A Travellerspoint blog

Off-road Bolivia...

The Death Road:

Now I should start by saying that it's not me who proclaims this to be the most dangerous road in the world. Many, many people unfortunately had to lose their lives before the death road, was officially named. For a visual taster, just type the 'worlds most dangerous road' into youtube and you will be greeted not only by videos of people plummeting to their deaths in buses, but also of somebody cycling down it, so you can see exactly what it involves. Who knows, it may even tempt you to take it on yourself? Or after you hear what I have to say, possibly not....

Now there are a load of rumours about the number of people who have actually died on this road. What I can tell you, is that it's definitely well into the hundreds, quite possibly thousands, but we certainly aren't talking tens of thousands. The road has actually become a lot safer, since the opening of a new road running a few miles parallel to the death road. All public traffic now runs on the new road, which has dramatically reduced the number of deaths p/a. Our guide informs me that the figure of deaths now sits at around two per year, which considering the amount of tourists attempting this run each day, is not actually that bad.

There were about 12 of us in our group and we all met in the pub at about 7.30am. Practically the first thing the guide said, even before an introduction was "who wants a shot then?". At that point I knew it would be a fun day, even if he was joking... i'm still not sure if he was or not, but nobody took him up on the offer, it was 7.30am after all. We jumped in the van and headed up to 4700m, all of us exchanging our horror stories that we had heard about the death road. At the top it was very cold, misty and icy, not exactly perfect cycling conditions then. We each got provided a bike, of which mine was called 'stinky', but the bike was top quality. Double suspension and hydraulic brakes, eased my fears a little. The guide got us round in a semi circle and gave us the pep talk, which basically consisted of him telling us to watch out on the road because "Bolivians are fucking crazy" and always stick to the left side, because contrary to normal South American driving, which is on the right side, on mountains you always go down on the left. The reason for this is so that drivers can lean out the window to see how close they are to the edge. It's a rule that makes sense, but it's not great to hear that we were going to have to cycle down the majority of this mountain 'cliff side'. I haven't even ridden a bike for about 8 years, let along ride one down a cliff.

All that was left of our 'safety briefing' was for us each to drink some 96% alcohol. Okaaaay, so maybe the guide is a piss head after all. Everybody had to do it You tipped a bit of your shot on the bike and ground as an offering to Pachamama (mother earth) - this is a strong Bolivian tradition. The rest of it you knocked back. It's a stomach warmer I tell you.

Luckily the first part of the run isnt actually the death road, it's just a fast, steep concrete road. It gave everybody a chance to get used to the bikes and I found this bit really fun. Naturally I was busting a gut, along with the other lads, trying to keep up with the instructor, who considering this was our 'acclimatisation stage' was going hell for leather. I'm not sure exactly how fast we were going, but after we overtook a few lorries, I assumed, pretty fast. After 30mins or so of the concrete road, we came to the entrance of the death road. This is the point where the road narrowed, significantly and it got bumpy as hell. It wasn't just a gravel track, there were some pretty massive rocks on it too which you had to try and avoid. At points the road was no wider than 2.5m. Now this may sound like quite a lot, but as I quickly found out, at the speeds we were going, with a sheer drop to our left, 2.5m is not that wide.

If I told you we slowed down now we were onto the death road proper, I would be lying. Maybe at first we took it a little slow, but after a minute or two it was straight back to standing up on the bike, peddling as hard as possible and just trying to roll with the bumps so to speak. I obviously slowed down for corners, but it was definitely faster than I would have gone if I was on my own, I mean damn, there was no way I was gonna get left behind... I cycled as hard as possible to stay with the front pack. It was some serious adrenalin pumping stuff. I was just careful not to get carried away looking at the incredible view, cause its stunts like that which would have got me killed and is one of the most common reasons for tourists dying on this road.

