07.04.2013 - 07.04.2013
After chilly La Paz it was a bit of a shock to arrive in hot and sticky Rurrenabaque (or Rurre) after just a half an hour flight. Rurre, a nice little river side town, is a gateway to the Amazon and is driven by tourism with many tour agencies lining the streets. Tourists come here either to do a Pampas tour or a Jungle tour. As we have plenty of time to play with we chose to do both. The pampas tour is the one to do for wildlife spotting as it´s set in a more open wetland area while the jungle tour is set in the dense Amazon. After some extensive research online we went with one of the better companies for these tours called Mashaquipe as their guides are from communities who live in the jungle and the company practices ecotourism unlike many of the others. We booked in 3 days in the pampas and 4 days in the jungle.
We set off for the pampas first with the hopes of spotting all sorts of exotic animals - the elusive jaguar being on top of our wish list. Unfortunately we were visiting at the end of the wet season which makes it harder to spot wildlife as the water levels as higher covering many riverbanks where the animals are commonly seen in the dry season. We had a 3 hour bumpy car ride to our lodge and on the way our guide, a young guy called Eloy, spotted a caiman (similar to an alligator) in a muddy puddle of water by the side of the road.
The lodge itself wasn´t exactly what we were expecting but the front area was set in an idyllic spot overlooking the river where we could see pink dolphins playing and many birds swooping around in search of fish. After lunch we set off with Eloy for our first outing. One advantage of going in the off season was that we were the only 2 in the group for the entire pampas tour. We got in a long, skinny boat with a small motor and slowly made our way up the still Yacumba river. The weather was absolutely perfect and we were quite happy just kicking back and enjoying the cruise through the many skinny sections of river with lush green vegetation on either side. This first arvo probably proved our most successful in terms of seeing wildlife. Almost every log we passed was occupied by a turtle happily sunbaking. We saw a family of black howler monkeys followed by some capuchin monkeys swinging through the trees. Both of these monkey species proved to be relatively common sighting throughout the pampas tour and later in the jungle. We stopped at a spot on the river where there were a group of pink dolphins and after Eloy assured us that where there are dolphins, there are no caiman, we jumped in. The river was so dark that we could only see the dolphins when they came to the surface which they did more frequently when we threw a small ball in for them to play with. They were very playful and liked to brush up against our legs and nibble on our feet. On our way back we were very fortunate to see a group of 15 capybara on one of the few riverbanks as they are a rare find in the wet season. The capybara is the largest rodent in the world and they are funny looking things. Unlike other animals we saw, they were completely unfazed by our presence and we managed to capture some great photos. That night we hopped back in the boat for a brief night expedition in the hope of spotting some red glaring caiman eyes in the dark but we didn´t see much other than a few quick glimpses.
The next morning we went on a trek in search for anacondas although our hopes weren´t high given the season. We didn´t see any snakes but we did have an encounter with some howler monkeys who weren´t overly impressed with our presence. They saw us coming from a few hundred metres away and started their monster like growl or `howl´which is the most unearthly sound used for territory protection. We got a good look up at them and a few quick snaps from under the tree but kept our distance once they started peeing and throwing branches down at us.
In the afternoon we drove out to lake Rogaguado where another boat was waiting for us and we cruised around the perimeter mainly in search of more monkeys and birds. The only different sighting here was a red howler monkey and a one second glimpse of a distant flying toucan. We tryed a spot of piranha fishing in a few different places but a pesky pink dolphin kept following us who would have scared away all the piranhas. On the way back we caught a stunning sunset over the lake before heading back to the lodge.
We awoke early on our final morning in the pampas and set off to find the only species of monkey we hadn´t yet seen in the region - the squirrel monkey. We ventured much further down the river than our previous outing and after 2.5 hours of seeing not much apart from a small caiman and many birds, Eloy finally spotted a group of about 20 squirrel monkeys. They were very small and cute and were much lower down and more friendly and inquisitive than the other monkeys we had seen. They were jumping all over the place and we spent about 20 minutes following them as they made their way from tree to tree along the river. Some of the younger ones even hopped one the boat and scurried across it trying to pinch a banana we had on board.
On the drive back to Rurre we spotted our last animal for the pampas tour, a sloth perched high atop a skinny tree doing what sloths do best, sleeping. We spent the night back in Rurre before setting off for the jungle in the morning.
Our journey to the Mashaquipe ecolodge in the jungle was also 3 hours but much more comfortable this time by means of boat. Our party consisted of a great group of 2 English couples and an couple from Melbourne.To break up the ride, we stopped off at a remote family home on the river who produce sugarcane which they sell every Sunday in the markets in Rurre. We were shown how to extract the juice from the sugarcane and were surprised to get about 8 litres of sugarcane juice out of just one stick. We were even more surprised at how good it tasted with a squirt of fresh lime but were disappointed to find no one had any rum on them to make a caiprihina or mojito.
The lodge was fantastic, nestled in a true jungle setting with very basic but adequate facilities. Plenty of hammocks were waiting for us where we would spend midday siesta times relaxing with a book while listening to the sounds of the jungle. We broke off into 2 groups for a 3 hour afternoon hike and set off into the jungle with our guide Billy. We learnt plenty about the jungle during our hike and tried many of the jungle fruits and even tasted parts of trees which acted as natural remedies for malaria, amnesia, sinuses and stomach bugs.
The first few days consisted, for the part, of a morning trek, lunch time siesta, following by an afternoon hike. There was usually some sort of trail but Billy was quite fond of taking us off it and using his machete to create his own path. His life story was fascinating and had many stories about growing up in the jungle from being lost on his own overnight as a 9 year old to a terrifying 2 hour encounter with a protective mother jaguar and her 3 babies. We didn´t see as much wildlife as we did in the pampas but throughout our time in the jungle we birds, huge tarantulas and golden spiders, a yellow tail snake, spider monkeys and wild pigs which stunk something terrible.
One evening we did a short uneventful night trek and one afternoon was spent at the lodge making jungle jewelry which was a nice change of pace even though we still managed to break out a heavy sweat just doing that.
For our third night we decided along with 2 of the other couples that we wanted to spend a night camping in the jungle. Billy and one of the other guides took us out straight after breakfast and we trekked all day deeper into the jungle. Close to our camping spot we climbed up to a lookout point with a brilliant view where we saw 4 blue and red macaws flying across the contrasting lush green landscape. A magnificent sight! When we arrived at our camping spot we had probably lost a good few litres in sweat and were covered in dirt and mud along with mozzy and ant bites. Luckily we could bath in the river to clean off a bit. We didn´t have any tents, just a paper thin sleeping mat and a mozzy net. Scott slept on the end as the sacrificial lamb for any predators and going to sleep was slightly unnerving given we had found some fresh puma tracks a few hundred metres away. Needless to say we didn´t have the best night sleep. Bugs managed to make their way under the net, we got bites through the net when we leant up against it and our backs were as stiff as planks when we got up but we did survive the night and it was cool to hear the sounds of the jungle at night out in the open. At breakfast we had never seen so many mozzys and our 28% DEET didn´t quite cut it so we got eaten alive.
Instead of hiking back to the lodge we built a raft using large logs and Billy cut up some bamboo strips which acted as rope to tie them together. The current was very strong and it took us just 1 hour of floating downstream to reach the lodge. The rafting was good fun and was a good chance to cool off for a bit. We had a couple more hours to relax and take a much needed shower at the lodge before taking the boat back to Rurre. We are currently spending an extra rest day here before flying back to La Paz. We never saw a jaguar but did see many amazing things and learnt a lot about the Amazon. Another highlight ticked off the list!
Georgie & Scott xxx