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Steve & Loz’s Travel Diary

Friday, 27 Jul 2007

Location: Rurrenabaque & Bolvian pampas, Bolivia

MapThis is how the Bolivian pampas should market itself:

"If you hate animals and love watching them tortured, come to the Bolivian pampas - have we got the holiday for you!"

OK, so perhaps that is a little extreme, but honestly (and scarily) not that far from the truth.

First things first, the flight from La Paz to Rurrenebaque was fan-bloody-tastic. Rurre is located in the Amazon Basin in the east of the country, so to get there we had to fly over the Andes in all their glory. Well fly 'through' the Andes was a more accurate description - our tiny plane zoomed through the second highest mountain range on earth, amidst the hulking 6,000 metre plus peaks. The pilot spotted his landing perfectly on a seemingly invisible grass landing strip in the middle of the 'broccoli' forest. Stepping out of the plane - ahhhh... the heat. Now this is more like it!

The big attraction out here is wildlife watching in the nearby pampas (plains), home to a variety of species including alligators, caimans, monkeys, river dolphins, river turtles, anacondas, birds, etc. The standard tours out into the pampas cost the startling low amount of US15 per day and, let me tell you, you well and truly get what you pay for.

Here are a few of the low-lights we encountered on our 3 days in the pampas:
- Feeding wild monkeys and encouraging them to climb in the boat and over the passengers.
- Tracking down an anaconda and dragging it back when it was clearly distressed and trying to escape, so it could be passed around as a 'scarf' for gringo photos.
- A guide catching a 10 day-old croc and hauling it into the boat for the group to see.
- Catching and eating piranhas that would have barely been 10cm in length. Upon returning to Rurre, we actually found out that piranhas are protected...

It was sooooo dodgy. Talk about the anti-Galapagos! 'Conservation' and 'sustainable tourism' are dirty words around these parts. Some of the more astute tour operators were smart enough to tack an 'eco' in front of their name, but there was no guarantee that their practices were any better. It is such a shame too because the wildlife on display here is so abundant and incredible. At this rate, it is safe to say that it won't be around for all that much longer...

The tour wasn't all bad. It was great spotting and swimming with the Amazon river dolphins. They aren't as friendly as their sea-faring cousins, but apparently their sonar does keep the crocs and piranhas at bay. It was also exciting to see so many alligators lazing around on the banks. We were happily snapping away for the first 5 minutes, but the novelty quickly wore off for the remaining 2:55 of the boat journey.

We also met up with a great group of people on the tour which actually served us quite well in the days to come. Because of the aforementioned grass landing strip, the Rurre airport has the unfortunate habit of closing at the slightest hint of rain. Of course as our luck would have it, it did rain. Hard. In fact the second night of rain was the biggest, loudest and scariest electrical storm I had ever seen. It was amazing.

Aside from several beverages and games of un-even pool with our new friends at the Mosskito Bar, there ain't a hell of a lot going on in Rurre. Thankfully after 3 days of being stuck, the airport finally did reopen. Problem was, in our infinite wisdom, we didn't actually have an 'official' ticket and there was now a backlog of 3 days worth of flights to get through. After some highly effective maneuvering and pestering of the appropriate officials in the airline office, we somehow scored the last 2 seats on the second flight back to La Paz. Sometimes travelling in the third world doesn't feel much different to the Amazing Race: "Teams must now travel to La Paz where they should avoid being mugged, scammed or pissed-on by the local vagrants, and eat a highly questionable serving of salchipapas from a seriously dodgy street vendor to receive their next clue. And a mild case of salmonella poisoning." Loving it!