We woke up erroneously early and grabbed a taxi back up the mountain to Al Alto’s airport. We paid our airport tax, flew through the metal detectors and lined up for bag search. When we finally arrived at the front of the line we told the lady where we were going and she sort of laughed and let us pass. Apparently they don’t search the bags of those going to the jungle as the chances of survival are minimal, perhaps? We waited about an hour as our plane was delayed and soon stepped out onto the tarmac in front of the smallest plane I have ever been on. Walking up the small steps I could barely stand up as my head hit the roof. The plane seats a grand total of twenty people but they now only allow fifteen passengers as the pilots do not want a heavy aircraft when landing on makeshift grass air strips in the middle of the Amazon. Makes sense I guess. Everyone had a bit of a laugh as someone asked where the planes emergency exits were and I shouted “the entire plane is an emergency exit.” The take off was perfectly normal until I looked out my window and noticed the cities largest mountain literally five feet from the tip of the planes wing. Everyone on board groaned and sort of started leaning away from the mountain (as if that would have helped at all). As soon as we passed by the mountain side our little dingy of a plane started experiencing a rather nauseating amount of turbulence. Sarah and I held hands and exchanged some rather terrified smiles as our bodies were being jostled in the air. In about twenty minutes we were flying over rain forest, rivers and flat lands. I felt the need for someone to pinch me as I really couldn’t rap my head around the idea that I was about to step foot into the Amazon Jungle. We landed at the smallest airport I have ever seen (think grass field and small hut). We stepped down from the plane, everyone sighing in happiness that we had survived the flight.
The temperature instantly took us by surprise as it was incredibly pleasant. Warm, a bit sticky with humidity a perfectly typical jungle ambiance. Not to mention huge trees that flanked each side of the runway and a huge mountain directly in front of us with swirling fog at its peak. We sat around the airport terminal (aka jungle hut) and waited for our bus transfer to the small town of Rurrenabaque. We were dropped off at Indian Tours and quickly introduced ourselves to our new jungle family of eleven. The two Canadians (one obsessed with food and the other dabbling in Religion and Literature), four 19 year olds from Manchester who were just finishing the last leg of their around the world, 12 month travel experience, a couple from Chicago (the wifey a composer and writer, the husband originally from Belgium who works as a Management Consultant) a 27 year old doctor from Sweden and a couple from London (wifey works for a charity and he works as a Financial Consultant).
We were told we would be taking a 4X4 on the three hour bus ride to the mouth of the river. Instead a broken down white mini van collectivo drove up beside the curb. We all rolled our eyes (its Bolivia you begin to expect these things all the time) and clamored into the van. I kid you not…our driver turned the key and we maybe puttered a total of two meters before it died. The British Financial Consultant started freaking out and telling the driver to let everyone out as we were not going to take this mode of transport. Sarah and I sat on the curb laughing at our situation as several people started talking to the owner of the tour company and insisting on a 4×4 jeep. A red 4×4 jeep that sits eight people comfortably drove up to the curb. We asked if we were being given two jeeps and we soon found out we were all expected to cram into this jeep. Eleven tourists and one guide, erroneous. Six people sat on two small benches in the back and the three people with the longest legs sat on the more comfortable seat in the middle. The British couple sat together on the passenger seat.
