The Pampa of Bolivia, tour to the wilderness close to Rurrenabarque. Monkeys, dolphins, birds, snakes, turtles and baby crocodiles.

Travelogue Bolivia 2003
Rurrenabarque and the Pampa – Part 1

March 11th, 2003

Dear friends,

From Riberalta I took a bus through the Bolivian jungle and pampa. All of you will be able to imagine jungle; pampa there are two different forms, the natural pampa, regions often flooded and with little high vegetation, and the artificial pampa where man burned down the jungle. Luckily this happened only in relatively small parts of this country. A funny plant growing here is the so called Palma Real, a palm tree that does not burn, even if you burn down all the surrounding forest. The word Pampa derives from the name of region in Argentina , but that is a different kind of landscape.

We left one hour later than scheduled because some passengers were missing. Imagine the train Munich-Hamburg waiting because Mr. Martin Huber did not show up unexcused. But here you learn not to be annoyed by being late, it happens to often and there is no way to avoid it. Best to develop some strategies for using this time for something useful. When we started also the rain did start. I was expecting the worst as my guide book said that the standard trip of 12 to 15 hours could last up to six days if the passengers have to pull the bus out of one mud puddle after the other. But I was lucky and after 14 hours we arrived.

I used the bumpy and in old seats not very comfortable time to plan my next steps. I have been travelling a little more than half of the time I have and up to now it was possible to do whatever I wanted. Now I have to plan every step to make sure that I will be in Santiago de Chile by end of March. Two months are almost nothing when travelling South America , I wish I had more. After sunset it was not only uncomfortable but also pitch black in the bus and I escaped in some uneasy sleep.

At one in the morning we reached Rurrenabarque and of course there was no Taxi. Together with a local boy who didn’t seem to feel safe, either, I started to walk to the center but luckily finally a motorbike came and I took a ride the hotel. It was so nice to have a shower and a comfy bed.

Next morning I went for the first information about the tours, basically in Rurrenabarque you have the choice between pampa and jungle. I wanted to see the pampa as I have seen the jungle as it exists here too often. The only jungle I still want to see is the most giant type where all the trees are at least 20m high and much more and the vegetation is fighting for all available light in different levels. But till now I don’t now where to find this, maybe Venezuela or Brazil and definitely not this trip.

Anyway I was first having breakfast and saw how they packed a jeep in the travel agency across the road. One hour later and one day earlier than planed I was on my way.

Bolivia, Rurrenabarque: Boy with a monkey
Aren’t they cute?

First we took a jeep and for three hours went back the route I had come through the last night. Right on the trip we saw the first animals, birds, the head of an alligator and when we had lunch our guides went the first time to stalk an anaconda but they didn’t succeed. As always on these roads we passed a lot of people waiting in the middle of nowhere to get a lift to some other nowhere place. When we passed one of those families I saw an animal with a long tail in the hands of a two-year-old boy. First I thought it was a lizard and our driver stopped and went back. We found a tiny monkey baby, body some 15cm and with a maybe 30cm long tail. We all cuddled the little creature but it only felt comfortable in the arms of the little boy it obviously had accepted as a foster mother. The boy sat next to me in the car and soon fell asleep in my arm. Therefore there was a little creature sleeping in my arm with a even tinier creature sleeping in his arm. I can’t say whether there was a flea sleeping in the monkey’s arm to continue this chain one further step.

Bolivia, Rurrenabarque: Pampa Tour
Our boat – our group

The jeep took us to a river where we took a boat for three more hours. We saw a pink river dolphin from some distance and only its back but close enough to get an impression how big this “fish” was. Right now it is a relatively bad time to do this trip as the rivers are high and it is much more difficult to see many animals. Also the water was very dirty. In the best times, starting in June, very best September to November, you can even swim with the dolphins. There were lots of birds including eagles, different kinds of monkeys, some tame enough to eat bananas from our guides hands, others howling like bears fighting pumas, little but deadly snakes swimming by, turtles and much more.

Bolivia, Rurrenabarque, Pampa Tour: A Monkey
think that this is an adult relative of the boy’s cute monkey. Generally they are very trustfull, they ate from the hands of our guide. But if one of them steals a banana from the other you can see a really angry monkey.

Finally we reached the agency’s camp, a open air kitchen and two huts with insect screens, one where we ate and slept in, the other one for the guides. Together with a second group that had come one day earlier we went to a place where it was possible to see over the pampa grass till the horizon and enjoyed the sunset. After this we enjoyed lunch and once again I was surprised by the quality of the food. After lunch we finished the day with alligators. Close to the camp lived a mother with her kids and one of the guides robed one of the baby alligators, though the female alligators don’t get bigger than 1.5m this is not a harmless thing to do. The baby was about two weeks old, 15cm body, 15cm tail. It was nice to hold it in my hand and the guide said that they also enjoy sitting in hour warm hand as long as we don’t hold them to tight. The night was very very hot, but thanks to a very good mosquito net they provided I did not get bitten once.

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© Volker Umpfenbach

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