Arrival in the Pampas and a tour I shouldn`t have booked
26.09.2010 - 30.09.2010 28 °C
First, the good news: the bus only took 18 hours (during the wet season it can take up to 30), I managed to get some sleep, the man sitting next to me was a friendly and kept to himself, the babies on board only cried for 10 minutes combined, and the ride cost less than 20 USD. The bad news: the TV hanging from the cieling didn`t actually turn on, the rumored bathrooms didn`t exist, the bus only stopped twice, and the road was unpaved (in good Bolivian spirit). All things considered, I was pretty pleased with the ride when I jumped out into the sleepy town of Rurrenabaque a few minutes after 3 AM. I walked to the nearest hostel mentioned in my guidebook--about 2 blocks away--got a $4 room, took a shower, and napped until the rest of the town woke up. At 9 AM I climbed into a jeep to head out for a 3 day tour of the Bolivian Pampas, the wetlands. Quick turnover, eh?
My hasty decision and lack of research bit me in the ass immediately. An hour down the once-again-unpaved-road, the back left tire of the jeep blew out. My newfound Israeli, Sweedish, and Bolivian friends and I were stranded 2 hours from our destination in what looked like a dustbowl, with the occasional cloud of smoke from the forest fires this time of year. The driver said we´d be picked up by another jeep in the next 20 minutes. 2 hours later, our rescue vehicle showed up. And another 2 hours later, we boarded the boat down a river that we would soon realize was dry. Well, almost dry.
The first thing that caught our attention, 8 tourists virgens to the Pampas, were the scores of crocodiles lining the banks of the river, mouths wide open. ´They´re waiting for their food,´Jimmy--our guide--told us. A lazy way to eat, I thought to myself, but suspended judgement as I knew nothing about reptiles and even less about crocodile feeding habits. Only after about 10 minutes of wildlife watching (crazy colorful birds in the trees, water turtles, water snakes, giant hamsters whose actual name I don`t know), our boat hit the first sand bank. `Time to push!`said Jimmy. You`ve got to be kidding, I thought to myself. He was not in fact joking in the slightest. We would all spend the next 3 hours, one of which in absolute darkness, hauling our boat out of exceedingly shallow waters in order to make it to our cabins. This would have been no problem had we not just been watching slews of reptiles crawling these same waters. Nevertheless, we had no choice. We were too far out to turn around... not that we wanted to go back anyway. One doesnt usually fork out the cash for a tour with the intention of turning back after a few hours. So we pushed, and pushed, and pushed. Around 7PM touched onto shore, legs free of crocodile bites.
The next day started out fairly smoothly, with a hearty breakfast (eggs, fried bread, fruit salad, coffee, etc.) before our trek through the Pampas. Lightly lathered with sunscreen and eyes protected by fake Ray Ban sunglasses, we followed our guide away from the cabins each with a liter of water in hand. Over the next couple hours, we would see several more beautiful birds, cows, crocodiles, snakes, and the oh-so-anticipated anoconda. The most stunning of all, however, was the jaguar we spotted for just a split secont through the brush. Apparently Jimmy had only seen 2 prior to this one in the last three years he`s been leading these tours. The excitement from the jaguar quickly wore off when we all realized we were out of water and and two hours from the cabins. Not to mention it was around noon, the time of the day in the Pampas intended soley for hammock lounging. Just as we realized that we might be in a bit of trouble, our guide disappeared. `Well, I guess we better stay here until he gets back,`my Israeli companion said, `he`s probably just out looking for anacondas`. We all agreed that we had no choice but to stay put, so we tried to make ourselves comfortable in a shaded clearing, waiting for Jimmy to reappear. Finally after 30 minutes of debate-- Did he get bitten by something? Is he lost? Is he hurt? Should we try to find our way back to the cabins alone? We`re out of water, how much longer can we last in this heat?--Jimmy appeared in the brush like it was no big deal. With a mixture of disdain, frustration, and relief, we followed him back through the wetlands for the next two hours until the campsite came into view. Dehydrated and exhausted, we went directly to the kitchen in search of water only to find out that we had just 2 liters left for the next two days. Between the six of us.
Luckily there was a bar down the river so a small delegation of us paddled over to buy some bottled water and beer. Crisis averted.
There were a few more glitches in the Pampas tour (namely our boat motor broke so we had to wait until 11 AM this morning to leave the campsite, at which point we had to skip dolphin spotting to get back to from the tour on time), but nothing as noteworthy as the above. I learned a valuable lesson from this tour: wildlife is cool, but it`s no fun to live on someone else`s watch, especially when they don`t organize things properly. There`s a reason this is the first tour I`ve done here in South America. If I`m not going to take the time to research these things well, I shouldnt go at all. Although I have to say, that jaguar was pretty sweet...