As all of our bags were being thrown on top of the jeep roof a man in an odd little motorized vehicle came by selling banana and chocolate cake. Several people had already met him and he is actually featured in the Lonely Planet as the crazy man in town. One may put him in the category of evangelical cult leader. His little car has banners reading “The Da Vinci Code is Ridiculous,” and “Evolution is a Fairy Tale for Grown Ups.” When you buy his baked goods he gives you a thick pamphlet on what his cult believes. He started preaching about random ridiculous things. I told him the Da Vinci Code was a work of fiction and he huffed at me. I soon found out he hadn’t even read the book. This guy was somewhat biased I’d say. I walked away really irritated and everyone was laughing as we hobbled into the jeep. He yelled back at me, “I have quotes and proof, this is real!” Two words, Wack Job. Everyone in the Jeep was hysterically laughing as Sarah read out some of the ridiculous statements in the handout literature. His cult claims that evolutionists created AIDS and cancer to control the human population. He also claims that the Catholic Church is mentioned metaphorically in the book of Revelations as a heartlet. Most absurd, he actually claimed that Christianity was the only faith that could be historically proven. Apparently Hindi and Islamic faiths don’t have a lot of archaeological evidence to support their views. I would die to see Tom Cruise and this man have a rancid debate. We all realized we had just financially supported a cult leader through our purchases of baked goods. In the middle of the jungle it seems like the hungry stomach comes before moral standards perhaps.
We soon realized that the entire van was full of around the world travelers. Sarah and I were only traveling a weak three months in South America. The British kids were just finishing while the Swede and two couples were just getting started. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the tips and must see’s that were being discussed about Southeast Asia. The girl from Manchester was reading a book about the famed San Pedro Prison in La Paz. About twenty years ago an American inmate who had been put in prison for drug possession started to let tourists into the prison for tours! We had heard about this crazy prison before and I found her dialog about how it all works very fascinating. Basically you find your Embassy in La Paz and find an inmate from your country. You go to the prison to visit that person and bring some money and gifts for them and they will take you on a tour. The prison is wild as half of the people that live there are not even charged with crimes. The poorest of the poor pay the prison to live in the cells. You can see entire families living in jail cells. Several jail cells have Jacuzzi tubs where you can pay to have a “swim.” There are restaurants, markets and everything you would expect in a normal town, except you are in a prison in the middle of Bolivia.
We stopped the Jeep to help another tour group whose right rear wheel only had three out of the compulsory six bolts. Our guide was driving behind us with the other group as there was no space in our crammed vehicle. He spent the next two hours of our dust bowl trip on the roof of the Jeep! We randomly stopped suddenly on the road as the guide (holding onto dear life on the roof top) spotted a cobra snake. Cobra’s terrify me. He grabbed the cobra by the end of the tail and started to swing it around in circles (to make it dizzy I suppose). Several of the people in our group are very adamant about protecting the untouched bio diversity of nature and started shouting for him to stop sling shoting the snake in the air. He stopped the spinning of the snake, grabbed behind its head and placed his hat in front of its face. The cobra chomped down on the hat and released its venom. Apparently the snake was now harmless. My heart was thumping as the guide smiled and brought the snake over for me to touch. I screamed and ran back into the Jeep screaming “If you bring that snake any closer to me I’ll sue you.” An effective threat. The majority of the trip I tried to keep my face in front of the side window so I had a nice breeze going on (it was incredibly jungle hot that day we were all sickly sticky and nasty looking). Looking out the rear window of the Jeep we could only see a cloud of dust as we jostled down the rocky dirt road.
We stopped by the river to pay our ten dollar entrance fee to Parque National Rio Yacuma, a subsidiary of the larger Parque National Madidi. The watershed of the Rio Madidi features the greatest biodiversity of the earth’s protected regions. Researchers have observed over 1000 bird species, 10% of the worlds known species! I started hysterically laughing when I got out of the car as Sarah’s face was completely orange from the dust. I was then told that my white t shirt was actually a faint tint of orange. I wiped a Kleenex over my forehead and it looked filthy dirty. I looked like an Ompa Loompa! We walked into this official national park office which consisted of a straw hut, a baby sitting in a hammock and a TV blaring an Olsen Twins film. I walked along the river as wild cows munched on the grass on the shore. I blew my nose and was disturbed by the amount of black that was in my nasal cavity.
