Friday, August 5, 2011

An Amazonian experience

So after wasting a week getting intoxicated in La Paz the boys finally pulled finger and teed up some sort of touristy activity type thing. Our chosen expedition was to Rurrenbaque, Bolivia’s gateway to the Amazon. Sadly we were shedding Jack, who was moving on to warmer pastures in Santa Cruz. It was sad to see him go but it was onwards to the airport, where we waited around for the plane to arrive and then boarded the tiny twenty-seat deathtrap. The actual flight was awesome, a bit of turbulence to keep it interesting and some stunning views of the Andes and the jungle were on offer.

Arriving was pretty impressive; we circled over a huge river and then landed on a small runway in the middle of the jungle. The heat and humidity was instantly blanketing us. It was clear very quickly that I wasn’t exactly going to thrive in these conditions as a plump hairy white-boy. My blood is too thick for the jungle (thanks HST). My glorious barba rojo, so good at protecting my soft precious face from the terrible attacks of the elements in Patagonia, was now a hot and itchy burden for me to bear over the next week.

The bus ride into town gave us the vibe of Rurrenbaque, it was a pretty rough bumpy trip on red clay roads which weren’t in the best nick. On the bus we started talking to a couple of chicas. One was a New Zealander who had lived in Wellington, we even shared a few mutual friends – a pretty ridiculous example of how small the world really is. Anyway, we found a good cheap hostel with a rooftop balcony and got on with the serious business of getting drunk. There isn’t exactly heaps going on in Rurrenbaque but we found a good Hookah bar and had a feed over mas cerveza. Things got really out of hand back at the hostel though when Gus bought a bottle of Johnny Walkers which we hoed into straight. This decision wasn’t the one. We also learnt a new game called Dutch Asshole (a variant on normal Asshole) which became a favourite because of its quirky rules. Later Gus got punished by his own drink and passed out. I happened to have a vivid and he was suitably decorated. Later I ended up sleeping out on the balcony, which was very nice.

The next day, however, had nothing nice about it. I was in the thralls of what I thought was the worst hangover of my time in South America. I was straight to the bathroom for a stupidly harsh vomit, and then battled to get ready and make it to the tour guide office (called Fluvial tours) in time. Just before I jumped into the 4x4 I was sure I sharted myself, and had to go and check. Fortunately I hadn’t touched cloth. Then the 4x4 ride started and I was in hell for the next three hours. The highlight included vomiting out of the window of the moving Landcruiser while it rocked and bumped its way down one of the most atrocious roads I’ve ever been on. We also got to see sloths and cobras on the way but I was in no state to really enjoy the wildlife.

A giant bastard mouse.

The horrors continued after lunch (which I passed on) when we hopped onto the canoe and headed up river for three hours. I alternated between overheating badly while trying not to explode out of both ends and snoozing gently. The wildlife was incredible, but I was in no state to properly enjoy it. Needless to say I was pretty pleased to get to the lodge, but more disappointment was coming my way. I had left my shoes on the river shore and was now stuck in the bush for three days with only my all-terrain jandals for footwear.

Hello Mr. Gator.

That night there was the chance to enjoy the sunset at a bar and then look for aligators and caiman in the dark. However my chosen option was to enjoy some sleep in an attempt to feel like a real person again. It failed, and I struggled to eat and food when I woke up. Bed was calling and I answered, ending the most miserable day of my trip to date.

A blurry bird of paradise.

The next day I woke up still feeling awful and had my first inkling that it might be something worse than a simple hangover. I managed to get some breakfast inside me semi-permanently though, a vast improvement on the day before, and then we were off looking for anacondas. This involved baking in the hot sun as we trudged around swamplands wearing gumboots with holes in them nominally looking for snakes. I was more looking for places to die quietly, preferably in the shade. Still, we managed to find an anaconda which was pretty cool to see, turns out they’re pretty placid things. Some people were trying to get photos holding it etc but I thought it was a bit off and we should have just left the poor thing alone.


As an interesting aside, some people were a bit nervous about looking for anacondas due to a story (which I cannot verify as true or not) which was floating around Rurrenbaque at the time. Basically, what happened is that a group were looking for anacondas and had split into two smaller groups. One group found one and called to the others. The guide of this second group was inexperienced and started running to those who had found the big snake, running straight through a small area of muddy water and stirring up a caiman. The caiman, now angry, then took a good bite out of some poor tourists kneecap. Whether true or not, it’s a bit of a worrying story.

