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Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Pampas Trip

13th – 15th June

Rurrenabaque is also the jumping off point for trips to the Bolivian pampas, the low lying wetlands around the Rio Yacuma. A three hour drive by 4x4 along the usual bone-crunching, head-jerking dirt road took us to a small town called Santa Rosa where we stopped for lunch, before continuing our journey by canoe.

We had chosen to take this second trip with Fluvial also, being fairly satisfied with the treatment we’d received on the jungle tour. There are so many agencies to choose from, sometimes it’s a case of ¨better the devil you know¨!

A number of canoes were moored to the riverbank, some definitely looked more river worthy than others! A few even had proper, deck-chair like seats! We’d heard about these from other travellers and had decided to favour the more authentic dug out canoe with wooden seats (nothing to do with the price!) – though we heard not so great in the wet and a little sore on the rear after the ensuing 3 hour boat ride!

Within minutes of leaving the river bank we saw alligators and many varieties of birds. Around the corner and we spotted our first alligator…and then another and another. They were literally everywhere! There were also Caimans, though less in number, thankfully, for these black, fierce, alligator-eating reptiles were an awesome sight. We saw capybara – large mammals up to 150kg, like overgrown rodents. Further upstream were pink river dolphins, leaping in front of and alongside the boat, at which point one of our group stripped down to his pants and dived in! We had been told that a group of swimming dolphins (what is the collective name for this?) keeps the alligators at bay and allows for their human friends to take a dip also, without being devoured for dinner!

Just before we reached the camp we saw Howler monkeys, like the ones in the jungle, high up in a tree and making, yes you’ve guessed it…a howling noise! In the smaller trees just above the riverbank were the cutest little Squirrel monkeys (who the guide proceeded the feed with a banana – not sure this is strictly ecologically correct) and the not so cute, larger Cappuccino monkeys. All were going crazy over the food offering and were clambering into our boat to get to it. We kept our hands firmly in our pockets and away from those sharp little teeth.

The camp was as to be expected and provided accommodation in wooden huts with all the extras – spiders, mosquitoes, cockroaches etc. Thank god for the silk mozzy nets but are they cockroach proof?!! As the first official tour agency in the pampas, the location was excellent and situated on a sweeping bend in the river with views in both directions. They had pitched a row of hammocks just perfectly for watching the river pass by. On the first evening when our group had gone out to shine torches into alligators eyes (another unsound ecological practice) we relaxed in the hammocks, enjoying the tranquillity, being entertained by pink dolphins frolicking in the river.

Over the rest of the time at the camp, we participated in piranha fishing (throwing the fish straight back into the water), swimming with dolphins (briefly!) rising to watch the sunrise (but there was too much mist!) and looking for anacondas. We skipped the snake hunt and stayed back at camp to sunbathe (Ady was unwell and suffering from jungle flu and Sam is just plain scared and didn’t want to step on one in the waist-high grasses). An alligator was basking on the riverbank next to our camp and our cook went down to stroke him. We watched in awe and he beckoned us down to join him. The alligator seemed incredibly docile and appeared to enjoy the attention. Ady too joined in the petting. You can see the picture here! Not a bad alternative to being bitten by poisonous snakes. BTW our group found one anaconda and one giant cobra – I’m glad I wasn´t there!!

All in all it was a very relaxing few days, with much time spent lazing in hammocks and the rest lazing in the boat. The heavy rain that had plagued Rurrenabaque and the jungle region for the last week had not reached the pampas and we enjoyed glorious weather for the whole time, a far cry from our Glastonbury-like experience in the jungle.

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