Pampas Tour Recap
You have several things to consider when heading to Rurrenabaque for a trip into the jungle or savanna. If you’re planning a trip here, I suggest reading this post for tips and information to consider.
The Pampas tour was a great experience for us, and the following is a very detailed recap of everything we did during our three day trek into the Bolivian savanna. It is a slightly condensed version of the recap written by my wife and I on our RTW blog. Feel free to check out the three original posts here:
Day One (written by Megan)
We departed on our Pampas tour two days before Thanksgiving. The drive out to the Santa Rosa wildlife reserve was dusty and bumpy, but our ride was sturdy and our driver seemed to know the road like the back of his hand.
After driving for half a day, we arrived at the River Yacuma where we loaded up and hopped into our transportation for the next three days. It didn’t take long before we saw our first alligator. Our guide, Domingo, promptly pulled our boat right up on the shore, no more than five feet away from a gator.
Happily for us, he didn’t mind too much—when he got tired of us, he just dove into the water (rather than going ahead and having us for a snack, which was my initial fear!) The rest of the afternoon’s trip to our camp was amazing. We saw more wildlife than I ever imagined possible.
In the span of a few hours, we saw thousands of gators (yes, thousands. At one point, we counted the number of gators we saw in a five minute period. Fifty-one. Everywhere you turned, there were gators: some by themselves, some in large groups, some swimming, some just lounging on the shore. And some, the most ominous, were only visible because you could see their eyes hovering just above the water). There was also one that didn’t seem quite as ominous. In fact, he was so docile that another guide looked downright bored when our guide walked up to the gator and was petting him on the head!!
While the gators were exciting and a bit scary, it had been the possibility of seeing a real-live R.O.U.S.* that had really sold me on the trip in the first place, so our first Capybara sighting was too exciting for a dork like me. Despite being the world’s largest rodent, the Capybaras were quite cute. Most of them were having a riverside snack or cooling off in the water. Amazingly, they seemed to be quite comfortable being surrounded by gators, despite the fact that the Capybaras are natural prey of the gators.
In addition to the gators and capybara, we saw rows of turtles sunning themselves on logs and countless birds—egrets, herons, cormorants, eagles, hawks, vultures, cardinals and birds of paradise, just to name a few! It was a great day and awesome start to our Pampas Tour.
Day Two (written by Megan)
The first morning at our lodge, our wakeup call came in the form of roaring howler monkeys. The howling started before dawn and is a sound like no other I have ever heard before. It is a low guttural sound, almost similar to a distant motor (a big motor!), but still a very distinct sound. After the howlers did their job, we headed out on our one scheduled hike of the tour: the search for Anacondas and Cobras. (Check out the video I shot, with howler monkeys and sounds of the jungle.)
Anacondas in the pampas can reach 12-15 feet and capture their prey by squeezing then swallowing it whole. (Bad news for small critters in the pampas, no worries for big old humans.) The cobra had me a little more worried as it is actually venomous. We were assured that any cobras we might encounter didn’t have enough venom to kill a human, only to make one really sick (it’s amazing what kind of comments you begin to find reassuring on a trip like this!).
After some wandering around with a few other groups, we heard shouts from a nearby tour guide that he had found an anaconda. Domingo beat us there and was in the process of moving the snake when we showed up on the scene.
I was watching the anaconda (and not necessarily what was in its path) when I heard Domingo say the words that made me freeze in my tracks: “Don’t move, Adam. It won’t hurt you.” I looked up and realized that the boots that were inches away from this six-foot long snake belonged to my husband! I can say pretty confidently that I would have taken off running if the anaconda had decided to cozy up with my feet, but Adam held his ground.
After Adam’s close encounter, we were lucky enough to spot another anaconda—another group the day before had hiked for five hours without seeing any snakes. Domingo then gave us the option of continuing on the search to look for cobras or heading back to camp for lunch. Hmmm, leisurely boat ride to lunch or sweaty hunt for a venomous snake? Tough choice! After having lunch, we set out to catch our dinner—Piranha fishing!
There wasn’t much initial success, but after a few pointers, Adam started to get the hang of it.
Finally, it was my turn for glory. A well timed yank on my line confirmed that I had in fact, hooked a Pirhana. I pulled it in to the boat and turned to Adam to take it off the hook for me. He abandoned me in my time of need encouraged me to improve my fishing skills by doing it myself. I bravely grasped the man-eating fish in one hand and the hook in the other. The fish started squirming, and I, forgetting the whole big teeth aspect of pirhana, freaked out and loosened my grip. Not smart. I promptly had a pirhana latched on to the tip of my index finger. I threw the fish down into the bottom of the boat and shouted “F***er bit me!!”