We hopped back into the Jeep and drove a short 25 minutes into a small town where we stopped to eat lunch. We were given little spiny orange fruits the size of small plums which tasted a lot like Lychee. You basically suck the thin layer of white pith around the nut. They also make a fresh juice out of the stuff. It is sour like white grapefruit. We ate fried beef, rice and fried banana while the hilarious Belgian man discussed the history of Belgian Beer (according to him, Budweiser tastes worse than piss). A local man walked into the restaurant and displayed his hand made alligator boots which I wasn’t at all inclined to purchase. We drove ten minutes down the road and arrived at a small riverside village (consisting of two huts). At the riverbank several brightly coloured wooden longboats bobbed up and down on the shore. We were soon embarking on a two hour boat ride up the river. Essentially everyone smeared suntan lotion and 100% deet all over their bodies. Our guide attached a thirty horsepower motor onto the back of our banana boat and we were soon driving up a scorching hot, lush jungle.
We started to reach the length of the river where all of the tour company jungle resorts are located (I use the term resort loosely). We crossed our fingers as we passed the first few. Some of them were clearly nicer than others and we were hoping that our guide docked at one of the nicer locations. We drove our boat directly into a muddy clay riverbed and walked up the make shift log steps (many of which were not flat but slippery and created a rather arduous climb). As soon as we stepped into the foyer of our new home the sky cracked and a shudder of jungle rain poured onto the tin roof above. The pitter patter was nostalgic and really odd as it started as soon as the door closed behind us. What a welcome! We all claimed a bed in the small room with translucent mosquito nets above. The aisle between each bed was less than a foot. Somewhat of a fire hazard I expect. The two toilets (which lacked toilet seat luxury) were located on the side of the complex. Two jungle showers surrounded by blue tarp which pump brown murky unfiltered river water are located beside these two water closets. The WCs were particularly vulgar as random frogs and toads would jump around the floor and it smells heinous as you can imagine. Hold your breath and do your business was the motto for the next few days. I stood at the screen windows overlooking the river and appreciated how beautiful the surrounding scenery was.
We all sat around a long table in the dining area and introduced ourselves properly. The rain had been a quick blessing but the weather had returned to humid and hot. The two couples told everyone at the table how amazing the Galapagos Islands are. Both couples said the islands are magical and a must see. They said the attraction to the Galapagos is that the animals are incredibly docile and interact with you as if they were not wild. They talked about scuba diving with hundreds of tiger sharks, sitting on the beach with sea lions who apparently enjoy biting your legs.
We heard the chirp of crickets once the sun went down and started to see the beginnings of awesome pink lightening over the jungle tree tops. Before dinner we all walked over a wood plank bridge which leads to The Pink Dolphin Jungle Bar. This was the saddest bar I have ever visited. The bottom floor is the owners home (he had several random jungle animals hanging over his bed. They were dead. It was creepy). I sat on a hammock as everyone purchased warm coca cola and beers. We all walked up the stairs to an open concept tree house. We spent the next thirty minutes in the dark telling jokes, staring over the most beautiful scenery I have ever laid my eyes on. The silhouette of jungle trees could be seen in the foreground and a magical lightening and thunder storm unraveled before our eyes in the distance. We could see glowing lights in the trees a few hundred meters from our vantage point and realized they were hundreds of fire flies dancing in the night. I poked my head over the banister and looked up to find the most beautiful night sky. In the middle of no where, the stars shine a hundred times brighter than they do in brightly lit populated cities. We walked back along the bridge and I couldn’t help but stare upwards totally entranced by the millions of brightly glinting stars above.
