Don't give the machete to the little one
Otherwise known as our time in Rurrenabaque. Since I was small and first came across Tarzan Lord of the Apes or Master of Greyskall, I have always loved the thought of the jungle. I have always imagined myself swinging through the trees and being the Jane that Tarzan deserved and not the milk sop that he always seemed to get stuck with. After all how hard can it be in the jungle?
Our jorney to the jungle started with us saving money (never a good start), by taking the bus rather then the plane. We travelled by bus to Rurrenabaque from La Paz. Everyone else seems to fly, but as it only cost us 30 bolivianos each (around £3) we thought what the heck, let's do it. Once on, you pretty much realise why people fly, it's about 15 hours (depending on the condition of the road and the speed of your driver, and our's was fast) along very windy and steep roads, littered with the remains of landslides and rivers that pass through the road. It's definitely a journey that will test you, especially if you're sitting in the isle and all the locals are standing in the isle or even sitting on you waiting for their stop. The open windows are the air conditioning and there is one stop...yup one bathroom and food stop. Even the locals were miffed when they realised this. And they don't keep quiet when they're annoyed.
Note: the back of our bus. Still not sure who Bolivia are meant to be defeating...
Anyway, we arrived at 5am in Rurrenabaque, about two hours earlier than expected as our driver flew down those roads, so the passengers either slept on the bus until daylight or like me took up residence in the very nice bus station spread out on a bench and napped. A few chickens tried to spoil my sleep but I just ignored them, and continued with my well deserved sleep.
Rurrenabaque is a small humid town in the north of Bolivia in the amazon basin. It is one of the gateways to the amazon for those who don't visit it in Brazil, Peru, Ecuador or Columbia. On our walk into town (we don't do taxis, i've been told) we were met by a Frenchman on his motorbike, he owned the local bakery. What on earth?!?! Yes there is a Parisienne bakery in the jungles of Bolivia. We did try it out and he even has beschemal sauce in his pastries and proper bacon. It's called La Parisiene. You have to get there early as by about 10am all the good things are gone and by 10.30 everything is gone.
Of course our jungle adventure was not in Rurrenabaque, this sleepy river town, but at the Chalalan lodge 3 hours up river.
Day 1, started early with us waiting on the riverbank for our boat driver. An hour later we are still waiting, hey it's Bolivia, what's time after all. We do eventually find out that the boat captain was at a funeral and didn't tell anyone, but he comes back just for us. (Not feeling so great about that).
The trip from to the lodge takes 5 hours by canoe, fighting against the current and low water all the way. At one point the navigator gets into the river and starts pushing us across the river as the water level is so low this time of year. Thankfully comfort is catered for with a shade to protect us from the sun and seats to cushion our derrières, and we were not called upon to push or pull. [Fi - somewhat different to the last boat ride we took up the Mekong squashed at the back with no life jacket and the smallest helmets in the world]. We saw red monkey howlers eating mud (it's the minerals), cap heron and capybara along the banks. Lunch was on a stony sandbank in the blazing sun, with old fallen trees as the 'bathroom' area. Rice and chicken (oh soo different from the other meals we have had in South America....ehem, not). Onwards to Chalalan, a wee bit of dozing more pushing the boat over, the chef, his sous chef, as well as the captain and his first (and only) mate had to get out and push the boat up stream. On arrival it was another 20 minutes on foot to the lodge. Nelson offered to carry our bags but me Tarzan so we declined, and trudged on through the trees. A really worthwhile walk as we were greeted by wild pigs searching for nuts in the river. A group of up to 100, with babies snuffling their way to food. Then we came across a caterpillar on the forest floor, that looked like it was rolled in confetti.
This is our lodge hut that we stayed in for 4 days and 3 nights (all ours and a great shower, though one night we had a big mouse trying to break out of the bathroom by chewing through the mosquito netting. Let's just say in an emergency 'The Man' is useless, he slept through it. And it wasn't until I said that there was a mosquito in the room that he woke up!. The view of the lake, is the lake owned by the lodge. Truly amazing, and you get to do a night paddle (okay canoe) on it.
The trip to the jungle was my idea as I truly love it (i've always wanted to be Tarzan) and spending 4 days here walking and canoeing across the lake meant we saw a lot of animals. Here are a few pictures:
Cayman, a very noisy bird, snake, spiders and frogs during our night paddle, and also squirrel monkeys in their hundreds.
The big rodent like things are Capybara (the largest rodent in south america), and come out in their hundreds during the rain. Actually rather cute....
Back to my adventures as jungle Jane, suffice to say that I was truly useless. I was more Joan Wilding from 'Romancing the Stone' without the skirt and heels though. This was made evident on the day that we hiked to the river, about 8 hours of trekking through thick rainforest and across a large river and other smaller streams. Hmm...ended up with my foot in mud and a very wet sock and boot, but as they say 'make lemons out of lemonade'... I gave myself a pedicure. Yes, I set on the riverbank with a stone. Nice smooth foot. This was also the day that our guide turned into Jungle Jim with a machete, kicking trees in two and fishing (very successfully) with a piece of string. 'The Man' also turned into a fisher and I...I sat down. Here they are fishing. Remember, what you catch you carry. The smell....
I wish I had taken a photo of him carrying his fish in a black plastic bag through the jungle, soo British. I on the other hand sweated and stumbled on my way back to the lodge and my shower. Loved my shower. This is why I could never be a decent Jane, the one that Tarzan needs. Dinner that night was fish, though I only got a wee piece. I guess if you don't catch, you don't eat. :-(
The wonder of the jungle is just sitting there listening to the sounds, and I recommend walking through it at night, when it really comes alive and you can hear the cicadas, Watson birds, frogs and other animals moving around. It's the closest that most of us will come to knowing what life would be like without our technologies. Our last day begun with a morning walk, leaivng the comfor of our beds at 5am to wander through the jungle as it woke up. This was truly amazing as watching the steam rise as the jungle tries to cool down and seeing the animals feeding, dung beetles seeking dung (a bit disconcerting when they hang around you - do I really smell that bad?), and the leaves drying out from a damp night as the sun slowly warms them. This is one of my favourite times. However, when an ant bit me and I swore it was a bullet ant (their bite is so painful that the pain lasts 24 hours, mine lasted a few minutes), and hung my head in shame when I was informed that it couldn't be as I would still be writhing in pain, I knew it was time to go. And, go we did though not before saying goodbye to a small group of howlers who swung past our cabin, and on the 3 hour canoe trip back through the rain. I thought that this was the frigging rainforest and was hot, what was with the freezing rain?!?!
I loved Chalalan lodge and would return in a heartbeat. A wonderous journey, where anyone can pretend to be Tarzan during the day and return to the luxuries of the lodge at night.