3 de Augusto 2015
After a dream-like experience on Salar de Uyuni, Ry and I hopped on an overnight bus to Bolivia’s most known city and its administrative capital, La Paz. The bus company ensured working heat on the 13 hour bumpy ride and even provided blankets to keep warm. Surprisingly we slept through most of the night and woke up to the sun rising over the city. At 3,650m [11,975ft] the world’s highest capital spreads wide across a bowl-like valley surrounded by stunning snow-capped peaks. The next few days we spent climbing around the city checking out viewpoints, getting lost in local markets, and planning our trip to the southwest region of the Amazon Basin.
[the ‘Titanic’ view of La Paz]
[hopped on the Teleférico/cable car for a sunset view from El Alto]
[night view of Huayna Potosi from the Teleférico]
After many tour agencies and researching our trip options, we chose to head to Rurrenabaque ourselves and book a tour in the small jungle town to save a few dollars. Most backpackers purchase a tour in La Paz and opt for the quick 45min flight to Rurre rather than the up to 24hr bus ride on one of the world’s most dangerous roads. Our frugal wallets led us to the second option. We’ve done intense, long bus rides, what’s one more.
We paid a few more bucks to snag the panoramic seats up front for not only more leg room, but to watch as we swung around skinny dirt roads with deadly drop offs. As we climbed around the massive mountains I found myself holding my breath in and planning my escape plan as we swerved around passerby cars. If we went over, I imagined myself jumping out the window and climbing over and over the bus as it tumbled down the valley killing everyone on board. Gruesome I know, but if you sat in my seat, you’d be saying your prayers too.
[teetering on the edge while trying to let a truck pass]
[my window seat]
Before dusk we arrived in a stopover town for a long dinner break. The only other tourist on our bus was a nice Italian guy who came with us to kill time. After a loop around the few streets I found a few buses with some interesting painted-on designs. One proudly displayed Chicago’s finest, but the next made my mouth drop. Osama bin Laden sat on top of a city skyline of NYC with an airplane crashing into one of the World Trade Center buildings. I heard Bolivia wasn’t a fan of America after learning our ambassador was expelled from the country due to intervening in internal affairs during the Bush administration , but I didn’t expect this. This is why Americans pay $135-160 to enter the country [sigh].
[displayed largely on both sides of the bus]
After a crappy dish of rice, fries, and plantains we headed back to the bus station for a quick bathroom break. While washing my hands I heard my name being yelled and when I came out the bus driver’s assistant was yelling that the bus was leaving. 20mins early and somehow we were suppose to read these guys’ minds, but back on the bus we went and after an hour it was time for a light sleeping pill to knock me out for the rest of the ride. At some point I woke up dying for a wee. The bus stopped in the middle of nowhere to drop a passenger off and I quickly darted off the bus across the street for a squat. Lovely eh? A few hours later our bus pulled into a dark, deserted station. We stumbled off, half awake and amazed that we survived our journey and glad it only took 15hrs rather than the hellish 20-36hr trips we heard about. We chose to walk to the hostels in order to save cash and took off into the early hours after someone gave us directions. After over thirty minutes of wandering in the dark, we sat down and attempted to figure out where we were. Then it started raining. We found shelter and decided to head back to where we started. Of course we had been shown the wrong way and after a few minutes of talking with the local taxis we were on our way in to town. Sometime around 5:30am we pulled up to a French bakery on the main street of Rurrenabaque. Luckily our guest house was one block up and we zombie’d in, hoping to check in. Thankfully the guy had no problem with us arriving six hours early and we immediately crashed until noon that day.
When we finally got the energy to remove ourselves from bed we headed out to find food and a tour agency. After talking to a few, we found a cheap option with Scorpion Adventures and booked our Pampas tour for the following day. There are a few popular options in town to visit the Amazon Basin. The Pampas tour which consists of 3days/2nights on a lodge on stilts that includes long, relaxing boat rides, swimming with pink river dolphins, and loads more animal life or the Jungle [la selva] tour where you trek through the jungle discovering plants, flowers, insects, and sometimes see a rare animal. The latter equals a heavy amount of mosquito bites and after all the adventures we took, the Pampas sounded heavenly.