We rammed our boat into the mud and attempted to climb up the slippery and slanted log steps. We opened the screen door and the moment we were all panting in the foyer a crack was heard from above and rain pounded on the tin roof moments later. A rather fantastic welcome! We all walked into the large dorm room which consisted of beds spaced less than a foot apart from each other with mosquito nets overhead. I unpacked and removed the filth from my forehead (the q-tip removed from my ear was rather putrid). I stared out over the cliff we were now sitting on and was amazed by the view overlooking the river bellow. We all walked to the dining room and sat around a long table to introduce ourselves properly. The temperature soon returned to the typical hot and humid. Both couples on the trip had amazing trips to the Galapagos Islands. I was fascinated by their stories; scuba diving with hundreds of hammer head sharks, walking along the beach with huge tortoises and being bitten and nudged by affectionate sea lions. The lodge was surrounded by the sound of chirping crickets and the dark night soon surrounded us other than the one hanging light bulb which buzzed over the doorway. I was rather sad when I checked out the bathroom stalls. Always a treat to see frogs hopping around the toilet bowl. The two toilets were missing the essential toilet seat (a luxury we were used to missing at this point). The showers consisted of a shower head surrounded by blue tarp. Brown water is pumped unfiltered from the riverbed bellow. Rub a dub dub. We all walked along a wooden plank bridge which leads to the Pink
Dolphin Bar. The bar is two stories. Half of the bottom floor is the owners bedroom. He had several dead jungle animals hanging over his bed. Creepy. I swung in a hammock as my comrades purchased bottles of luke warm coca cola and beer. We all walked up the stairs to the open concept tree house above. The view was spectacular as we stared out into the black forest bellow. We all told jokes and yammered on as we watched a fantastical pink lightening show along the horizon. We noticed hundreds of flickering lights in a few of the trees a hundred meters or so from our vantage point. Soon realizing that they were fire flys dancing in the night. I had another pinch me moment as I couldn’t believe I was sitting in a tree fort staring out onto the Amazon jungle. I poked my head over the banister and my jaw dropped as I stared up into the star filled sky above. You can imagine the stars are a hundred times more impressive in the middle of the jungle then they are at home. Millions of blinking lights accompanied by the crack of thunder and electric frenzy of lightening along the horizon. We walked back along the bridge for dinner and I could not help but stare up at the stars strewn across the heavens above.
After dinner we all participated in a wild excursion. Outside it was pitch black and I could barely see my hand in front of my face. We were told we were getting into our boat, puttering up the river with our flashlights in hand to stare at the red gleaming beady eyes of alligators. Alligators and the smaller Caemans are littered on the shores. We saw a slew of parrots, heron, small little colorful birds perched on stumps, turtles, and a funny looking bird the size of a turkey with a blue coloured face. The river here is famous for its Pink Dolphins. These dolphins are born black but when the females are finally reproductively active (at the age of thirteen) their entire body turns pink. We joked about how funny it would be if human females turned entirely pink when they first menstruated. How embarrassing that day at school would be! I fell in love with tiny little Squirrel monkeys (yellow bodies, white neck and black head). We crossed our fingers as we passed by the first few jungle resorts on the cliffs above the shoreline. Some of the locations looked far better than others and we were hoping that our tour guide docked at one of the better lodges.
We were told to dress warmly and bring a flashlight. We slowly made our way up the river in the pitch black. The excursion was entirely creepy and one of those moments in life I believe you always remember. With flashlights in hand we were told to scan the shore for alligators and caemans. Their eyes light up in the middle of the night and glow like red rubies. They appear incredibly evil with their red fiery eyes perked above the river meniscus. After seeing hundreds of floating alligators we started to hear little splashing sounds on either side of the boat. Sardines were jumping out of the water to eat a bug filled dinner. The most terrifying point of the entire trip was when we were suddenly surrounding by swooping vampire bats. They flew incredibly close to our faces, a foot or so I´d say. A few of the men in the boat started to crumble and looked very terrified. The bats were shooting down into the water to eat the sardines as they jumped into the air. The circle of life it seems does exist! We turned the boat around as it seemed like it may start pouring again. The air was full of moisture as we turned off all of our flashlights and the motor to just coast down the river. The jungle has a tremendous number of sounds. Pure nature in the pitch black. We walked into the dorm room. Everyone was filthy and exhausted from a long day. I tucked myself under my mosquito net and heard the sounds of people vigorously brushing their teeth.