It wasn't long before we had our first casualty, as I rounded a corner I saw a girl crumpled in a heap on the floor, directly under a mini waterfall. Not a good idea trying to turn sharply on a bumpy gravel track, underneath a waterfall. Still, at least she didn't go over the edge. After the second pit stop I saw her head and arm bandaged up, but she was still well enough to continue. I personally think she just couldn't ride a bike as by the time we got to the next stop I heard she had fallen again and this time hurt her arm pretty badly. Don't worry though females, it wasn't all bad women drivers - one guy did fall off and cut his hand open too, proving that some men cant steer properly either ;-)

After stopping for some cracking photos (next to where Top Gear were filming a couple of years ago), it was back onto the road. The cold and ice was gone, being replaced by a quite intense, almost jungle heat. Off came the thermals and thick trackies and it was down to shorts and t-shirts. We had gone from 4700m to 1100m in just over an hour, which hopefully gives you some idea of how steep the road is and how quickly we were getting down it. By the time we hit the end of the course, everybody was pretty buzzing. The adrenaline was just subsiding when I swiftly cracked open a Judas - A 7% Bolivian beer which is really quite tasty and definitely hits the spot. I had made it down, unharmed, without falling off, in fact the closest I came to stacking it was losing the back end of my bike once, thankfully not when I was close to the edge.

For the next couple of hours we basically just got on the beer, some people went swimming in the river and played some killer pool, but before we knew it, everybody was back on the bus to start our ascent back to the top of the mountain, and if people thought the dangerous part was over, they were very, very much mistaken. That part had only just begun...

We had been in the bus for no more than three minutes, when i heard the guide shout "beer stop" from the front. Jesus, I thought, I know the bus is half full of English tourists but we have just been on the smash for two hours, these Bolivians are worse than us. Not one to miss out on an opportunity though, I stocked up with four beers and it was back on the bus! Next thing I know the guide has pulled out a 2L bottle of bubblegum vodka and he starts dishing out shots. "Everybody must drink" was the command and he starts passing these shots round. At that point it was all quite surreal, we had Red Hot Chilli Peppers blaring out the stereo full volume, every thirty seconds or so the whole bus was screaming as our crazy bus driver (obviously wanting to get back to La Paz in time for last orders), was throwing the bus round the corners of the death road. People were hanging out the window, seeing that we had a gap of a mere foot or so between us and a 300-400 metre drop and loudly stated that we are all going to die. I'm pretty sure I heard somebody praying behind me!

A few minutes went by and "more shots" was the cry from the guide. We all had another round of shots...and "a shot for the driver" somebody shouted. Next thing you know the driver takes both hands off the wheel, one hand pumping his fist into the air, as the other hand knocks back a shot of vodka. Everybody cheers. Yep, we definitely are going to die tonight. Just to make things more exciting, a game was introduced, which the guide called 'shake it up', I wasn't familiar with this game but it basically worked on the basis that every time the guide shouted 'shake' we all had to switch seats. If you refuse to switch or sit in a seat you have already sat in, you have to do a shot, along with eating a sachet of mustard. "Shaaaake" he shouts. Now I would have loved to have been watching from the side of the road as our bus zooms past, at a speed far too fast for a road as notorious as this, whilst 14 people are trying to clambour over each other to get into a new seat. Next thing I knew, the guide who had been sat at the very front of the four rows of seats, was now sat next to me on the back row. I saw the glazed look in his eyes, as he looks up, cradling a half empty bottle of vodka and smiles. "Shot?" he says.

Just to shit us up even more, we stopped every now and then to look at the graves by the side of the road. "This is English corner" the guide announces. Apparently every time somebody dies going over the edge of the mountain, they name that corner after the nationality of the deceased. In the 'English corner' case, a couple of years previous, two guys had been racing down a section far too narrow, the guy next to the wall crashed into his mate and the one who was cliff side went over the edge and died. Before long we had come across a load more corners such as this, including 'Japanese corner'. "That girl was trying to take a picture whilst cycling" the guide said with a straight face. Well, that makes sense, I thought.

Anyway, back on the bus, more drinking was on the agenda. The guide, now back in the front seat (which somebody promptly pointed ou and we made him eat a sachet of mustard), was now well and truly pissed. He found it hilarious to cover up the whole windscreen with a sun shield, blocking the drivers view, just as we were rounding a corner. Through the passengers screaming I could hear the Swedish House Mafia song 'don't you worry child, heavens got a plan for you', coming from the radio. How very apt... I couldn't help but laugh at this point, it was absolutely crazy - Not only were we the sole tour group that was driving back up the death road (all the other tour companies were driving back on the new road), but everyone was hammered, we still had at least a couple of hours to go and it was starting to get dark. Madness!

