Left for dead in the amazon basin last you ...

Trip Start Jan 24, 2000
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Trip End Feb 15, 2000


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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Tuesday, February 8, 2000

Left for Dead in the Amazon Basin

Last you heard....

Last I left off, we were headed for La Paz, hoping to get on the military flight to the amazon basin. We made the flight, after a two hour delay. It was indeed on a military airline -- TAM -- and since it was military, they really didnt have to be to keen on customer service. But since there is so much to write about, I will do my best to not waste time writing on how much I hate that airline. We arrived in Rurrenabaque in about an hour and the temperature went from about 50 to 90, from 0 humidity to 95%. Needless to say I was somewhat uncomfortable when I stepped off the airport. An interesting note is that the plane was a twin prop that had to land on a grass runway. Pretty scary at the time.

In Rurrenabaque

The town looks like it should be in some Vietnam war city. They are just now paving about 2 blocks of the roads -- the rest are all dirt (or should I say mud). Poor people everywhere, wearing sandals and t-shirts from random places from the US (we think they got them through some kind of salvation army - red cross donation) We arranged for 2 days 2 nights in the jungle and 2 days, 1 night in the pampas in town for USD20 per day, including food. We were very excited, and headed out to the Jungle at 10am the following day. To get to the jungle we had to ride in a really long, narrow boat up the Beni river (a tributary of the Amazon) for about 5 hours in the scorching heat. It was a beautiful ride, but the boat was not the best -- the guides had to continually scoop water out of the boat because it leaked. We arrived OK in the jungle..

In the Jungle

It was humid in Rurrenabaque, but nothing like this. It was so humid in the jungle that clothes that I hadnt even worn yet were damp...very damp. The accomodations in the jungle were less than stellar -- a small hut with beds surrounded with mosquito nets. No power, no fans, nothing. Just a bed with a mosquito net. We did a 2 hour hike once we arrived -- I was facinated with the jungle. So many varieties of trees and plants. And our guide was very knowledgable in the ways of the jungle -- he showed us which plants had medicinal value, which were extremely toxic to the touch, and even found one of the vines in the forest that you can cut and drink pure water from. We also saw swarms of ants that are carniverous -- the guide said that they will find you in your sleep, crawl in your nose, eyes and ears and eat at you...pleasant thought. That evening we took a night hike in the jungle with only 3 flashlights for 6 people. It was not overly exciting, but was certainly a scary feeling when the guide asked us to turn the lights off. Standing in the middle of a jungle and not being able to see anything. At one of these stops I was fortunate enough to be standing in ants...I had about 20 bites on one leg...after this, the guide decided it was a good time to tell us to tuck our pants in our socks to prevent that. At the end of the night hike, we hadnt seen much wildlife, just lightning bugs, millipedes, spiders, etc. But at the very end, we were fortunate enough to see a spider monkey high in the treetops.

The Jungle also had a really nice swimming hole near the camp. It was quite refreshing to jump in the water after feeling sweaty all day. They even had a vine for you to swing into the water.

The 2nd day in the jungle we did a 6 hour hike - the majority of the hike was not even on a trail. The guide just took the machete and hacked his way through very dense foliage, blazing the path. We saw some more wildlife (few birds, really large toad) but nothing really exciting.

The excitement came that evening. There were only 3 of us left at the camp with the guide -- the rest had left for a camp further in the jungle. Earlier in the day we had set a net in the river to try to catch fish, and we went back at night to retrieve the fish. We approached the net in the boat, shining the flashlights in the area. The guide suddenly yells out MIRA MIRA (look look!) -- right where the fishing net was we saw a huge set of eyes on top of the water, staring right back at us. It was a big crocodile right on the net, eating our fish. The guides continued to approach the net. I was a little frightened, considering I was at the front of the boat, and it was no more than 8 inches from the top of the boat to the water. Images of old horror movies overtook my brain and I just knew the croc would jump into the boat and eat us. Fortunately the boat scared the croc away, and we made it back ok. Definitely had the adrenaline flowing though.

