My trip to Rurrenabaque started of with a short 45 min ride on a 30 passenger plane (very necessary during the rainy season, where bus rides are over 24 hours long and incredibly dangerous). I had heard great things about the town, but didn’t realize just how beautiful it would be until I started to see the lush, green jungle below from the plane.
As we landed, I thought to myself, “Why the hell wasn’t I here for the rest of my trip.” I had been suffering through high altitude and coldish weather for the past 3 or so weeks!
After getting into town, I found a (very friendly) motorbike taxi driver and went to Hostal Santa Ana, where I was given a gorgeous little room (outside bathroom) for $40 bolivianos. The hostel also had a hammock garden, many patios, and lush trees and palms covering the grounds. Despite no free breakfast and a lack of wifi, this place was pretty awesome.
My lunch that day was also pretty great – soup and a second course of beef at a small restaurant up the street. All the almuerzos in town are $10 bolivianos and HELLA tasty.
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Day 1 in the Pampas: Animals, Bucked-nekked Hotness, and Mosquitos
The next day was the beginning of my trip into the Pampas of Beni. The first person I met was an English guy named Kevin – he was cool and friendly but his accent was so strong that there were times when I couldn’t understand what he was saying. The other folks were a group of Japanese tourists, an older somewhat hippie woman from Germany, two Dutch girls, a pair of French boys and three Chilean guys. The latter group of people were in my truck as we rolled out for three hours on a muddy and potholed dirt road to our destination up north. I spent the latter part of those three hours getting to know the driver of my car who was getting sleepy at the wheel – we had a great conversation about his life, his family, life in Rurre, and Bolivian politics.
Our first stop was a small open air restaurant where all three groups had lunch. Quinoa noodle soup and beef was the dish of the day. It was pretty good, but the one thing I remember more was the fact that the guy who lived there had a pet deer (venado) in his backyard:
After lunch we drove on a little bit farther to a grassy area where we all assembled to get on the long boats that would take us up the river. Since I speak English, I was asked to join a boat with Brittish Kevin, the three Japanese kids, and a Dutch couple to even out the boats.
It took us a while to get going, but once we were off, we were off up the rivers of the Pampas. While it was gorgeous on the river, it was HOT. It smelled like sulphur. And there were hella mosquitos!! I didn’t know what to do – if I put on the sunscreen, it diluted the mosquito spray. If I put on the mosquito spray, it diluted the sunscreen. In the end I chose to get bitten not burnt, and piled on the sunscreen.
Up the river, we observed a ton of animals: birds of paradise, hawks, coronets, turtles, and even a few caimans (which are like mini crocodiles. Until that point I had no idea that a caiman was an animal). One of the best parts was a sighting of a capybara, sitting on the edge of the water and feeding on plants (I asked our guide, Bismark, why it didn’t run away as our boat pulled up right next to it. He replied, “porque nos respetamos”. We also saw a tree filled with female monkeys (and baby monkeys on their mommas’ backs!). It was way too cute.
Despite the great sights along the river, the heat and the mosquitoes were insufferable. Each time we went near a bush to get a closer look at a caiman or a turtle, they attacked in swarms. By the time we reached camp, I was sweaty, disgusting, and bitten like crazy all over. Hey, at least I wasn’t sunburnt! Yet.
The Fluvial Tours property looked like a Disneyland adventures treehouse. We found our mosquito net covered beds, got changed, took a shower, and prepared ourselves to hangout at a little shack up the way to “watch the sunset” and buy beers/drinks. It was pretty, albeit still a bit mosquito-filled.
Back at the cabins, I met the other group with our tour – a group of seven instrument playing students from Argentina. I learned that they were making their way up towards Peru, and that they were all friends in their mid 20’s traveling together. They looked at my mosquito bites and offered me cooling salve, but I was too busy putting on my REI “Jungle Juice”. One of the guys looked at my bottle. “98.5% DEET!” he exclaimed. I didn’t realize it was just that toxic. “Bueno para los mosquitos…” he said, while another girl finished up, “Pero malo para el cuerpo”. Indeed. Not only was I uncomfortable, sweaty hot and itchy, I had to douse myself with poison to prevent further bites.
Later that evening, we had a dinner of pasta in the main dining area (also filled with mosquitoes). Our guide Bismark later ran down the itinerary for the next 3 days and told us to get ready for a night boat ride to find glowing caiman eyes.
I actually really enjoyed the night boat ride a lot. The stars were shining brightly above us like white dust, the weather was cooler, and the mosquitoes weren’t so bad. Using our flashlights, we looked from side to side to find glowing red and yellow cayman eyes at the edge of the river. At one point we even turned off our flashlights and looked for fireflies while listening to the peaceful and quiet night on the Pampas.
That night I was worried about sleep. It was hot and humid under the mosquito nets. My hair and body was still a bit wet from the great cold shower I took just a few hours ago, and I always have a hard time sleeping when it’s that hot. Luckily, my fatigue (and Advil PM) kicked myself into an eventual sleep that night, when the generators turned off and everything be became pitch black.