Believe it or not, even with the pending darkness, there was still the occasional van or truck that was on the death road, that we had to try and negotiate. At one point as we were boosting it up the hill, another van comes swinging round the corner and headed straight for us. There wasn't space for both of us to get passed.. yet more screaming from the passengers. There were three people who were sat on the floor with their backs to the driver, so they were facing the rest of the bus. I will never forget the look of fear on their faces, as they couldn't see why we were all screaming. All they knew was some shit was about to go down and it didn't look good. I'm pretty sure those three at the front were screaming the loudest...and I didn't blame them. Thankfully we didn't crash and burn and managed to brake just in time, before a head-on collision.

After another round of 'shake and shots', one of the English blokes shouted from the front of the bus that the driver had a half finished bottle of beer on the go, on top of the shots he had consumed earlier and this was apparently the last straw for a Dutch girl, who immediately started crying. Part of me felt sorry for her, I mean this was some pretty insane stuff that was going on right here, most definitely dangerous, but another part of me thought, this is Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, doing probably the most dangerous activity in South America - What else did she expect? Still after this little episode things calmed down a bit and the driver duly switched to Sprite. Or Sprite and vodka possibly, who knows!

The mood wasn't sombre for long though - some of the group were adamant about doing the Harlem Shake on the death road, which picked things up and got everybody going again. By the time we reached the top of the death road, safely back on to the normal concrete carriageways, I was ruined. I think everybody was. It had without a doubt been the most intense bike ride of my life, followed by the most dangerous car journey of my life, all washed down with a ton of booze and a great laugh with some cool people. The guide himself, who by this point had chundered due to excessive alcohol consumption, stated that we were the best tour group he had "instructed" in over four years on this circuit and you know what? Even in his condition I think he was telling the truth. Personally I thought it was immense and I don't see how it could have been more fun if we tried. Yeah it was crazy at times, but then I did tell you Bolivia was crazy!

Cochabamba:

Cochabamba is a city often missed out altogether by tourists. For us however, it was the perfect half way point between La Paz and Sucre. It has to be said, there isn't a huge amount going for Cochabamba, but still plenty to occupy you for a couple of days. The biggest attraction and something that i'm positive none of you reading this will be aware of (unless you have visited the city yourself), is that it has its very own Christ the Redeemer! Not only does it look strikingly similar to the one in Rio, but this one is actually a couple of feet taller and is the largest statue of Jesus Christ in the world. Furthermore, in another parallel to Rio, it sits at the top of the hill overlooking the whole area. In fact the only difference really and probably the reason why nobody knows about this statue, apart from the fact this one was built about 70 years after the original in Rio, is because the weather in Cochabamba is not exactly fantastic and it hasn't got a beach for hundreds of miles. It just doesn't quite have the same impact. Still, it did mean on our visit to the top, we had the place to ourselves and got to enjoy great views of the city in a bit of privacy.

Aside from visiting this somewhat undiscovered gem, our time in Cochabamba was spent sipping cocktails and checking out a number of artisan markets. Then, before we knew it, we were on the bus again and this time to a place I had been looking forward to seeing, since the very beginning of planning the trip ...

Sucre:

The stunning city of Sucre, is somewhere we had heard was a great place for travellers to chill out for a while...and it's easy to see why. A Unesco Cultural Heritage site, its packed full of beautiful plaza's, cosy cafe's, friendly people and some awesome restaurants. The feel good factor of the city is also helped by the fact its got a better climate than the chilly altiplano of La Paz.

