Sunday, January 23, 2011

Rurrenabaque Bolivia

Currency: Boliviano $1.00 US = $6.97000 Bolivianas
Taxi hostel La Paz to airport - $50 B
Flight La Paz - Rurrenabaque + Pampas Tour - $1500.00 B
Moto Taxi airport to town - $8 B
Hostel - $25 B
Park entrance fee $150 B
No ATM take enough $'s for your time there - Bank that you can get Visa cash advance

In the jungle the mighty jungle... awoombawap awoombawap

The ride to the airport takes about 45 minutes, traffic is pretty horrendous so it is slow going through parts. There is an awesome statue of Che just before the airport made out of junk, his hair looks like it was made out of shredded tires, an awesome piece of art. Che died in the jungle in Bolivia so the people feel a kinship with him and his legacy. Tourist shops have lots of Che memorabilia, I bought a Che Bolivia T-shirt.

The airport at La Paz is pretty straight forward, the security check was pretty easy except I forgot I had a knife in my backpack. I left my big pack at the hostel in La Paz so I could just do carry on, I thought I had put the knife in it but apparently not. The folks at the airport were not amused, they went through the whole bag after that.

The flight to Rurrenabaque takes about 45 minutes and it is on a little 12 seater plane, my plane left about 30 minutes late, was suppose to go at 2pm. I got a front seat, I could reach out and touch the pilot and co pilot. A little freaky, when the plane takes off all sorts of alarms go off, apparently because La Paz is so high according to the instruments we are 4000 meters up but about to hit ground. The air strip in Rurrenabaque is dirt, landing was a little bumpy but a pretty uneventful flight. There are 2 airlines that fly into Rurrenabaque Amaszonas which is the one I took and TAM which has bigger planes and is run by the army.

There is suppose to be a bus at the airport to take you into town but I didn't see one. There are locals there with motor bikes that you can hire to take you in so I opted for that option. The locals are awesome, quite the sense of humor, I picked a driver and the rest promptly started some good natured heckling about how he just learned to drive and did I mind dying. About 1/2 way into town I started thinking they might not have been joking. 60k on cobblestone roads, no helmets. As previously mentioned I have issues with motor bikes and although I have gotten somewhat less freaked by them there is still a bit of fear.

I got into town the day before my tour was to leave, I could have waited a day and gotten the 1st flight out of La Paz but I Didn't want to chance not making it and this way I got to sleep in a bit. I had not booked a hostel so I had my moto driver drop me in the center of town, I had one in mind that Lonely Planet mentioned so I wandered until I found it. Rurrenabaque is not very big so even I could not get lost here. There are tons of hostels so unless you are going during a holiday you don't need to pre-book. Tons of tourists, this is the jumping off point for tours into the Amazon basin so lots of  tour companies, restaurants, bars and Internet cafes. There is no ATM so take enough cash for your stay. I found Hostal Touristico Santa Ana on the main strip towards the park. An awesome place, I got a private room, bed, desk and fan with a shared bathroom for $30B a night. Lots of hammocks and gardens, great layout, a chair and table outside every room. Makes for great socializing with other travelers. The family that owns it are really nice, always asking if everything is okay..


After check in I went out to explore the town, hit the internet cafe and grab some food. Cute town and nice people, lots of 2nd hand shops you can buy everything from used rain ponchos to towels. I found a restaurant/bar by the hostel called Monkey Bar, ice cold beer and live music. Food is pretty much North American, had some pizza and a couple of beers. Early morning, the tour was leaving at 8am so back to the hostel were I made friends with my neighbor, a Swiss guy who was off to do the Jungle tour the next morning.

Up at 7am and in search of coffee, found a restaurant by the tour office so I checked in with the tour company, Indigena and got some breakfast. Turns out we left late, they were waiting for a spare tire from the tire shop so we didn't leave until almost 10. There were 9 of us on the tour; guy from the Netherlands, a guy from Denmark, a couple from Denmark, a couple from Israel and a couple from Poland. The Pampas tour is 3 days and 2 nights.In reality 2 days are 1/2 days if you take off the jeep travel time. It involves a 3 hour jeep ride followed by a 3 1/2 hour canoe ride to get to the lodge on the river. The jeep ride is extremely dusty, the road is dirt and our jeep had a window that wouldn't go up, by the time we got to the river we were all coated in a thick layer of dust and coughing up brown crap. It is also not good for visibility, the road eventually goes to Brazil so there are lots of trucks on it creating even more dust. At one point we almost had a head on collision with a semi, our driver was passing another truck and because of the dust he didn't see the other truck coming, missed by a couple of inches, a little heart stopping action. Part way through the ride they stop for lunch, it is paid for as part of the tour. A quick 15 minute drive and we were at the gate for Parque Nacional Madidi were there is a $150 B fee to enter the park. The jeep part of the trip ends at Santa Rosa, we had to stop for fuel and we noticed there were huge line ups. Our jeep was diesel so we got to skip the line up but... Our guide told us that gas only comes in a couple of times a week and people are limited to 5 liters at a time. Explains why there are no cars and everyone has motor bikes.

