Welcome to the Jungle

Trip Start Oct 12, 2006
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Trip End Nov 12, 2006


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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Sunday, October 29, 2006

This is our first blog since our many experiences in the jungle. Weīll break it up into several entries on the dates they would have been posted had we not been so detached from our techno lives.

Fittingly we are back into full-on civilization in La Paz, awaiting the start of our next leg. Our jungle trip started in La Paz, in the airport. Not unlike other trips; but this was travelling with our now least-favourite airline company, Amaszonas. Long story short: the weather where we were flying to was too rainy to land in and we were forced to stay in La Paz another night. The annoying part was more that despite the seemingly large number of people behind the check-in desks, there appeared to be no customer service and only certain words of hope that kept us waiting and waiting. As Allison puts it: they do a great job to look like a nice airline, but whether they actually fly or not is up for debate. Luckily we had an exceedingly hard Sudoku puzzle to keep us busy (guessing appears to work sometimes).

After wandering around people-watching, our favourite pastime in La Paz, we retired to another hostal and returned to the airport the next day. This time things looked a little better, but there were delays posted for our flight so our fears worsened. Should we have just stomached the 17 hour bumpy bus ride and guaranteed our arrival? Another day of bumping back our schedule didnīt sit well, as we have seen enough of La Paz. We finally were ushered into the waiting room, where we looked around for other gringos that we had seen the previous day huddling around the check-in for info. Finally the worker waved us over to board, as if we only had a few minutes get on the plane and to our destination before the rain moved in and grounded us again. Our small leer jet was fun, with each seat having a window and a nice view of the cockpit. 45 minutes later, with not much to look at but clouds and some green stuff below, we approached our dirt airstrip with great anticipation. The landing had a few extra 45 degree turns than we were hoping for, but we at least landed before heavy rain moved in soon afterwards. Our first thoughts back on terra firma were īdamn, itīs hot!ī. Around 32 Celsius, to be exact, but with the high humidity making it feel much more at times. A helper from Mapajo Lodge, where we were staying in the jungle, gathered us up and helped us on to the bus. Rurrenbaque, or Rurre as itīs known, is a sleepy little town along the River Beni where it joins with another large river. īSleepyī because more people appear to be sleeping or lounging in their storefronts until dusk, when the streets came alive with people and motorcycles, the vehicle of choice. Whole families ride on their motorbikes, with little ones on the front holding on to the handlebars - that grasping reflex comes in handy! We waited undercover at the agency for the heavy downpour to pass and then checked out our hostel, which luckily had a ceiling fan (which we appreciated more later). For dinner we found an open Caribbean style pizza joint complete with a wannabe DJ.

Day 1 of our 5 day adventure with Mapajo Lodge (www.mapajo.com), started at 8:30 with a longboat canoe ride 2 1/2 hours up the Beni River and onto the Quiquibey River, to Asuncion: the small community of 17 large families that created Mapajo Lodge and runs the whole operation. Rio Beni is the border between Madidi National Park, to the east, and Pilon-Lajas Reserve, where indigenious peoples are allowed to live and hunt and farm sustainably. Our guide, Alejandro, was very polite and helpful pointing our interesting trees or birds along the way. We decided to forgo having an interpreter with us, as Mark wanted a more personal experience in the jungle and thought he could at least get the gist of what is said and translate for Allison. Many locals words for plants or birds were hard to translate or to know in English, so Mark just asked as many questions as possible. The locals speak Moseten, which really sounds like quiet mumbling to us, and very different from Spanish.

We arrived along the muddy banks of the clay-rich river and hiked 5 minutes to our camp, near the community that built it with local products only. Our accommadations were very swank for the jungle, a raised cabin with hammock in the front, twin beds with mosquito netting, and a private bathroom with showers, complete with towels. We were quite excited about the surroundings and quickly had lunch waiting for us in the dining hall. Not to mention we had the whole camp to ourselves until the last day of our stay.

We had a few hours to ourselves after lunch, as we did every day since it was far too hot to do anything even remotely strenuous outside during the mid-day sun. Our guide ended up coming by to say he had to rush back to Rurre since his wife was sick and taken to the hospital there. We met our new guide, Erwin, later in the afternoon, and went for an easy hike through the jungle nearby. We didnīt see any animals, but he pointed out various trees, flowers, and bugs that are unique to the jungle climate, incuding some huge mapajo trees after which the lodge is named.

Foods were simple local fare, served with variety and style: rice, tomatoes, cabbage, yucca (root veggie), beef, beans, carrots, plaintains (like a drier banana) fried chicken, and nice soups for lunch and dinner. Breakfasts included pancakes, honey, fresh fruits like grapefruit, papaya, banana, and always juice (using bottled water) like lemon or orange. We always had bottled water when we wanted and our two cooks from the village were trained in safe food handling. Unfortunately, our bodies werenīt necessarily used to some of the food we ate. An overly-full stomach feeling grew into an awful stomach ache for Allison after dinner, that soon led to being sick at both ends that night. It was a little worrying for to see one of us get sick so early on and still have 4 more days to go!
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Where I stayed
Mapajo Lodge

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