Before I start banging on about Sucre though, let me tell you about the bus journey there, as it left a whole lot to be desired. Firstly, we were forced into getting a night bus. Not a problem in most South American countries, but Sarah and me had decided not to do so in Bolivia for two reasons. A) The buses are a pile of crap. Maybe not quite as shocking as Nepalese buses, but they're still pretty bad. B) Bolivians, as you will probably have started to appreciate, love getting pissed, especially at night. We had been warned about the bus drivers drinking at night and when driving over mountains, it obviously just makes it even more treacherous, but hey, it turns out, if you want to get to Sucre from Cochabamba, your only option is the night bus.

So here we are sat on our bus and we had been on the road for no fewer than 15mins, when the bus pulls up outside the off license and the bus attendant runs inside. I strain for a look at what the guy is holding when he runs back out to the bus, I couldn't really see, but rest assured this is Bolivia, so no doubt the guy is holding some strong liqueur. Brilliant! But if I thought that was the biggest problem we would encounter that night, I was wrong. What we didn't realise, is that between Cochabamba and Sucre is basically one huge mountain. So all night long, you would just sway from one side of your seat to the other. I actually got to the point where I was having to hold on to my armrest really tightly, just to stop myself falling out of my chair. Picture yourself trying to sleep on a rollercoaster and you get the general idea. By morning, I hadn't died, but I reckon I had slept for a maximum of one hour. Not great, especially when you're arriving in a new city at 5am. We weren't supposed to have got there till 7am, but after our drunk bus driver had recorded a PB on the white knuckle ride of the mountain roads, we arrived two hours early. Thankfully we were welcomed into our hostel with a big smile from ze German owner, even at 5am in the morning. Top bloke!

After a good old sleep we spent the next few days relaxing... and eating. We got straight back on tripadvisor, found the best restaurants in town and had a real good time. At one particular French style bistro I chowed down on a fillet steak, in a caramelised onion & whisky sauce, with a glass of vino tinto, for £6, whilst Sarah got an awesome thai green chicken and apple curry. Boom, that's what i'm talking about. Needless to say, we went back twice!

We also got a recommendation from the guy we had booked our quad biking tour with, for a motocross event that was taking place just outside the city centre, so we thought we would pop along. It was one of those places where we were the only two tourists out of hundreds of people, but they often they end up being the best events - The non-touristy experiences when you get a tip off from the locals. I had never been to anything like this before and the standard was pretty good. We got to see a couple of wipe outs and it was a decent atmosphere and a good afternoon.

Even just walking around town, there was a lot to see and do. Sucre is home to some great colonial buildings and to make sure you safely arrived at each destination, were some friendly zebra-crossing zebra's, busting out some moves on the road, whilst halting the traffic and ensuring you got across the road okay. The kids loved it and so did a few of the adults, to be honest.

Our last day in Sucre, was quad biking day. Something I personally had never experienced before and was really looking forward to - It didn't disappoint. We had a bit of a shaky start as it was so bumpy on the road, Sarah was finding it hard to keep the quad from going over the edge. It was pretty sharp inclines on rocky terrain and at some point the road got so narrow I felt like I was back on the death road. After a while though the road flattened out a bit and we could start properly busting through the gears. It was intense stuff, the quads had some seriously decent acceleration and before you knew it, you were flying along the road at 70km/h and drifting round corners. It was a real good thrill and personally I cant think of a better place to off road than through the Bolivian mountains, with remote little villages where the children come out to wave at you as you drive past. The scenery was brilliant and it was also nice to see Sucre from outside the city. We got back to town just in time for a couple of beers before we grabbed our bags and started our journey to the highest inhabited city in the world - Potosi.

Posted by South.America 19:41 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

La Paz and The Amazon

Boats, bugs and breakfast in bed

Bolivia

Bolivia, a country of paradoxes and superlatives, really packs a punch. It's the poorest country in South America, but the richest in natural resources. It's home to some of the coldest, warmest and windiest places on earth. If you thought Peru was diverse, Bolivia takes it to another level. From the largest desert salt flats in the world, to enormous snowcapped mountainous peaks, to the intense humid heat of the tropical Amazon rainforest, look no further than Bolivia. Its now well and truly on the South American travellers radar, but still massively under developed. It holds the rights to the worlds highest inhabited city and equally, the worlds highest capital city. In this section I will offer you my take on the Amazon, shortly followed by the silver mines, salt flats, off-road quad biking, thermal baths, shockingly dangerous roads and explain how, in just over one hour on a bicycle, you can go from being in thermals and fleeces, surrounded by ice, to stripped off down to your shorts in the baking sun. Sit tight, hold on to your hats and prepare to be shocked, as I give you my personal view on the crazy but amazing county that is, Bolivia.

