Snakes, Planes and the Road Out

Rurrenabaque Travel Blog

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Rurrenbaque or Rurre as the locals refer to it, probably because they can´t pronounce the full title either, is a sleepy little jungle town in the North of Bolivia. There are a few bars here, some mosquitoes, and plenty of tour companies, but not a fat lot else. The only reason tourists come is because it´s a cheap place to find trips into the rainforest and Pampas (wet grasslands) of the Amazon basin.

The principal problem with good ol´ Rurre (there are also problems concerning time on idle hands, the devil and cheap alcohol but I´ll leave that alone) is that it´s bloody difficult to get either in or out of here in the wet season which (of course) reaches its peak in January. We killed two flamingos with one stone by catching a boat from Coroico on the way up here. It took three slow hot days (Cost: 100 Dollars) to wind our way along the river, occasionally jumping off to camp, eat or meander around a bit in the rainforest examining unusual, spiky and occasionally enormous trees. It was a pretty decent way to do the journey and it meant that we only had to find a Pampas trip in Rurre.

Spending 3 days in the Pampas was one of the best tours I´ve encountered so far, but if you venture up here don´t expect it to be an isolated experience with just you and thousands of wild animals. We are here in off season as evidenced by the rain and travel difficulties, and there were still over 100 tourists cruising up and down the river in little motor launches and staying within a few Ks of each other at the lodges owned by the various tour companies. However, if you go in with your eyes open and accept that you are going to be around plenty of other people, you´ll only have to pay 20 dollars a day in low season and you can still have a good time.

The pampas is a haven for wildlife: troops of squirrel monkeys scamper through the trees along the water´s edge whilst the larger, more territorial howler monkeys roar up a storm. Fish eagles dive bomb the river for their lunch, massive emerald dragon flies hover over the water like mini Chinooks and pink dolphins will swim around you and nip playfully at your feet. This is the best of the Pampas, the times when you are on the boat, cruising the narrow tree-lined waterways and just taking it all in. The parts I didn´t get on with were those when the guides specifically take you to a place, grab an animal and start handing it round the group for photos.

The most telling example of this was when we searched for anacondas. This involved about 40 tourists from 5 different boats tramping through muddy, sulphur-stinking and thigh-high water for half an hour. Once we reached an island of firmer ground, the guides then asked us to wait around whilst they searched for the elusive serpents. 45 minutes later they find one and prod it from a hole in a tree where it has been quietly minding its own business and shedding its skin. They then unveil the beast to all the tourists gathered in a circle.

A full grown anaconda is the largest snake in the world, capable of hunting and swallowing an adult human. The one we saw was only three years old and no longer than the length of your arm. It looked distinctly concerned by the crowd of gawpers it had drawn, curling itself up as tight as possible. I´m no eco warrior but I walked away when the guides began handing it round - there´s not much else to say.

I wouldn´t let this put you off a visit to the Pampas though, it was well worth it; the only thing I´ve ever done that involved closer contact with wild animals was diving on the Barrier reef. Having said that - if you´re more eco-friendly than the love child of Swampy and David Bellamy don´t bother - you´d probably hate it.

The mission now then however is to get back out of here and down to La Paz. It has rained for the last two days, all flights are cancelled and the buses are full for today. We had too few people and then too many (don´t ask) whilst negotiating prices for a 4x4 jeep so we´re booked on a bus tomorrow morning. We´ve heard horror stories of mud, landslides, delays and deaths on (or more accurately off) the road. It´s reputed to be a 20 hour journey. Can´t wait - fingers crossed folks...                                            
mfmcp1982 says:
Really enjoying reading your blog, your writing's great!
Posted on: Feb 01, 2009
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photo by: jendara