August 4, 2009
Rurrenabaque is situated in the Amazon Basin along the Beni River. It’s a jumping off point for affordable wildlife and jungle tours that are popular with backpackers. There are three ways to get to Rurrenabaque from La Paz, and none of them are good.
One option is a 20 hour journey along the official “World’s Most Dangerous Road.” While many people now bike down the “World’s Most Dangerous Road” for fun, riding down it in a bus still looks terrifying. Another option is to spend several days floating down the river on a cargo boat. I didn’t see this as a valid choice because I didn’t have many extra days to spare. I chose to fly, even though flights from La Paz to Rurrenabaque are notorious for frequently being canceled.
I was scheduled to fly on August 3rd. That morning, the hostel’s travel agent informed me that my flight was canceled because it had rained the previous day. The Rurrenabaque Airport has a dirt landing strip surrounded by grass. So when it rains, it gets flooded and no flights will leave until they determine that the landing strip is dry enough. Considering it’s in the rain forest, flights are canceled often. The agent told me that I would automatically be put on the same flight the next day.
On August 4th, I excitedly went to check in with travel agent. It didn’t look good– even though it hadn’t rained again, no flights had left yet that day. Since my flight was in the late afternoon, mine would probably be canceled because of the earlier delays. Dejectedly, I went back up to my room. But a few minutes later, the travel agent came running up to my room to tell me that flights had begun to take off and there was one space left on a flight that was leaving in two hours. I rushed to get everything together and headed out.
There were daily parades on my hostel’s street in the days leading up to Bolivian Independence Day. I walked several blocks before I was able to catch a cab that wasn’t stuck in traffic. We had to take a haphazard route to airport to avoid getting caught up in other parades around the city and I nervously hoped I’d make it in time. At the airport I checked in, went through security, and made it to the gate with fifteen minutes to spare.
The Amaszonas plane was the tiniest one I’d ever been on. I’m short, and even I couldn’t stand straight up on the plane without hitting my head. There are two columns of seats, so everyone has an aisle and window seat and a view of the cockpit. There are no overhead bins and definitely no flight attendants with complimentary drinks.
Even through dirty and scratched windows, the views on 40 minute flight are spectacular. First, you get a phenomenal view of La Paz and fly incredibly close to the snowy Mt. Illimani. As you leave the mountains behind, the landscape changes quickly and drastically to thick green blankets of trees with winding brown rivers between.
Reaching the Amazon Basin has been a dream of mine since I was in high school. I felt like a giddy kid as I stepped off the plane into the tropical greenery and humidity. I was so thrilled to be there. I caught a ride on the Amaszonas shuttle which takes you from the airport to the airline’s office in the center of town. Unless you arrange to be picked up by your tour company, this is the only way to get to town.
I found the Indigena Tours office where I checked in and got info for my tour and then went in search of a hostel. The Hostal Turistico Santa Ana drew me in with its brightly painted exterior, plentiful potted plants, and gorgeous mosaic walkways. The room they had available wasn’t ready, so laid in a hammock while they finished cleaning. My room was tiny, very pink, and perfect.
I walked up and down the streets of Rurrenabaque. There is nothing to see there, but it is a very pretty and calming town. It was so nice to be at a lower altitude where I could breathe normally and see and abundance of pretty flowers and vegetation. I had an early dinner and reveled in my last night of solitude before joining a three day tour.
My hostel room didn’t have a bathroom so I used the communal bathrooms and outdoor sinks. I got ready for bed while little beings rustled in nearby plants. Mundane tasks like teeth brushing and face washing are much more enjoyable when done outside in the light of the moon under a sky that’s incredibly full of stars. I was in love with Amazon and couldn’t wait for my adventure to begin the next day.