The exotic and fascinating Amazon. The largest rainforest in the world stretching across South America. It covers more than seven million sq km and touches nine countries. Everyone instantly thinks of Brazil which is where most of it resides and where the main Amazon River sits. However, it’s possible to experience the Amazon from many countries where smaller rivers have branched out and spread it’s great biodiversity.
I decided on Bolivia because it’s easily accessible (somewhat), cheap and less touristy. My experience definitely didn’t disappoint and it all started from the moment I left La Paz.
From La Paz there is a rough, only partly sealed, one lane road through the jungle to a town called Rurrenabaque, which is the jumping off point for trips into Bolivia’s share of the Amazon Basin. Unsurprisingly, buses dare to take the journey which can take anywhere from 15-24 hours and even longer in the wet season. That daunting prospect encourages most gringos to take a plane instead which takes only one hour but can cost around $90USD one way. But where was the fun in that?
I booked my bus and it left at midday. I was carrying many layers of clothing, a fully charged iPad, plenty of food and water and even a torch. I was prepared. I was happy to find that I wasn’t as crazy as I had thought as a couple more gringos came on board. The bus took off slowly chugging up the mountains out of La Paz spewing black fumes out the back. The scenery was awesome as we hit the green jungle and the road eventually turned into the treacherous way I had been expecting.
The one lane road meant that when another vehicle came the other way one had to reverse until there was enough space for the other to pass. At one point the road was so skinny that on one side was a rock face and the other a steep drop down to the valley below, the tyres were just fitting on the edge. If you were scared of heights it was advised not to look out the window. It was obvious why it can be so dangerous in the wet season when land slides are common.
Despite the potential danger, we arrived not only safely but also on time. At 3am, 15 hours since we’d left La Paz, the bus stopped and I decided to jump off thinking that it was a toilet stop. Still half asleep I was confused when I saw people pulling their luggage off the bus and when I looked up at the building where we were it said in giant letters ‘Bienvenidos a Rurrenabaque’ (Welcome to Rurrenabaque). I instantly ran back on board and woke the other tourists up yelling, ‘We’re here!’. They looked extremely annoyed and said, ‘That’s impossible’ but I only said, ‘See for yourself’.
None of us had pre-booked accommodation so we sat our bags on a bench inside and used them as pillows as we tried to get some more sleep. At 6am the place came to life and we were woken up and taken into town by a taxi. I had expected the bus ride to be that much longer that I’d booked my Amazon trip for the following day. It turned out to be a blessing anyway as I not only got to spend a day lounging in the hammock and swimming in a pool at a hostel for $8 per night, I also came down with a stomach bug and had to delay my trip for a few days anyway.
Enough about the bus journey, the three day pampas tour I took was a great introduction to the Amazon. We were driven three hours to the Yacuma River and then transferred to a boat for another two hours where we headed for our lodge on the edge of the river. We spent most of the first day animal sighting from the boat and saw plenty of alligators, different birds, turtles and capybaras. We also stopped to see a bunch of small monkeys in a tree and thought they were pretty cute until we discovered they were also at our camp and proceeded to break in and steal our food.
The second day began with an Anaconda hunt through the swampland for three hours. Not exactly something you’d think was a smart or legal thing to do but we put on gum boots and were taken through the mud and tall grass. We were on the way back after not finding anything when our guide started jumping up and down. We thought he was joking until he pulled up this giant snake. It turned out to be a cobra rather than an anaconda but was more dangerous so I’d kind of wished it was an anaconda instead.
In the afternoon it was like the morning had never happened because we actually decided to jump into the river, where we knew there were snakes and alligators, and swim with the pink river dolphins.
On our last day we spent the morning piranha fishing and then ate our catch for lunch before returning back to Rurrenabaque.
It was a relaxing three days as we spent most of the time sitting in the boat admiring the animals. It was fun and I had a great all girl group which made the experience even better. I’m really glad I’d made the effort to see the Amazon but I have to admit I really don’t feel like I saw enough. I saw the river and the wetlands but I would have had to have spent much more time to get deeper into the jungle to really appreciate the full diversity of it. Nevertheless, I still saw one of the most interesting and awe-inspiring places on earth, that is unfortunately disappearing at an alarming rate, and I’m glad that I can say that I have seen it.
*post adapted from my trip here in December 2015 and from my previous blog elishasbigtrip.wordpress.com