it had one. To add insult to injury, the lorry then powered off leaving the mini-bus dithering on the hard shoulder.

Looking Down The Aeroplane

Our aeroplane was cool, it looked like a small Lear Jet. 2 single rows of seats (some 30 in total) and a clear view of the cockpit and pilots. i.e. no door, security or otherwise. We take off from the highest commercial airport in the world at 4,100m. Our mere 40 minute flight took us over some mountains before descending to land on a grass strip in the Jungle. As we couldn't see the landing strip it looked like we were crash landing in the tree tops! Opening the cabin door was like opening the door to a furnace. La Paz was a cool 15°C, here, just 40 minutes down the line was a stupidly humid 35°C! I had to take my jumper off.

La Paz from Above

Amazsonus is the only commercial airline to operate in Rurrenabaque and they have a mini shuttle bus that ferries people the 5 minutes to and from town. Now considering they monopolise the airport I think it's a right cheek they charge 5 Bs for the service. Still, I cough up the 33p. Humph.

A Floating Bar

We arrived at the Madidi Travel office for 10:30 to find their boat didn't wait for us and that we'd have to wait until 13:00 for the next one. Sean complains. Although it's not their fault our flight had changed, they did know about it yesterday and could have made provisions, especially as we paid to have activities today. Phone calls are made and its agreed it's unfair for us to wait until 14:00 for the boat, a box lunch provided and the boat confirmed to leave at 14:30 though it may be 15:00. We did eventually leave at 16:00.

Into Madidi National Park

To while away the time we were given a boat ride up stream for an hour and a half. It was pretty but not much to see. We turned around when we reached the imaginary border to Madidi National Park. There was a hut on the side of the river. As we approached park rangers sauntered out to watch us - we're not allowed in the park. Our driver taunted them and kept motoring on. The rangers drew guns. We kept motoring. Sean wasn't happy and nervously shouted at our driver to "Volver!", "Return!" We didn't. Sean shouted again. We did. The rangers holstered their weapons and returned to their hut, presumably to eat donuts.

Sunset

Rurrenabaque is a tiny town and only appeared on the map some 10 years ago and exists solely as a tourist gateway to the Bolivian Jungle. It is remote, despite the 40 minute flight from La Paz, it's also an 18 hour bus ride. It has a feel of lawlessness about it. I like it. Had I not been travelling with Sean &Monika, who are short on time (hence the flights in and out), I would have stayed for longer.

Rivers of Rain

Being low on local Bolivian cash I go on a mission to change a travellers cheque. Obviously the bank doesn't so I'm directed to a hostel instead. On the way the heavens open and a down pour ensues. There is no shelter. I get drenched. I wander round the deserted hostel for a good 10 minutes looking for staff. I find one and get directed to the Chain Saw shop next door! It all seems good, I like the exchange rate, I photocopy my passport, sign the cheque and only then am I informed he has no Bolivianos. Instead he hands me a $100 US note and demands some 30 Bs commission. As I've already counter signed the cheque it's now useless to me and I'm held hostage to his demands. He has me over a barrel. Begrudgingly I hand over the last of my local groats for the US note. Damn it. Luckily, but for yet another commission fee, the bank changes US notes.

Our Sunset Landing Site

The boat trip to the lodge took 2½ hours down stream. We only grounded in the shallows twice! The driver had a stick with him which he uses to punt with every now and again to check the water depth. We arrived at our landing for sunset which meant the next ½ hour jungle hike was in the dark. Yes, I had a head torch but the guide took it!

Our Jungle Hut

Sean, Monika and I share a jungle hut. The camp has no electricity, just candles, but does have running cold water for the tap, toilet and shower. The hut is posh, is on stilts and has see through Mosi-webbing for walls. Sean breaks out his iPod and speakers and delivers Guns'n'Roses "Welcome to the Jungle". It's a 5 / 10 minute walk to the main lodge for a candle lit dinner. We ask for a midnight walk but told there's no point because it's a full moon and they'd be no animals about. So we resign ourselves to listening to the grunting ruckus of pet pigs outside instead.

Snakes and Spiders

We get up in the dark, dress and make our way to the lodge for 06:00 for our early morning walk. We're a bit dismayed that our guides don't turn up until 06:30. Still, in the mean time we chase pigs and I find some bright green glow-in-dark beetles! We form a single file train into the jungle and immediately discover swarms of mosquitoes. I wish I'd brought out my mosi spray. I get bit instead. The walk was pleasant and we saw centipedes, insects, spiders and moths. Not exciting, but pleasant. After a brekkie of pancakes and scrambled eggs at the main lodge we jump in a canoe for a paddle around the lake.

Centipedes MatingSpiderMutant Moth

"Jungle" comes from a Latin word meaning "impenetrable" and was given to name the rain forest by people paddling along rivers and not seeing a means to enter land. We saw plenty fine examples of this from the lake. We also saw Stinky Turkeys, an Ecuadorian name given to this foul tasting bird. A Caiman also let its presence be known to us before sinking below the surface.

Canoes Moored by the Main LodgeJungle - ImpenetrableStinky Turkey

A big lunch back at the lodge and another jungle walk where we encounter a massive spiders nest straight out of an Indiana Jones film set! As it was strung straight across our trail we had to walk around it. Definitely not the sort of thing you'd want to stumble into in the dark! After everyone else (but me) almost stepped on it, Sean spots a brightly coloured snake resting on the floor! We all conclude (after our guide wasn't sure) that it was the highly venomous Coral Snake. It does have a harmless look-alike cousin but we're sure it wasn't that one! We wanted to get a long stick to clear some leaves away (for better photos) but our guide wouldn't let us fearing it may attack the next group to stumble across it. Boo!