In the Pampas

The next morning we woke up at 5am for a boat ride back to Rurrenabaque (the boatride was beautiful again, especially because we could watch the sunrise). From Rurrenabaque, we hopped on a truck and headed for the Pampas. For those who dont know (and I didnt know) the Pampas is an area that is very low to the water -- marshes, small rivers with no high banks, somewhat reminded me of the louisiana swamps. Transportation in the Pampas is only by boat, where you travel across a series of small flowing streams. The Pampas has much more wildlife than the jungle. We had the opportunity to see the rare Pink Dolphin, which is a freshwater dolphin and is of similiar size as the dolphin everyone else knows. We even jumped into the water to try to swim with them. They didnt get too close to people, but they did continue to surface as we swam. It was very exciting. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a really good picture of them since I could not get my camera out fast enough. In addition to the dolphins, we saw several monkeys really close to the water, a big creature that is part of the rat family (and is as big as a large dog), several pretty birds, and crocodiles. At night we went crocodile hunting -- cruising up and down the river looking for crocodiles with our flashlight. The guide caught a little baby one about a foot long, which we all naturally took pictures with, but then they pulled in the motherload -- a crocodile approx. 2 meters in length. (6ft) They tied his mouth shut and put him in the boat. We toook him back to the camp and all had the chance to pose for pictures with him. Then we threw him back. Sorry, no belts or bags from this one.

The next day we went hunting for the Anaconda -- a very large snake that wraps itself around its prey and squeezes it to death. We walked around in a nasty marsh where the water was occassionally waist high, just looking for this snake. Crocodiles were swimming around in a nearby lake about 20 yards away, but the guides werent the least bit concerned. We finally found one, it was about 7 ft. long. We all took pictures, threw it back, and went back to camp. We headed back for Rurrenabaque after lunch.

Once again in Rurrenabaque

We arrived back in Rurrenabaque on Friday, and had our flight booked to fly back to La Paz on Saturday. Well, it rained a substantial amount friday night and the military said that flights would not be coming in or leave (remember the grass runway I talked about???) So we had yet another day in Rurrenabaque. We met another traveler from Arizona and just played cards all day. We thought it would not be a major setback. Woke up Saturday morning. Guess what. Rain. No flights. Stuck again. Cards were not as fun the 2nd day. But the scary thing was that we had onyl brought a small amount of cash with us, thinking we could pay with some things with credit cards. Nope. No one took them. We couldnt even pay for our tours. So we each owed the tour company USD86 which we didnt have (but they said we could pay in La PAz) AND we were running out of money to pay for hotels. Not a good position to be in. There isnt even a bank in the town, AND we were unable to call the US (we tried several times, we actually heard your voices answering the phone, but you couldnt hear us). Stranded. In the middle of Bolivia, running out of money, running out of time. Monday we woke up to a beautifully sunny sky. We thouht it would be the day. TAM said that there were 4 flights coming to get eveyrone out. 2 to make up for the Saturday flights and 2 for the scheduled Monday flights. One plane came, and the guys at TAM, in their infinite wisdom, decided that the small group that had bought their tickets for that Monday should go instead of those who had been waiting 2 days to get out of there. The other 3 planes never made it. And everyone was told that a storm was coming in that night, which would mean no flights for at least one more day. We considered hiring a 4WD car (God I wish I had my jeep there) to drive us to La Paz, but we had heard that the road is the most dangerous in all of South America, and that several buses and cars have fallen off the cliffs, killing everyone aboard. We decided that it was not worth risking our lives on the road, so we waited yet another day. Tuesday came, and by the grace of God, it didnt rain. Now all we had to hope for was a plane. After going back to their office 10000 times, it was confirmed that a plane was in the air. We FINALLY made it out of Rurrenabaque, with only USD30 between the two of us.

In La Paz

We are in La Paz now, leaving for Cuzco in the morning. We should have just enough time to finish everything we had planned, even with the setback. The last unknown is the weather in Cuzco. We must fly out of Cuzco to Lima since there are no paved roads between the two cities. So hopefully the weather will be favorable and we will be able to get to lima as scheduled. My next entry will be in Cuzco.
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