August 7, 2009
In my daily life when I am rudely awoken by my alarm, I often forget that I am actually a morning a person. I’m not into the part of the morning full of mundane routines, but I am partial to the wee, tranquil hours of it. I love the slow transition from dark to dawn; it’s such a peaceful and hopeful time of day. Unfortunately, my 9ish to 5ish life does not allow for much sunrise viewing, so I take every sunrise opportunity that comes up when I travel.
Early on our last morning, our guide came to wake up those of us who wanted to see the sunrise. We kept the boat’s motor off so we could listen to the Amazon arise and enjoy the serenity of the misty river. Howler monkeys made a noise that sounded like amplified stomach growling. Dark trees were outlined by a colorful sky. When we reached our lookout point, we saw several flocks of birds flying over the emerging sun.
Back at the camp, we had breakfast before heading out for our last activity, swimming with the pink river dolphins. To me, the concept of swimming with wild dolphins is silly because I doubt they want to be swum with. But I went along for the ride because I’d heard you could see more dolphins in the morning. We did see a few more than we had in the previous days, but they are unpredictable creatures that come up and down quickly. We tried to anticipate where they would pop up next, but you just have to be lucky enough to be looking in the right direction at the right time.
Pink river dolphins
We went back to the camp to pack up, have our last lunch, and relax in the hammocks. Then it was time to get on the boat for the last time to make our way back to Rurrenabaque. I was looking forward to internet access and taking a nice long shower, but I was really going miss the whole sweaty and dirty Amazon experience. The boat felt like home at that point. Though the wonder of the first day had disappeared, it was still amazing to be on it and surrounded by so many different kinds of life. The camp, with its lack of electricity and water and modern amenities, had grown on me. It can be so nice to give up everything you think you need for a few days; it puts a lot of things into perspective.
When we arrived at the point where the jeep had dropped us off, there were several groups waiting to claim our boats and begin their river adventures. The available jeeps filled up quickly and we ended up having to wait for one that had two flat tires along the way. Two hours later, the jeep finally showed up. We said goodbye to our guide and eagerly piled in.
The driver was clearly as eager to get the drive over with as we were, so he drove like a maniac along the potholed road. It was an awful drive. I was crammed into a half-broken back seat with two of the Danish guys. The window next to me was stuck, so every time a large truck drove by, I was covered with a new layer of dirt.
After an hour or so, the driver stopped abruptly and I nervously imagined we had another flat tire. But he’d pulled over so we could see something crossing the road– a sloth! It was the most adorable and wonderful creature I’ve ever seen. It slowly moved its head from side to side as it inched across the road. The permanent smile it appeared to have was contagious. The strange creature was the perfect end to my wildlife adventure. And it also made me realize something about all the guides and drivers I’d come across. Though they lived in that area and ran tours all the time, they never seemed to lose their childlike excitement about seeing the animals and pointing them out to us. That was wonderful.
We made it back to the Indigena Tours office in Rurrenabaque in record time. Locals giggled at us as we emerged from the jeep enshrouded with dirt. I’m sure it was a scene they were used to and always drew much enjoyment from. I went back to Hostal Santa Ana where I’d stayed on my first night in Rurrenabaque, and they had a room ready for me. I went into a few showers before I found one that didn’t have a frog in it. Ever since I had a run in with a frog in a toilet bowl in Ghana one year, I’ve had a slightly unreasonable fear of frogs in bathrooms.
I took a long shower and then went to search for dinner. At a pizza restaurant, I bumped into the Belgian couple I’d met on the day I arrived in Rurrenabaque. I joined them for dinner and we exchanged stories about our tours. It seemed like their group was not full of athletic Iron Man types like mine and their anaconda experience was nowhere near as swampy. In fact, they’d found two anacondas in a very short period of time. After dinner, we headed to Rurrenabaque’s main backpacker night spot, the Jungle Bar Moskito. Most people had planned to meet up with their groups there. Eventually my group showed up, and many games and much fun ensued.
The next morning, I was sad to be heading back to the asthma-inducing high altitude city of La Paz. As much as I would have loved to stay in Rurrenabaque longer, I didn’t have the time. The Danish guys from my tour were on my flight again we caught the Amaszonas shuttle to the airport. There was no technology at the tiny airport to let us know our flight was delayed, so we just waited and waited. And the longer we waited, the more people approached us to pay taxes. I reluctantly handed over my Bolivianos for unknown taxes and went outside until the flight arrived to take us off to La Paz.
When I told some people who know me well about some of my Amazon experiences, one response was, “I can’t picture you doing that!” It’s true, I tend to be girlie and I’m not into getting dirty. But one of the greatest parts of traveling for me is stepping outside the physical, social, and cultural boundaries that I put up for myself at home. Who I am becomes open to modification. I look back in awe at that three day tour; I fufilled a childhood dream of visiting the Amazon and redefined what I can do.