In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle

After we finished our tour of the salt-flats, we got a night bus the same day to La Paz. After two days in La Paz doing nothing (Mr Beet was still recovering), we flew on to the town of Rurrenabaque. We flew with the Bolivian military airline in a plane that looked as though it had seen better days. It was a great flight though, as we were flying through the Andes mountains and could see the snowy tops of the mountains above us.

Rurre is a base for people exploring the Amazon rainforest and we were staying in a place called Madidi Jungle Lodge, which is run by an indigenous tribe. It was a three-hour boat trip up the river to get to the lodge. Fantastic steamy jungle scenery on the way and lots of birds to spot including bright red macaws.

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We were the only guests at the lodge and were very well looked-after with three-course meals three times a day. Our guide Henry would take us on a couple of walks through the jungle each day, to see what we could see. The rest of the time we spent napping (it was hot and we had full tummies).

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Before we’d even left the lodge we’d seen lots of brightly-coloured butterflies and hummingbirds. Once into the forest, Henry told us about some of the trees, their medicinal uses and the folklore of the forest. They have a tree that has bark that smells like garlic, and they say that it wards off evil spirits. Just like garlic and vampires – there must be something in it!

On our first walk we managed to spot two species of monkey, including noisy capuchin monkeys, and peccaries. The peccaries are wild pigs that live in herds of a hundred or more. They smell terrible, so you can smell them first, then you can hear them chomping and snorting, both long before you can see anything. Henry gets us to stop when we can hear pigs on both sides. After a couple of minutes of standing quietly the pigs cross over the path in front of us so that we get a good view. Only the last couple seem to spot us. One stares at us for a long time, as if caught in a “fight or flight” dilemma. Once he starts to look like he might seriously be considering the first option, Henry sounds the metal of his machete on a tree and the pig turns tail and runs off to join his herd.

On our second day we visit a salt-lick which is visited by birds, monkeys, pigs etc. Here we see a vulture and we get a great views of the pigs; including two stripey little babies that are no more than a couple of weeks old.

That evening we go on a night hike to try to see some nocturnal animals. We see the gleaming red eye and hear the big splash of a cayman, which is about as close as I want to come. While we are all distracted by trying to brush fire-ants off our trousers, Henry suddenly leaps about three feet in the air. He’s just trodden on a red, black and white-banded coral snake, which was understandably annoyed by this and rears up before slinking off into the undergrowth. They are poisonous, but Henry is wearing quite sturdy rubber boots (which I am teaching him to call “wellies” but that is hard to pronouce) so is safe.

Day three we see toucans and red howler monkeys. The monkeys should really be asleep at this time of day, but we are lucky enough to get in the middle of a noisy face-off between the dominant male and a challenger.

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In the afternoon we go fishing. Armed with a length of line and a hook with raw meat on the end, we are trying to catch piranhas. As we are unsuccessfully casting our lines in the river, we turn around to see a mother and baby tapir swimming across the river. This is an incredibly lucky spot – you are more likely to see them at night and yesterday I was excited about seeing a tapir footprint, let alone the real thing. Even Henry has never seen a baby before.

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After seeing the tapirs, our luck changes or at least mine does. I hook a catfish and a piranha. Both go back in the river as they are only tiddlers though.

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On our way back Henry points out the tapir footprints and also that there are lots of jaguar footprints in this area. Jaguars like to eat baby tapirs, I hope the one we saw manages to avoid becoming a late-night snack.

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That night we have a farewell dinner of catfish (bigger ones than the one I caught) cooked in banana leaf. We think that on our last day we will just be heading back to Rurre after breakfast, but Henry has other plans for us. We have our longest hike yet and then we float back down the river in rubber inner-tubes. Then we get the boat back to Rurre, spotting a capybara with three babies on the riverbank. They are quite cute, but only if you call them “capybara” and not “giant rats”.

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I would highly recommend Madidi Jungle Lodge. The location, accommodation, guides and food were all fantastic. The company organised everything for us including flights to and from Rurre and a hotel in Rurre. We even had someone meet us in La Paz to go through all the arrangements with us.

More pictures of the Amazon on Mr Beet’s flickr page.

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