Domingo rushed over to make sure that I was intact. He frantically looked around the boat to find my attacker. And he looked. And looked. Finally I pointed down below adam’s seat, where the fish was flopping around. Domingo promptly burst out laughing. In his defense, he tried to suppress the giggles, but apparently my scene was just too much for him. He picked up the fish and gently explained to me that yes, I had caught a piranha, and yes, that was good, but unfortunately, this particular man-eating beast wasn’t big enough to eat for dinner. In fact, it wasn’t even big enough to cut up and use as bait to catch other piranha. It was after hearing that pronouncement that I declared my retirement from piranha fishing. Lucky for me, Adam and Domingo picked up the slack and caught enough fish for us to have a nice piranha dinner.
After Piranha fishing, we made a stop at another camp to hang out. It took all of about 90 seconds for a soccer game to break out. A rousing 6 v. 6, Gringos vs. Bolivianos match, with beer on the line for the winners, was one of the more memorable, impromptu experiences of the trip that deserves its own post.
After the soccer game, we whiled away the evening swinging in hammocks, sipping cold beer and alternating between chatting and singing along with one of the guys who was playing the guitar. Adam and I realized that the following day would be the first Thanksgiving either of us had spent away from home. I was definitely sad to not be able to share the day with my family, but having that evening and that opportunity to meet a whole new group of interesting people from around the world, to be able to discuss their views and travels, there in such an absolutely amazing setting—well, the gratitude I felt for that was just overwhelming.
It was a very good day.
The final morning of our Pampas tour, I again awoke to strange sounds on the roof of our cabin. I poked my head out the door and promptly grabbed my camera. The squirrel monkeys had decided that Thanksgiving morning was playtime! There must have been twenty or thirty of them bounding around in the trees and through our camp. Lucky for me and my lack of zoom lens, some of them were braver than others. One even snuck into our cabin!
After a little more relaxing, we headed out to a section of the river known to be popular with pink dolphins (and unpopular with alligators). After making sure to watch our guide go in first, we all slipped into the water to take a dip. My heart was racing at the idea of swimming in the same river that was home to those thousands of gators I mentioned earlier, but I was quickly distracted by the pinkish hued dolphins breaking the surface of the muddy water nearby. The dolphins were amazing—it was so surprising to begin with to even see dolphins in a river. Then, once you accepted that they were really there, you were surprised again by their appearance. They had huge protruding foreheads and were a very light pinkish gray color. The coolest part was listening to them. Floating on my back with my ears below the surface of the water, I could hear them calling to each other with clicks and squeals. I felt like I was getting to experience another world (you’ll notice this is a theme on our comments on Bolivia!). I had no idea what they were saying to each other, but knowing that I was hearing intelligent animals communicating was just remarkable. Unfortunately, we weren´t able to get any pictures, so you´ll just have to take my word for it, they were very cool.
After our swim, we were headed back to Rurre. We piled back into the dusty jeep and started off on our several hour drive: Adam and I, Catherine from New Zealand, Domingo, and our driver. Shortly after we set out, the driver reached over and popped a jump drive into the stereo (priorities: No A/C and no seatbelts, but a USB-equipped stereo!). For the next few hours, we were entertained by a steady stream of 70’s 80s, and 90s hits. We tried to conceal our surprised looks when a disco dance mix started playing—one song right into the next—YMCA, We Are Family, etc.
Once we had a good sampling of the seventies, we moved right into the eighties, Thriller, some Madonna, and few other classics. Finally we moved on to the nineties, which, although not our cup of tea musically, was the absolute highlight. For over an hour, we listened to bubble-gum pop music—Brittney Spears, Back Street Boys, some Michael Jackson ballads, etc.—and watched our guide get down with the music. We are talking about a tough guy, over six feet tall, with missing front teeth, scars from gator and piranha bites covering his arms and hands, and most notably, a machete strapped to his leg that was the length of his entire thigh–seriously, it stretched nearly from hip to knee. Here was this hardened jungle guide, bouncing and grooving in his seat, drumming on the dashboard and singing along with the king and queen of pop! It was one more example of never knowing what to expect in Bolivia.