Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bolivia II: Las Pampas and Back Again

First and foremost, pampas is Spanish for Savannah. But - in this case - las pampas signifies the gigantic plains slightly north of the jungle and flooded by Bolivia's tributaries to the Amazon. We opted to visit las pampas instead of la selva because, while the jungle proper offered superior hiking, climbing, and botanical excursions, the floodplain offered superior accommodation, swimming, and opportunities for viewing wildlife. As we weighed our options, we decided it would be more fun to see the animals and some of the plants than all of the plants and (a very tentative maybe) some of the animals. Brice and I are both quite happy with that decision.

We traveled in motorized dugout canoes, captained by our tour guide, Jaimie, at Indigena. Our wildlife spotting expeditions led us through caiman, gator, and piranha infested waters, but we were also lucky enough to see (but not to photograph, despite our best efforts) the legendary pink dolphins of the Amazon; more on the wildlife later. The canoes came in a variety of bright colors, with re-purposed lawn chairs built into their structure as fold-out seating for the tourists. We piled our bags on and under thick, plastic tarps, buttoned up our sweat shirts (I mentioned that it was an unnaturally cold week in jungle in my last post), and settled in for the 2-hour commute.

Jaimie did a great job spotting wildlife for us; there were several smaller species we never could have identified on our own, and he knew in fairly accurate English how to describe the names, myths, and uses for the flora and fauna we encountered on our 3-day adventure. We enjoyed his company, too. The man possessed an excellent disposition for dealing with journeying college and university students, and he had a decent sense of humor too. On our way into the camp site, one of our party's canoes attempted to cross a small channel between two partially submerged land masses and became stuck a good 8-10 inches above the water level.

The Indigena lodge itself completely outstripped the other campsites we passed in both cleanliness and completion. There were some unfortunate gaps in the mosquito netting of the dining hall, but otherwise everything seemed exactly as one would expect. There was a slight moldiness to everything, from the normally hot, humid climate, and the bunks were all netted off individually and by cabin. They offered running, but not heated, water, and their in-house kitchen really wowed me with some of the beautiful dishes they presented us. All of the buildings inter-connected through elevated boardwalks, and there was a sufficiently dry yard with climbing trees and a hammock lodge as bonus features. Oh, and did I mention the best part? They had a local alligator called Frederico who lurked by the docks; no need to guess what Brice's favorite part was...

That's right. His favorite part was our Indigena pet kitty (he calls it a jungle cat in all of his stories, but don't be fooled). It meowed constantly, but we could avoid having the UK kids trying to feed it to Freddy when Brice held it, since that quieted it to a contented purr. The son of one of our camp managers loved to chase that thing around and grab its tail, but and that cranky old jungle cat put up with it amiably. On one of his iller nights (B. came down with a nasty case of the Jungle Flu almost as soon as we entered las pampas), he sat and petted it for hours while our 10 British friends downed 4 bottles what I think amounted to Bolivian bottom-shelf liquor. It nearly gave Jaimie a heart attack when a pair of them wandered off into the wilderness together, but they made it back to the bunks eventually.

The rest of our adventure basically amounted to wildlife spotting, so I'm going to set this post up like a photo album from now on:

1) "Angry Birds." They puff up and screech when you get too close. No idea what it's really called

2) Jabiru. Freaking. Awesome. Think flying ostrich.

3) Porcupine. This was one of Jaimie's better catches. None of us could have spotted it alone.

4) Capybara, or R.O.U.S.

5) Caiman or Alligator (not Freddy, though...)

6) Red-bellied piranha. We went fishing and our cook was good enough to fry up our catch. Piranha is... edible. Barely. Brice caught this one. In fact, he caught more fish than anybody (except Jaimie).

7) Anaconda hunting in the marshes was good fun, but they reek of death and rot.

8) Boto dolphin surfacing in the ripple; none of the photos were timed right... We went to a fork in the river and swam with them, but Brice was too busy dying to join us. : (

9) Squirrel monkey on the boat! They're friendly, fuzzy, and adorable. This was curious about our canoe.

10) Howler monkeys. Not so friendly, but still fuzzy!

11) FREDDY! We also went baby-gator spotting, which was good fun (since our UK friends were trashed). Also, Brice says "I petted it."

12) The elusive 'carnivorous tree weasel.' Seriously. Your guess is as good as ours.

As far as the 'back again' is concerned, it took us close to 3 hours to make the Jeep trip back to Rurre. From there, we learned that the planes were still indefinitely grounded, so we grabbed a Bolivian Dinner (you'd think that would imply a number of diverse dishes, but really it's just fried chicken, fried plantains, and french fries), rented a room, and wandered out to our very confusing bus the next day. It took us another 18 hours for the return to La Paz, but we made it into the city at around 5:30 in the morning. La Paz is fairly quiet that early, since almost everyone is either sleeping or praying. Brice and I did our hobo-routine, trying to score a warm place to sleep in a distended lobby, but we ultimately gave up and found an early-risers coffee shop that would feed us.

After that, we popped by Swiss Bolivian to finish our business with them, got on a bus to Arequipa, Peru (connecting through Puno), and kissed Bolivia GOODBYE. Kissed is the wrong word. What we did was more of a sympathetic hand-wave from the other side of our sterile safe-room (Peru). All in all, it could have been worse...


Brice said...

FrederiCo. Also, I petted it.

And "Jungle flu" is really not what I would have called it, not quite harsh enough. Try a severe case of gastrointestinal death.

(that's my piranha)

And Jaimie was better at the drinking games than the some of the brits - and he didn't speak the language.

tonia said...

I thought Brice was afraid of snakes?