Rurrenabaque – the Bolivian jungle and pampas (II)

And just like that Monday came, and we finally found ourselves (not without hitches – banks that are said to be open at 8 but actually open at 8.30, documents they need but don’t bother to tell us in advance, etc. etc. etc.) in front of the jeep that was ready to take us to our dream lands. We were a group of eight: three French ladies, three Israelis and the two of us. After half an hour spent together it was clear as day light: the dynamic of our group was going to be interesting to say the least!

The first day

After 3 hours in the jeep on a not only unpaved and riddled road, but full of puddles and mud thanks to the rain the day before, we arrived at the place where we were to change our means of transport to a boat. The moment we got off the jeep we were mercilessly attacked by a herd of mosquitoes that was expecting us and our fresh blood! We immediately took out all our defense weapons (in the form of sprays, creams and solutions that all had a lower or higher concentration of DEET) and we insecticized ourselves from head to toe. We then realized we had landed there in the middle of the day, under a killer sun, so we took out different creams and proceeded to applying all those as well.

By the time we got on the boat we were all fully embalmed, ready for the 3 hours journey down the river. They were some awesome three hours, during which we were amazed not only at the wonderful vegetation that was waving to us from the banks and the beautiful birds that gracefully appeared and disappeared, but especially at the turtles having their siesta unhindered, like grannies absorbing the sun, at the aligators which made their subte appearence from the water or from under a tree branch or bush, at the largest rodent in the world (boy was I glad when we were told it was vegetarian), at the small and large monkeys that went crazy at the appearance of a banana from our boatman’s pocket, and, of course, at the pink and slippery dolphins that appeared as the famous Flipper and delighted our eyes and hearts. Boca and I could not resist and jumped in for a short swim in their presence, 5 minutes after we had seen a crocodile enjoying his day in the sun. “Is it safe to swim here?”. “Sure, totally safe”. “What about the aligator?” “Oh, don’t worry, dolphins and aligators can’t be in the same place, so swim without fear.” We were told later that dolphins are found in deep water, while aligators spend their time in shallow water. The things you learn while living, huh? 

We reached the camp in time to take a much desired and needed cold shower before we all sat in the mirador to watch the sunset. As soon as darkness set, the surrounding noise became so intense that we felt we were in the middle of a green concert.

After dinner (which was totally delicious!) we went out on the river to see the eyes of the alligators glistening in the dark. They can only be seen with the help of a flashlight, and only from a certain angle – so you could see them very well if you had a lantern on your head, but the person next to you could not see anything using your light because it was a different angle. For me it was quite fascinating to see two red or white beads shining in the dark, and know those were the scary reptiles from TV that could eat your entire leg in one bite. They seemed pretty friendly to me that night… but were they really?:D

My favorite moments in that boat under the star filled sky were those in which we all swiched off our flashlights and closed our mouth… and remained in complete darkness and silence for several minutes. Well, actually the darkness was not complete as the moon and stars were shining brightly… Nor was it complete silence, as nature was in full concert. Amongst the most magnificent I had ever witnessed. And I could not get enough of listening to it.

After we got back to camp, we immediately jumped in our beds covered with mosquito nets and I fell asleep feeling like a princess in her royal bed. I slept so well that at 4am when I opened my eyes I felt rested, energized, ready to take on another day of adventure. It was still dark outside, so I returned to my peaceful sleep, but not before spending a few minutes listening to the fantastic performance outside. A superb combination of different sounds of insects, birds and animals announcing their awakening, and also announcing the sunrise. I fell asleep with a smile on my face and was startled awake an hour later by some noises that seemed to come from a war taking place just outside our window. A mixture of pigs at the slaughter house, pissed off dogs about to stick their teeth in someone’s face, gorillas with a whooping cough and lions choking on a fish bone. I had never heard such a cacophony of sounds before, and the moment I met the man living there I asked him what was all that hullabaloo in the morning. “Ah, that’s just the monkeys”, he said, “that’s the noise they make every morning when they wake up, and they sound the alarm from all corners of the forest “. Monkeys??? Judging by the intensity of the noise I had expected to hear about rhinos, dinosaurs, dragons that let out fire through their nostrils … never about monkeys. Another lesson on judgments, especially judgments about things completely unfamiliar.

The second day

After breakfast the plan was to have a walk in the pampas in search of anacondas. Those who panicked at the sound of that word were explained that the Jennifer Lopez movie was made in order to make money, not to depict reality. Apparently the anaconda is, as many other beings, a creature that attacks only when disturbed, and human deaths from encounters with anacondas are almost nonexistent. The huge snake does not have any desire to meet bipeds, and we were told the chances for us to see one that morning were not guaranteed. Therefore, after the 2-3 hours walk under the deadly sun through puddles and grass that came up to our waist, we did not meet the giant uncle. Those who went in search of it the next day found him right away though, all 3 meters of him. Well, next time:)

What I gained after that walk though was a farewell party in the honour of my socks, because my rubber boots had a hole somewhere and the result was this:

Beyond washable, I decided.

