The Amazon. An essential part of any year long visit to South America but since we arrived here, we’ve been discussing the best place to experience it. Initially we thought we’d put the truck on a barge and float down the Amazon River in Brazil but we missed out Venezuela due to the political situation and therefore Northern Brazil was out. We’d been warned off the Colombian and Peruvian parts for the former for being too dangerous and the latter too touristy. In Ecuador we’d been focused on the mountains and the Galapagos. We’d been recommended the Bolivian part but the road down is in a terrible state and would take us 24 hours drive in, then we’d have to retrace our steps out. To top it off the road is also currently only open at night, so they can do roadworks during the day. Once in the town of Rurrenabaque we’d have to ditch the truck anyway and get on a boat for several hours. So in the end we decided to park up in La Paz and take a 40 minute flight to bypass the terrible road. From the highest international airport in the world (4000m) a 16 seater plane took us over snow capped peaks and then over a lazy meandering brown river in the dense rainforest. The tiny plane was more like a minibus, as soon as the passengers were on, the pilot closed the door and off we went. The pilot turned on his ipad, attached to the windscreen once we were airborne for navigation and the copilot took selfies of himself and the pilot as they flew over the Andes!!! The film “Alive” came to mind…….
Luckily we made it in one piece to Rurrenabaque. There had been a light dusting of snow on the ground in La Paz but in the jungle it was hot and steamy. The town is beside the Beni river and the following morning we set off for a 6 hour boat ride into the heart of the Madidi National Park in the Amazon Basin. We’d chosen a small community run ecocamp that took just 8 guests that was furthest into the park. The boat powered its way through the muddy brown waters, we swerved this way and that to avoid the shallows. It is the dry season so the river was very low, about 4 hours into the journey we ran aground. We had to abandon ship, carrying the girls to a shingle island in the centre, while we all pushed. Luckily the water was only knee deep and with just 30 minute delay we were back moving. From the boat we saw capybara families (the world’s largest rodents, like a huge guinea pig with a square muzzle) sunning themselves on beaches, turtles, herons and other birds.
Barraco del Maddidi is owned by the soft spoken Pedro, who was our excellent guide for the next 5 days. The indigenous community of San José de Uchupiamonas were trailblazers over 20 years ago getting their tribal lands turned into a National Park and working with an NGO to set up a sustainable Eco-tourist lodge. It has since grown since then with 2 further smaller lodges to help support the 370 member village 3 hours upstream. We had 2 comfortable tents on a platform set in amongst primary rainforest, it was just what we were looking for remote and pristine. As always in the jungle we heard far more animals than we saw, Pedro was great at showing us plants and animals that we would have easily missed. There were several groups of peccaries (wild pigs) that could always be heard snuffling and crunching seeds, then they could be smelt, one of the most pungent aromas I have ever encountered, before we could see them. Capuchin, spider and large ginger coloured howler monkeys could be seen swinging high above us in the canopy. Many jaguar, tapir and puma tracks could be seen along the muddy tracks.
It was fascinating hearing about how the park and lodges came about and traditional life in the forest and village. It used to take 12 days paddling to get to the village just 12 years ago but now it takes just 9 hours by motorised canoe. The part the girls liked best was making traditional jewellery out of palm nuts and seeds.
Unfortunately we weren’t lucky with the weather and on the second day the heavens opened and it rained solidly for nearly 24 hours causing the temperature to drop to about 10 degrees Celsius. I know we were in the rainforest but the amount and ferocity of the rain even surprised the locals, it is the “dry” season here after all. It was cold and wet for the 4 further days we were there which put a dampener on many things. Many animals holed up in the cold and the going down the river on a traditional balsa wood raft wasn’t such a attractive option any more. Despite the rain, thick mud and cold we still had a great time hiking, fishing and exploring. We were so pleased with our choice of place to experience the Amazon, it really felt we were in the heart of the rainforest with people whose home it is.
Lucy and I got carried away looking at all the amazing types of insects, especially the caterpillars of all different colours and the leaf cutter ants. Lucy made a short video project about what she saw.
It was a cold slightly wet ride back to Rurrenabaque where we spent the night before we headed in the opposite direction to the Pampas, a wetlands area on the edge of the jungle.