Anthony on the Gringo Trail 2005 travel blog

Pampas ostrich

Some kind of river bird...forgotten what


Piss off, turista!

Heron perhaps

Hungry caiman moving in

River bird

Very common jungle bird, has hooks on wings

More turtles

Fleeing the paparazzi

Go on, have a closer look...

Curious squirrel monkey

Squirrel monkey

My guide Carlos with yet another piranha I didnt catch

Family of capybara

Alligator in pampas

Interesting termite nest

Turns out (after I got up early) that it is two hours to the off, so I go and take some more pictures in the nice morning light, presented in yesterday's entry to save strain on non broadband people. At least my nosebleed has stopped now we are back low again. By about 7.30 it is already bloody hot and sweaty. So into the 4x4 with this older East German couple. He only speaks German. She speaks about five languages fluently, and in seconds has told me about her recent mental breakdown and how she was a Christian. I confess that at this point I was considering escape options, but actually she didnt talk all the time, and they were very upbeat and fun and good company.

So three hours on very dusty dirt roads, so much so that we have to shut the windows when anyone else comes the other way, and then hope we dont drive off the road as visibility disappears altogether for several seconds in a cloud of brown dust and the heat in the car shoots up. The tracks get smaller and bumpier as we keep turning off to more and more obscure ways, until eventually it was clear why we needed a 4x4, as we crawled across muddy rivers, etc. On the way we saw mostly birds, lots of vultures, herons, egrets, and some pink heron like creature, as well as an ostrich, unexpectedly. Also a dead capybara in the road, and fields of termite mounds, literally, like some moles have got over-ambitious on someones lawn. As we drove, the change from jungle to pampas was basically a reduction in trees and an increase in water, until the only trees were alongside rivers. I later found out that in the main rainy season, nearly all of this is pretty much under water, which didnt sound like all that much fun for walking.

First impressions of Caracoles Lodge is that is definitely the cheap and cheerful end of the market, and nowhere near as slick as where we were in Tambopata (this area is called Beni). It also turns out no-one on the premises speaks English. That must be a problem sometime, though I often manage to have a laugh with Carlos, our guide, who generally thinks everything is funny. All dorm rooms in one big place, partitions between the dorms to about two metres. It does have electric light though (solar-powered). Funniest though are the toilet and showers, in a seperate place, that have no curtains, which is just about OK in daylight, but at night with the light on feels like being in an Amsterdam prostitute's window (I imagine). Additionally, rather than cockroaches, they are plagued with these climbing frogs, that look like someone stuck them on the wall. The couples take to going together, so one can hold up a towel. Being on my own, I decide to stick to daylight. As it is stunningly hot, we have a siesta until 3.

After our siesta in the hammocks under the palm trees, the 3 of us and Carlos beetle one way up the river in a motorised canoe (with no shelter) looking for wildlife. The Rio Yacuma is only about 10 metres wide, which means we can see both treelined banks well, and there are inordinate amounts of turtles stacked up leaning on each other sunbathing on branches sticking out of the water, and variations on herons every fify metres or so, as well as loads of other birds. Best was a family of pink river dolphins who followed us for a while. Difficult to see fully in the brown water, but cool nevertheless, and a family of large monkies in a tree.

23rd Oct: What is often most interesting are what is diferent or extreme, of hot or cold, height, vegetation, etc. Or maybe thats just me. Anyway, one thing I am reminded of all too often is that extremes are often physically uncomfortable, and much travelling seems to involve a physical price, though I would say worth it. To wit, my nosebleed may have stopped and I can breathe fully, but I have lots of bites and sunburn.

So off we go up the river the other way, damn early to catch everything in bed. We see literally hundreds of alligatirs and black caiman, some so close I could touch them, in the water, on the banks, etc, big, small, confident, shy, calm, grumpy. A few growl at us. Later, after we have stopped irritating them by going right close for photos and blocking their access to the river, Carlos tells me how on the Rio Beni two adults were killed and eaten by a large black caiman two years ago. We also see families of capybara. Twice we are followed by curious troops of small and cute squirrel monkies or capuchin, jumping from tree to tree along the riverbank. Loads more birds, including beautiful kingfishers, storks, flocks of green parrots and a huge toucan. And more pink river dolphins.

