One of our favourite things about Bolivia has been how wild and untamed it has seemed. Fortunately it´s tourism industry also follows this blueprint, and so even when you think you´ve signed up for an organised ´tourist´ trip, it rarely turns out this way.
And so Anna, Lore, Mathias and I found ourselves travelling to a small jungle village to start a 5-day rafting trip deep into the Amazon basin. This hair-raising taxi ride set the tone for the wildness of the trip. Our taxi driver only hand one hand, which might´ve been considered hazardous in any country other than Bolivia given the treacherous mountain roads we were haring along in the pitch black. Worse still, we realised that he was using his one good hand to consume the 96% alcohol that is the Bolivian drivers´preferred tipple and he was already half way through the bottle! Amazingly we reached the small town of Guanay safe and sound, only to discover that the construction of our bamboo-stem and inner-tube raft had only just begun, no doubt due to the amount of alcohol also being consumed by it´s builders. After the 4 hour delay – more than reasonable by Bolivian standards – our indigenous guide Chino finally launched our less than stable craft into the Rio Beni, one of the three main tributaries of the mighty Amazon river.
As we began to float serenely downriver, any frustrations or worries simply ebbed away with the shimmering current. We lived according to nature; the sun was our body clock, the river was our fuel, and the forest was our lifeblood. We couldn’t have asked for a better guide than Chino, and he delighted in imparting his extensive knowledge of a jungle that he clearly loved, and we soon started feeling the same. We quickly became accustomed to jungle life; waking at dawn in our riverbank campsite, washing in the river, and hunting in the rainforest for our supper each night. Freshly caught catfish and tortoise were particular delicacies, cooked on a campfire of course. We really had no choice but to do as Chino would´ve done if he was on his own, even drinking murky river water purified by the juice of a freshly-picked lemon. Our tranquil jungle adventure took us as far from the modern world as I have ever been, a nuclear war could´ve erupted and we´d have remained blissfully unaware. Relying on nature rather than Bolivian time-keeping, we arrived into the jungle town of Rurrenabaque after 5 wild but wonderful days.
Such is Anna´s love for the jungle that we swapped our rickety raft for a motorised canoe, and headed straight into the Pampas, a swamp-like wildlife haven that extends to the Brazilian border. Thankfully the feeling of being out in the wilderness continued and we found ourselves fishing for Piranhas, swimming with pink jungle dolphins in alligator-infested waters, and Anaconda hunting in the marshlands. Having spent 8 days entirely enveloped by nature, we´d finally achieved our aim; to remove ourselves completely from the Gringo tourist track and explored Bolivia on our own.
However, it had come at a cost. We were all covered in insect bites, our hands were blistered from rowing, our numerous wounds infected, and we were all exhausted. Unfortunately the worst news was that Mathias had contracted a serious bout of Salmonella poisoning (possibly from the tortoise eggs), resulting in a severe fever and requiring hospital treatment. The jungle is not for the fainthearted! I think it´s fair to say that we´d had our fill of jungle life, and I´d realised that of all the places I could end up in my life, the jungle won´t be one of them. However, one of our jungle crew definitely hasn’t been put off. Anna thrived in her new jungle surroundings, and now feels that she could fulfill the role of a tribal man´s wife better than ever. In fact she has already started planning her next jungle adventure, rafting all the way to Brazil – a grueling 2 month adventure – so willing volunteers get in touch!!