Welcome to the Jungle.

Trip Start Sep 15, 2011
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What I did
Mididi National Park

Flag of Bolivia  , La Paz,
Tuesday, July 24, 2012

I arrived at the office and met my fellow travel companions, a French couple, Julian and Pauline. We boarded our canoe, and drove to the Mididi National Park office where we paid for our entrance for the park.  (125B) Then continued up river.  We had about a 45 minute ride up Rio Beni ahead of us.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Benirivermap.png    Every time we went round a bend in the river, the sight took my breath away, the contrast of the brown muddy river lined with trees, like REALLY tall trees!, I felt again like I was in the National Geographic.  From these Andean Mountains you can literally go by boat all the way through the Amazon in Brazil to the Pacific Ocean, only Itīs dry season here, so the river is now as itīs lowest.  All along the banks there are tree carcasses left over from last season, just lying where they were left after the waters receded.  (My friend Teresa would have a field day here, whenever we go camping she is always off finding wood for our camp fire!)  We passed the community of San Miguel del Bala, you could just make out a few huts through the trees, then we were at our lodge.  Its located about 10 minutes away for the village itself.  

http://www.sanmigueldelbala.com/ 

This place is beautiful, just a stones throw from the river, our rooms were a wee climb up a few stairs further into the jungle.  I had my own cabin, complete with mozzie net, and a deck chair to enjoy my view over the mountains.  After I showered we had lunch.  OMG lunch was 3 courses, and not a single piece of bread, or bowl of rice in sight!  We had a soup for starters, then chicken and vegetables (real proper green vegetables), and for desert banana in homemade chocolate sauce, all served with freshly squeezed juice.  After lunch we had about an hour to relax before we were going to visit the village, so I grabbed a hammock.........the next thing I knew I was waking myself up with my massive nasal snores!  They were coming from the back of my throat and out my nose, I have never woken myself up with snoring before!  I didnīt think I snored, it was so unattractive, almost like the lady on the bus to Rurre!
 
We were then taken to the village community. Our guide Juan showed us where the villagers were clearing land in order to plant bananas, and vegetables to sell at the markets.  We were shown how they make their sugar cane drink, which is delicious, and how to they weave baskets and other handicrafts, I made a fan!  There  were the usual chickens everywhere.  The Tacana villagers live very basically, their homes are made out of whatever the jungle provides. You can tell there are no TVīs here too, as thereīs loads of children, none of them asked us for lollies or money either, they seem almost shy.  With the money from tourism, hopefully a lot of them will have the chance to go to University, and chances are, not all that many will want to return, so the longevity of the community (currently with a population of about 250) yet to be seen. Basically the lodge has been set up as an Eco tourism initiative to sustain the community and promote education about the environment and the Tacana culture. It is a community run Eco lodge, which means that about 40 percent of the money raised goes to health, 30 percent to education, a certain percentage to general infrastructure and other needs. A certain amount is also distributed evenly to families each year in cash. Families also have the chance to earn incomes from working in the lodge and from selling their produce, crafts etc to tourists.  Since the Lodge has been set up, the community has been able to have clean running drinking water, and set up a primary school.  

We arrived back at the lodge around sunset and dinner (3 courses again), then I went back to my cabin as I was exhausted.  It was really dark and really quiet......I was a little afraid.  I mean I was in the jungle on my own, and walking back on my own was pretty scary.  I reached my cabin and sat outside for a while listening to all the insects when this crazy huge bug did a kamikaze dive bomb landing next to me.  It was uncoordinated and pretty ugly, but it was interesting to look at.  Iīm finding Iīm doing a lot of crouching down to look more closely at bugs in Rurre, and then crouch there for ages just watching shit!  I went to bed as the bug was pretty big and was giving me the eyeballs.  As I got into bed I could hear something rustling outside, do I go out and check it out or hide under the covers?  I was feeling pretty brave so grabbed my torch and went to investigate. I couldn'tīt actually see anything, but frightening the be-Jesus out me by not realising that the deck chair was casting a shadow, and I saw it and a scream rose to my throat and was about to let it out, when I realised it was just a shadow, so I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief.  That night I didn'tīt get that much sleep as I could hear "something" scratching around.  

The next morning I woke up to the sun rising and a beautiful chorus of birds who were calling, squawking and singing, it was beautiful, so many different sounds.  I lay there for ages listening to it.  Today we were going further upstream and into the Mididi National Park.  Madidi is one of the most biologically diverse protected areas on the planet. The park is home to over 1,000 bird species, representing a whopping 11% of the world’s 9,000 bird species. Madidi contains large populations of Latin America’s  jaguar,  bears, maned wolf, puma,  giant otter, Andean condor and military macaw, among others. 

