Wednesday, May 5, 2010

La Paz & Rurrenabaque, Bolivia

Hello again friends, fam and foes.

Giving you the low-down on the last months' work from Rurrenabaque, Bolivia, which is located in the southwest arm of the Amazon basin. I have now been here over a month and I cannot believe how fast it has gone.

Ben, Daan and I spent 3 days in La Paz, just touring the city and booking flights to Rurre. We left on a Monday evening for Rurre, but their airport was closed due to weather - more to come from the weather. We landed at Reyes, which is about an hours' drive from Rurre and got a shuttle into Rurre. Booked into a hostel that night and spent the next day figuring out which jungle expedition company to travel with. Ben and Daan only had 3 days, so they booked a short Pampas tour. Las Pampas are the wetlands. Tour here offer you a stay in an eco-lodge, three meals, and wildlife treks up and down the river. I decided to go with a 10-day jungle expedition by myself with Mogli tours. The history of Mogli tours is an interesting one.

About 15 years ago, a native man, Mogli & Faizar's father, was trekking through the jungle in search of a lost Isreali man that had been lost in the jungle for three weeks. On one of the final nights of their search, Mogli and Faizar's father heard a cry, which the Gringo (the lost man's friend) thought was a wolf crying out in the night. Faizar's dad flew into the jungle with a torch in hand telling the man that what he heard was no wolf, but a human cry. After searching for less than an hour, they came upon the lost friend. Faizar, who was my guide for the 10 days in the jungle, told me that the man was delusional after spending three weeks alone in the jungle with wounds all over from mosquito, sandflies and all the other critters that would feast on you without a net. They built a camp that night and gave the man some food to eat. The next day, they slowly made their way back to Faizar's home where they rested again. The man eventually regained his health and was able to return to Isreal. Two years later, he returned to find Faizar's father and did. He told him, we have to start a tour company that gives people guided expeditions into La Selva (the jungle). Mogli tours became the spearheading company offering guided jungle expeditions. Nowadays, the town lives off this tourism trade.

On our first day, we took a motorboat up the river about three hours. We disembarqued and headed straight into the jungle with a sleeping bag, mosquito net, food for the journey, and our two native guides, Faizar and Miguel. We hiked about 3-4 hours on our first day, arriving at a stony river which would serve as our resting point for the night. Within one hour, we had cleared an area about 20x20 ft and erected a bambo frame covering for our mosquito nets. Dinner that night was amazing... Spaghetti Bolognese with cabbage salad and fried steak. Yeah, fried steak, mmm. Faizar then performed for us a jungle ritual ceremony for La Pachamama. Pachamama is the god that natives here (Quechua, Tacana, Chimani, and another people which I cannot recall) worship. The Pacha signifies the sky/sun and the Mama signifies mother earth. This was such a cool experience. He asked her to keep us safe, give us luck, and keep the jaguargs away while we treek through her jungle. She was very gracious to us indeed.

For the next 5 days, we hiked about 5-6 hours per day through unmarked, thick jungle territory, encountering numerous animals and amazing trees and plants. Our visitors included chancho (pig), cayman (aligator) that Faizar hooked with a pirhana he caught on a fishing line, lol; We subdued a turantula by blowing smoke in her face and basically getting her high. Once she was relaxed, we all took turns getting placed on our heads and she would walk across our face. We also saw lots of monkeys, snake, owl, eagle, parrots and capibara. I caught a 25 pound Pacu (salmon) on the 6th night. Biggest catch I have ever landed.

Each night, Faizar and I would sit either by the river or the fire and he would share stories with us. He is 27 years old - my age - And he has lived in the jungle most of his life. His father and grandfather showed him their skills that their parents passed down to them. This has gone on for many, many generations in these parts. School for these people is La Selva. I can't possible tell you all of the stories he shared as there were so many, funny and not so funny, but I do have to tell you that I felt a strong connection to Faizar. He is my age, but I saw a wisdom in him that far surpasses anything possessed by anyone I have ever met before. I have met a lot of interesting people along my travels so far, but Faizar is really the one that I have learned the most from. I now have a much deeper appreciation for the natural world around us and what Pachamama gives us everybody so we can survive - food, water, shelter, and each other.

After my incredible experience in the jungle, I couldn't leave Rurre. I found out there is an animal refuge association that is opening its newest park, Jacj Cuisi, across the river from here. Inti Warra Yassi is the name of the association. Jane Goodall (AKA The Ape Lady), has commended the association with their efforts as one of Jane Goodall's Heroes awards. They take in orphaned, injured, and mistreated animals and try to give them the best life possible. Release is usually not possible due to their contact with humans and lacklustre hunting skills, but it is possible that this will happen in the future. Volunteering with Jacj Cuisi costs you 50Bolivianos per day ($7CAD) and that includes your accomodation and three meals per day. During my stay, there was also a group of English, Aussie, and South Africans, on a Qwest trip. Qwest is a travel association that takes kids to travel and volunteer on projects in South America and Africa. For the days they spent at the park, we hauled 30-50kg bags of sand, cement, and stone up through the jungle to build a new enclosure for Luna, a female puma coming to the park in a few months. Usually those working on construction do not see the cats that live up in the jungle as the volunteers that work with the cats work with them for at least a month. This establishes trust with the cat and limits the zoo-like contact with humans in order to give the best life they can. On my last day at the park, carting my last bag of cement up the hill I ran into Lishou, the biggest male puma they have. What a sight. He is about 3 feet tall, 90kgs, with a beautiful grey coat and absolutely monstrous paws - They are related to the lion family I am told and they are also known as the cougar or mountain lion in North America. His shoulders went up and he growled like a lion, shining his teeth at me as well. He came over to give me a smell, but wasn't interested in me. I guess that is a good thing, as many of the volunteers have some pretty bad marks on them from being jumped. The cats are only playing, but they are still big cats and can cause some damage.

I got back to Rurre Sunday afternoon, booked a hostel and went for lunch. After lunch, I set out on a mission to get myself to La Paz. Well, holy shit. There has been a road blockade between here and La Paz for about 10 days now. Buses cannot pass and no one knows when it will end. The blockade is apparently over a citrus fruit processing plant. Either people don't want it there as it will kill local farmer's markets (which is my guess) or they were promised the factory (ie. jobs, etc.) and then the company decided to move it elsewhere. And there is no dialect between them and the government at all. So, the only way out of town is to fly, which costs about $75 instead of $10 on the overnight bus. The only available flight was Wednesday morning at 9:50. And why am I writing to you while I should be in the air, you ask? Well, since Pachamama decided to rain down a monstrous load of water the other night, the grass landing strip in Rurre is still to wet to be used. All flights have been pushed back one day - Hopefully only one day!

So, I fly tomorrow evening - fingers crossed - to La Paz for 2 days and then I can find a cheap flight to Buenos Aires. Sara is meeting me there on May 12th... Can't wait to soak up some of the paris of the South, as they say.

Until next time.

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