A white stork or something, pretty.

The afternoon consisted of fishing for piranha out of the side of the canoe. Our guide, who had been guiding for 20 years, was the absolute mantis at it and hauled in about 10. I managed to get three or so myself, establishing myself as the alpha male piranha fisherman out of the tourists. An added bonus was getting to eat them later, although there wasn’t heaps of meat on their bones and they didn’t taste like much.

Nom nom nom.

That night we went to a soccer field and watched the sunset which was beautiful. Then it was back to enjoy the surprisingly good meals before playing some cards. We were to bed early because we were up early to look at the sunrise. It wasn’t bad but I was still feeling very awful so I didn’t enjoy it like I could have. We went back for breakfast and then we were out looking for white dolphins so we could swim with them. This was probably the highlight of the pampas tour for me, swimming in the same water as piranha and alligators. The dolphins definitely weren’t friendly but they keep the piranha away. We got good and close to an alligator too, and one of our crazy guides was trying to catch one. Suddenly we weren’t so comfortable when the gator went under and we realised that he could have popped up anywhere. Still, it ended well so no worries.

Sunrise in the Pampas.

Our time in the Pampas had ended and we were back down the river and into the 4x4 again. We had a bit of excitement when one of the tourists found a baby tarantula in his bag, it was really chilled out though and fine with people holding it. We went back to the same hostel and spent the night hanging out with the same girls, who had been on a tour with a different company. We went out a bit but I wasn’t up too much still because of illness.

Our next tour was into the jungle and I was fairly excited about it. Armed with new shoes (the classicos, costing whopping 16 NZD and this time carbineer-ed onto my bag) and some medicinal back-up against my illness I was ready to go. We went up the main river next to Rurrenbaque this time and were soon at our camp. The scenery was stunning and although I wasn’t back to normal I was starting to feel like life was tolerable. We spent the first afternoon walking through the Amazonian jungle. The scene was completely different to the Pamapas, which was swampland-ish, and I personally found it much more pleasant. We learnt about a whole lot of trees and their medicinal properties, but it was all in Spanish so I only sort of got the gist of some of it. Childish highlights included the ‘viagra tree’ and the tree which had appendages growing around it that were distinctly phallic in nature. Hilarious.


We chilled back at camp and had a feed and then after dark it was out into the night looking for poisonous spiders. I was the only muppet sin headlamp which made things a bit more difficult for me. We found a tarantula and several other ‘toxico’ spiders which were out and about. The size of the tarantula was astonishing but they are surprisingly beautiful spiders. It was a bit gnarly to know that basically all of the insects out there were poisonous bad-asses just waiting for the chance to try it on.
The next morning we went for another bush walk, this time stopping at a tarzan swing which was good for a laugh. We also found a herd of wild pigs and got pretty close to them before they scarpered. They are amazing creatures and as well as grunting they were making a lot of interesting clicking noises.

Monkey skull

Our jungle tour was fairly brief as we were back on the boat that afternoon, but I enjoyed it more than the pampas. I had been missing the bush a bit. When we got back to Rurrenbaque we went to book our flights only to be met with drama. The next flight out with our company was not until Tuesday. So we went to get a dirty, dangerous 20 hour bus. On the way we went past another flight agency, TAM, and dropped in just in case. They had flights going in two days, and this would beat the bus back. We were lucky to get three of the last seats.

The flight date meant we had a day to just chill in Rurrenbaque, which was surprisingly pleasant. We just kicked back, played cards and talked shit. After arriving back in La Paz we went to Cholitas wrestling, which is basically South American WWF but with girls ‘fighting’ guys sometimes. It was pretty intense in places, with fighters being thrown into the audience on occasion. All in all it was good for a laugh.

It was a bit sad that night though because Townie was going his own ways the next day. Gus and I had teed up some riding in Sorata and around La Paz though which I was super psyched for, meaning it wasn’t all bad. Gus and I had an epic week of adventure sport planned and I was champing at the bit for it.


  1. lol mum just complained that I shared too much telling her that Hauke puked last weekend, I just sent her the link to this and told her that your mum reads it!
    There was this one tarantula that used to hang around our house in CR, those things are not cool :-)

  2. Ha Mum's pretty seasoned at dealing with my debauchery. Poor woman.
    They're pretty ruthless spiders but surprisingly chilled out, I guess you can afford to be when you're that bad ass.