Madidi National Park
To get to the jungle we had to bus to La Paz first. We also had to cross a thin section of Lake Titikaka on a small ferry- the bus went on a separate ‘boat’ which had no sides so it looked like it was floating across. We got to La Paz and chilled for the day as Grace was still feeling a bit worse for wear.
The next day we were up early for our flight to Rurrenabaque- the town you access the Amazon from. The plane was miniscule- it seated only 16 people- and was like a sardine can. The views over the rainforest were great though- when the clouds shifted. When we got off the airplane we were hit in the face by both the heat and humidity- bring on the jungle! At the tiny airport we were met by a taxi driver who took us to the start point of our jungle tour.
The trip started with a three hour boat ride along the river to reach a pristine section of jungle known as Madidi National Park- this park protects the most ecologically sound section of Rio Madidi which features the greatest biodiversity of the earth’s protected regions. The weather changed from one second to the next, from really chubby rain to bright sunshine, and as we moved further upstream we saw less and less evidence of civilisation.
On the way we saw a capybara swimming in the river which was really cool- they actually swim really well which we didn’t expect- but they’re pretty shy so he moved away from the boat sharpish. We also met our tour guide on the boat (a cute slightly round Bolivian called Alejandro) and realised we were going to be the only two people on the trip- a private tour without paying for one- winning!
Getting to our digs after the boat ride involved a scramble up a cliff face which added to the feeling of remoteness. The eco-lodge was really great. Despite it being descried as simple it is one of the nicest places we have stayed. It has a flowery square in the centre of the mud huts we stayed in with hammocks lining it. The rooms were also pretty lush, although basic, they had white lining and we were provided with white towels and the bed had a fancy mosquito net that made it look like a four poster bed- romanitco! The food we were served was some of the best too and the portions were huge which Mike was loving.
After lunch we headed out on our first walk. The jungle was exactly as we expected with the sound of bugs almost deafening at times, roots everywhere making it hard to walk and only the little sunlight that manages to sneak through the giant umbrella of trees to light the area. The heat was also something else. On our first walk we didn’t see many of the ‘postcard’ animals but that’s not to say we saw nothing. We saw a praying mantas eating a butterfly, insects that sound like crickets called saccades’ (some as big as birds), a giant stick insect and termite nests and evidence of trees destroyed by them. We were scared by an army of wild pigs that came running past making a huge racket- they make a clicking noise with their snots as a warning signal and when they all do it at the same time it sounds like firecrackers going off. The mosquitos were truly awesome too- nothing like we have ever experienced before. They are huge, are rumoured to be able to bite through jeans and there are millions and millions of them- thank god for bug spray, our new best friend.
As a quick break from the intensity of the jungle we walked down to a small river. Here we got to see Parakeets flying in and out of their nests which were holes they had carved in the cliff face. One was being chased by a bat falcon who actually went into the Parakeets nest too.
When we got back we had another great meal before hitting the sack early, the heat is truly exhausting and we had a big day ahead of us.
The next day was Grace’s birthday so after our yummy breakie she opened her cards which were a nice reminder of home. We then headed out for our first walk of the day to the jungle look out where we were provided with spectacular views of the Bolivian Amazon Basin. On the way we got very lucky, we saw three different types of monkeys (spider, Tamarin and Capuchin), wild pigs, macaws, a woodpecker and leaf cutter ants. These are incredible little beings- they cut large sections of leaf (5 times as big as them) and carry them large distances back to their nest as a food source.
Lunch was quickly followed by a long siesta- what was meant to be a chill out in the hottest part of the day turned into a two and half hour nap- yum. We woke up just in time for our afternoon walk where we headed to a different part of the jungle. On this trek we saw night monkeys which are very rare as (as the name suggest) they are nocturnal and normally sleep in the day. On the way back we were lucky enough to spot an eagle in the lower canopy layer, we only caught a brief glimpse before it flew directly overhead and dropped something just metres from our feet. On closer inspection we saw that it was actually the Eagle’s dinner – a poor little toucan which had been plucked bare, but remained whole. We must have startled the eagle causing it to drop its catch and flee.
Back at the lodge we were chilling in the hammocks when we heard a rustle and turned to discover a tapir wandering around. Antonio the tapir was rescued by the lodge when they found him alone and starving because his mum had died. They got Antonio back to health and although he is now technically wild he stills pops round for a visit and a pet now and again.
At dinner we treated ourselves to a celebratory cerveza and the chef cooked up a very pink birthday cake for Grace. It wasn’t quite as posh as Mike’s but as we were in the middle of the jungle not a first class boat it was still pretty impressive.
With full bellies we headed out on a night walk. Seeing the jungle at this time of day was so different and pretty eerie, but really interesting. We used torches to try and spot any animals eyes glaring back at us- even spiders eyes stood out it was so dark. We stumbled across a snake, a poisonous frog and a huge grasshopper that took a liking to Mike’s trousers. Closer to the river bank we went hunting for big spiders, in a hole in the side of the cliff we spotted a real life tarantula. It was huge, hairy and scary…we also found a giant scorpion spider which is just as terrifying (for anyone who doesn’t know what they look like, have a quick Google and you will soon understand how they got their name).
