The bus from Rurrenabaque
The alternative to flying to and from the Amazon basin
Circumstance demanded that, rather than fly back to La Paz in the tiny twelve-seater plane in which I had arrived to the Amazon basin, I had to take the bus.
I was initially somewhat cautious about doing so due to the horror stories I had heard beforehand such as the length of the journey rumoured to be up to thirty hours, the bumpy and uneven surface, even the fact that the bus climbs the Coroico “death road – the most dangerous road in the world”; so called due to the high fatality rate of around 100 deaths a year, a large percentage of which comes from buses falling over the edge.
It was a last minute decision and as a result the aid of Rurrenabaque motorcycle taxis (2bs for a ride) was required to get me to the bus station in time.
I managed to get a seat on the bus ten minutes before departure and soon we were off. A fellow gringo who had braved the trip on the way to Rurrenabaque told me that the journey was actually only 18 hours long. Company certainly lightens the load as eighteen hours on my own certainly wouldn’t have gone as quickly as when I had another Brit to discuss South America with. The bus company doesn’t make any visible effort to make the slog any more bearable and despite the teasing presence of a TV, for the first time in my bus jaunts around the country, no movies were shown. Meanwhile, we didn’t get any food other than what we managed to wolf down during two brief half hour stops in ghostly deserted towns, and the stiff seats barely reclined.
The road was as unforgiving as I had previously been warned, but the view of the surrounding jungle landscape was enough to distract my attention. The sight of the sun setting over the Bolivian “selva” is something I’ll never forget and almost worth the price of the bus ticket and hours of extreme discomfort alone. Once the sun sets however, with no lights on the bus, your time will be primarily occupied by reading by torchlight or, my preferred activity, sleeping. As uncomfortable as this was, I managed to spend a good six hours doing just this, unfortunately waking up to extreme cold, just in time to witness the death road.
It’s probably best to fly there and take the bus back as I did, as even though my confidence in our rather suspicious driver wasn’t the highest and I could still partially see the sheer drop, most of it was obscured by darkness. Having left Rurrenabaque at 11.30 (the time the bus leaves from the terminal every day), we arrived in La Paz at 6.40, cold, aching, having seen some spectacular views, but still sorely wishing we could have flown.
A day in the jungle
Our jungle tour began with a two hour delay in the baking midday sun, waiting for a new motor to be found to power our boat. Once one had been located we began the spectacular three hour ride along a river that wound its way through lush green scenery, a setting that transformed from mountain dominated forestry to low-lying jungle surroundings.
Our camp was compact yet functional and, as always seems to be the case with any tour, came complete with sumptuous meals and sleazy guides (ours casually informed us that he had been married seven times and was on the lookout for wife number eight).
Just a few yards away from our lodge huge birds with a faint resemblance to turkeys sat serenely in the trees, monkeys clambered in the branches overheard and giant ants (some ten times the size of their British counterparts) scuttled in the undergrowth beneath. As soon as lunch was over our first excursion into the wilderness began. This was a laid-back 45 minute walk behind our machete-wielding host as he took us to different trees and plants explaining the medicinal benefits of each one. On the way we saw a giant ‘Golden Silk’ spider as big as my hand (with a thick, bright web, after which it takes its name) and a collection of huge caterpillars sitting in formation on the trunk of a tree that, our guide told us, had stood for over 400 years.
After another big meal we went out for our second trek, this time to find a good viewpoint from which to spot Macaws, giant parrot-like birds that live for up to seventy years, while only ever having one mate.
A rather grueling steep, uphill climb later and we came to our destination which was a small clearing from which you could peer over miles of untouched jungle landscape. Directly beneath us sat two Macaws, sadly spreading their beautiful bright blue wings and taking flight at the sight of our cameras.
The trip back down required slightly more concentration as, due to our tour starting late, it had to be conducted in pitch black with only the light of the guide’s feeble torch to point us in the right direction, allowing us to avoid the sheer drop to our left. Fancying himself as something of a joker, he would routinely scream “jaguar!” before turning back round and chuckling happily to himself. Jaguars did indeed stalk the jungle, he told us, and had even killed someone recently. They were, he said, his favourite animal. Once we arrived back at the lodge (after a hair-raisingly bumpy boat ride) we collapsed into our beds in the heat of the night.
Overall then an unforgettable experience, although best to ask around tour guides to compare who does what. If you can stomach the sweltering humidity and rather claustrophobic environment, it’s probably worth spending more than one day there if only to really get a feel for jungle life.