Border control was quite an experience. It took us a few minutes just to work out which building was actually border control and which was the pisser. They looked remarkably alike. As expected, they really didnt care who we were, unless of course you happened to be a North American, in which case you got slapped with a $100+ charge, for the luxury of entering the country. No love lost there. After the passport was stamped we decided to head for a quick toilet stop next door and as I exited my hole-in-the-floor cubicle, I saw Sarah getting touched up by a little girl. She was right on the money and money coincidentally is what she wanted. "Propina, propina" she shouted, wanting a tip after we had already paid an extortionate 50p to use this hell hole of a toilet. After having a grab at Sarah's breasts she came at me, demanding a tip and blocking my route passed. She was very persistent but she was also no older than 9 years old so I simply picked her up and put her behind me, clearing my way out. You would be surprised how many tourists get suckered into handing money over for that little tactic though.

Arriving in La Paz, you would be forgiven for losing your breath a little... and not just because its the worlds highest capital city at 3660m. The houses cling to the side of the canyon and go as far as the eye can see, sitting below the 6402m Mount Illamani, visible in the distance. For me, it's a little reminiscent of Quito and Medellin, where they just seem to have built a whole city in a valley of mountains.

For the perfect introduction to demonstrate the craziness of Bolivians, we had to look no further than our first taxi driver. The matey jim had misheard we wanted Hotel Espana and instead took us to Plaza Espana. When he realised the error he drove on a minute or two before gesturing up a busy dual carriageway. Now, in a new city that we didnt know, there was no way we were just gonna get out and start walking, for all we know we could be miles from the hotel. So we demanded matey Jim drive us instead. He seemed pretty reluctant to do this, which just heightened my insecurity of this being the right place. However, upon us demanding he took us to the front door, his reluctance became apparent - he wouldnt be able to get us to the right address without taking a major diversion. Solution? Reverse up the dual carriage way of course. Picture this, busy traffic, possessed drivers, three cars across two lanes, and this nutter starts reversing back up the road. Thats some laziness, or dedication, im not sure which. After a few near misses, I see the Hotel Espana sign and we bail out of the taxi asap.

The restaurants of La Paz were not as pleasant on the taste buds as Peru unfortunately. So after finding another curry house that was a massive let down we treated ourselves to a burger king. Forget the extra large bacon double cheeseburger, I had a 'triple stacker, king grande', it was immense and when you have been travelling for a while, a familiar fast food restaurant can be pretty tasty. We also found another couple of interesting restaurants in La Paz, one Mexican where I promptly ordered a tequila board with a plate of nacho's surrounded by six different tequila shots. They hit home quite nicely at nearly 4000m. Another was a steak restaurant, where Sarah ordered the chicken burger. 'How would you like it cooked?' asked the waiter. Naturally we looked confused. I asked for clarification - "Pollo, chicken, si?" He came back with. "Si senor, would you like it rare, medium?" We got up and left.

After spending a few days chilling out in La Paz, we decided to head north to the Amazon. This would be our last opportunity to go as we weren't heading up that far in Brazil and the reports from other travellers was that the Bolivian side was even better. Up until this point we had got the bus all over South America, regardless of distance, apart from just the once in Colombia when the plane was cheaper. However, after reading online that the 20 hour bus journey to Rurrenabaque, was one of the most dangerous in the world with numerous crashes and fatalities on a regular basis, we decided to pay the extra cash for the plane. A wise decision it appears, as we later heard from travellers who took the bus, that it was the most terrifying experience of their life. Basically spending 20 hours on a cliff edge, with wheels hanging off the side, at every other corner.

