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We flew from La Paz to Rurrenabaque in a death pencil, over the Andes. Flying over the Andes was spectacular, some of the mountains were as high as we were, though fortunately far enough to the left or right. Arriving in Rurrenabaque was a big change to La Paz, firstly as it was a dirt runway, surrounded by grass, and also the humidity was about 90% and it was hot. We were also back to near sea level, instead of at 3,500masl, which is what La Paz is.
That afternoon we booked a three day Pampas tour, which is the grasslands at the edge of the jungle. So not quite the Amazon, but the edge of it. As it is wet season, Rurrenabaque was pretty quiet, and we were the only ones on our tour. So we had a private tour without having to pay for it!
The next day we were driven three hours on a terrible road, then caught a boat a few minutes downriver to the Caracoles Lodge, the base for our tour group. We met our guide, Norman, who later that afternoon took us out on the boat along the river, looking for various wildlife. On our first trip we saw lots of birds, some howler monkeys, and my favourite, pink dolphins! These are the only freshwater dolphins in the world, and they are a pale pink. I should point out that apart from the dolphins and a few birds that I saw unassisted, Norman would spot things and then back up the boat so we could see them. He had very sharp eyes.
Of all the birds we saw, our favourite was the Hoatzin, or ´cow bird´, as Norman called it. This is because it has four stomachs, and as a result, can´t fly more than 40 seconds. I doubt they can even make it that far, they would freak out whenever our boat came within ten metres of their tree, and escape by flying 2 metres further away in the same tree. They looked like pheasants, and were very comical. We also saw kingfishers, hawks and ibis. There were lovely flowers in the water as well, my favourite being the purple water hyacinth.
It was a pretty easy lifestyle over the next three days, a morning and an afternoon trip on the boat wild life spotting, and then just chilling out at the lodge in between. On our first night, the guides found in the trees next to the lodge a anteater and a porcupine. Both of these animals were way bigger than I expected, about the size of small dogs. They were very agile, jumping from branch to branch even though they must have had a fair bit of weight behind them.
The next day we took a boat with another British couple and their guide, going the other direction on the river looking for monkeys. We managed to see a Capuchin monkey in a tree, and then later the guides pulled the boat right into a bush which had three squirrel monkeys. They were really small and very cute, only about 30cm tall, but very energetic, jumping around the bush. We were very close to them, but they did not seem to mind.
On that trip we also saw quite a few caiman (crocodiles), sunning themselves on the bank of the river, and more pink dolphins, which I never got sick of. The caimans were quite a size, probably the biggest we saw was about 3m. I didn´t fancy swimming in the river as a result.
On our way back from this trip we learnt what the wet season was all about. It started to rain all of a sudden, and I have never been in rain that dense. The raindrops were so fat, and so plentifal, we got soaked in a record time. It continued to rain all the way back to the lodge, and it took my boots, which got wet from water in my socks, three days to dry out.
That night we went out on the boat for torches, caiman spotting, as their eyes glow red in the light. It was scary how many there were. Before we left, a night monkey was found in the trees near the lodge. So that meant we got to see all the types of monkeys in the area.
On our last day, we really wanted to see a capobiera - which is the worlds largest rodent (or an R.O.U.S - Rodents of unusual size, I kept thinking I don´t believe they exist!). Poor Norman was under a lot of pressure to find one for us, and after about two hours of going up river, he managed to spot one hiding in tall weeds on the bank. I don´t know how he saw it, I couldn´t see it till we were parked on the bank. It was about the size of a labrador, and had a funny face. I don´t know how well the photos will turn out, as it was hidden among the weeds. But at least I know now that R.O.U.S exist!
On the way back, Norman pulled the boat next to the bank where a rather large black caiman was sunning itself. The bloody thing then proceeded to slide onto the front of our boat. At this point I jumped onto my chair and started screaming, though the caiman just used the front of the boat as a bridge into the river, and slid off the other side. Norman thought this was a huge joke, as did Dave who thankfully photographed the caiman and not my reaction. Norman said that particular caiman was slightly domesticated, as other tour companies had fed it. Though how he could differentiate that it was that particular one, I don´t know. Our company, Bala Tours, was very good about not handling the animals. Apparently a lot of other companies haul caiman onto the boat (and Pam is not there to defend their rights) and handle other animals.
We also saw a pair of Jabiru nesting in a tree, this is the largest bird in the area but rare to see, and I am guessing must be related to the Australian Jabiru. Will have to look that up sometime.
We were booked to fly to La Paz that night, however learned that rain had made flights on the dirt runway impossible for the last three days. So we stayed another night in Rurrenabaque, having quite a few cocktails at the Moskito Bar. The airline company put on 4 flights the next day to fly out all the stranded tourists. We later learned from an Irish couple, Vinnie and Catherine, that the flight before ours got bogged in the runway prior to take off, as the pilot drove it into a marshy spot, and all the passangers had to get out while the plane was pushed out of the mud!
Once back in La Paz, we went straight to the bus terminal to try and catch a bus to Uyuni.
More photos can be seen here.