Another memorable and delicious moment took place in the “bathroom” area: a bunch of barracks with a toilet or shower inside. While brushing my teeth I heard a desperate cry from one of the barracks, and immediately saw Boca coming out of it with a grin halfway between amusement and despair. The reason: she realized she was sharing the toilet seat with a frog. Truly priceless moment!

After a well deserved rest in the hammock and sustaiend efforts not to be eaten alive by the mosquitoes, in the second part of the day we went to meet the pink dolphins again, and have another go at swimming with them. They were not exactly like Flipper, to come and take us by the hand or offer their wing as support, but they did come about a meter away to inspect us. Or who knows, maybe they passed 10cm from us, but unfortunately the water was far from “crystal clean”, so I guess we can never know. It was a great experience nevertheless!

We ended the day playing volleyball on our guide’s property, with his two adorable girls, and then watched a spectacular sunset while holding a lager in our hand, as any citizen would find suitable.

The third day

The next morning we were woken up by the same grotesque concert, and this time I went outside to inspect, take a look at those noisy monkeys. Unfortunately they were not close enough to be see with the naked eye, especially through the density of the trees. Instead I spent some time admiring the vultures and falcons that were spying on me from the top of the trees, and later had an attempt to befriend one of the small monkeys that inhabited the trees near the kitchen. My fascination with monkeys goes back to times immemorial, and as a child I could never understand why my parents would not buy me one as a pet. They finally managed to shut me up by buying me a stuffed monkey, Chocho, who became my pillow companion for many years. Later, when I grew up and started to travel to exotic lands, the monkeys were on the top of my “animals to see live” list. When I finally had the opportunity to observe them closely in Bali, I spent hours with them in the forest, analyzing with utter fascination their gestures that seemed so … human. “They’re like miniature people” I kept exclaiming with a grin, mainly to myself as there was noone else around to listen. For me … those few hours were really a dream come true.

That doesn’t mean I ever got over my fascination with our primate cousins, and every time I see them I have the same “weeeeeeeee” reaction. Boca, knowing all this, brought me some mangoes that morning to offer them. One of them really seemed to want to make friends … but that was only until she managed to steal all the fruit from my hand, and then disappear without a trace back into the thickness. Ungrateful little … biped.

After breakfast we went on our last little trip, this time fishing for piranha. Fishing was never on my list of hobbies, and it certainly become even less so after that experience. Pretty much everyone in the group managed to catch at least one fish, and I caught about 3 until I decided I had too much talent at this and I had to put an end to the torture. I almost cried when I got one and saw the hook piercing through its mouth … Argh, I don’t eat much fish anyway, but after that experience it’s very likely there will be an even futher decrease in the consumption of the scaled beings.

I did satisy my desire to inspect their teeth, though (like a tiny saw, fascinating), and I then looked one straight in the face and told it “Bite me!” In that very moment it moved, and only my well developed reflex saved me from having my finger perforated. “Careful!!” shouted our guide, “You were very lucky, I thought he got you! Be careful because they can very easily bite you.” A joke is a joke, but … the piranhas don’t seem to speak much English. Or maybe their sense of humour is just… different.

We took as a group 3 piranhas for lunch, just to taste. They don’t fish them recklessly as there’s a limited stocks. I tried a piece myself, and what can I say, it tasted like … fish. After lunch we started back towards civilization, another 3 hours on the boat and another 3 in the jeep that shook every little bit of our being. When we got back to Rurrenabaque, a final surprise was waiting for us there: a sloth! I asked if I could hold it, and when I put my hands around it I was invaded by this incredible feeling of love for the little animal, the laziest in the world. Lazy or not, he looked at me with the most adorable eyes and that permanent smile on his face, and out of the blue… he winked at me! My heart melted and I completely forgot about the claws he had stuck in my wrist… “He winked at me, did you see that, did you see???”

We checked into a place again, this time in Santa Ana, a hostel where we paid exactly half the price we paid in Orient, for almost identical conditions. After a well needed shower, the conclusion was as follows: 93mosquito bites, without including those on my back. And this was after using two mosquito sprays in 3 days. Nah! At the end of the day though, our conclusion was it was all worth it! The experience itself, and also the experience with the people we were with – as I had suspected at the beginning, there was no lack of conflict, and for Boca and me it was such a great lesson observing the group dynamics and especially our reactions to their reactions. We realized that 2-3 years before, our perception, behavior and reactions would have been quite different. Few things bring you more satisfaction than looking back and realising how much you’ve grown up.

In conclusion… jungle, baby, jungle!!

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