The plane on the other hand was great. There were only five of us on this flight, three locals and us. As we boarded the plane, somebody said hello and I looked to my left, directly into the cockpit and realised it was the pilot. "Buenos Dias Capitan". There was no door shutting the pilot in, it was all open plan, I could have spat on the back of his head, had I so wished. As I crouched over to my seat (I couldn't stand up straight in this plane, it was so small), I looked down the end and realised there was no toilet. I then turned around and sat down, looking forward to what sort of safety demonstration the Bolivian airline would provide us with. Just at that point, the door closed shut behind us and we started taxi'ing to the run way. Ah ha, no safety demonstration then, in fact not even an air stewardess. Just us and the pilot. The 40 minute flight was awesome. Throughout I was looking down at the mountains below and enjoying the fact that for every two minutes spent on the plane, it would have been one hour spent on the white knuckle death ride that was the bus. We could see right into the cockpit the whole flight so got a brilliant view of take off and landing. A unique experience in itself.

Before long, as far as the eye could see it was jungle. For miles and miles, just jungle. Then we started to make our descent and just when it looked like we were about to land on top of the Amazon rainforest, a tiny little runway opened up ahead of us. Before we knew it, we had landed, were off the runway, onto the grass and came to rest about 20m from the airport terminal, or a shed, as I believe they are otherwise known. I thought Southampton airport was small, but this thing took the piss. It looked like a strong wind would blow it over. We walked in one entrance, our bags went in the next and were then just handed over a small ledge and that was it. The easiest baggage reclaim ever. That afternoon was spent trying not to sweat too much whilst simply standing still and not moving, so I promptly found myself a beer, a hammock and a book and that we me just about done for the day.

The Amazon:

Rurrenabaque, the tiny remote town in the middle of the Amazon, that is the base for all jungle tours operators, was where our trip began. We got introduced to our guide, Wilmer for the first time. Wilmer is actually a bloke and his name is apparently spelt Wilmen, but everybody calls him Wilmer, I assumed after the flintstones, but cant guarantee that. The tour itself started off pretty easy, a three hour boat journey down the river. We stopped briefly at the ranch of an indigenous family to watch them crush sugar cane and got to drink some sugary lime water which was actually pretty nice in the baking heat. We also got to see what chocolate looks like in its most primitive form.

Upon arriving at our eco lodge deep in the jungle, we sat down for some lunch and Wilmer broke the news that we had to spend the next four hours trekking even deeper into the jungle. As if a plane, boat and mini trek was not already far enough into the Amazon, we now had to trek even further, Now I love trekking, not in England obviously because then it's crap, cold and normally just involves walking up a hill and you might step in dog shit if you're lucky, but I love trekking in exciting countries, particularly up mountains, where there is a cracking view to see. However if you imagine the most intense heat you have ever encountered in your life and then somebody tells you to walk for a few minutes, let alone a few hours, you would most probably want to tell them to bore off. We didn't have a lot of choice about this however and we had paid for this tour, so we just had to suck it up and get on with it.

Within a few minutes of setting off from the eco lodge, Wilmer had seen that we were carrying our big water bottles by hand and told us to wait for a minute, he didn't say why, but then started hacking away at some branches with his machete. In the space of a minute, he had stripped one down, tied a knot in one end, another hoop and knot round the bottle of water and we had our very own jungle sling to hold our water. A nice little touch. Along the way he stopped to show us various trees and plants & described their medicinal uses. They had a bush for everything, coughs, colds, headaches, kidney problems, constipation, you name it, they had a plant for it. After a few more minutes, we stumbled across a tarantula nest. Now this I was excited to see, but I seriously did not want to hang around. This nest was bigger then me and i'm not exactly a huge fans of normal spiders let alone bloody huge tarantulas, so I swiftly moved us on.

