It was raining in Rurre when we arrived and we all got a bit wet as we searched for a hostel. Thankfully it is a pretty small town and it didn't take long for us to find rooms. We then had a quick breakfast and all retired for a rest. Adam and I quickly dashed out to hand in some much needed laundry and as we walked down the main street we saw how many tour companies there were. There are two tours that you can pick from, one being the jungle and the other the pampa. All the information and recommendations we had received indicated that the pampa tour was better. You basically spend three days on a boat and you stay in basic accommodation on the riverside. People said you were likely to see much more wildlife then in the jungle which is a shorter tour and just involves a bit of a walk.
Once we had rested for a while, not that I got a lot as I was still feeling under the weather we went out for some lunch and then began to go from tour company to tour company. We found one that was significantly cheaper than another ones and although at the beginning we were slightly suspicious of this after asking the guy to explain why, we were fairly convinced that there was not going to be any major difference. The big thing we wanted to sure of was that it would be an environmentally conscious tour, we had heard horror stories and seen dramatic picture of foreigners holding dead baby alligators and monkeys. We were assured that none of this was going to take place and the price was lower because there was an agreement between three companies that all worked together and they had fixed this price between them. Satisfied with our choice we went to do a bit of shopping. One of the things which listed that you needed to take was a long shirt to protect yourself from mosquitoes and we all wanted some kind of hat and I desperately needed sunglasses.
It was while perusing the stores that we bumped into Helles and her friend. They were also going on the pampa tour the following day and with one of the companies ours was partnered with so we thought we might well see them. They pointed us in the direction of second hand shop where you could get cheap shirts and we went to have a look. Both Adam and I already had something we could use but Yuri didn't and he ended up with a blue shirt with thick white stripes. When he put it on all we thought he needed was a nice Panama Hat to complete the look, and possibly some dark brown loafers. With all our purchases made, mine and Adam's washing picked up we headed back to the hostel. Here we had a game of pool on a seriously bad table, the balls were so heavy they hardly moved and the pockets were tiny, it took a while. Then we went to have dinner at a restaurant we'd found earlier in the day. We chose a table outside and just after we sat down there was a power cut but this was quickly resolved with a candle. However we then had an unwelcome visitor in the form of cicada which kept appearing out of the darkness and erratically rickashaying off various items on the table which I found incredibly disconcerting. Thankfully the nice waitress wasn't scared and she picked it up and took it away. One thing she couldn't get rid of though was the rain which suddenly started to fall with ferocity. We moved to a table that was still outside but under an overhanging roof, unfortunately it was by a gap in the guttering above and it created a waterfall which began to splash us, so we moved to another table still under this roof but in the end the guttering could not cope at all and we had to move inside. We were all still smiling and the people were lovely so it hadn't ruined the atmosphere at all. The food then arrived and as Yuri and I tucked in to our fish, Adam quickly realised that his fish was in fact chicken and we had to send it back. However by the end we had all had a very lovely meal and all we had to do was try not to get too wet as we walked back to the hostel.
The following morning our tour began at 9am and we were there waiting for the jeep, which was going to take us to the river. We had been told the previous day that there would be two English people and a French person on the tour with us so we were a little surprised when we got in and there were three Aussie boys and a couple of guys from Switzerland. Everyone was a little subdued maybe due to it being morning but we chatted to the Aussies a bit. They were Chris, Simon and Toby all of them on holiday from University in Sydney. They'd been travelling for about a month and had another one to go. The Swiss boys were really quiet and we didn't talk to them till that evening.
After being in the jeep, which had eight of us cramped on two benches fitted length ways in the back, for three hours we were ready to get out. Despite stopping for a little break about half way where we'd seen Helles which we were pleased about. Before getting on the boats we had lunch at a little restaurant which was ok although there was some seriously loud live music in honour of a man called Pedro's stag do and also I was still not hungry at all. Then while waiting for our jeep which had gone off in search of petrol Adam was accosted and mounted by a lively, hairly, black monkey that took a shine to his curly locks. The feelings of appreciation however were not mutual and Adam was pleased when it got off him! Then we were taken down to the small tourist dock and we began to wait. Long, thin, boats with a few rows of two chairs side by side began to turn up.
They were full of people who were just finishing their tour. One of them came in a bit too quickly, mainly cus the driver was an idiot and he smashed into another boat causing a couple of the chair backs to break. As we waited Helles tour got under way and we waved them off as they headed downstream. We were all getting increasingly annoyed as tour after tour went off ahead of us, especially as we'd been the first to arrive. Finally though we were introduced to our tour guide, Diego who apologised for the delay and said unfortunately the boat with the damaged seats was ours.
