May 8 - May 14, 2017

We arrived back in Santa Cruz in the evening after our visit to San Miguelito. The next day we decided to visit the zoo. It was closed, but we enjoyed it anyway, because of all the sloths we saw. The zoo has sloths free roaming through its trees, and they escape quite often. Walking around the outside fence, we spotted 6 or 7 sloths, 3 of which had left the zoo itself. One had even made it across the street. It looked like the locals were pretty used to this, as there was always somebody ready to carry a sloth back to the fence. For us, it was a great opportunity to watch sloths up close and actually climbing around.

Following our short visit we went to the ATM, and then to Nick’s to pay for more tours. With the largest common bill in Bolivia being worth around $14, you quickly end up with a lot of bills when paying for 5 days worth of tours for two. Next stop was a mall, because we thought we’d buy bug spray there. We didn’t, but we did eat at the food court, which also wasn’t a good reason to visit the mall. About the only thing we learned was that malls in Santa Cruz are basically the same as at home.

We were still plenty tired, but Danielle decided she didn’t like Santa Cruz so the next day we took a flight via La Paz to Rurrenabaque. It was a little bumpy leaving La Paz in a small two propellor aircraft, but other than that it was all very easy. Getting off the plane in Rurrenabaque, it was immediately hot and humid.

Rurrenabaque is a small town straddling a river that eventually drains into the Amazon. There is no bridge so we never really visited the other bank. While tourism is a major source of income here, Rurrenabaque also serves as the main market for all the smaller towns in the area, so the main strip had more normal stores (of every variety) than tourist support.

The first night we stayed in a dorm at a recommended hostel because they were out of private rooms. This sounded fine when Danielle booked it, but arriving there I was not in the most accepting mood. We’d planned a rest day and this place just didn’t feel restful to me. The bug screen had some holes in it, and it was right next to a stadium where a loud announcer commented on some sporting event. I managed to relax a little by shutting myself in with music and going over some trip pictures.

The next day was supposed to be our rest day. Arguing that I needed to be comfy to rest, we moved to an expensive hotel down the street, which gave us a private room and air conditioning. I didn’t leave our room except to eat, and that did help.

After one night in the air conditioning, we were picked up in the morning for our actual tour of the jungle with Berraco del Madidi. We walked one block to get on a long (30 feet?), narrow (2 seats) boat. (I almost wrote “dock” but there wasn’t a dock. The boats are typically just beached.) We crossed the river to buy our entry tickets, crossed back to pick up some supplies, then headed up river.

Almost instantly we couldn’t see the village behind us anymore, as we passed through a gap in some cliffs. There were still villages and farmland occasionally visible on the shore, but only occasionally. We picked up our guide and cook at one village, and continued up the river. After some time we turned up a smaller (but still wide) river. We hit several spots where the outboard motor was briefly lifted out of the water because it was so shallow, and in some of these spots it was necessary for our guide to use a pole to push the boat along. In addition to shallow spots, there were quite a few downed trees lying in the river as well. The current was quite strong and made nice standing waves around them.

We saw quite a few birds on the river, including beautiful capped herons. Our first bird sighting was a bit exciting, as a black and yellow bird flew across the river, landing on the cliff. As it landed something happened to it and it tumbled down the cliff and lay there. Our guide guessed that the bird had been struck by a snake right as it landed. There were many herons, vultures, a few storks, and several pairs of macaws that flew overhead. In addition to birds we also saw a single cayman sunning itself, and a capybara jumping into the water. The boat trip took about 6 hours, but we had a great time watching the river and the wildlife.

At camp we got settled into our tent, which was built on a covered platform and contained 2 full mattresses. This setup did a great job keeping bugs away, and it was easy to keep them out of the tent. (One moth did get in, but they don’t bite.) We ate meals about 100m away, where there was another covered platform attached to a kitchen. All the food was good, and we had left-overs every meal.

We stayed 3 nights, and the main thing we did was go on guided walks through the jungle. This place felt more jungly than San Miguelito. It was more humid, the trees were much taller, and there seemed to be even more vines. All that meant that it was really hard to see animals, and we barely saw any. But it was neat just to walk around and see the huge variety of plant life. It felt like every tree was different, and had several vines growing on it. Some of the vines had vines growing on them, and so on. Or maybe they had fungus. There was something neat to see literally everywhere.

We also saw a lot of ants. Fire ants, in their tree. Soldier ants, on sizeable paths that we were careful around. Bullet ants, which will give you 24 hours of misery if they bite you. Leaf cutter ants, which cut up leaves, carry them to their nest, where they use the leaves to feed fungus that they farm, which in term feeds the baby ants. And all those we could see just around our camp. The leaf cutters ants seemed most active at night. One night, walking to dinner, we noticed a fallen leaf covered in them. When walking back later, all that was left was the stalk.

Our best animal sighting was of some red howler monkeys, way up in some trees. The small group seemed content watching us, moving around only occasionally. Otherwise we saw plenty of evidence of other animals, mostly in the form of fresh tapir and jaguar prints. At night we could hear animals walking around, but we never caught a glimpse.

On our last full day we went fishing in the river. It was neat to see how it was done, but our involvement was limited to holding the line that somebody else cast. I would’ve liked to do a bit more than that. It was more exciting for Danielle, when her line started tugging. She reeled in a large pacu, which we took back to camp to eat later.

On our final day we took the morning off. Wandering around camp I spotted some macaws and finally got a few good pictures of them. For lunch we ate the fish, which was excellent. Some was prepared in banana leaves, and some was simply grilled. Because it was Danielle’s birthday, lunch also included a glass of red wine, which was the next closest thing to vinegar. But we were polite and drank it. Then it was time to get on the boat back to Rurrenabaque. The trip back was only 4 hours because we went with the current. Somehow it felt longer, though. I was ready for the fancy hotel with air conditioning, and that is where we went.

Madidi National Park pictures