23) Rurrenabaque/Madidi, Bolivia

June 26, 2009 - Rurrenabaque, Bolivia

We heard that the best way to travel to the tropical national park Madidi in the Bolivian Amazon is by a small plane from La Paz. This was confirmed by many stories that we heard later on of nightmare, uncomfortable 20-hours bus journeys and even a first hand account of delays due to a bus falling over the cliff edge. We didn't regret paying a bit more for our 30 minutes flight in the little 20-seater plane. After a short time we landed on the grass runway in Rurrenabaque, a little town at the edge of the Madidi National Park. From there you can either go to the Pampas, where most tourists go as it's easier to spot wildlife or to the jungle. We chose the less touristy 3-day jungle tour with Madidi Travel, who have their own protected area in the middle of the jungle and provide guides from local tribes who have all the knowledge of the forest.

The tour started with a 3-hour boat ride up the river Beni, followed by a 30 minutes walk to the base where our accommodation was. We thought they gave us the honeymoon suite when we first saw our huge cabin with private bathroom and only separated from the forest by a mesh to keep away the millions of mosquitos and other crawling creatures. It actually felt like we were sleeping right in the jungle without walls and this meant that we had the wildlife like monkeys, geckos and birds all around us and were woken up by the sound of the forest, we actually watched monkeys on the first day through the mesh right outside our room. We met our guide Jose Luis at the Casa Grande where we had our meals or could relax in a hammock overlooking the lake. We set off for a first walk through the forest in our little group of four, our guide and our translator. Jose Luis taught us a lot about the trees and plants and their medical use. He also pointed out some giant poisonous ants, birds and called the monkeys which we could hear in the distance. In the evening we were looking out for cayman. From our little canoe we lit up the dark with our torches to find a many sets of shiny eyes along the shore. And we found lots. Frozen still by our lights they let us come close and to have a proper look at them. Also the fireflies drew a fascinating picture into the dark sky.

The second day we were woken up by the 'roaring' sounds of the howler monkeys which can only be compared to how we imagined the sound of dinosaurs. That day we went for a long walk deeper into the heart of the forest, cutting through the woods following the sound of the monkeys. After a while of quietly sneaking through the forest, our guide admitted that he got lost and that he can't find the way back to the path. He and our translator went off into two different directions while the four of us were waiting in the middle of the forest starting to make survival plans. After an hour one of them came back with the good news that he's found the path. A bit later the other one arrived suggesting the path is the opposite direction. As the two couldn't agree, we finally followed the guide and two-three hours later we arrived starving and knackered back at the camp. The afternoon was rather relaxing as we spent it on the lake fishing for piranhas. Ian lost his piece of meat twice and my hook got caught in the mud a few times (with me thinking I've got a massive fish on the line). But our guide was more successful and caught two piranhas which we had for lunch the following day. In the evening we did another quick walk through the pitch black forest, but didn't see much but a night monkey and hundreds of spider eyes glowing when lit up by our torches.

As we all loved the boat trips we paddled along the shore again the next morning to observe the wildlife like monkeys and several bird species including the 'Serene' after which that area was named. The rest of the day we spent doing handicrafts out of some nut shells before the boat arrived to take us back to Rurrenabaque.



Our little Cesner Plane to the jungle
Hope the Bolvian planes are safer than the buses!
A long boat speeds us to our jungle retreat
Lost! In the middle of the rain forest
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