I woke up and forgot where I was. After a few minutes I realized I was under a mosquito net (and not a coffin). I confirmed that I was in fact living in the jungle as I could hear monkeys screaming in the trees outside. We woke up for breakfast and I couldn’t help but laugh at how the British couple were dressed. The husband was dressed as if he were an extra in an African Safari documentary with pants tucked into his socks, a huge brimmed hat and an outfit entirely made of khakis light weight North Face. As we ate breakfast we could see hundreds of squirrel monkeys jumping from tree to tree across the bridge a few feet away. We snacked on fried fritters and a lovely cup of jungle fruit. Half of our group had the runs. The humorous backpacker term for this condition is called pissing through your ass. Sarah did not feel well so she stayed at home base as the rest of us climbed into the boat for another wild excursion.
We drove our boat into the mud and walked past a small farmhouse before arriving at an expansive grassland. We were moments from beginning our Anaconda hunt. I do NOT like snakes and this was the most difficult adventure for me. I really had to force myself to try something new and get outside of my comfort zone. The flat lands were incredibly hot. We were all sweating wearing our soggy rain boots. I walked directly behind our tour guide who had a huge knife attached to his hip. I began to ask him a few important questions such as: how many of the snakes in this field are venomous, what does one do if they come across an anaconda etc…
The Anaconda is the largest snake in the world. It grows as long as 50 feet and it smells like putrid death (I love animals that give off foul odors). My entire body was wet with sweat and I was absolutely terrified as we walked through an alley of six foot foliage. At one point the guide noticed a huge hornet nest and told us we had to walk around it. He pushed through the foliage and started walking directly into the thick brush. I could barely move. Was this not where the Anaconda lives? Oh my dear Lord I took a moment to gather my emotions and walked in line with the rest of the group off the beaten track. We arrived back on the path and stared up in the sky at a few black eagles soaring above. We randomly walked by a wild cow with hanging testicles the size of a honeydew melon. We walked by what looked like a fish cemetery and were told that this area is covered in four feet of water during the rainy season. We were basically walking on the bottom of a swamp. I soon realized this when we arrived at what seemed like quick sand mud ponds. I had to once again focus on the task at hand and try not to cry or have a tantrum.
As we were plugging through the mud random spiders were jumping from the reeds on either side of us. At this point I felt nauseous. My head was spinning. I was certain I had a heat stroke and was very dehydrated. I was stumbling along the path as the rest of the group joked around with me as I groaned that I was truly a city person. Suddenly we stopped. Our guide found a 50 foot adult anaconda in the grass about ten feet from where we stood. In a matter of seconds it squirmed through the grass directly towards me. I screamed like a drama queen and nearly fainted under the heat of the sun. I know for a fact that my tour guide loves to see me squirm, he thrives off it. I stood my distance from the huge legless lizard as people took pictures and gawked at it. At one point the snake ran at me again and tried to constrict itself around my ankle. I had a nervous breakdown at this point and ran in the other direction screaming ¨I want to go back to Canada, this is the most un-gay thing I have ever done in my life.¨ I thoroughly entertained the rest of the group with my sudden unexpected breakdown. The guide asked us if we wanted to continue and try and find a larger snake. We all looked like we had been through a meat grinder. Sweat pouring from our bodies. The consensus was to walk back to the boat. It was the walk back where I really realized how heat exhaustion had gripped my little body. I stumbled and tripped along the path and felt like I might throw up for several minutes. I was not the only one complaining however. Everyone in the group was bitching about how they had never felt this hot and bothered in their lives. I started prancing along the path telling everyone that I would be willing to spend 100 USD to visit a water park for the rest of the day.
