Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Kristin's Grumble in the Jungle

In another last minute Bolivia planning move, we passed on doing a high-altitude, multi-day trek and decided instead on a three-day boat ride into the Amazon Basin and the town of Rurrenabaque. In my mind, the boat offered a chance to encounter scenery unlike any we have seen on the trip previously and a totally unique way of getting to the Amazon. It also incorporated hiking (which Kristin likes) in the jungle (which Kristin likes less) and camping in the jungle (which Kristin doesn't really like at all), all in the heat and humidity one would expect of such a setting. Basically, we had all of the ingredients for an interesting couple of days. I enjoyed it and thought it was a good experience. Kristin at one point on the trip uttered the words, “this is my hell,” which suggests she probably remembers it less fondly. Let’s go to the video replay...

The trip for me got off to a bit of a rocky start. We had spent the two nights prior to shoving off in the sub-tropical town of Coroico, which the Lonely Planet describes as a "Bolivian Eden". We enjoyed the town (especially after switching hostals after the first night), and it did get us used to being around some of the creepy-crawlies we were expecting in the Amazon, but it wasn't the paradise we were hoping for. The "Eden" analogy might have held true, however, in the sense that I definitely ate some sort of forbidden fruit (or, more likely, forbidden meat) that introduced me to Bolivia Belly the night before the boat ride began and sent me running into the sweet embrace of anti-bacterial medication for the first time on our trip. With a four-hour taxi ride to the boat and three-hour river cruise scheduled to begin early the next morning, the timing was less than ideal and the first day of the Amazon trip was not entirely pleasant.

Stomach issues aside, I found cruising in the boat to be remarkably peaceful, maybe with the exception of the torrential downpour which lasted most of the third day. It was also a great way to see isolated towns that would have been inaccessible via any other form of transportation, and to see the locals out on the water and along the banks of the river sifting for gold. In this last respect, some of the convenience stores even had scales where people could bring in the tiny nuggets of gold that they found and be paid for it on the spot. I don't remember the exact rate per gram, but it sure wasn't very much. The landscape in the basin was pretty, even though it was largely covered in a smokey haze from intentionally lit fires in the area, and the boat plodded down the river at a pace that was leisurely enough to ensure we didn't miss anything noteworthy. We filled lulls in the time by chatting with those around us and drinking beer we bought in the riverside towns. I never managed to look up the effects of alcohol in combination with anti-baterial meds and malaria pills before we set off, but, as I'm still standing, I'm willing to give it the Kevin Long Seal of Approval.

While the trip was a chance to enjoy time with friends (naturally, Veit and Meike were there), it was also an opportunity to renew acquantainces with an old enemy from our jungle time in Colombia - the sandfly. For those that are not familiar, sandflies (or at least the ones here) are a lot like mosquitoes, except that they are much smaller and more difficult to see, don't have any sort of adversion to insect repellent and leave a bite that looks, more than anything else, like someone performed amateur surgery on the affected area. Oh, and the bites itch like crazy and tend to scab and scar. Anyways, they were out in full force, particularly at our swimming holes and when we camped on the beach the second night. Kristin's legs have once again taken the worst of it and, combined with her sandfly scars from The Lost City trek, look a lot like a pepperoni pizza from a distance. She is still in a state of mourning.

Insects and birds aside, we didn't see much of the wildlife (pink river dolphins and sloths, for example) I was hoping for. This was somewhat expected because the river tour is not the area one goes to see the most animals (it's better to book an additional tour to a different area once arriving in Rurrenabaque, which Kristin was having none of). Also, our group ballooned from six to 14 persons when a rival operator cancelled their tour, which made us a very noisy bunch when hiking through the jungle. Ironically, we did end up seeing one animal that we were all very much hoping to avoid. [Editor's note: I don't actually know if this is an example of irony or not. I've been totally confused by the definition ever since that Alanis Morissette song came out 15 years ago.] The body of the snake pictured below was largely covered by grass and leaves which had fallen from the trees, but the grey area behind its head was the walking path from our boat to the tents. We were incredibly lucky that it was our guide who happened down the path first and heard the snake, which does not retreat from people, before it was too late. He said that if the snake had gotten a good bite on one of us, that person would have been dead within three hours. When he called some of us over to have a look, even though he was pointing to the spot where it lay, I couldn't see it until I was about six or seven feet away. Ultimately, the snake was given the bouncer treatment with a couple of long sticks and shown back to the river, while our group went the other way to begin a hike in the jungle and consider what could have been.

Our pictures from our Amazon trip are here. We’re heading to the Salar de Uyuni (Bolivian salt flats) tomorrow for a three-day jeep ride and then on to the Atacama desert in Chile, so we'll wish our Canadian readers Happy Thanksgiving a bit early and hope to see everyone again here for a new post early next week.

1 comment:

  1. Kristin's rebuttal:

    I thought I should clarify my views on the jungle trip. During the day I quite enjoyed the boat, and the jungle in general. During the night, not so much. I believe I uttered the words "This is my hell" in our tent our first night. The temperature was stifling, the humidity was greater than I had ever experienced in my life, we were incredibly dirty and sweaty and we couldn't open our tent screen door because it was broken and we didn't want to risk being attacked by all of the bugs which were trying (very loudly and agressively) to get into our tent. That comment was very appropriate given the situation....

    Kevin's response: