Yacuma River and pink dolphins

Wednesday 15th July
An extremely early start at 04.50 to catch a 6am bus set the scene for my day. Travel all day on buses and planes almost did me in! The first bus took us over the border from Peru into Bolivia. This was an easy transaction involving a stamp out of Peru and a stamp into Bolivia. The trip was uneventful to the point of boring, so much so I had a sleep. Arriving in Copacabana we swapped buses which increased the novelty factor exponentially. We were jammed into a tiny seat, on a bus with locals and touristicos, with little room to move. Koala number 7 found a home with three local children traveling with their mother all crammed onto two seats, and the floor. The trip involved a river crossing, where the touristicos were off loaded to buy a ticket to cross the river in a boat, while the bus was punted across on the barge. I was the term loosely in that it was not a barge in the way we would know a barge. I have to say, I’m grateful it floated across without sinking to the bottom with all my belongings!

The remainder of the journey to la Paz was slow, with the final kilometres on terrible roads, taking forever. The scenery was far from pretty until la Paz. The dry season is certainly dry! Dry and dusty. This makes the outlook bleaker than it quite possibly is. Having finally made la Paz, a journey of just over 300kms, at 3pm (having left Puno at 06.00) we grabbed a cab, got ripped off another cab fare, but arrived safely at the airport in time for our flight to Rurrenabaque (pronounced Rar-ren-u-bark-ay). The trip took us over snow capped peaks, through significant turbulence in thick cloud, to emerge over a brown river and jungle. Totally different scenery to the dry and dust places of the bus ride.

The runway and airport are unlike any major capital in Aus but similar to regional airports. The runway was clear but I suspect the guys in high vis jackets dispersed at intervals along the strip, had made sure of it just before landing. The plane came to a stop at the end of the runway and offloaded us onto the tarmac to waiting buses. Our luggage was then loaded onto the roof of the bus and we were transported to town, like it or not, for 10 bolivinios. In town we were offloaded at the Amaszonas shopfront, with our bags. Welcome to Rurrenabaque. Off to find our accommodation, exceedingly basic, at a hostel. Fortunately it was only the one night, with an early start yet again. Finally we were ready for dinner, having consumed very little food all day, and inhaled a pizza, pasta and cocktails! In a jungle town, at The Funky Monkey Bar. I think I’m going to like jungle living. Call me Jane!

Thursday 16th July
This is it. The beginning of the trip to see the pink Dolphins. The comment that started it all. It seemed to be over before it started when our guide, Antonio, informed us that the morning flight into Rurrenabaque had been cancelled and the rest of our party would not be joining us. We were told that the 2 of us could wait a day, or join another group with another company. Waiting a day was not possible and joining another group was not appealing, so I offered more money to go alone. Success. For the equivalent of Au$30 we were on our way. Money talks.

Finally we were on our way, in a troopy, along a dirt road headed to who knows where. With a driver who spoke no English and two fellow passengers, also non-English speaking. The journey was entertaining in so many ways. Fellow passengers joined our journey, collectivo style, at stops along the way. A lady and her son climbed in, in the middle of nowhere, after adding their belongings to the roof. Except for the chooks, in a sack, that rode on the floor. Along the way we also saw a capoeira, Bolivian drovers, a double decker bus with no windscreen and the inside of a troopy. Although the trip was long and my butt hurt and I was busting to pee, I loved almost every minute. Partly because I had no idea what was happening but I felt like the adventure was beginning.

Then we hit Santa Rosa. Thankfully. With our fellow passengers departed we headed for lunch with a family. Although we were seated separately from them. The hospitality was generous and we enjoyed the food. Back in the troopy, with our entry passes for the park, we finally arrived at the “port” and met Bismarck, our guide for the 3 days and 2 nights. He prepared our vessel for departure and pointed out our first sightings of pink Dolphins! Right there at the beginning of our trip! Before we were even in the boat! Unreal! This is going to be amazing. And sure enough, as we headed off first before all the others, despite leaving Rurrenabaque last, we got our first alligator sighting and more dolphins. And more dolphins. And I even got to play with them, with a short length of garden hose. Who knew these creatures existed?