Giant Spiders NestCoral Snake

We see more huge spiders and toads, all toxic according to our guide. He's not a native and his knowledge seems weak and second hand and I don't believe him anywhere near as much as my indigenous Guyanese friends! We get a boat lift back to the lodge for dinner before a night time walk.

Spiders as BIG as Your Hand!Toad - Gribbit!

It's dark. Very dark. Especially when we all turn our torches off! It's nice to fumble around but we don't see anything. Except for a giant tarantula in the wood pile near the main lodge! Woah! Cool!

Piranha Fishing

Lago Gringo

After brekkie at 09:00 it's a jungle trek to Lago Gringo. Today I came prepared with mosi spray but didn't need it. I think they only come out before breakfast. We jump in a canoe and try our hand at Piranha fishing using prime beef as bait! No-one catches anything, except our guide who picks up a couple of fresh water fish.

Lago Negro

We wander into a large hut on stilts where someone from the lodge must have pegged it over with lunch , because it's still very hot. Vegetable soup, chicken pasta and salad with jelly dessert. The floorboards look like tree bark and feels as flimsy too! Everyone is careful where they step as there are large holes in it!

Monika on a Stick Bridge

Next we're off to Lago Negro for more Piranha fishing via a little trek. The trail gets muddy and 2 logs appear on it acting as a bridge. There's another 2 logs after the first 2. The guide asks us if we need / want a walking stick to help steady ourselves. Monika takes 2 (1 for each hand) whilst Sean and I refuse. It doesn't look difficult and it isn't. But then at the end of the these stick bridges we discover more, only these sticks are raised and the mud gets deeper. Then more still and the mud turns to water and more still where the logs are not secured properly causing them to roll as you walk over them. Then the 2 logs turn into 1! Eargh! Monika squeals a lot but slowly makes her way over, walking stick in each hand. Sean looses it half way along and gets a wet leg. I have a rocky moment but keep dry!

Reeds on Lago Negro

In the canoe on the other side we paddle through the reeds on Lago Negro until we reach clear water. Here we try for Piranha again, all except me because I left my line at the lunch lodge. Our guide catches a large one quickly followed by Sean, then Monika. The Piranhas make a wheezing noise in the boat as they gasp for air (water?). This disturbs Monika who decides she doesn't want to catch Piranha any more but wants normal fish instead! But fishing is all about luck and tough titty for her as she reels another one in. Not to be out done the guide baits one more before we paddle back.

Cappuccino Monkey in the Foliage

Back to the log bridges, only this time knowing what's coming and fearing wet feet I take a walking stick - easy peasy! Sean stops. He hears something. Movement in the foliage. "Small Cappuccino Monkeys," our guide smiles. We all stop and wait in silence, the crashing in the undergrowth getting louder and louder. It sounds like a marauding Rhinoceros rampaging towards us and we're just standing there like lemmings! But no, tiny Cappuccino monkeys it is, just lots and lots of them and we were standing right in their path. They appeared in the palm tops, stared at us, squeaked and jumped over our heads before disappearing into the jungle beyond. Smiles all round!

DuskEvil SpiderPalms by DarkGiant CricketBright Slimy Thing

A half hour walk back to the main lodge for a cold shower and dinner. I hang around after, waiting for everyone to leave. I wish to be last back for tonight I go on my creepy crawly walk. Armed with new batteries in my head torch I use high beam sweeps around the jungle path looking for sparkling eyes reflecting back at me. And boy do I find them! Hundreds and hundreds of spiders, everywhere! Blue and green eyes staring right at me. Moths tended to have red eyes. I spot a bright slimy thing too!?

Spiderman!

Rurrenabaque River Bank

After packing up our stuff we walk to the main lodge for breakfast. Sean, Monika &I leave this morning for our 14:30 flight, everyone else was staying for another jungle day for their flights weren't until the evening. Or so they thought! Madidi Travel didn't have enough boats to transport everyone back for the different flights so they changed all the flights to 14:30! Although they didn't actually say that, just that the flights had changed and everyone was leaving after breakfast.

Our Private Lear Jet

A fast paced 30 minute walk with my 20 Kg main pack and day pack and we arrive at the river to our awaiting boat. It's a lovely calm 3 hour cruise back to Rurrenabaque. By means of an apology for flight fathing we were all treated to a fantastic tasting, huge fish lunch. Only because they hadn't quite got the timing right we only had 20 minutes to shovel it all down before boarding the airport taxi (another cheeky 5 Bs).

Leaving Rurrenabaque

It's a 40 minute flight from sea level back to the highest commercial airport in the world (4,100m). The plane doesn't do much other than take off, ascend and land! (Note the lack of a descend there!) 45 Bs (£3) taxi and we're back in the highest city in the world, La Paz. We book into the El Cactus hostel because Sean &Monika wanted somewhere a little quieter. For 30 Bs per night I get a room of my own. A little later Mark &Mindy, an Aussie couple who stayed with us at the Jungle Lodge, also check into El Cactus, cool! Mindy's cute and Mark owns / runs CVS Dude, a CVS / Subversion online server company.

Stuff dinner we all have dessert at an ice-cream / cake cafe and watch Spiderman 3 (English language with Spanish subtitles) at the pictures. The film was great although, as is all far too common nowadays, they tried to fit in too many bad guys. Why not save them for their own sequels and let you explore their personalities more, eh? Sigh. Then it's straight back to bed as because Sean &Monika don't drink, there's no such thing as last orders or a quiet one. Humph!