Given how brilliantly cheap Bolivia is we decided to ‘do’ the Amazon jungle in Northern Bolivia. After LOTS of research (read: Angela scoured the internet whilst I read my book), we decided upon 3 days in the pampas and 2 days in the actual real-life jungle with a company called Mashaquipe.
Getting there was an adventure in itself. We flew on the SMALLEST plane ever made to Rurrenabaque, which is 45mins north of La Paz – and a whole other world. It was like we had landed in a Lilt advert.
After a four hour drive and boat trip we arrived at a small collection of huts on the riverbank with parrots in the trees and alligators resting by the boats – our home! We had the whole place to ourselves, which was lucky given there were only two hammocks (humble brag).
We had our own guide, Ron, a latino version of Bruce Parry/Steve Irwin, who could spot a toucan sitting in the trees a mile off. Ok, maybe not a mile, but easily 400 metres away. Thanks to him, from the comfort of our small boat, we saw: an actual real-life SLOTH; pink river dolphins; monkeys; the aforementioned toucan; parrots; giant guinea pigs called capybaras; alligators; piranhas, well, actually we went fishing for them (I caught three, Angela caught four and Ron caught 24); turtles; and many many birds, including amphibian ones.
We saw the river at sunrise, sunset and also at night, which was truly, truly wonderful and a little bit scary. It was so intensely dark that the sky, heavy with stars, felt like it might fall in on us. The trees echoed with the sounds of creatures of the night rustling, singing and croaking and we drifted through the black, only occasionally flicking on our torches to pick out the reflections in the alligators eyes bobbing along the banks.
After three amazing days, we left our life on the river behind and travelled to the rainforest, which was every bit as green, but also humid and much harder work. We actually had to WALK rather than sit in a small boat. Imagine.
Ron took us on treks through the jungle, showing us all the weird and wonderful trees, explaining which bark or sap could cure which ailment and which could kill us instantly. Every so often his ears would twitch or he’d pick up the sent of a passing wild pig and we’d be off: running through the jungle; hopping over vines; jumping down river banks; and ducking under fallen trees. Or, in my case, falling over in a variety of stupid ways. Once we had finally caught up with said wild pig, Ron beckoned us to get a closer look. We creeped through the undergrowth, straining to get a peek at these wild animals we had tracked for a good 20 minutes. That was until I stepped on a twig: a CRACK bounced off the trees, which sent the pigs running. Ron’s look of dismay was priceless…TOURISTS, eh?
We ventured out into the night to look at tarantulas and listen to Ron’s stories of pumas and wild cats. We didn’t last long out there – pitch black has a whole new meaning in the jungle. Our final day was spent trekking to a viewpoint to watch flashes of red and blues as macaws flew past us and then rafting back down the river to our huts.
I still can’t quite believe that we’ve been to the Amazon. It’s a place Attenborough wanders through on documentaries, but you would never believe that one day, you’ll be swimming in it surrounded by strange pink dolphins, or standing dwarfed in the roots of a 100 year old tree and well, don’t even get me started on the ants…