We did manage to get to Rurrenabaque and it was a pretty intense few days. Just got back from there this afternoon (Monday). The place is fantastic. A very small town kitted out mainly for tourism now with plenty of places to stay, eat, drink and book tours.
Okay, let´s start at the beginning. The flight out went okay. A very small plane with space for just 12 passengers. Eva and I sat at the front with the pilot and co-pilot immediately in front of us. The co-pilot had to move his bags from behind his seat so I could sit down. It´s great sitting there as you can watch them go through their checklist and look at all the instruments as you go along. No procedures for what to do if the cabin pressure drops as it´s not pressurized. The pilot gets to have a small oxygen mask that he wears all the time and that´s it. Mind you, if anyone get´s an oxygen mask I prefer it to be the person who´s going to fly and land the plane.
Rurrenabaque is only an hour away by plane but 21 hours by bus. We flew over some amazing mountains completely covered in trees / foliage / jungle and then landed at the most basic airport I´ve ever seen or can imagine. The runway was a long field of grass and the building was just a couple of rooms. They dump your luggage on the grass and you get to pick it up yourself. There were toilets but, hmmm.... number 1s only I think. Oh, and of course there´s a few cows wandering around outside as well just to give the full rustic atmosphere. No taxis to town, just a minibus that runs when a flight arrives.
Got into town and went straight to Hotel Beni (it´s by the Beni river) as it was recommended in our books but it turned out to be a mistake. The room was a bit crappy but we´ve stayed in worse and it was for one night only (was going on tour next day). I think I got about an hour´s sleep between going to bed at 10pm and getting up around 6am. Because it´s so hot and humid there, there are no windows in the window frame, just mosquito nets. You hear everything, from the guy snoring loudly next door, to the bloke that´s fallen asleep and left his tv on full blast, to the karaoke bar down the street, to Eva waking me up to tell me there´s a huge cockroach in the bathroom (ooh, more on cockroaches later).
After we had checked in to Hotel Beni, we went to a couple of tour agencies to book a 3 day tour into the Pampas. It was $25 per day per person, not the cheapest one but they seemed professional and better than the one that didn´t have any showers or electricity. Actually, where we went just had a generator that they switched on in the evening for a few hours, but it was enough.
The Pampas tour starts off with quite a journey to get you into the thick of things. A 3 hour drive by jeep across terrible roads followed by another 3 hours in a small narrow boat (with the most incredibly uncomfortable wooden bench seats you have ever known). Our jeep was driven by a man that looked incredibly like Vicky Pollard / Matt Lucas (?), but he was great at spotting things on the road and managed to show us an anteater wandering about. We stopped for lunch at some roadside restaurant which had cats, dogs and chickens scratching around the tables.
By the time we got to the boats we had made friends with the other 3 guys in our jeep and then teamed up with 4 girls that made up the rest of our group. We all got into the boat and set off for a journey that would leave us amazed at the scenery and wildlife, and amazed at how much our bottoms could hurt.
The wildlife is the key thing for the Pampas trip and we weren´t disappointed. Even before getting into the boat we saw an alligator (or croc, I can never remember which one´s which) on the other bank of the river. There were loads of alligators, caymans, capibaras, birds of paradise, etc. Loads of weird birds. A small tribe of tiny monkeys and howler monkeys (they really have the most horrible howl that sounds like some sort of dinasour that freaks you out in the middle of the night when you don´t know what it is).
We had a great guide called Louis who took us everywhere and amused us with his guitar renditions of Hey Jude and showing us how to see the poison from the huge wasps buzzing around our common area. The main activities included erm... going down river a bit to get a beer and watch the sunset, star gazing, alligator eye hunting (shine a torch in the night and their eyes reflect bright red), treking to find anacondas (found a 2 metre one after much squelching around through stinky swamps and fields), pirhana fishing (caught one but it was too small and I threw it back), eating the big pirhanas, swimming with pink dolphins (the river is full of aligators and pirhanas but the dolphins eat the pirhanas, so if they´re there, it´s safe to swim). Oh and of course quite a few mosquitos. It was baking hot too so everyone was covered in several layers of mossie repelent and sunblock. Unusually, I got away quite lightly with the bites, though I had a reaction to a bite on my left hand that made my whole hand swell up. A truly great time that the pictures won´t do justice to. You can see the wildlife brilliantly but getting close enough (or getting the boat to be still enough) to take a picture is very difficult.
On getting back from the Pampas we booked into the Hotel Tucan, which although being the same price as Beni, was like a palace. Well, maybe a palace with no glass in the windows, hammocks, breakfast and a roof terrace. Excellent.
After the Pampas we booked a one day tour into the jungle. It´s not a lot and the books say it´s not worth it but we really enjoyed it. Saw a tarantula, lizards, catapillars, loads of butterflies and lots of weird trees that can either heal or kill you with their sap. Drank water from chopped vines, ate the driest meal ever, sweated about 20 litres, swam in a river in my underpants (careful how you read that bit, there was a river, we swam in it, we wore underpants), waited on the beach for the boat back that was 1.5 hours late (though we did go through all the party tricks including the broom handle / long branch around the body thing.
The group gelled together over the past few days and on the last night, those that remained (some went for a 3 day jungle trip) all went out for a meal then drinks at the Mosquito Bar and onto a terrible dive of a club. There was a bit of a kerfuffle in the streets on the way back to the hostel when a group of drunk locals took a shine to the girls but nothing really happened and we all got back safely.
The flight back wasn´t as smooth as the one there but that might have been due to the fact that we were going back up to a high altitude. A few people felt sick including Eva and myself. Seems to be getting better after a few hours now. Oh and coming back to this height also caused some problems with bottles of stuff (soap, shampoo etc) so we had to repack some things before leaving the airport.
Got back to our old hotel, though we´re not staying the night. We´ve confirmed our bus tickets and tour of Uyuni. We leave today at around 9pm, sleep on the bus down there. Trying to figure out what our next step might be. After Uyuni we should be going to Peru but we have to book our entrance tickets to Macchu Picchu and we´re a bit worried they might be sold out. Also wondering if we should come back through La Paz or make our way there by some other route. But right now, I need lots of sleep. Hopefully it will be a comfy bus and good roads.
So out of contact again for another few days probably.
-- Oh, I almost forgot to add the extra bit about cockroaches. I´m sure you´ve seen films where the someone gets into a rustic South American town and there are dogs and chickens running about on the streets, the bars look filthy and the glasses and cutlery are dirty, but the town is some pioneer stop so has lots of people passing through etc. That stereotype town is Rurrenabaque, all set against a backdrop of amazing green mountains. Back to the cockroach. In the mosquito bar (where all the gringos hang out, drink and play pool) we saw the biggest cockroach ever. Slightly different and slower than the roaches back home but at 15cm long, I was very impressed. Got a picture of it so I can prove I´m not exageratting.Updated with photos (29-Nov-2005) - Click for pics
There's already been a post with creepy crawlies so go there if you want wildlife pics. Below are some general ones from the Rurrenabaque trip.
Space is a bit tight inside
The airport at Rurrenabaque isn't that big either
An anteater makes it's getaway
Basic boats get you closer to the action, and the water
Ours was just one of 3 broken down vehicles. The roads are that bad (if you can call them roads).
The tree that says, "don't eat me".