Being as boys are not chivalrous these days, the only girl on the tour got stuck with one of the broken seats, as did one of the Swiss boys. Adam offered to have it but it didn't seem fair for one of us to suffer for three hours so we agreed to swap half way through and the Swiss boys did he same. So while the Aussies and Yuri leaned back and enjoyed their surroundings we all spent and hour and a half hunched over with aching backs. Atleast there was a lot to distract us! It didn't exactly feel like the jungle, although we were now in the Amazon basin and the water was that kind of Amazony brown but it wasn't as dense and overhanging as I thought it might be. At points the landscape was quite flat and the trees more like those you'd find in the English countryside but it was all teeming with life. Almost immediately we spotted a crocodile or maybe a camen I could never tell the difference really but camen are meant to be bigger and meaner.
We saw a lot of birds including some weird looking ducks and a lot that resembled Storks or Herons.
The one thing we were all hoping to spot were the pink river dolphins which I thought were going to be really elusive but we'd only been on the boat for about half an hour when some appeared. Diego explained through Yuri who had now taken on the role of translator that the dolphins are the king of the river and everything is scared of them so where the dolphins are is the safest place to swim. As I didn't have swimming stuff on and Adam was wearing trousers we opted out but some of the others had a dip, they were quickly out again though. I think they were a little scared.
The best bit about that first boat trip though was when we spotted some little yellow monkeys in a tree and Diego drove the boat right up to it.
They were so cute and all gathered around to give us a good looking over. One of the Swiss boys started tapping the side of the boat trying to coax them on which I never thought would happen but then suddenly one had leapt on to the end and was heading in our direction.
Adam and I were closest to them and soon one was on the back of my chair. Of course I couldn't help myself, I touched one gently and he didn't seem to mind.
A few of them scurried around us for a little while but they tired of us quite quickly, we weren't that interesting after all! Diego explained that they were so tame because there had been a big fire a few years ago which wiped out a lot of their habitat and food supply. It looked as if many of them were going to die so the locals came down and brought them food, sometimes hand fed them which had obviously made them less fearful of humans. Also on our journey down river we saw of few families of the world's largest rodents that look a little like beavers. They were really cute.
Although I had really enjoyed our boat trip I was quite pleased when we made it to our accommodation. The sun had been really extreme and I was beginning to fry, I was very thankful I'd purchased a hat. Our new home was on the basic side but it had everything you could need. It was all built on stilts in case the river flooded and it was good anyway as it was pretty muddy everywhere. We were shown to our rooms each of which had two beds in it with a mosquito net, there were several blocks with about four rooms each and we quickly realised there would be a number of other groups here. One of which was Helles who were just heading out on their boat as we were arriving.
As we'd started late it was a pretty quick turnaround and after a small snack we were back out on the boat. We headed to a small bar where we were going to watch the sunset.
They were clearly built with the sole purpose of selling drinks to tourists and there were several of them up and down the river but it was a nice idea. I opted to have a soft drink but most of the other boys indulged in a beer. Yuri chatted to the Aussies and Adam and I talked to the Swiss boys who introduced themselves as Randy and Stefan. They had just finished their national service in the army and had been travelling for a little over a month, mostly in Chile where they had done a serious amount of trekking. They were lovely guys and very interesting to talk to, we nattered away for quite a while and they were genuinely interested in what we had been doing. After the sunset we went back to our digs, had a good dinner and then everyone headed for beddy byes.
The following morning during breakfast we were told to pick out a pair of wellies from the selection provided as the days first activity was hunting for anacondas! Once we'd all found some hole free footwear we took our seats in the boat and headed down river. We all knew that the chances of finding an anaconda was slim, we'd heard tales from other groups and Diego confirmed this enroute by saying that the cloudy conditions were not ideal. Anacondas like it sunny apparently. When we were on dry land we walked a little way through scrub before we reached a sea of green. There were tall, green, reed like plants as far as we could see, growing out of squelchy mud and water.
As we entered this new landscape it became even more apparent how difficult our task was. As we looked down towards earth, where any anaconda would be dwelling, the density of the plants made it almost impossible to see your own feet let alone spot a camouflaged snake. Diego said that we should feel with our feet and be aware if we stepped on anything hard. To be honest a lot of stuff felt hard to me but if it was a snake, I wasn't going to be checking. I'd be happy if someone else found one and I could see it from a distance but I didn't fancy get all up close and personal!
One of the Aussie's Chris tried to pose dramatically with a “croc” (as he put it in typical Aussie accent), kind of a Steve Erwin moment but Chris look decidedly more scared and held it for all of 30 seconds.
We kept searching but we knew it was going to be fruitless. So we made the most of it, everyone was in good spirits as we waded through mud and forged paths through the vegetation. At points you would hear grunts of effort and then calls for help as people got stuck in the mud.
Both Yuri and Toby had over the boot moments when they sunk too deep and water filled their boots, and while freeing one foot embedded the other even deeper, Adam went to the rescue a couple of times. We were both pretty lucky and kept our feet fairly dry. At one point, sensing our slight disappointment Diego and a couple of other guides (there were a few groups together by now) went off in search of a smaller snake for us to look at and we mooched around where we'd been left.