The next day we went on our final walk, this was to be one of the longest but most interesting of our treks through the jungle. We saw lots more monkeys as well as an armadillo nest, jaguar tracks and bull ants. These things are huge, they’re over an inch in size and have very painful sting, Mike knows from experience…ouch! After 3 hours of walking we hopped on tubes and used the river as a shortcut back to the lodge – this was mucho refreshing and in our personal opinions the very best way to view wildlife. We bumbled our way downstream in the sunshine and were lucky enough to spot some squirrel monkeys playing in the trees.
We rounded off our time at the lodge with a final meal before heading back to Rurre by boat, despite the mosquitos, humidity and cold showers we had an absolute blast and enjoyed every moment…next stop the Pampas!!
The pampas are wetlands savannas in the Amazon Basin and are the perfect place for wildlife spotting. We met our group in Rurre, which consisted of three Norwegians girls, an English/French guy, a Swiss and a Maltese National – we all hopped in a couple of jeeps and set off on our 2 hour bum numbing bumpy ride. We had a quick lunch in a small town called Santa Rosa before jumping in a long boat where we would spend the next 3 hours wildlife watching in the baking sun.
On route we saw a group of squirrel monkeys so stopped the boat to get a closer look. It appears that they were interested in us also (or more likely wanted food) as when we stopped the boat they approached us, a few even got on our bot and one stepped on Mike’s leg. It was great. Squirrel monkeys are so cute, they are tiny with elf like ears and inquisitive faces- some were also carrying babies on their backs which were adorable.
Our lodge was not quite as nice as in Madidi but we did get river views which were nice. It also had a resident croc called Frederico who was surprisingly tame- Mike even stroked him on his head- mental!
Our next stop was to a ‘bar’ that’s in a good spot for the sunset, although it was slightly cloudy and we were more interested in the drinks on offer and games of volleyball. We then went back for dinner before our night cruise. This was a pretty surreal experience- at first we all turned our torches off and drifted down the river listening to the noises coming from the trees and river (including dolphins) and looking at the stars- it was one of the clearest skies we have ever seen. Next we turned on our torches in search of caimans red eyes. We saw quite a few however they were shy and tended to duck under as soon as we got close.
We were woken up by the sound of howler monkeys in the morning (which is actually a pretty spooky sound – Howler Monkey cry) but by this point it was too hot to sleep anyway. Our first activity was a walk in knee high water (we were given wellies) in search of snakes. They are pretty hard to find at this time of year but we were lucky enough to stumble across a huge rattle snake chilling in the high grasses. To cool off we had a swim in the river and swung on the lodges rope swing- with Fredrico just chilling next to us.- apparently he doesn’t like the taste of humans!
We were shattered so when siesta time came after lunch we were happy for the rest. We all fell asleep in the communal hammock area – the coolest place in the lodge because of the breeze. We were then refreshed for the afternoons excursion- a boat trip down the river for some serious wildlife spotting. With capybaras walking on the river banks, sunbathing turtles, hundreds of birds above head, sleeping sloths dangling from trees, squirrel monkeys swinging and the last monkey on our ‘to see list’ (the howler- making it a full house)- we couldn’t have asked for more. A tree fox also made an appearance- it was strange to see a fox 30ft up a tree! We then went to the ‘bar’ again where the guys played a game of footie and the girls had a chatter. On our return to the lodge we spotted a huge (3mts long) cobra under our bedrooms (the huts are built on stilts so when it floods they stay dry). Then it was dinner with wine and a chill in the hammocks before bed.
Our final day was arguably the best. The pampas is home to hundreds of pink river dolphins and not only did we get to see them, we swam with them. They were brilliant- sooooo inquisitive and playful. The river was really murky so you could only see a dolphin was coming to say hey when it was basically touching you. It was like they wanted a hug- they would position themselves upright, practically against your body and would wait for a stroke. A few also came up to Mike and splashed him with their tail and tried to nibble on his hand. Grace was chilling on top of a rescue hoop for a while and two dolphins came up and were nudging her belly with their mouths- so weird. It was a once in a life time experience and a great way to end the trip.
We had another swing and swim when were back at the lodge before our boat and jeep ride back to Rurre. We stopped for a while for refreshments and met the cutest puppy ever- Bolivians seem to love dogs. However they don’t seem that enamoured by pigs- the second four by four (which incidentally had a veggie on board) picked up a women and her two pigs who needed a lift in to town. While the women jumped in the front the two pigs were thrown into a bag and strapped on to the roof- although not that well as during the bumpy journey one started to slide down and could be seen from the back window. Apparently the squealing was intolerable and the Norwegians and the Veggie were traumatised by the whole experience- awful!
When we got back to Rurre we had dinner and too many drinks out with the group, the following day we went to a swimming pool together before saying our good byes. Our flight was delayed but we eventually made it back to La Paz in the afternoon.
- Monkey mania and a game of crocodile spotlight (tashandmorry.wordpress.com)
- Thoughts on visiting the pampas and jungle in Rurrenabaque (strollingsouthamerica.wordpress.com)