[there is also a survival tour where the tourists and a guide must make shelter, find food and water, and survive in the jungle for three to four nights, no thank you].
The next morning we met with our group for the next few days and hopped in a car for a three hour ride. During the journey we made a pit stop at a tiny roadside stand. Our driver sat down to eat while I chased around piglets and their mama with my phone.
Yes the road was muddy and bumpy, but we expected it. Ryan and I sat in the back making friends with our group and continued to glance out the windows looking for more wildlife. I don’t know how I spotted it while moving so fast, but somehow I saw a sloth climbing in to a tree off the road. We quickly stopped and tried to capture the cute guy clawing up the tall branches. See if you can find him in the photos below.
After a quick lunch in Santa Rosa we head over to the Yacuma River to meet our boat captain. Many other tours were arriving and departing as the six of us chatted over cheap beers and talked about the next few days. As we stood there we saw the famous pink river dolphins swimming nearby and we were tempted to jump in, but Jesus our flamboyent long-haired tour guide showed up to introduce himself. “My english is no good,” he immediately said and I worried how the trip would continue but after a few minutes he had us laughing and ensured a good time. We spent the next few hours cruising the river pointing out massive birds, caiman alligators, turtles, and even a small anaconda. Another group had pulled up to a tree and was being attacked by monkeys. They laughed as they fed their new friends bananas and our guide quickly warned us not to feed them. Bananas do not grow in this area and tours are not suppose to feed any animal in order to protect the environment. Jesus shook his head and said they are bad and certain tour operators do not follow the rules. Shame on them.
We arrived excited at our lodge for the next two nights and immediately felt home on the tiny square-shaped dock. The boat pulled up to the front porch where you could relax on lounge chairs overlooking the river. Through the door you enter the bar/hammock room complete with satellite tv. The entire lodge sits on stilts above the water using a railless pier to get from place to place and has a few bunk-room cabins, a bathroom/shower/sink area, an elevated deck to catch the sunset, and a tiny kitchen and dining room to feed the guests. It’s simplicity and remoteness made it perfect. We bought beers and sat on the deck taking it all in.
Sometime before dinner I headed back to our room to grab tp for the restroom and almost shat myself when I found a large alligator swimming near me on the pier. The water wasn’t too deep and this guy could easily find his way up here if he needed the meal. I quickly backtracked to the other guys to gush over what I just saw. We all ran back down to find him chilling in the water as if these waters were his, then we found out, they were. Felipe [or what they named him this time] lives around the lodge after a territorial fight with another caiman lost him his left arm. He now hangs around meeting new guests and enjoying the extra chicken they throw him every once in a while. Felipe and I kept our safe distance. I said hello, but respected his space. Ryan on the other hand couldn’t wait to pet him…
After an incredible fulfilling dinner [and yes they accommodated for us vegans] we hung out to watch the sunset over the Pampas.
That night we went looking for alligator eyes. We piled in the boat with our torches/headlamps and went out searching for more Felipes. When the light shines on their eyes it lights up in a bright red and we were lucky to see a few on the cruise. Honestly though I could care less about the eyes, my eyes were only looking upwards at the incredible night sky of stars. No light pollution out here gave us access to the best star display yet, and we gasped and awed pointing out constellations, the Milky Way, and shooting stars.
[posted up for la Copa de América fútbol game]
It was an amazing first day of the tour and we couldn’t wait for more. That night Ryan and I downed a bottle of red on the sunset deck while making friends with the lodge kitty and sharing stories from our incredible journey. Bolivia had truly surprised us and we couldn’t wait for what day two in the Pampas brought us.
[always the kitty whisperer]