A Stone's Throw

practice your aim. you never know when you'll spy 2 birds at once.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Rurrenabaque & the Pampas

When you travel, word of mouth from other travelers is usually the best way to find out about cool cites, the best places to eat, where to stay, where not, and a host of other generally helpful information. One of the best pieces of advice was to take an excursion from Rurrenabaque, a jungle town along the Amazon Basin in Bolivia. As I´ve illustrated, its a beast to get to, but despite all the troubles, it was worth it.

A 3-hour jeep ride took me to a river, where we loaded up a wooden canoe and took off. Traveling down a jungle river is both exhilarating and primal. Especially when you're surrounded by caimans. I stopped counting them when I reached 100 in the first half hour. For those not familiar with caimans, they're part of the crocodile family and despite the incorrect belief - they get really big. I'm talking bigger than an alligator big.

But they weren´t the only animals along the river. Here and there were capybara, the world's largest rodent. They're pretty lazy, really, mostly hanging out by the river, clearly unaware that they are inches away from becoming caiman food. Besides the capybarra were squirrel monkeys, howler monkeys, and some kind of monkey with a name that sounded like cappuccino. (the guide spoke spanish, and some of the animal names didn´t translate. like the rheas (gigantic ostrich-sized birds) are called pios)

In the afternoon of the next day we went on an anaconda hunt. This is not for the squeamish. It´s basically wandering through waist high pampas grass in 1-2 feet of swamp water looking for a snake that could swallow you whole. Anacondas regularly grow to 20-25 feet long. In the first half hour we found success and thankfully it was only about 8 feet long, a baby.

This was only the beginning, however, for soon we stumbled upon 12 feet of unhappy cobra. Apparently if you get bitten, you would die within 3 hours. Suddenly, standing in the middle of a swamp seemed less wise. (to be fair - I didn´t know they had cobras in the Pampas, especially not giant ones) Having had uncanny luck in finding the two biggest, most dangerous snakes in the Amazon, we decided to hike back to the boat. This proved to be tricky when the guy walking in front of me stepped on another cobra. This one was even larger, and the guides weren´t able to catch it, it just whipped around and disappeared under our feet. Yeah, whatever feeling you´re getting right now - multiply it and that´s how our group was feeling. We waited and watched, before carefully continuing on. And came across another cobra. Suddenly the boat seemed very away. But in time, we negotiated our way out of the snake-infested swamp and back into the boat.

One of the funnest things we did was fish for piranha. It´s sorta like any other sort of fishing - they tend to prefer shady areas under low-hanging trees - the only difference was using chunks of meat as bait. The tricky part was setting the hook. Piranha´s literally bite so fast that you can barely notice the line move before they're gone. So all you could do was yank as fast as you could. This had one rather unexpected consequence - I saw my line jig and yanked, and a piranha flew out of the water and landed in the canoe. There´s nothing so disconcerting as a piranha flopping around under your feet. It´s not like you can get out of the boat or anything. So there we were, hopping around in a canoe, avoiding the little guy´s razor-sharp teeth, trying to figure out how to scoop it up without capsizing. This proved to be difficult. But at the end of the day, with piranhas flying out of the water and into our boat more than on our hooks, we caught enough for dinner and, I must say, they are one of the tastiest fish I´ve ever eaten.

The final adventure in the Pampas was swimming with the pink river dolphins. There's nothing quite like summing up the courage to jump in a river teeming with piranhas, 16 foot caimens, and anacondas, but when a gorgeous gray and pink dolphins swim by, its hard to say no. Amazing experience!

All in all, my adventure through the Pampas was worth every moment it took to get there. Sometimes the best journeys are the most hectic ones, and this ranks pretty high up there.

One final image - me enjoying the Pampas the right way:


  • At 12:43 PM , Anonymous Jamie said...

    Anaconda hunting? Are you crazy? lol Couldn't you just watch from the boat hahaha

  • At 7:28 PM , Blogger Caleb said...

    Thigh-deep in the swamp was quite surreal and makes you feel amazingly alive. All the senses are on overdrive trying to anticipate whats coming next.

  • At 6:05 AM , Anonymous Jamie said...

    It sounds intense! Honestly, I think I can imagine myself.... laughing simply because I am so scared if I don't I most certainly will cry! Any little movement in the water would have had me breathing as if it was my last :)


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