My 5-years-behind Lonely Planet guide describes it as sleepy, lacking in services, and very rough. From looking at it now, in 2007, it's relaxed, abrim with an ever-expanding number of services (e.g. Internet, banks), and becoming more comfortable by the day. In another 5 years' time, it will no doubt be a jam-packed tourist mecca, alive with adventurers and with every services they could possibly need. Rurrenabaque is Bolivia's jungle destination hotspot, and it's growing at an alarming rate. Get to it while it's still wild!
Dusty street (under construction) in Rurrenabaque.
Today, Chris and I flew back from Rurrenabaque to La Paz, with the affordable and reasonably-safe Transporte Aéreo Militar (TAM), the "military airline" of Bolivia. Slightly cheaper than Amaszonas, and just as efficient. After going through the experience of catching a plane in Bolivia twice now, I feel I should write up some instructions on how it's done, for anyone else who's interested in using Bolivia's fine commercial aviation services.
Today was the last day of our trip to the Madidi jungle, as well as our last day here in Rurrenabaque. After our final jungle romp this morning, and a big hearty lunch, we packed up our stuff and left our jungle campsite. We had to walk back from the campsite to the big river (another stream wade involved), and then it was another three-hour boat ride, back down the river to Rurrenabaque. When we got back, we cleaned ourselves up, relaxed in some hammocks, and then celebrated in the evening, with pizza and cocktails!
We romped through the jungle on our first day here in Madidi. We did it again yesterday. And we had our final romp today. Not much different to the previous days of jungle walking, really: saw a few animals, saw lots of trees and smaller plants, but nothing hugely exciting. After all, jungle is jungle, and there's only so much of it you can see.
We had a fun little session of handicraft-making this afternoon, at our campsite in the jungle. Our guide, Orlando, helped us to fashion some rings, and to create some traditional (looking) necklaces. All we really did was a bit of sanding — the rest was already done for us, or was done after we finished sanding — but it made us feel like intelligent artisans nonetheless. And we got to keep the handicrafts.
Just after lunch this afternoon, and just before our handicraft-making session, our guide Orlando heard the noise of pigs nearby, and quickly gathered us and led us on a sprint through the trees, in the direction of the noise. When we reached the spot, we were just in time to witness about 100 wild pigs running past us in a mad stampede. Fairly common occurrence, apparently — but you still have to be both fast and lucky to actually witness it. Not sure what the pigs were stampeding after, either: maybe someone struck mud?
Orlando is a guide who takes his job very seriously. Like all the jungle guides in Madidi, he's a real character. When he walks you through the jungle, he goes stealthily, on tiptoe; and he motions for you to do the same. When he thinks he can hear an animal nearby, he turns around rapidly, and brandishes his machete, as if daring you to make another step or to produce another sound. And when he discerns that some animals are on the move not too far off, he suddenly breaks into a run, and you have to follow accordingly if you want to see what he's chasing. But also a relaxed, friendly, and amicable guy.
Our trip to the Madidi jungle may have been full of activities during the day-time, but there wasn't an awful lot to do at night. For the several hours that we had before and after dinner each evening, we had to somehow keep ourselves occupied at our campsite. Unfortunately, since nobody in our group had any playing cards, things were starting to get a bit desperate. Which is why we took desperate measures. We were forced to manufacture our own emergency playing cards.
Our activity for this afternoon, after arriving in the jungle near Rurrenabaque, was to be taken on a romp through the jungle around our campsite, and to try and sight some animals. Sighting animals is much harder in the jungle than it is in the pampas, because the animals are all hiding away up in the trees, rather than hanging around in plain sight around a big river. But with a good guide, and a bit of stealth, it's possible to catch a glimpse of a few of them.
We've done the pampas (three-day trip). Now, we're completing our tour of the Rurrenabaque area, with another three-day trip, but this time to the actual jungle! This morning, our group of four — Chris, Anna, Marie, and myself — commenced our trip to Parque Nacional Madidi, part of the massive Amazon jungle that covers half this continent, and a sanctuary of some of the world's most amazing plants and animals.