So another siesta, and bye to the Germans. There is now an English couple, who I met briefly a few days ago in La Paz, and three generations of Danish hippies who have been working over here for years. Unfortunately their litle girl is not like South American children. The contrast is quite shocking to me as I am so used to the independence and security of South American kids. This girl has her parents terrified she may be unhappy for more than a second, which she often is. And that took care of that nights sleep.

So after a rest in the hammocks to avoid the stunning midday heat, Carlos and I went off piranha fishing, standing up in our wobbly shallow canoe in a river full of leaping piranhas. I think I was doing exactly what he was doing, but I was hopeless, and only caught one piranha, while he caught several and lots of catfish too. Good job I at least caught one. We were using meat as a bait, and after a while I wondered how I was going to wash it off my hands when the river was full of keyed up piranhas, and they arent half fast. So I developed this technique of whipping one hand through the water just to get it wet, and managing with this. And then back to have our piranha and catfish for tea. I can definitely recommend both, just like most white fish, though piranha is a bit bony. And they have big mouths full of very sharp teeth. An all round better culinary experience than the guinea pig one.

The Danes and the Brits - all very nice people - have adopted me into their group, and after an interesting political debate about development and tourism in Spanish off we all go looking for caiman at night. The highlight though, and I kicked myself for not having my camera, was when Carlos just leaned in and yanked this young alligator out of the water (while Grandad Danish hippy told us about another group who had done this who had been attacked by the mother alligator). This one being an adolescent though, we hoped Mum wasnt around. It was about a metre long, and being the only one willing to touch it, I did, holding it securely round the neck and the root of the tail, and only then did Carlos say to be careful as it was a little dangerous to hold them. I was aware of this and how fast they moved as I threw it back in the river without losing a hand, where it just stayed happily by the boat, like it wanted to play that game again. The crocodilians round here are much easier around people than the ones in Tambopata. All in all a pretty peak day for wildlife experiences.

24th Oct: Little sleep for any of us, thanks to an unhappy little Danish girl. And I woke up absolutely covered in bites. The evidence points to bed bugs again unfortunately. Most of my back and the backs of my ankles are the worst. So off we went looking for anacondas, to no avail. We saw lots of alligators, birds, shed anaconda skin, etc, even an otter, but no ancaonda. So after four hours walking around the pampas in the blazing heat we gave up. I guess thats why some people prefer zoos. On the down side though, four hours walking had turned my bites into blisters and then burst them. Such is the price of adventure. So after lunch, back to Rurre, and a proper shower and change of clothes, etc. And dinner again, some nice burritos, with my Chinese Canadian mate, also back from his pampas trip.

25th Oct...And during the night there was a full scale thunderstorm, with torrential rain, sounded like being in a power shower. Frankly I was glad to be off the pampas, but I was concerned about my flight. It could be cancelled, it often was, or we could fly through a thunderstorm. I know which I preferred. Guess which we did? So, up early, and after much fannying around it is decided we are on, and off we go. The incoming plane from La Paz disgorges slightly shocked passengers talking about lightning, etc. Mmmm. So off we go, in our little 12 seater. Actually most of it was OK, great even, as we had excellent views of the jungle, but then near La Paz we hit the storm. Lashing rain, lightning and our little plane doing its rodeo thing. Not very nice, and all without any breakfast or coffee. Felt a bit faint, as only the pilot had oxygen, obviously wasted on passengers. Still, didnt feel too bad in La Paz, and at least its cooler here, under 70. On landing, a fellow passenger tells us that a bus went off the Death Road a few days ago, so we should be grateful. However, I have looked for this on the net, and all I could find was from three years ago, not that anything has actually changed since then, other than a considerable increase in traffic on that road. All in all, reading this reinforced my view that I was right to fly.

And my left ankle looks really gross and hurts a fair bit. So straight to the main bus station in La Paz, where I have booked a sleeper bus to Sucre in the South, plan being to spend a few hours there and then move on to Potosi the same day, to visit the mines there, widely meant to be an amazing and humbling experience. So I have breakfast, do the internet thing, have lunch and mooch around La Paz for a few hours before dinner and then to the bus station.

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