A trip into the Amazon, the ‘Pampas’ in Bolivia to be more exact. It brings to mind thoughts of thriving mosquito families, obscene amounts of sweat, giant spiders sleeping above the bed, cans of skin destroying deet spray, creepy crawlies sitting in shoes and of course no personal hygiene.
We couldn’t see any reason why we wouldn’t want to go and check it out, so booked ourselves on a flight from La Paz to Rurrenbaque, a small town in the Amazon basin. At $100USD each way it was a little pricey but at least we’d be avoiding the bone shaking 21 hour bus ride that may or may not fall off a cliff. Cel was clearly a campaigner for the flight and I wanted to avoided protesting as I had a feeling it would have led to a ‘relationship challenging’ moment. A quick trip out to the airport and after checking in our bags we sat looking out over the runway eying up the nice jet propelled Amazsonas we thought we’d be taking. Come boarding time we were quickly educated about what and what wasn’t our plane. The nice jet propelled liner was in fact not flying our route. The actual plane was a tiny propeller ship that looked like it had been flying for quite some time and maintained with the smallest of budgets – no choice but to get on-board.
Rurrenbaque was a nice small town that had a south east asia feel to it, perhaps due to the lack of cars and proliferation of motorbikes. We even took a motorbike taxi from the airport into town, quite a new experience for Sth America. We checked in for the night, grabbed some food and the lay down to swelter in the evening temperatures.
Before heading into all the Pampas action, if you want to check out a bit of what it was like check out 3 minutes of it below:
Amazon Pampas Trip Day 1
We woke up ready to embark upon our ‘Pampas Tour’ which appears to be the name they give to the lowland savannah type lands in the Amazon – as opposed to a ‘Jungle Tour’ which is well in the thick of the trees. We met up with Meredith (AUS) and Bridget(GER) at the tour office and then picked up Vicky (UK) and Matt (CAN) from the airport. We were ready to set off on the trip, the crew were all good sorts and we chatted away for the 3hr drive to get to the river, where we’d take a boat up the Yacuma river for another 3 ours to the lodge. We experienced a slight delay on the way due to a puncture, then another stop to accept a new spare tyre because the first spare was also flat.
Once we were in the boat everything started to unfold before us. Our first alligator spotting was within two minutes and then a turtle in a further minute. Everyone on-board was surprised and stoked to be seeing wildlife this early in the trip. Over the course of the afternoon we saw countless alligators, caiman, turtles, water pigs, birdlife and monkeys as we made our way up to the lodge. While there were way too many to count, I’d day we could have floated past 300+ alligators and caiman.
After stopping in at the lodge, dropping out gear and taking on some water and biscuits, we were back on the boat and headed for a bar up the river to watch the sunset. While we were at the bar we kicked off an impromptu game of volleyball with our crew, it drew a good sweat and the onset of mosquitos stopped things after 30 mins! A late night cruise down the river capped off the night perfectly. Using our spotlights to see the shining lights of alligators who were on the hunt for food – thankfully not us.
Amazon Pampas Trip Day 2
We all slept well and we saved from any insect by quality mosquito nets at the Dolphin Travel lodge. The morning of day 2 was all about hunting (searching) for Anaconda. We were instructed to wear long pants and gumboots (provided by the lodge) as we’d be wading through murky brown pools that not contained the possibility of Anaconda but also, visibly, contained alligators. After a short boat ride and walk up the bank, we found ourselves walking through muddy brown pools. While the guide actively searched for the snake by waving a stick in the water, we all aimlessly shuffled around more to avoid surprising any animals than in an attempt to find a snake! After an hour or so of searching we eventually set our eyes on an anaconda that another guide had managed to catch. A few photos were snapped off and the snake was returned while we headed back to base-camp, glad that the walking through ‘gator infested pools had ceased. A great experience.
The afternoon was relaxing, given the heat we were told to take a siesta and relax before a later afternoon swim with pink dolphins. As the heat was relenting, we drove back down river in search of dolphin activity. Unfortunately it wasn’t our day, while we saw a couple in one pool, the guide said he wasn’t too keen for us to swim in the pool due to a massive caiman living in the vicinity – understandably we agreed and left the pool alone. Even though there were no dolphins, we did manage to get ourselves into a murky brown pool for a swim. It was definitely refreshing, but it wasn’t quite as relaxing a swim in a pool due to the presence of a couple of alligators on the far bank. After our, brief, swim we headed back up river and celebrated the day with a few beers at the nearby bar that overlooked the river. It had been a day of murky brown water holding the unknown, but we’d survived to tell the tales.
Amazon Pampas Trip Day 3
An early start was called for today to get a view of the sunrise. It was not quite as impressive as the burning sunset, but we did get to watch as flocks of birds headed across the sky to their daily perches. Breakfast was another outstanding feast turned on by the Dolhpin Travel team, the food for the whole trip had been amazing given the lack of electricity, facilities or produce. Our final activity, before heading out of the Pampas and back to Rurrenbaque, was piranha fishing. Right up my alley and the excitement levels emitting from me were noticeable. Cel did well to keep me calm but once we were on the water with our hand line and bait there was no stopping me. As I fished, possessed but without success, Cel managed to lead the boat by dragging in 4 piranha. Naturally, she let me know the score which I clearly tried to ignore. It was tough going, the fish were hard to keep hooked and it required a fast overhand haul to get them in. Eventually I started to deliver with a couple of tackers to the boat, providing some redemption. In the last minutes of the session I managed to hook the biggest fish of the day, only to have the guide pull one in that was slightly bigger about a minute later. We ended the fishing with Cel having caught 5 fish and me 4, although I overtly claimed the ‘biggest fish’ award amongst the tourists.
After our final lunch we loaded up the boat and headed out, spotting a huge caiman, more dolphins, monkeys and alligators on the way. Once back at the port we jumped into our trusty jeep that now had 4 good tyres and a better spare on the roof and headed back to Rurrenbaque. We got covered in dust on the way back and I was sporting a nice fake tan by the time we got to the airport.
It had been the biggest display of wildlife in the wild that I had ever seen. We felt pretty lucky to have been able to walk into such a healthy habitat and see so many creatures going about their daily life. The Pampas tour is, without a doubt, a must-do and for me went into the top 5 experiences of our trip. After arriving back into La Paz we quickly sorted out a bus ticket to the much talked about Salt Flats of Uyuni. Bolivia was still turning up the heat on things to do.