Unfortunately, fate decided to play its part and it wasn't long before I was greeted by a jungle spider up close and personal. Rather than getting the pleasure of seeing it at a distance on a branch or a leaf, I got one straight in the face. Now I personally blame Wilmer and Sarah for this. Firstly, they were both walking in front of me and Wilmer was supposed to be clearing the way for us with his machete, but being a midget compared to me, he didn't exactly think to cut down everything above his own head height. Secondly, Wilmer had told me to be looking around for pigs, monkeys and birds etc. So I wasn't exactly looking where I was going - partly my fault I suppose, but i'm still not taking responsibility. So bam, straight I walked into a spiders nest and as I start sweeping this off my face as quickly as possible whilst trying not to scream like a little girl, I see this black and yellow spider abseiling down from my face, attempting to escape. I eventually get it off and make a pact with myself that from now on, I will look exactly where i'm going, at all times. Wilmer tried to reassure me "don't worry, they not poisonous" he says, "only the yellow ones are poisonous"....err, hang on a second Wilmer, this little fucker was yellow - yellow and black, "what about them, are they poisonous?". His response? He mumbles something, shrugs his shoulders and starts walking off. Brilliant!!! If Sarah trips slightly on a rock or something and nearly falls over, Wilmer is straight over to rescue her and make sure she is ok, but if I get a deadly spider on my face, he doesn't even bat an eyelid, bastard!

This sort of behaviour, I began to realise, was fast becoming a common occurrence. If Sarah's bag got too heavy, Wilmer offered to carry it. If Sarah was too hot from the walking in the heat, Wilmer made her a fan...out of a tree. For fucks sake, how was I supposed to compete with this guy? He made her an incredible yellow and green fan, out of nothing, with just a few whips of his machete and some tidy handiwork. If he hadn't of been slightly fat, ugly and twice her age, I might have started to worry. Anyway, I digress. On we trek and next thing you know, Wilmer has stopped dead in his tracks. I was hoping for a jaguar, but he suddenly turns around to look at us, with his finger across his lips, warning us to be quiet. He was excited I could tell. "Its de wild pigs", he says. Next thing you know, we are cutting our way through the thickest part of the jungle and clambouring over tree stumps. We arrived just in time to hear them making a whole lot of noise and then watched them charge off into the water. Further down the trail, we heard something making a hell of a racket, again, I hoped it was the jaguar, but Wilmer informed us it was howler monkeys. Well, that did make sense, it was pretty damn loud. We did the same again, dropped the bags, cut our way through the jungle towards the noise and got a brilliant view of about five monkeys swinging about on the trees high above us.

About four long, hot hours after setting off, we arrived in the place they called 'camp', which consisted of a couple of ground mats on the floor and a little campfire. We were pretty happy with what we had seen though - apparently some people can go for 3-4 day hikes in the jungle and see nothing more than a load of ants. After dinner that night, there were so many mozzie's that it was not pleasant to sit outside, so we all decided to get into bed at 7.30pm. The next 12 hours, were by far the most unpleasant 12 hours I have endured in South America. It was torture. Not because of the fact we were sleeping on the ground in the jungle, nor the fact that you could hear some really weird noises during the night, nor even the worry that a spider or snake was going to crawl into my sleeping liner. The source of my pain was caused by something far smaller - Mozzie's. It was unbearable. Now we had mozzie nets and a sleeping liner, but these were some crazy psycho mozzie's that managed to infiltrate my area. All night long I could hear and feel them bite me, but could do literally nothing about it. Safe to say, it was an awful nights sleep.

The next morning was not good. I counted over 400 bites all over my body. Over 100 on each of my legs and the rest scattered all over me. They had obviously feasted well. Sarah was not much better - She didn't have as many bites as me, but hers had inflamed so that each one caused a huge red swelling. We looked a right sight and it was agony. My skin was literally crawling, I felt diseased, just wanting to scratch all over. To be honest, it was so bad its something that will live with me forever. I would be lying if I said it didn't taint the rest of the trip slightly. You cant enjoy anything when you are in that much discomfort.

Still, the trek had to go on and we got our gear ready and went off to see some Macaws. After that the plan was to build a raft out of wood and float back down the river. For this we joined forces with some of the people we had met in the eco lodge the day before. Problem was, by the time we had built the raft out of some logs and all sat on, the bloody thing started to sink. So the Swedish guy, being the tallest and fattest had to abandon ship and hitch a ride back on the boat, while the rest of us gently floated down the peaceful river. That is until we hit the rapids. This was basically something that our guide had neglected to mention and as we approached these rapids, whilst being no more than half a foot above the water, I stole a glance to Wilmer happily waving back at us, from the safety of the boat. Well, there was nothing he could do to save Sarah this time, we hit these rapids and instantly I almost went off the side. Being at the front I unintentionally took a massive gulp of pretty grim, brown looking river water, but somehow we made it through.