As soon as we got back to the lodge I started screaming for Sarah. She looked at my weathered face and could tell that I had just experienced a rather erroneous excursion. Looking back at those three hours I am so glad I went on the trip. I have amazing pictures and stories to tell. Even though at the time it was hellish, I know it will be one of those life experiences that I will never forget. I finally decided to take a jungle river shower (I had made a pact earlier to wait until we got back to a hotel, but I was so filthy I had to indulge in the un-luxurious side of life). The shower was actually existential. I stepped under the falling brown river water and my hot skin jumped as it suddenly cooled down. I stared down at a few monkeys who were staring up at my naked body from the floor boards beneath. The most ridiculous shower experience of my life. A gross out moment would have to be when I scrubbed my head and the suds instead of being the normal frothy white were actually brown. The dust that had accumulated on the Jeep ride here had clearly been in my hair for the last 24 hours. Siesta was heavenly as we all sat under our mosquito nets and had a much deserved rest. Suddenly out of no where another Amazonian storm arrived at our doorstep. I started acting manically as wind rushed into the room. We all ran outside and instantly cooled off as a comfortable breeze rushed through our bodies. It is amazing how this sudden weather change affected my mood. I went from sour to sweet in a short few moments. I sat on a log hanging over the cliff while listening to Bjork’s Earth Intruders track. One of the Brits started throwing sticks at an alligator beneath us. We debated feeding one of the many irritating cats at this huge lizard to see ¨what would happen.¨
We spent the afternoon Piranha fishing, how exotic I know. We were all given rectangular pieces of wood with fishing line and a hook. We baited our hooks with little pieces of beef and dropped our lines in the water. It soon started to rain so we were all huddled under our rain coats. We were only getting nibbles by small sardines so we moved the boat to a better location. The rain let up and we soon followed the lead of our guide technique wise. The best way to catch a Piranha is to throw your line over a branch by the shore and slowly lower it just above the water. The Piranha will jump out of the water to grab the bait, you yank, and you’ve got yourself a Piranha for dinner. We ended up catching about five colourful little sharp toothed fish which was rather exciting. As we puttered back to the lodge we saw a huge family of Capybara which hands down have been our favorite animal in the jungle. They are the world’s largest rodent. The size of a large farm pig. They are brown, hairy and look a lot like large beavers without the distinctive flat tail. For dinner we ate grilled Piranha, pasta, grilled vegetables and a hilarious cake. I suppose they made us a cake as it was our last night on the trip. The top of the cake was decorated with saltine crackers. I almost had a fit laughing, crackers on a cake, brilliant.
In the morning a group of hardcore people (not including me or Sarah) woke up at 5am to watch the sun rise over the river. They arrived back at camp at 8am and we were soon woken up by the crazy Belgian man screaming like a monkey. Breakfast consisted of crepes, dulce de leche, grapefruit, orange, papaya, banana and cheese empanadas. The group told us that the boat ride in the morning was rather thrilling. Piranhas are rather hungry in the morning hours and three of these carnivores actually jumped into the boat as they headed down the river. How terrifying, if a Piranha jumped through the air and landed on your neck, or ear or cheek. As we wound our breakfast to an end the most exciting thing happened. Hundreds of small little squirrel monkeys seemed to be passing by the camp. Jumping from tree to tree and scurrying over the wooden bridge in the distance. I got up and ran over with my camera to take pictures. The rest of the group came by with fresh fruit to feed them. The monkeys came right onto our hands and grabbed pieces of fruit. I had monkeys inches from my face, they are adorable. Sarah, being the debby downer, reminded me of the film Outbreak and the slightly terrifying Abola virus that was transmitted by a similar animal.
In the afternoon we all hopped in the boat for our last excursion, swimming with pink dolphins. The Swede jumped right into the water as one of the dolphins blow holes puffed into the air. He spotted a large alligator in the distance and was dumb enough to actually chase it. I instantly thought the man a cad with a few screws loose.
