Caimans and Monkeys and Capybara, Oh My!

by Ekua on October 22, 2009 in Bolivia

August 5, 2009

The first day of my wildlife excursion had arrived. I checked out of my hostel and bumped into a Belgian couple I’d met on the plane the day before. They’d also booked a pampas (wetland savannah) tour with Indigena Tours. I joined them for breakfast and we excitedly anticipated the day to come. We headed over to the Indigena office and it was completely packed with people ready to begin their tours. I guess that’s what a Lonely Planet recommendation can do for a business.

A caravan of dirt-covered jeeps arrived and we loaded our stuff onto them. In my group were three Danish guys I’d met on the plane, two Danish girls, an Israeli guy, and an English guy. I wasn’t too sure about being in a predominantly Danish group, but it was much better than being with the young Chilean girls they originally put me with. I don’t have anything against Chileans, but I didn’t want to be stuck with a group of seven chatty girls who already knew each other and would be speaking another language nonstop.

Our first wildlife sighting, a snake on the side of the road

Our first wildlife sighting, a snake on the side of the road

We met our guide, Juan Carlos, and crammed into our well-worn jeep to begin our journey. A few minutes outside of Rurrenabaque, we drove over a bumpy stretch of broken cobblestone road. I asked Juan Carlos if it would be like that the whole way. He said it wouldn’t. He failed to mention that it would be worse. We spent hours on a dirt road trying to dodge potholes and the occasional snake. There were plenty unavoidable dips in the road that sent us flying out of our seats. There were definitely no seat belts; you were lucky just to have a seat that wasn’t broken.

By the time we reached our lunch stop by the river, our bottoms were numb and those of us seated in the front were covered with a layer of dust. My hair had been given dirt brown highlights. The people in the back were not as dusty, but their legs got a mud bath when a drive through a puddle revealed a hole in the floor of the Jeep. We had been treated to an Amazonian spa package.

But the rough part of the day was the drive, now it was time to sit back and enjoy the rest of it. When we arrived at our lunch spot, the cooks explained in Spanish if that we had a choice of chicken or fish and asked us what we wanted to drink. I got the gist of it and responded, “pollo, por favor.” Somehow, this led to me being seen as the Spanish speaker of the group. Suddenly, I was in charge of ordering for everyone with the few words and phrases I knew. Something to be said for traveling solo is that it forces you to learn how to communicate in whatever way possible. You have only yourself to get your point across.

Pampas - Two AlligatorsAfter lunch, we went down by the river where we loaded our boats and went off to see the animals. There were caymans lurking in the river, keeping an eye on us. Other alligators stood on the shore with sinister eyes and wide-open mouths that looked ready to chomp on anything that came near. We saw one cute little squirrel monkey, and before long, several mischievous monkeys jumped on the boat and then onto us. Families of capybara, the world’s largest rodents, looked blankly into the distance as they chomped on dirt. Turtles were piled onto branches and then dropped into the water as we went by. There were birds in their nests high up in barren tree branches. Egrets perched on the riverbank and spread their graceful wings to fly away when we got close.

Squirrel Monkey

Squirrel Monkey

Several more monkeys emerge from the tree and hop onto our boat

Pampas - Birds in Nest



Pampas - Our Boat

Pampas - Turtles

This boat ride definitely did not disappoint. One of the Danish guys asked me, “Do they put a fence around this place to keep the animals in?” We were in awe of the amount of animals we’d seen in their natural habitat. I felt like I had spent the afternoon in a PBS documentary.

We arrived at our camp in the early evening. It was far from “eco-luxe” and consisted of bare wooden structures on stilts with walkways to get from one building to the next. Inside our cabin were beds about a foot apart with mosquito nets hanging over them. There were two bathrooms for 24 travelers, 3 guides, and the family who ran and lived at the camp. The best part of the camp was the hammock room. It overlooked the river and was surround by netting to allow for a nice breeze while keeping the pesky mosquitoes out.

Pampas - SunsetAfter settling in, we went off to the Sunset Bar where there was something for everyone– playing volleyball or soccer, sipping a cold cerveza, and/or watching the sunset. The sunset started off ordinarily enough, but soon after the sun disappeared, the dark blue sky was filled with extraordinary rays of peach light.

We went back to our camp to have dinner and then went off in the boat again. With a flashlight, you can see the little dots which are the eyes of caymans. But it’s so dark that you don’t see much, so I found it much more interesting to look up at the luminous starry sky.

Back at the camp, the English guy and the Israeli guy went off to lounge in the hammocks. I joined the Danish people in the dining room to play cards and chat. They tried as much as possible to speak in English, but often relapsed into Danish. But cards and competition are international languages and the game they taught me was really fun. The camp’s power generator went off at 9 or 10pm, but we turned on our flashlights and kept playing. I went to bed fairly early to rest up for the next day’s anaconda search. Little did I know that no amount of rest could prepare me for that adventure.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

geotraveler October 25, 2009 at 4:49 pm

So cool. Lots of great animal shots too. Anaconda search?? Looking forward to that post.


Ekua October 28, 2009 at 10:45 am

The anaconda post is coming soon, it was quite an adventure. That is just a small snippet of the animal shots… I have tons more from that trip! I need to set up a web photo album to share more pictures.


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