We boarded our canoe and drove up river for about another 3 hours.  I loved it.  Just sitting there looking at the jungle, and the river.  We spotted a few birds and caimen, but no pumas or jaguars.  I really want to see one, but know the chances are slight.  Our next accommodation was about a 20 min walk into the jungle.  While waiting for dinner a group of wild pigs came into camp looking for food, at least 70 of them.  It was an awesome sight, they make a loud sound "BLAH" and they stink too, the smell is their natural insect repellent, itīs gross, Julien actually vomited!  After lunch (3 course again), we went on a guided hike through the jungle.  It was that thick and dense that my senses were playing tricks on me, it felt like there shouldīve be a brick wall around us, I kept looking for it, but of course there was nothing but trees.  Massive trees at that.  At times, we had to cut our way through with machetes.  I learned that the roots of the trees spread over the jungle floor and not under it as there are enough nutrients on top.  Some of these roots were huge; way bigger than me. Then there were the vines snaking round the trees and hanging down, I kept looking up expecting to see Tarzan to come swinging through the trees.  We stopped under a tree, or rather I was the one who stopped under a tree, the group then started making a ugh noise and pointing.  I couldnīt make out what all the fuss was about then I looked up and I was under a branch that was covered with caterpillars, thousands of them.  They were all there to metamorphose into butterflies.  Could you imagine being there when this happens, seriously, the whole tree was covered in grey fat ugly caterpillars.  What an amazing sight.  We saw Toucans, one of the bird species Iīd been desperate to see.  They were all out as it looked like it was going to rain, and Toucans only drink rain water (fussy), so they were letting the other Toucans know it was going to rain, and where the fiesta would be held!  

It was here that I started to spin out a bit, we were placing an awful lot of trust into this guide, I mean,  I certainly wouldnīt have found our camp again (no surprises there, I canīt find a hotel in a city with a map), but what happens if he was bitten by a snake, or mauled by a Jaguar or pumas?  Or has a heart attack?  Weīd be screwed.  I kept trying to second guess which way we should be going just to see if Iīd be OK in the event of my guides death, but no, wrong every time.......luckily he didnīt collapse or die, and lead through the jungle back to our cabins, but not before spotting Cappuccino Monkeys way up in the tree canopy's, how he saw them I will never know, but I have a feeling they regularly hang out there and he knew this!  Incidentally, you are constantly being told you might be lucky enough to see either a Jaguar or a Puma, but no one actually explains what you should do if one crosses your path!  I was later told once I was back in Rurre that you stand your ground and make yourself as big as possible whilst making a lot of loud noise you should be ok. 

Once back at the lodge we had free time until dinner, so I went to river alone to watch the sunset.  It was amazing, totally alone on the river bank just the sounds of the birds.  There was an approaching storm, so the colours were amazing, but in haste to get down to the river, I had neglected to bring a torch....(what do I do again if a Jaguar or Puma approaches??).

That night we went on a nocturnal jungle walk.  We went up the stream to view the Cayman, you could hear them as you were walking then youīd see the red eyes in the distance.  I was a little concerned about seeing creepy crawlies, but I neednīt have worried as I only saw a few grey spiders chilling out on the rock, they were about as big as a huntsman spider.  It wasnīt as scary as Iīd anticipated, I really enjoyed being in the middle of jungle at night.

Our last day we were heading up river to build a raft and to go fishing...great, I thought, boring boy stuff.....Oh how wrong could I have been.  Building the raft is by far THE coolest thing I have ever done.  We went in one of the dug out canoes for about 2 hours up stream, then we were dropped off with our guide, and the boat turned around and left us there! There was nothing but jungle around us.  We gathered 5 tree trunks from the river banks that had been washed down river, then chopped some other type of tree whose bark we stripped off to make the twining.  We then laid all 5 logs down and tied them together, super tight using another another smaller log across the top.  I still wasnīt that into it, then I sat on it and we began to move along the river.  I loved it....such a dream to be floating down the river in the Amazon on a raft we had made. Pauline and I sat whilst the Juan and Julian took us to our fishing spot.  Here we fished using simple fishing lines and a hook.  I learned how to cast off, but I was too slow to retrieve my bite, there wasnīt a reel, you had to pull and gather it up really quickly.  But again I actually enjoyed this, we were on a wee island in the middle of the river.  After this, Pauline and I had go at sailing us down the river.  I friggin loved it.  We both felt like rock-stars as a boat of tourists going up river passed and started taking photos and waving at us.  I wanted to raft all the way to Brazil, which if you follow the river, you would eventually get there.  We rafted as far as the village of San Miguel, from there we had to wave goodbye to our beautiful raft and board the canoe for our trip back to cilvilisation.  I made a comment about how awful it was going to be in the town after being here, the other 2 just looked at me and reminded me they were flying back to La Paz that afternoon...nuff said, maybe life back in Rurre wouldnīt be so awful after all!

Once back in the town, or rather city (apparently Rurre is a  city....smallest city I have EVER been to), it did indeed feel very busy and loud!  I met my friends at usual cafe and shared a beer and told  them my stories.  What I forgot to tell you all that for 3 days I was
only speaking and Spanish, the Frenchies were obviously talking French
and occasionally was English spoken, so I had verbal diarrhea! 




 
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