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Today we will talk about the adventures of Paula S. Valluerca, our Howlanders Explorer who is discovering the the Madidi National Park and Pampas del Yacuma, in the Bolivian Amazonia. She will tell us in first person all the details of the tour in her travel diary.
Day 1: Rurrenabaque city
The flight from La Paz to Rurrenabaque, from where my adventure began, was impressive. You could see an enormous diversity of landscapes, in only 45 minutes.
When I got off the plane from Amazonas, Selim was already waiting for me, professionally dressed with his official guide vest, and Boris, the driver, also with his corresponding vest. I was amazed by the performance. I did not expect such a welcome! Especially with all those “miss”, “for whatever you need” We are at your disposal” … I felt Pretty woman (in the second part of the film, of course).
I stayed at the Ambaibo hotel, which they recommended to me. The rooms were a “chicken oven”, (the air conditioning room was very expensive) but to sleep, I did not bother. Before my moment of indulgence splashing around in the ‘pisci’, they sent me a guide to the hotel with his motorcycle and he took me all over town.
The first place he drove me to a viewpoint from which the view gathered everything we were going to tour later: the old town, the Beni river, and the suburbs. For two and a half hours, Eber, who was also going to be my guide in the jungle, told me about both his life and his village.
Afterward, I went to “lunch” the best menu of the day that I have tried so far in Bolivia. Soup, chicken stew, and lemon keke… for 21 Bolivians! (2,6 euros). The place was called Luz de Mar. Undoubtedly, you should go there!
I love to eat, and whenever I travel so does my palate… and my stomach. (This is not always as glamorous as it sounds). In the case of Bolivia, its cuisine was not something that would have stood out, until I arrived in Rurre. With this good experience of lunch, I was encouraged and asked Selim to recommend a place for dinner as well.
At 8 o’clock I was already hungry and I went to the Nomadic, near the port. The restaurant is owned by Pol, an Australian-Bolivian, and his sister-in-law. Orgasmic experience. The best dish I have ever tasted in Bolivia , a fish curry accompanied by steamed vegetables, accompanied by a Paceña (beer). Afterwards, I started a conversation with him, very friendly (and generous with the beer), and we had a very interesting after-dinner.
I was told that lately tourists only visit the jungle and the pampas, but they don’t even spend the night in the little town, -as it used to be-, according to the Australian. They were suffering from a brutal tourism drop, which was leading many restaurants and hotels to close down.
So if you have the opportunity, I would encourage you to stop by and enjoy what this town has to offer.
Day 2: Madidi Natural Reserve
On the morning of the first day of the excursion to the jungle, we left the boat at 6 a.m.! I use to have a hard time getting up early, but this time I did it gladly. Selim picked me up at 5.45 a.m. and from there we went to pick up the family with whom I would share the tour. They came from California and the mother, Wini, was Bolivian. My name is Joe,’ said the father, ‘and these are Sofía and Adrián. Two kids came over talking about all the turtles we were going to see in the jungle. -We’d better see them,” I thought, “otherwise we’ve made a mess of it.
On the way to the Madidi Natural Reserve, while we were sailing on the Beni River, we saw an alligator. It seemed to me that it was smiling maliciously. Then we passed by an indigenous community where we were with people who live without Youtube, without Facebook, and without artificial light. Our mobile coverage had already died: The digital disconnection and connection to “La Pachamama” was beginning.
In the Eco Lodge, we had cheese pies, papaya, watermelon, and pancakes for breakfast.
On the first walk, Eber showed us a palm tree that could walk (5cm a year, don’t freak out!), giant butterflies, huge termite mounds stuck to the trees, “bullet” ants (they say their sting hurts as much as a gunshot), colorful spiders, trees that had red roots and bled gum, and others that produced gum (at one time, one of the most important industries in this area).
It was fascinating to see how Eber moved through the jungle. He walked slowly, with his body alert. He was silent. He stopped. He looked in all directions with quick and short head movements as if he was a bird. He sniffed the air intensely.
