I’m not a big fan of wellington boots, but there I was, wading ankle-deep through the swamp waters of the Pampas del Yacuma. Not only that, but we were searching for anacondas. This is their natural habitat. Luckily, our guide failed to find any. It’s the end of the rainy season, which means the water levels are still high, giving the snakes plenty of space to hide.
When I arrived in Rurrenabaque after my overland jungle trip from La Paz, it was gloriously hot. This river town on the Rio Beni is small and laid-back and has low rise buildings. Surprisingly, there is an outpost of the Bolivian navy here with a command centre right next to my hotel. In fact, it’s surprising that Bolivia even has a navy, given that it has no coastal access. But the river here does go all the way to the border with Brazil, so if Brazil decides to invade, I guess they’re prepared.
Jungle mountains loom to the south of the town. To the north lies a different ecosystem, that of the Pampas, where the dense jungle gives way to open grasslands and swamps. Cattle farming is the main activity here, but tourism is also important. And unlike the jungle, you are almost guaranteed sightings of wildlife. This time I signed up for the easier option of staying in a lodge for two nights with Mashaquipe, a community-based organisation. It’s not the cheapest operator around, but it was definitely good value for money.
On the three-hour drive to the lodge based on the Rio Yacuma we saw a sloth, some caiman, a rhea (similar to an ostrich) and many birds. After lunch on the first day we had the opportunity to swim with the river dolphins, but for some reason they seemed shy and uninterested. Occasionally, they bobbed up in the distance, but didn’t want to play.
The next few days passed peacefully by on boat trips along the river, observing howler monkeys, capybara (a kind of huge rodent), caiman at night and many different species of birds. The sunsets were also out of this world.
The rain set in as we were leaving the lodge and the dirt road back to Rurrenabaque was churned up with mud. I never expected to be cold in the jungle. It’s supposed to be hot, humid and sweaty, right? But I’ve been wearing my fleece and boots and the owner of the Hotel Oriental here on Rurrenabaque’s main square handed out blankets. Apparently a cold front occasionally comes in bringing low temperatures and rain. And that’s happened just as I’d planned a few relaxing days swinging in a hammock, recovering from my expeditions to the jungle and pampas.
The sun came out briefly, so I hopped on a moto taxi up to Oscar’s Bar which has a swimming pool and panoramic views of Rurrenabaque. But then the clouds appeared again and the temperature dropped. Although it’s a great place to relax with traveller-friendly cafes, I get the impression that a certain level of lawlessness lurks beneath. For example, I noticed that many vehicles don’t have licence plates. Apparently, these are all stolen and the local police seem to turn a blind eye – for a fee I’m sure. But when I’m back in bustling La Paz tomorrow, I know I’m going to miss the relaxed pace of the jungle.