The Amazon

My lovely CS host Najwa

My lovely CS host Najwa

La Paz aka ‘the city that touches the sky’ is a city home to 835,000 souls & counting with a unique, spectacular setting!  Located high above sea level, La Paz sits in a bowl surrounded by the high altiplano and as it grows, the city climbs the hills resulting in varying elevations from 3000 to 4100m.  It’s Bolivia’s largest city & the legislative capital but the legal capital of Bolivia is Sucre.  Bolivia is the most Indian country in South America and great was to experience the language, primarily Quechua, the culture and the customs first hand thanks to my lovely host Najwa, a Chilean/Bolivian architect who hosted me in her amazing villa in the outskirts of La Paz.  Najwa took me to some nice places in La Paz such as Plaza Murillo, originally the Plaza de Armas which was renamed after General Murillo, one of the heroes of the Bolivian independence movement.  Iglesia de San Fransisco reconstructed in 1784 from the original 1548 church was a combination of Christian and indigenous figures and animals carved on the stone facade.

Liz and her playful son Amir

Liz and her playful son Amir

We also strolled narrow, cobbled-stoned Jaen Street, a walk back in time to the colonial days.  All of La Paz is a scene of stunning contrasts!  A central cluster of church spires and office blocks dwarfed by the magnificent icebound peak of Mount Illimani rising imperiously to the southeast.  On either side, the steep valley slopes are covered by the ramshackle homes of the city’s poorer inhabitants, clinging precariously to even the harshest gradients.

Liz, another Cs’er who unfortunately was injured on her leg, invited me to her home for a lovely Bolivian dinner with her son Amir and a friend of her’s.  Her son was keen to play some soccer so we played for a while before dinner was served.  During dinner Liz gave me some good tips and must do’s around te city such as ‘Mirador Killi Killi’ where I enjoyed a fantastic 360′ view on the city.

Rurrenabaque

Rurrenabaque

As you may know, I’m not a city person so I didn’t stay that long in La Paz and took a flight to the Bolivian amazon.  A bumpy 30-minute flight with Amaszonas (581Bs) over one of the most beautiful scenery ever with snowy mountains followed by lush green tropical forests, brought me to a dusty airstrip and this tiny wooden cabana who had to represent the international airport of Rurrenabaque.  Rurrenabaque, an amazon town on the banks of the Beni river, tributary of the Amazon river, is the getaway to the jungle, the pampas & Madidi National Park, one of the natural reserves with the most biodiversity in fauna & flora in the world.  The jungle, pampa, sub-Andean mountains & the refreshing river eco-system give this area a pleasant weather all year around.  I left La Paz and the freezing cold to find myself in tropical temperatures and a completely different world.  I had now to chose between jungle or pampas.

Jaap & Floor on the Yacuma river

Jaap & Floor on the Yacuma river

Right after landing, I met Jaap & Floor, a lovely dutch couple who had already booked a pampas tour with Rurrenabaque’s most famous & respected company ‘Mashequipe’.  We were transferred into town where I shopped for the different options.  Prices for the 3-day pampas tour varied between 400 & 1370 Bs. The cheapest ones obviously offered less quality in accomodation, guides (only in Spanish), …  Many people adviced me the outstanding services of Mashequipe so I followed my Dutch friends and booked a 3-day tour with Mashequipa for 1175Bs.

Our guide Ismael aka 'Negro'

Our guide Ismael aka ‘Negro’

DAY 1  Ismael aka ‘Negro’ was our guide and he introduced us to our 4th group member, Eleanor.  Ellie was from UK and after a month in Buenos Aires to learn Spanish, she was now travelling in South America as well.  We all left with a car for a 3h race against time on a dusty, bumpy road to the small town of Santa Rosa, getaway to the pampas.  In Santa Rosa, we were tranferred on a long but narrow sort of canoe that brought us to the Mashequipe lodge where we stayed in rustic wooden cabana’s with mosquito nets at windows.  I had a hut with a wonderful view on the Yacuma river.

Capybara's

Capybara’s

After lunch we cruised down the plentiful Yacuma river into the pampas, characterized by low, marshy & vast grasslands and habitat to a variety of wildlife such as alligators, caymans, turtles, pink river dolphins, capybara’s, monkeys and a huge selection of waterbirds.  We also went for a swim with pink river dolphins where our guide Negro assured us it was ‘safe’.  In his words… ‘the caymans 200m away, no problem’  Just to be sure, I just dipped my body in the browny shady water and stayed closed to the shore…

Dipping my body in the wild Yacuma river with Floor & Negro

Dipping my body in the wild Yacuma river with Floor & Negro

At night, Negro brought us again down the river to spot the alligators.  Dozens of shiny eyes swam in the river and nobody of us was at ease when our boatman decided to cruise right next to the alligators.  They acclaimed it was safe and that the alligators couldn’t jump on the boat but being only 1m away from the predators, didn’t give me a very secure feeling.  Especially when one of the alligators suddenly got scared and jumped his way away from the boat.  Adrenaline assured!  A few hundred meters further,  Negro spotted a turtles nest and stopped to cover it as vulture’s & falcons love the ‘turtles eggs’ delicacy.

Negro showing us the teeth of an innocent piranha

Negro showing us the teeth of an innocent piranha

DAY 2  It was early morning and the sun didn’t rise yet.  All kinds of animal sounds surrounded me… alligators crawling into the water, Tucan’s & sloths whistling in the trees & I was trying to figure out what other animals surrounded me. We all got ready and cruised silently down the Yacuma river to enjoy the sunrise and to hear the awakening of the pampas wildlife.  After breakfast, Negro hired some locals with motorbikes from a nearby village to give us a amazing adventurous ride to Laguna Bravo where we cruised on a canoe to the quiet shores of the lagoon to fish for piranha’s.  Sam & Liam, a couple from UK joined our group that day due to the small amount of people in the lodge.  Ellie was the first to catch the infamous piranha’s and Negro showed us the little devil with great pride.  Later on Floor & myself catched some more as did Negro and our boatman.  If the fish were too little, we threw them right back, otherwise we kept them for dinner later that day.

Explorin' swamps for the black anaconda

Explorin’ swamps for the black anaconda

DAY 3  Swamps, grasslands & the tropical savannah, habitat to the black Anaconda was the area we walked in with huge boots on our last morning.  Hard work to put one feet in front to one other but we Elli, Jaap, Floor & myself managed to explore the whole area.  Unfortunately we didn’t spot any anaconda.  No luck for Floor! Jaap, Elli & myself had more luck when my motorbike driver spotted a 4m Anaconda on day 2 when we drove to the lagoon.

And so came an end to my amazing Amazon experience in Bolivia.  It was now time to endure the rough 3h rally drive back to Rurrenabaque before flying back to the heights of La Paz.

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Comments
3 Responses to “The Amazon”
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