For lunch we gorged ourselves on chicken fried rice, grapefruit juice and cucumber salad. Our guide stopped by the table to apologize for the disorganization of the trip. He explained that it is very hard for anyone in the tourism industry as the government hasn’t invested any money into this sector of the economy. They spend all their money on the oil industry out of the wealthy city of Santa Cruz. It was rather touching as he said “even though we don’t have degrees, we know a lot about this area.” These native guides were once hunters and are now avid conservationists. We packed all of our things up and carried all of our bags to the boat. Sarah and I were adamant about getting the best seat. On the drive up river we had been sitting in the front on a plank of wood with no back support. Uncomfortable to say the least. We grabbed the back bench with all of the backpacks directly behind us. We leisurely reclined against these packs for the next two hours with our legs stretched out across the boat. We plugged in our iPods and giggled as our feet were tickled by the reeds and lily pads that brushed against the soles of our feet. I stared up into the blue sky with huge outstretched trees that seemed like they were diving into the water as a white heron flew directly overhead. I felt like I was in some sort of jungle film, the moment was perfect.
We arrived at the rivers end where we expected to get into our Jeep and travel for the next three hours on dirt road to Rurr. Instead, our guide who is always trying to be sarcastic tells us the road to town has been closed so we have to walk with all of our packs for over an hour. We all thought he was joking until we hiked up the cliff and saw a group of eight backpackers walking down the road. Outrage and dread filled my entire being. After such a nice boat ride I was furious the end of this trip was to be spoiled. We all stood around griping about the situation as a small girl sold chocolate bars and roosters flapped across the dusty street. And then we were off.
I guess I couldn’t complain as we all were in the same situation. We even debated asking a local how much we could pay to get a drive down the road to the next town where we were supposedly meeting our Jeep. The hour walk seemed like three hours of hell. Every few minutes the guide would tell us “just another ten minutes.” I would get all excited as soon as I had walked down a long stretch of road, turned the bend and my heart would sink as another few kilometers could be seen in the distance. The dirt road we arrived on was now a torn up clay and mud trench. Huge trench’s three feet deep ripped through the center of the road. We all assumed there had been a bad rain and the passing trucks and 4×4’s had destroyed the road. Sarah and I had backs that felt like they may break. I wanted to scream and cry a few times as my ankles felt they may snap under the pressure of my bag and rocky road we had to hike across. We passed by a local poverty stricken village which featured open concept huts with kitchens that were basically large rocks for preparation and a fireplace for cooking. We could here the faint sound of tribal music, turned a bend and saw a huge crowd of people.
Sarah stopped and had a Shawshank Redemption moment (you know when he finally escapes and the rain falls on his exhausted face). We were certain we had arrived at our destination. Not so. The huge group of locals were actually the reason why we had to walk for the last few hours. Had we not paid to take a 4×4? Oh wait, we are in Bolivia…ya that’s always the excuse here. We end up finding out that the blockade was created by the Tourism Association! How ridiculous. They were protesting the conditions of the road as it is impossible for them to gain access to these remote areas during the wet season. Sarah found it rather ironic that the Tourism Association had just made our tourism experience a sour one. Even more ironic is that they are protesting the conditions of the road by digging trenches and placing boulders all over it.
We arrived at our Jeep finally and plopped ourselves on the ground. We had to wait around for about thirty minutes for our missing driver. We were ever so glad that we had not booked a flight for that same day as we were hours off schedule and would surely have missed it. We spent the next three hours crowded in a Jeep with two guides sitting on top of our roof. The road back was rather arduous as our driver had to maneuver our Jeep on the sides of the road to avoid any trenches our boulders. We were basically sitting on a diagonal trying not to smush the person beside us for a good hour. The most exciting part of this drive was when we passed by a flock of vultures eating a dead monkey on the side of the road. We passed by loads of goat and cow farms situated within little jungle communities.
