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The original Amazonoa flight a week ago from La Paz to Rurrenabaque was cancelled because of bad weather. The flight on subsequent day was also cancelled. This time because of a condor stuck in the engine and had crash landed on a field. After two days of endless waiting at the airport, me and eight other people from American Tour decided to suffer a 18-hour minibus ride on the 'Most dangerous road in the world' to get to Rurrenabaque. The bus ride was torturing not only because of the unpaved, bumpy roads but also because our driver had managed to drive incredibly slow even for Bolivian standard. Since I had the 'luxury' seat up front next to him, there is a constant urge to threaten him to hand over the wheels so I can taste the excitement of driving on this road. Instead, I spent the entire night making sure that our driver was not sleeping at the wheels by providing him with water and cookies while trying to stay awake myself.
Once we got to town, me and another British family took a 5-hour boat ride along River Beni to Chalalan Ecolodge, a small rustic resort famous for its ecotourism effort, located within the Madidi National Park and is one of the best place to see wildlife in South America. 15 years ago, the entire San Jose village in the Tacana communities, who lived another 3 hour upstream in the jungle, helped to build this ecolodge hoping to generate income for the village. Before that, the abundance of mahogany trees in this area were suffered from lodging by foreign companies. Nowaday, after the Madidi National Park was declared in 1998, the lodging had stopped and all the proceeds from tourism goes to this village, the only example in the area.
Over the next few days, our guides, Sandro and Ivideo, who spoke decent english, took us into the jungle to observe birds and chase after wildlife. Little that I know that wild Macaws such as the Red & Green Macaws and Blue & Yellow Macaws always fly with their 'partners' in pairs. Around our lodges, we also witnessed large groups of wild pigs bathing in the mud, tucans and howler monkeys screaming at the top of their lungs, cappucin and squirrel monkeys with babies swinging from one tree to another tree looking for fruits. During our night walk, we managed to see a black mama spider with four babies crawling nervously under our headlights.
The last morning of the ecolodge tour began with a 3-hour visit to the local San Jose village who was having a week long fiesta to celebrate their anniversary. We woke up around 5am, walked about 30 min in the dark jungle to the river and watched sunrise on the boat. With chickens and other animals running around freely on the unpaved roads, groups of villagers, who dressed up in colorful but really weird costumes, marched into the poorly-built church. Local musicians followed with traditional instruments. Local musicians followed with their traditional pipe instruments. A few drunk men who had been drinking from the night before, paraded within the crowds with bottles in their hands.
The only cacausian man in town, a missionary or priest handed out candies to children after the mass. I only hoped that this is not his way of converting kids to Christianity, especially given the fact that dental hygiene and care is not among the top priorty for these people. The one hospital in town looked more like an abandoned building than a functional one. Of course, as tourists, we also have to make a fool of ourselves by learning how to play their instrument and dance with the locals.
After the visit to the San Jose village, we went back to Rurrenabaque, before heading to the pampas the following day. The town centre is almost completely filled with backpackers from Israel and England. Restaurants, tour companies, call centers and pubs with karaokes sprouted up in every corners to accomodate their needs. Local people around still live in extreme poverty. One good thing does come out of this picture: no Starbucks or any foreign fastfood places. Macdonald actually closed down because of bad business in Bolivia!
The next day, a 3-hour bumpy and dusty jeep ride took me and two other british girls to a very simple lodge next to the massive marshland area in river Yucama. Diter, our guide from Bala Tour, who spoke very limited english took us up and down the river for the next couple days. Birds in South America is to animals in Africa. We saw countless varieties of large birds such as herons, egrets, southern screamer, snail kite, caracara up close etc. That night, we braved ourselves to the army of 'hardcore' mosquitoes in the river and went for a cayman (alligator) search. A baby cayman was spotted and we blinded him with our head torches and flashlight. Needless to say, within 10 minutes, we were all cover with mosquitoes bites. Some had miraculously bitten through my clothings and layers of repellent in my ass!
Highlight of the pampas tour had to be the feeding of squirrel monkeys. Only the size of a football, these little creatures jumped on our boat even before it parked and started grapping banana off my palm. Some do line up politely showing off their cuteness but others just care less. I only hope that my camera battery had not run out. On the last morning, we went for a 4-hour stroll along the marshland looking for anacondal but returned with no luck, only their shredded skin. After lunch, we were taken back to town on a grandpa jeep and had ourselves covered with nothing but sand from head to toe by the time we arrived. I must have hit my head numerous time at the window bar while dozing off on this bumpy road.
Abnormality rules in terms of transportation here in Bolivia. There are so many excuses for delays and cancellations, ranging from strikes to broken engines etc. While waiting for the Amazonoa flight to return to La Paz, I encountered an American man, in his 60s with white hair, who had been living in Rurrenabaque for 11 years and making a living by selling pastry on a golf cart every morning to backpackers and locals. What make me start a great conversation with him was the banner on top of his cart, stating that 'The Da Vinci code is ridiculous'. Originally from New York City, he moved to Rurrenbaque because he was tired of the modern governments trying to create a 'New World Order' using religions, virus causing worldwide diseases and technology and disregarding human life in the process. I have to admit that these conspiracy theories do make sense sometimes if it is placed in the proper context.