The drop off point for the canoe part of the adventure is the same for all of the tour companies so there are 6+ jeeps dropping off people and supplies at the same time, organized confusion. We all helped unload the jeep and load the supplies in the canoe then we were off. Almost as soon as we left the river bank we entered a completely different world. The wildlife along the river was incredible, caymans everywhere including black caymans, monkeys, birds, turtles and the largest rodents in the world called carpinchos. The park has the most species of birds in the world. It is very important to make sure you don't leave anything or disrupt anything while you are there. It is a very sensitive area and tourism could be it's downfall if people are not careful about choosing a reputable tour company. Words can't explain the beauty of the place so I'll just include lots of pictures.

The lodge is pretty cool, it houses the sunset bar, some of the other tour companies bring their folks by at sunset for a drink. Amazing sight, the sky, the sounds of the jungle, had to pinch myself a few times to make sure it was real. The accommodations are bunks with mosquito netting, basic but adequate. There are a couple of outdoor showers and a few bathrooms. There are usually 2 tour groups there at a time there, so there are 2 dorm rooms. There are a couple of private accommodations, 1 of the couples opted for that choice.  The food was incredible, hard to believe you can get better food in the jungle than in most towns. I kind of assumed that since it was included in the cost of the tour they would cheap out but not so.  I have always love monkeys and there are a ton of them around the lodge, mischievous little bastards, don't leave your cloths outside your room hanging to dry, they may go missing, I lost a pair of socks to the monkey god.

During our time there we got to go piranha fishing, ugly little suckers and not much meat on them. The lodge will cook them up for you. I went swimming with pink dolphins, probably one of the coolest things ever and we went hunting for anaconda and found a huge black one. For the anaconda hunt the lodge has some rubber boots that you have to wear as it is pretty wet in the pamapas. Some of the tour company guides bring the anacondas out with them in bags (without the tourists knowing) and release them, yell that they found one and then let the tourists hold them. This is so wrong, the anaconda population is endangered so touching them is very bad, it can damage their skin as everyone has insect repellent and sunscreen on. I knew our guide didn't do this because he was nowhere near were the snake was spotted, 1 of the tourists saw it first. I only got a quick glimpse of it cause my boots were too big and they got sucked into the mud, I was having problems walking without my feet coming out so running was a little difficult, by the time I got there I just saw the tail end of it as  it slithered into a hole. All in all a most excellent adventure, the amount of wildlife was amazing,  the scenery incredible. The crew at the lodge and our guide where great, I loved the monkeys they were everywhere and constantly chatting.

It was raining pretty bad when we left the lodge to head back, it was warm rain so not really horribly bad. When we got to were the jeep was to pick us up it was a torrential downpour. The ride back took longer because the road was now just a huge mud pit. There were 5 of us booked on the 6pm flight out that night and it was looking like we were not going to make it. The driver told us it was raining in Rurrenabaque and that as of that morning all flights were canceled but it could change at anytime. We got back to town 15 minutes before the flight and ran to the airline office, the driver was right all flights out were canceled (dirt runway). There was a huge lineup of people trying to re-schedule, I got a flight time of 3 days later, that was the soonest I could get. Very  important if you go to Rurrenabaque make sure you factor in a couple of extra days incase you get trapped. Some of the other folks had flights they had to catch or tours they had booked for the next day so some of them got together and hired a van to La Paz. The bus is 20 hours so it wouldn't have worked for them. I had a few days before I had to worry so I decided to wait it out, worse case I could get a bus out if the rain didn't stop. I went back and got a room at the same hostel again and just kept checking at the airline office every day to see if I could weasel onto an earlier flight out. Because I only had my small pack I only brought 2 pairs of pants and a couple of shirts, all of them a little more than dirty. There is a laundry mat in town but because I wasn't sure when I was leaving I was reluctant to give them my cloths. Luckily everyone on the flight out I was on was in the same boat, felt sorry for the pilot, we were a very stinky bunch of people. The cab driver in La Paz was probably not very impressed either. When we got back to La Paz I shared a cab from the airport with a couple of German guys so yeah less money for me. I got them to drop me off at the Rover, reclaimed my big pack and had a very long shower before putting on clean cloths.

I highly recommend that if you are in Bolivia you take a trip to Rurenabaque. You can probably get the tour cheaper if you book it once you are in town and shop around but really the tour part of it was only about $65B and it was with a company that cares about the sustainability of the places they go.  Be wary of taking the cheapest one as they may not have the same standards.