Admittedly, My knowledge of Bolivia was pretty shabby before we came here. I didn’t know for example that Sucre is the capital -the white city-, that the air was so thin up here or that the jungle is 229,985 square miles of its landscape. The Amazon covers Brazil, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Suriname, Guyana, basically most of the continent, including north Bolivia. The place to go is Rurrenabaque and the thing to do is a jungle camp. Eat the sweet fruits of the forest, wonder through the thick leaves, and sleep in the depth of the night.
Rurrenabaque is a small jolly town on the Beni river. It’s 400km north of La Paz and the access point for the jungle. To the right are the pampas, where wet grasslands give life to a kaleidoscope of wildlife. See capybaras, anacondas, toucans, caiman, monkeys, piranhas …. the real treat though are the pink river dolphins, who make the rich waters their home and who you can swim with! For the jungle experience, head left from Rurre into Madidi National Park. Here the plants are tough, the trees are old and everything is dense. As for wildlife, the jungle holds all kinds, but you won’t see them. They are foraging the other side of that thick wall of greenery by your arm, they are high in the canopy above, splashing water down from the leaves, or they are prowling in the darkness, blacker than night itself.
From La Paz to Rurre, it takes 40minutes ..if you take the plane. Take the bus and it’s a good eighteen hours. In true Bolivian style, the roads are unmade dirt tracks which in the Amazon Basin means mud. Regular stories come up of people stuck in the mud for hours on end, but you’ll get there one day. I recommend the plane, that gives stunning mountain views in a machine barely bigger than a van. Once in town, you’ll find tour companies, a French bakery, cold beers, and a pool or two. It’s not a massive town, so if you can’t live without it, bring it along. Apart from that it’s a friendly place, with some nice spots to go to while you sweat your skin out.
Tours for the jungle can be anywhere from two days to fifteen days, depending on your Bear Grylls level, although most people go for three days. Our group was small, just three of us, and we had a guide too, Orlando. The man breathed the jungle, its been his home for twenty nine years, and showed us a little of what he knew. On the first day, see Macaws fly into their nests in the cliffs and the Amazon below. The parrots are bright, noisy and beautiful, mating for life and flying in their chosen pair. Day two is a medicine walk. What the pampas has in animals, the jungle has in plants; bandages, water, fruits, shelter, SOS echos, arrow poison… Eat one plant and you’ll trigger a menopause, smell another and you’ll clear a cold, add this bark to your dinner for a garlicky kick. If you know where to find it, Madidi has it all.
A night in the jungle is noisier than any 12 bed dorm in ‘insert witty party name here’. There’s nothing you can see, but you’ll hear it all. Strange clicks and rustles will always be a mystery and going to the loo al fresco there’s a small chance you might become jaguar meat. Make it to morning and you’ll get your own jungle alarm clock, as howler monkeys empty a tornado from their lungs. It’s terrifying, but a unique experience too.