Here I stood slightly amused and watched the Aussie boys fight with sticks, they were continually laying in to each other, seems to be the norm. Thankfully when the guides went off they were followed by a group of very annoying Israeli girls who clearly were not looking for anacondas at all. Instead they were talking incredibly loudly and sang songs from Disney's Mulan complete with dance moves. Also at times Adam was unsure as to whether they thought he was a guide as they seemed intent on following his path through the reeds. Bottom line the guides were vocal about not being amused, didn't make their jobs any easier.
After about 2 and a half hours we had made a circuit and despite not seeing any anacondas it had been a good little outing. We climbed back into the boat and headed towards camp, on the way there Diego suddenly steered the boat into the side and dashed off into the brush. He came back a few minutes later holding a baby camen. He showed us how to relax it and said they actually like being held because of the warmth we give off. We all had a little hold before popping him back. At camp we had lunch and then most of us had a little bit of rest before the afternoon schedule commenced, Adam on the otherhand made friends with a rather cute insect.
We'd been given the chose between swimming with dolphins or fishing for paranas. The Aussie's and Adam wanted fishing, I went with them so majority ruled and we set off in search of din dins. We were just given hook and line, so we put on a bit of bait and tried out luck. Diego of course put us all to shame but he did always seemed to have the best spot, clearly swinging things to his advantage! Chris got a tiddler first, then another later on but also a midget, Yuri caught a tiny one as well and Adam got the biggest out of us foreigners! I can't remember who caught what but you get red, yellow and white paranas and we got at least one of each.
We went to another spot to watch the sunset and this place also had a football pitch so it wasn't long before the boys had organized a game.
It was the European's against the Australian's to begin with so 4 on 3. As the only girl I took on the role of cheerleader although I wasn't very vocal, there was a little kitten and it came and sat on my lap, a tad distracting.
The European's took an early lead and to be honest their play throughout the whole match was of a higher calibre. The Swiss boys were good, they apparently play on a team back home and Adam seemed to be everywhere and scored several goals. During the match a couple of other girls turned up, we'd seen them go off on their tour the previous day. They were both from Australia, had been teaching English in Buenos Aires for a couple of months, only eighteen and off to university next year. They were really sweet and I chatted to them while the game continued. The Aussie's were joined by a young Bolivian guy who definitely had some skills and then a little later the European's incorporated a boy into theirs. Apparently the actual score was not known by anyone but by the end the European's had won quite convincingly, yay!
Back at camp we had dinner, and sampled some of the days catch, we then lay around in hammocks for a little while before retreating to the safety of our mosquito nets.
The following morning we got up at a reasonable hour, had breakfast and then went out to swim with dolphins. We went quite a long way down river and came to a bend where there appeared to be quite a few. However there was also a little off shoot of the river which we turned around in which was home to a number of crocodiles/alligators/camen, whatever they were they looked mean. Most of the boys went in but I have to admit that I was a chicken and I lost my nerve.
Apparently it was really hard work because of the current and it seemed as though Diego kept moving the boat further away from them. However soon enough the boys were all back in the boat, the crocs were on their mind too!
When we got back to camp there was a surprise waiting for us. Just up the bank, by the steps to the kitchen there was a big crocodile lying on the floor.
The Swiss boys, Yuri and me who spotted it first all adopted the, oh my god we're all going to die about to flee for your life position, but Diego looked completely undeterred and casually said, “that's Pedro, he's kind of like a pet.” So once we had got used to Pedro's presence we started to touch him and have our photos taken.
He opened his mouth and moved a couple of feet now and again but apart from that he stayed put. We only touched his tale, but we witnessed a young girl touching him on his snout. I am not that brave! We managed to tear ourselves away from Pedro and have a lovely lunch. After this it was time to get in the boat and head back to the dock. The journey back was fairly sedate as everyone realised that they were pretty tired. Adam spotted a Toucan high up in the trees which was probably the highlight but it was very hard to get a picture.
Back at the dock we waited with Heles and organized to meet her for drinks and dinner that evening. Then we got into separate jeeps and began the 2 and half hour journey back to Rurre. The Aussie boys were really concerned about getting back to La Paz. They had friends who were also travelling and they were all congregating at Christmas. Ideally they would like to fly but in the wet season a lot of planes are grounded because the Rurrenabaque runway is basically a field and it gets a bit water logged. When we reached town though they dropped us at the bus station and they managed to get tickets for one leaving that evening so they were sorted. The Swiss boys were going to head back on the same bus and so we said our goodbyes. We had booked to go back the following day at 11am.
We had a bit of a rest and a shower at the hotel before heading out to meet Helen at the Mosquito Bar. Here we indulged in a couple of pitchers of cocktail and a few games of pool. We then went to the restaurant we'd been to before, then said our goodbyes to Heles, exchanged emails and crashed out. The next morning we boarded our bus back to the capital and hoped it would be quick and painless.
Laura & Adam