We arrived in Rurr in the pitch black, blinded by the light of passing mopeds. We all walked directly to the Amazonas office to confirm or flight for the following day. That is when our day got even more sour. We arrived to a huge line up and were soon told that a few days ago there was a snow storm in La Paz resulting in several canceled flights. The domino effect had taken place and all flights had been bumped. A few British girls had spent the last two days waiting at the office hoping to fly out. Our hearts sunk. We talked to the lady at the front desk who couldn’t even find our last names in her system. She told us she had to “work on it” and that we should come back in the morning (we were scheduled to leave in at 10am). We had to shake it off and think on the bright side, we all needed a stiff cold drink. We walked with the couple from Chicago to their hotel which to our dismay was fully booked. We started cursing Bolivia under our breath for our shit luck. The backlog of tourists in the town had created a rather saturated hotel occupancy. We were directed to another hotel down the road which had one more room left. We threw our things on the bed and each took turns having a lukewarm shower in a real bathroom. We searched for an outlet in our room to charge our camera batteries and ended up finding it one inch bellow the ceiling. Who puts an outlet in an unreachable location, Bolivia is the answer.
We met the two couples and our Swedish friend at the infamous Jungle Bar Mosquito. The gringo hot spot that has a ridiculously large drinks menu and a stellar jungle hut ambiance, not to mention a rather large food menu. We arrived ten minutes before happy hour ended so I ordered three shots and a jungle fruit cocktail. I still can’t believe I purchased four drinks from a bar for less than 7 USD. This is why we love Bolivia. Our sour moods from painful day of travel soon washed away as drinks flowed through our veins. We all looked fantastic, shaven, clean and were hysterically laughing. The Chicago couple (whom I will dearly miss) were arguing about George Bush. The husband from Belgium thinks he is a smart man, her liberal wife thinks he is an idiot, how ironic. I stared around the table as I sipped on Baileys and thought I would miss my new jungle family very much.
We woke up to the sound of wild dogs barking to beat the band. We walked straight to Amazonas, stopping at the crazy man cart for fresh cake. We saw three of our jungle family successfully ready to get on the airport transfer. At least some of us were getting out of here on time! There was a rather disturbing fog clinging to the mountains around town and we dreaded not flying out today. The lady at the front desk once again told us “I have to work on it.” We were still not even on a list for one of the flights leaving that day. She told us to come back in thirty minutes after we ate breakfast.
We ate at Casa de Campo outside amongst the palms. I ordered the Tropical Breakfast which consisted of an omelet, yogurt with muesli, honey and fresh fruit, juice and a mocha cafe. We walked back to Amazonas and to our great surprise, we were leaving at noon! We ran back to our hotel and packed our things. We arrived back at the office and waited about thirty minutes for our bus transfer to arrive. I found it rather humorous that the office was guarded by a naval officer (Bolivia is landlocked) who had a beat stick and helmet on. I wonder how often his helmet comes in handy outside of an airline office. Sarah and I both stared at a group of hippies in disbelief. I still don’t understand their culture. Why not shower, clean your hair, wear cloths that match?
We all packed ourselves into the bus and were driven forty minutes down the road to the Reyes airport (as the Rurr airport was under construction). Our entire van was full of dust, worse than the previous experience in our Jeep. The man next to me who entered the van with white hair was now looking rather blond. His dark black jacket was a light yellow. Apparently my face was orange with dirt. A group of Germans started a fight with a couple from Bristol over how many windows to open in the Jeep in order to circulate the filthy air. We arrived at a grass strip and small administration hut. We waited around for thirty minutes until our airplane landed to pick us up. Everyone on the van was covered in dust. People ripped off their cloths and were beating them against chairs, rocks and trees. Sarah and I walked around the farm next door. Leaning against the barbed wire we stared at a few chickens and picked out which one we would like to eat. We boarded our small little plane, zoomed off the grass bellow and were soon heading straight up into the sky, leaving the jungle behind us. We jetted through storm clouds and when above them had a great peaceful view of the blue skies above the terrible weather bellow. We descended in La Paz with the worst turbulence we had ever experienced. Sarah and I grabbed each others hands as we jostled in the air, to and fro. Three days of jungle adventure, check!