The day continued to improve with me spotting two crocs, Bismarck pointing out a capybara, monkeys invading the boat in search of our fruit cargo, spotting jabiru and eagles, seeing a howler monkey, and finally making landfall here in paradise. The place reminds me very much of Crosslands, where so much of our childhood was spent, and where dad’s ashes are scattered. He would have loved a place like this. So tonight, after successfully crocodile hunting, I’m sleeping under a mozzie net for the first time ever. The night air is full of sounds, close by and further away. Toads and frogs, monkeys, birds. It’s also lit up by fireflies and the stars of the southern sky. I think I’ve just had the best day in a long time. There’s only one thing that would make it better, if Tyly was here to experience it all. He would love it!

Friday 17 July
Another day on the pampas. I could quite easily stay here forever. If the kids were here. There’s even a “pub” of sorts. Just a one minute boat ride from our accommodation. It’s a place where all the touristicos get taken each evening, to buy a drink and watch the sunset. Yesterday evening we went for a while and had a beer. Why did the chicken go to the bar?

Today has been as awesome as yesterday. Full of awe. We started with a very adequate breakfast then headed further up the river in search of the anaconda. Not this time, but far from disappointing. We saw birds of all varieties, black and red howler monkeys, a sloth (oh my goodness, a sloth in the wild!), capybara, squirrel monkeys, turtles, a toucan (oh my goodness, a toucan in the wild) and of course the dolphins. It was an amazing 3 hours of having creatures pointed out and pointing out the creatures. It’s hard to see so many of them until you are alerted and then you get more in tune with what it is you’re looking for. It really was eye opening.

We did go hunting the anaconda and other snakes but we didn’t find any. The water is 2-3m higher than it should be in the dry season. So the land is under water where we went. But Bismarck found a turtle egg nest, which a monkey-like creature had raided. When he dug it out a little, he found that the raider had missed at least two eggs. He was highly amused by this. We also saw a large owl, high in the tree and collected some lemons for our fish dinner tonight. So, that brings me to this afternoons adventure. We are off fishing. Not just any fish, piranha. And if we catch some, we can have them for our dinner! I hope I catch one. I’d love to hook a big one. I’m not sure I want to eat it but I’d love to catch one! Fingers crossed. Apparently the technique is hand line, on a short stick, with 8-10m of line, including a braid leader so they don’t bite through, using meat as the bait.

Koala number 8 has a new home with Geraldina, who’s mother, Jenny, is the cook here at the moment. The cooks rotate each week. There are three. The food is plain; meat, salads, rice, and soup, but very generous. Nelson and his partner Gisella live here. Nelson is “the boss of this place”. He is a shy and quiet young man, 33 years old, who seems to know exactly what he’s doing. He came with us this morning for a ride. There were 4 in the boat. We have been incredibly fortunate to have such an individualised trip.

Later …

So, I caught piranha. Two in fact! Just like any other fishing, patience was required. But it was lots of fun and, while the rewards were small, I can say I have fished for, and caught, piranha in South America! A great end to an amazing day. Now I’m about to have a lie in the hammock, while someone else cooks my dinner. I am very lucky.

Saturday 18th July
The end of our time in the pampas and the start of the return journey home. I realised that the pampas was the end point. Perth to Sydney to Auckland to Santiago to Lima to Cusco to Puno to la Paz to Rurrenabaque to the pampas. Now, we reverse that. But our last day in this little piece of paradise was as good as the previous two. We started with an early call for a lovely sunrise in the company of the paradise birds and the distant sounds of cows. Following the sunset we ate yet more food. The entire package with Indigena Tours was fantastic, including the food and accommodation.

The rest of the morning quickly evaporated with a boat ride to see and swim (optional) with the dolphins. I chose not to and I’m not sorry. The dark water and the inability to see the dolphins as they approach you did not appeal to me. But one passed the side of the boat where I was standing and I got to see the entire beautiful creature. More than enough for me. And a perfect was to end a great experience. Unfortunately a long car ride was required to get back here to Rurrenabaque but at least this time I was riding shotgun. We saw more capybara, this time emerging from the wetland to cross the road. They look like medium sized dogs, running along the road, looking for their access to the water on the other side. We also saw trucks and motorbikes galore. One bike had a pillion passenger carrying a rifle. Gives a whole new meaning to riding shotgun. Another had a family of 5, four of them astride the bike and the 5th in a stroller, held aloft to the right of the bike. Whatever works …

Back in Rurrenabaque we had some down time to check for news from home. The main news was that our flight tomorrow is delayed until 17.30. That’s not helpful given that we are being picked up to go to cholita wrestling at 15.30! Fortunately a phone call and a visit to the airlines office in town has us transferred to the 07.30 flight. Problem solved. Now for dinner and a cocktail!Click here to follow the rest of the adventure …

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