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.
As well as hunting anacondas, another activity that people really look forward to on their pampas trips is piranha fishing. And this morning, that's exactly what we did! Straight after breakfast, we grabbed some meaty bait and some hooked reels, jumped in our boat, and set off to hunt some man-eating fish. Surprisingly, they're very small, and very hard to catch. Piranha fishing may not sound like a relaxing way to spend one's morning; but it's actually no less chilled than any other type of fishing. Plenty of waiting; and now and then, a little bit of catching.
Our pampas trip group was tired and shagged out, following a prolonged swim with the dolphins (earlier in the afternoon); so this evening, we went out on the river, in search of two good bottles of red wine. Hey, we have two french girls in the group, remember? We already managed to find one bottle earlier today (near where we also found two baby anacondas), but we decided that two more were needed in order to satiate our needs for the evening. So we ended up stopping at every building we saw along the river, and calling out: "hola, ¿tienes vino?" (lit: "hey there, got wine?").
Another great Juan Carlos that I've met on my travels. This Juan Carlos took care of us during our three days in the pampas, mainly just driving the motorised canoe, but also catching anacondas for us, and taking us piranha fishing. A very relaxed and friendly guide, who knows his terrain like the back of his hand.
When we cruised down the river for three hours yesterday, we saw quite a few of the famous pink dolphins of the pampas. This afternoon, we didn't just see them: we jumped in the water, and tried to swim with them. Unfortunately, the dolphins are both shy and speedy: as soon as you see them in one spot, by the time you've swum towards them, they've already popped up somewhere entirely different. I think they like to taunt as well. But hey, it was good fun sharing the river with them.
The pampas has many strange and wonderful animals — monkeys, dolphins, and alligators among them — but what most people really come here to see is the anacondas. The legendary water-snake monsters — that can (in parts of the Amazon basin) grow to as much as 10m in length, and that have long been the subject of adventure books and horror movies — are certainly a sight to see. And this morning, our group went on a romp through the swamplands, and found two little baby ones! Even these young critters had a formidable mouth of teeth, though.
Following our trip to the Sunset Bar, and a formidable spread for dinner, our group got back in the motorised canoe this evening, and cruised through the darkness of the pampas, looking for alligator eyes. It was a very unique and bizarre experience: on the water in the dark of night, with our flashlights searching the shores of the river, looking for pairs of orange eyes reflecting back at us. We spotted quite a lot of the alligators and their highly luminescent eyes; but unfortunately, our guide didn't manage to catch one and bring it on board. Damn: I was so looking forward to having another passenger on board — one with a two-foot-long mouth full of chomping teeth.
The pampas is a pretty remote place, and as such, it is lacking in some things (e.g. electricity, road vehicle access, piranha-free swimming water). But beer-selling beverage establishments is not one of them. After finishing the trip down the river to our campsite, our guide got us back into the boat, and drove us round the corner to the Sunset Bar. It was pretty bizarre, but we rounded a bend in the river, and suddenly — out here in the absolute middle of nowhere — we saw a sign saying (in English): "Sunset Bar: we serve cold beer — welcome". Maybe Bolivia is a bit like Australia after all, eh? If there's one person living within 100km of anywhere, there's another person next door selling beer.
After completing our three-hour boat ride down the river, our group arrived at the retreat in the pampas this afternoon: in time to have some fun on the rope-swing river kamikaze! The campsite has a tree right on the edge of the river, and there's a big rope with a wooden foothold tied to one of the tree's biggest branches. You grab the rope from the muddy shore, and you swing out over the river. Then — splash! — you bomb into the river's peaceful waters. We all had a turn on it; we all survived; and we all created some massive shockwaves in the water.
Marie is a travel agent from Paris in her early 30s, and Anna is a primary school teacher from Brittany in her mid-20s. After Pascale (and her friend) in Copa and La Paz, it seems that Chris and I just can't keep away from pairs of French girls. These ones don't smoke quite as much as the others, although they still do a lot. Went to the pampas with them, and ended up doing a jungle tour with them as well.
Two giant, beer-swilling young physiotherapists from Melbourne. These guys were with us on the pampas trip this week, and they proved to provide us with constant entertainment. Always doing such classic Aussie things as randomly jumping in the river and going for a swim; catching small animals and insects; and not being able to fit in their boots. They also found a baby anaconda, all by themselves.