I was dazzled, why should we be fooled?
When we had been walking for an hour, he asked us not to talk. We were there, quiet and silent, which took forever for me. I didn’t know what was going on, but I didn’t dare ask.
Suddenly, roars. Long, eternal roars. Howls that overlapped each other: There was more than one. They formed a melody of threatening cries and were very close. Very loud. What were they? Lions? In the jungle? Panthers? Lions and panthers? What was clear is that they were beasts, and they were big. The sounds stretched into the air, filling every corner of the jungle.
“Howling monkeys”, said Eber.
We saw them climb, fight, jump from one side to the other, and we heard them roar and howl for half an hour. I wish you had been there. I felt like a character from “Jurassic Park” but without the bad feeling of knowing that I would end up dead. (Phew!)
Day 3: Rurrenabaque, the Beni river and the parrots in freedom
The second night it rained in the jungle. It didn’t stop raining until the afternoon of the next day. I spent the day reading and listening to the storm. It was relaxing.
The rain doesn’t sound the same in the city. The drops burst on the asphalt and the asphalt turns off its music. In the jungle, they burst against the huge leaves and mud, and the sound envelops you.
When the rain stopped, we went to an area of Madidi Park where, according to Eber, the jungle was denser. We would spend the night there.
Once at the camp, we prepared our beds outdoors on a platform and under a wooden roof. Then we prepared to walk up the mountain. We were going to a lookout point where we could see the parrots flying over the trees, heading for their nest to spend the night.
We arrived at the place around six o’clock. We were at the top of a mountain that raised us above the Beni River and the bright green Amazon rainforest. The sky was beginning to be tinged with the colors of the sunset.
The birds began to arrive. They flew in pairs and kept their wings open taking advantage of the wind. The red and blue of their feathers contrasted with the green of the trees below them.
I thought about how weak and helpless they looked in the zoo’s talking parrot shows and how tremendously powerful they were at that moment.
Much more powerful than me.
And a thousand times freer.
Day 4: Last day in the Rurrenabaque Jungle
On the last day, I woke up knowing that all the good was over. In three days I would return to Spain (not too bad, to see my boyfriend, friends, and family) but that state of timelessness in which I had immersed this trip, making me feel so alive and so happy, was going to start to fade inevitably, at least until the next trip!
I got out of bed, went for breakfast at the Eco Lodge, and started playing with the peccaries (Mr. Javier’s pets, the farm manager).
What are peccaries? (I didn’t know until I met these):
Imagine two playful and hyperactive Yorkshires who always go together and love to be caressed and listened to. Now put the body and head of a wild boar on them. That’s it!
We were walking around when we met Morena, the other mascot of the Eco Lodge. In Bolivia and Peru I was surprised by the fact that many families had exotic pets at home; parrots, giant tortoises, even crocodiles!
Morena is a long black bird with a white speck on its butt. The children in the family were very professional and always looked at the scientific names of the animals we met in a book left to them by Eber, the guide, but I never knew their official name. Sorry Morena!
We walked around for a while while she was stinging the hem of my pants (I suspect there was some insect hidden in the hem that would serve as her lunch).
In the afternoon, Eber took us for a walk in an area set up by the Madidi Park organization. There, Éber sadly told us about the Government’s plans for the Beni River. They were going to approve the plan of a hydroelectric company to build a dam on the Beni River.
As I understood, this plan would pose a serious threat to these villages because the natural course of the river would change, and with it the reproductive dynamics of the fish. As a consequence, several species of flora and fauna, which represent the resources that people have in their daily lives, could disappear from the area.
My Bolivian friend was sure that the dam would fill the pockets of some but force others to abandon their homes and villages. And I could only think how hard it would be to stop traveling and return to Madrid, to my comfortable little apartment in La Latina, with all the facilities and services just a few steps from home. The problems of the “first world”…