Posted by: robinson2000 | April 3, 2011

The Real Death Road to the Amazon Jungle

26th March – 1st April

For our final day in La Paz, we decided to leave our party hostel and find a much quieter place to catch up on some sleep. We found a new hostel the other end of the city, run by a lovely old Bolivian man who had fixed up the place with excellent internet facilities, a TV with some DVD’s, and lots of free sweets! I was still feeling the effects of the mosquito bites from the death road as my feet and ankles had swelled to size of cricket balls. Walking was incredibly painful to I spent the day milling about our room and resting. Feeling extra lazy, I ordered in a take-away alpaca curry and watched Resident Evil.

Our next destination was a town called Rurrenabaque, situated in Bolivia’s Northern lowlands. The region boasted flat savannahs and dense tropical jungles with plenty of wildlife to get our teeth into. Unfortunately the bus to Rurrenabaque can take anything from 18-20 hours! We arrived at the terminal (Villa Fatima), stocked up on some essential food & water for the journey, and caught the 12pm bus. For the first few hours the bus ran smoothly on nice paved roads, but by the middle of the afternoon the road had turned into a single lane dirt track that wound its way along a mountainside. Sweaty palms and frayed nerves followed for the next couple of hours as the bus inched it way around the hairpin bends with sheer drops on both sides. By nightfall we were still crawling up the dirt road which was quickly becoming a quagmire due to the heavy rains. Our driver bravely tried to guide the bus through the boggy ground, but skidded and got wedged against the bank causing all the passengers the exit the bus and help out. Using a tow rope, a dozen of us valiantly attempted to heave the behemoth through the mud but with no success. Luckily a passing lorry stopped, attached itself to the tow rope and pulled our bus to safety. The bus continued for the rest of the evening but by midnight we had stopped again. I was only vaguely aware of the stop and presumed we would be on our way soon enough so I went back to sleep in the humid bus.

I woke at 8am the following day and was surprised to see the bus hadn’t moved since the previous night. We were in a huge queue of waiting trucks who were trying to get through a particularly boggy patch of road ahead. In fact it was so bad that a JCB had been called in and was trying to flatten out the road. We waited all morning, attempting the stretch of road once but failing miserably. To add to the general unpleasantness of the situation, the sun was sweltering, we had very little food or water, the bus was incredibly dirty and uncomfortable, and my ankles had increased in size! The morning soon turned to afternoon and the minutes ticked by painfully slowly as we just sat there with nothing to do except read and wonder aimlessly around. Finally at 5pm, after watching a convoy of hundreds of truck pass in the opposite direction we were able to get going. Rumours circulated that we still had anything from 6-15 hours left but we eventually arrived in Rurrenabaque at 3am, 39 hours after leaving La Paz and spanning 3 days! I’m never going to complain about a delay in England again. The town was completely dead at that time of night with an abundance of dogs roaming the streets. We banged on a couple of hostels with no reply, but finally found a 3 person room and crashed into bed at 4am happy to be off the bus.

The next day we explored the small picturesque jungle town of Rurrenabaque and booked a 3 day visit to the Pampas, a tropical swampland made up by a maze of rivers and tributaries. The tour was excellent and began with a 4 hr jeep ride to the Rio Yacuma, followed by a series of boat trips around the waterways with our camp-guide, Diego. Our accommodation for the 2 nights was in a riverbank lodge next to the jungle, which was fine except it was incredibly humid and infested with biting insects. On the first night our guide Diego found a huge tarantula beneath his bed. Over the 3 days spent on the boat we managed to see a huge array of wildlife including howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, caiman, capybaras, and a huge variety of birds. The highlight of the trip was that we were able to swim with the pink dolphins that inhabit the rivers in the area. They were incredible and we were able to get within a meter of them as they swam past. I think Rice kicked one in the head. The only worrying part was the murky river waters that we swam in contained an alarming array of dangerous creatures including alligators, anacondas & piranhas but nothing bothered us. On another day the guide took us anaconda hunting in the swamplands, which although unsuccessful was good fun. We found caterpillars that could kill a man in 8 hours if you touched one of its hairs. We were also taken piranha fishing but failed to make a catch. Diego caught a few, including the yellow piranha & the vicious red piranha. He demonstrated how vicious the red piranhas are by letting it bite into the body of a poor live yellow piranha as we all watched in horror. On one evening we were taken out to search for alligators and caiman in the dark. Using head torches we were able to see a few pairs of yellow eyes peering back at us but they were pretty hard to spot. However, Diego did manage to catch a baby alligator that he allowed us to handle.

We headed back to Rurrenabaque after the third day, eager to return to civilisation after living in the Amazon, where most of the insects and animals could cause you serious pain. The trip was completed with a typical Bolivian style breakdown on the return journey, the driver ran out of gas! Fortunately we were in the company of 4 girls from Israel who had been on our tour. They were probably four of the most rudest and arrogant people that we had the misfortune to travel with. Their incessant singing on the peaceful river had driven us crazy over the tour and they seemed to get dressed up every morning as if they were on a night out rather than in a jungle. We were glad to leave their company as we arrived back in Rurrenabaque and received a free T-shirt from the tour agency.

One more day in Rurrenabaque, before we catch a short 45 minute flight back to La Paz. We couldn’t face another nightmare bus trip on the return journey.

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  1. […] from La Paz for an anticipated 18 hour journey to Rurrenabaque where we would embark on a trip to Pampas – an area of tropical swampland containing Amazonian wildlife. Having been travelling in the […]

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