That afternoon we spent piranha fishing, but true to my fishing curse (I have never caught a fish in my life), as soon as we arrived, the rain started hammering it down...and I don't mean England rain, I mean torrential tropical storm rain, the fish buggered off and then the mozzie's came back out. After half an hour spent mozzie slapping, catching nothing but twigs we sacked it off and headed back to camp. Thankfully that night we 'slept' in the eco lodge so we had a proper shelter over us, but it was a bit too little too late, as we both spent the whole night not being able to sleep due to our bite riddled skin.

The third day was one we were really looking forward to - Dolphin day...and for me, breakfast in bed, courtesy of the missus. After chowing down, we headed off to an area called the pampas, which was basically beautifully calm rivers surrounded by trees growing out from the water, rather than simply dense jungle terrain. With it being more open it was less humid and most importantly less mozzie's. We jumped on the boat and headed out to search for the pink river dolphins and after spotting a few turtles, birds and monkeys, we finally came to rest in a part with five to six dolphins, swimming about. At this point, Wilmer said we could go swimming, but I was a little apprehensive, as after all this was the same river that was home to a load of alligators. The water was also pretty murky so you had no chance of spotting one if it was heading your way, but Wilmer assured us there are no alligators about when the dolphins are around, so in we jumped. Before long the dolphins were becoming a bit inquisitive and started swimming closer to us, so at this point we decided to play fetch with a ball. Only problem was they weren't very good at bringing the ball back. They pushed it up into the air or took it under water with them, but not once did they decide to bring it back, the lazy gits. Still it was incredible and although I didn't actually get to touch one, they came so close to us and when they jumped out of the water you could clearly see they were a bright pink colour on their bellies.

After 20mins or so swimming with the dolphins, we jumped back onto the boat and we had gone no further than 30-40 metres when Wilmer was like "look, over there, an alligator". Well I couldn't help myself "for fucks sake Wilmer, I thought you said there weren't any alligators around?". Another shrug of the shoulders from him then. I had never been so grateful for still having all my limbs. Literally a stones throw away from where we were swimming, this massive fully grown alligator was just chilling out, idly looking at the spot we had just been swimming in. It wasn't the last alligator we would see on this trip though, that evening we went out on the boat again with torches and hunted down some more. We got so close to one I actually think we may have hit it with the boat, this chap didn't seem to mind though, he just stared back at us.

The best part of the evening was when we arrived back at the lodge. For those of you that don't know, Sarah has a big fear of frogs. Strange I know. She isn't afraid of spiders, snakes or sharks, like normal people, but frogs. Anyway, as we arrive back at the lodge I spot at our front door, quietly waiting to be let in, the biggest frog I have seen in my life. It was basically the size of a cat or small dog, huge this thing was. Well instantly I told Sarah not to look at the floor, but of course, your natural instinct when somebody tells you not to look at something, is to look at it. Well, rest assured, when she did, everybody knew that some shit had gone down. I've never heard her scream like that, but don't worry, as if by magic, in a matter of seconds, Wilmer is charging towards us, as if he had been camping in the undergrowth waiting to come to her aid. Before you know it, he's got the frog and he's off into the night as quickly as he arrived. Super Wilmer to the rescue, yet again!

That pretty much concluded the jungle tour and mozzie bites aside, it is without doubt one of the best things i've ever done. Such a brilliant experience and where better a place to do it than the Amazon? Including the flights and tour it definitely wasn't one of the cheapest things we could have done, but I have no regrets. I'm a massive believer in making the most of these opportunities when you can. It would have been a big shame to have come so close to this sort of environment and not have experienced it for real. Would I do it again? Possibly not - There is nothing that prepares you for that sort of insane heat, humidity and the sheer number of insects out to get you. But am I glad I did it?... Definitely!

Posted by South.America 12:55 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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