Visiting the Amazon Rainforest was high up on our list of things to see in South America. Many people assume Brazil is the place to go when planning their Amazon adventure. But in reality the Amazon basin extends to Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador and Peru. Rurrenabaque in Bolivia is just as biologically diverse and also the cheapest! Perfect, here we come, Amazon!
What are the Pampas?
In Bolivia, the term ‘pampas’ refers to the pre-Amazonian wetlands in the Beni region. While the pampas isn’t technically real jungle, it offers better wildlife spotting opportunities as the animals aren’t hidden by dense trees. Our tour, from a motor canoe, explored the open wetlands of the Santa Rosa National Park of North East Bolivia.
Getting to Rurrenabaque
After the high altitude and dry air of La Paz, we were really looking forward to the humidity and heat of Rurrenabaque in the rainforest. We’d read a few too many horror stories from other travellers who had taken the bus there. In summary, their bus ride included some very questionable roads, multiple breakdowns and drunken bus drivers. All of this on roads not dissimilar to Death Road which we cycled only a few days earlier. Most that had endured the bus ride there had opted to fly back, which we thought was very telling. As a result, we decided to treat ourselves to a flight to Rurrenabaque – in the cutest little puddle jumper plane!
Rurrenabaque is a sweet little town on the edge of the rainforest, it’s basic but has everything you could need. I wish I had taken a photo of our accommodation there! Essentially our room only had 3 walls and the other was open to the world. Every morning the residential parrot woke us with his ‘Hola’s!
From Rurrenabaque we took a 3 hour car ride along a very long, very straight and bumpy dirt road to a river. From there it was another 3 hours on a motor canoe, wildlife spotting all the way as we made our way up the river until we reached the lodge. Our home for the next couple of days.
The Lodge in the Rainforest
The lodge we were staying in was basic, but in a nice way. We were surrounded by nothing other than the noise of the wildlife which only got louder at dusk! Flashing a torch at night we could see all the many Caiman eyes reflected back at us. I should mention we had a resident Caiman, Frederico!
It was a very relaxing place, having no WiFi and limited electricity meant we were forced to do nothing. It was lovely. They even had a huge room dedicated to hammocks!
I think we were all pleasantly surprised by the food on offer at meal times. Mealtimes are often a daunting time in Bolivia, oh god, what’s it going to be this time?! But, we had nothing to worry about. The lovely cook went well out of her way to give us plenty of variety and lots of lovely fresh food. On the last day she even made us a cake. A CAKE!
So we went ‘Anaconda Hunting’. No hunting was intended, it was merely, “Hey guys, Let’s walk through the marsh and try and spot a snake”. We spent an entire morning wandering through marshland, in search of an Anaconda. Our guide gave us no indication of what to look for, no particular habitat the snake may like or any sign whatsoever of we should look out for. No, just look for something snaky. Funnily enough no one spotted one! We did come across a herd of cows and some birds… Not quite the snaky surprise we were looking for.
Conveniently, towards the end of the walk, our guide got a call from his pal, who had ‘found a snake’. Interesting, we all thought! Turns out his pal had conveniently found the snake very close to his hut! We’re all sure it was a pet snake. Anyhow, it was still very cool to see an Anaconda and touch it!
We took the motor canoe out for a morning of simple, hook and line Piranha fishing, venturing into the shallows of the river, very close to the banks. We were surrounded by Caiman, literally 5m from the canoe. They didn’t seem to be bothered by us, I was bothered by them!
It turns out Piranha fishing is tricky, while they go for the bait immediately, they never seem to get hooked. They’re also not as vicious as the movie Piranha 3D suggests! So disappointing! At one point, Malcolm got his fishing line stuck under the water. Michael was closest and was ordered, rather aggressively, by our guide to reach into the Piranha and Caiman infested water and retrieve the hook! Rather him than me, bye-bye arm!
It is worth pointing out that I do not like fishing, I find it cruel, however with any new opportunity I’ll give it a go. But sadly… I was the only one successful at catching a Piranha. I caught a baby through the eye socket so we had to kill it. I’m always too damn successful at this fishing malarkey. #worldsmostrelucantfisherman As part of our dinner that night we ate the caught Piranha, they’re really not worth the effort in taste.
Swimming with River Dolphins
The highlight of the trip for me was swimming with the Pink River Dolphins, which are only found in the Amazon Rainforest. I use the term ‘swimming with’ very loosely! We swam in the same vicinity as them… In reality they were in the distance most of the time. I was lucky enough at one point to get within about 5m of a pair, but that was the closest before they swam away.
To be perfectly honest, it was just nice to be swimming, it’s been a while! Michael had the safety ring from the boat and spotted the Dolphins further down the river. So we joined forces and bobbed down the river together in search of them. Did I mention this was Caiman territory? The whole river is Caiman territory! We quickly realised we were getting too close for comfort and hopped back in the boat! I value my feet and don’t fancy getting nibbled.
Summing up the Pampas
It was really awesome to be so close to the Amazon Rainforest, even if it was only the border. The Pampas is a very different kind of rainforest to what we have experienced previously. This time it felt much more lush and dense, kinda what I imagine a typical rainforest to be. Either way, it was a different experience and good fun. The only downer any of us experienced, was a little sunburn!