Mucho Gusto Cipro
07.17.2012 - 07.22.2012
Sorata to Rurrenabaque July 17 – 22
We met our guides, Maricio and Alejandro for breakfast at 6:00 a.m. The other couple signed up for the trip cancelled due to stomach problems so it was just us and our guides. We all loaded up into a Landcruiser Travel-All type vehicle you can only find in the third world because they are far too practical for the states and began a two hour drive up the mountain on a steep and narrow two-track. It had rained the night before making it slick and muddy. We left Sorata in the clouds, under a slight drizzle, but as we ascended the mountain we began to see patches of blue and soon broke through the clouds to a bluebird day. As we neared the top of the pass, the views of Illampu were stunning with the surrounding low-lands bathed in clouds.
After 45 minutes or so of sorting out gear we were ready to begin our descent. The bikes with dual suspension and hydraulic brakes were surprisingly modern and well maintained by any standard much less Bolivian standards. With Maricio in front and Alejandro driving the sag wagon, we began a six hour descent to the small mining town of Conzata. Beginning above treeline, the 80 Km descent that day would bring us to the rain forest. Heading down the mountain, there was simply no-way that I could keep up with Maricio. I thought it must surely be a sign of my age, but when I found out that Maricio had been Bolivia’s BMX champion as a child and was currently Bolivia’s downhill mountain bike champion, I didn’t feel so bad.
The descent down the mountain brought us by herds of llamas and sheep. Descending lower, small villages popped up supported by herders and the increased mining activity that we saw along the way. Bolivian mining is generally not a very pretty site, but the lack of mechanization diminishes the impact substantially to what you might find in a more accessible locale.
Conzata marked our first really sketchy sleeping quarters highlighted by the bano in which a look out the window revealed a sewer pipe extending straight out the side of the building over an embankment that led straight down to a small creek below. There is nothing quite like flushing the toilet and watching exactly where it all goes.
The next day we loaded up the bikes and drove along the river to reach the next high point where we would begin our descent. Our path soon became obstructed by a large trac-hoe slowly making its way down the “road”. With no place to pass we decided to unload the bikes and ride up to the next pass. Between the heat and humidity we soon discovered why they typically drive up this incline but given the previous days continuous descent it felt good to settle into a good long climb. After a two hour ascent we were happy to reach the pass and begin the descent into Mapiri. Descending down the road, with a steep river valley below, we passed numerous side drainages where the mining impacts had all but destroyed the drainage with large alluvial fans depositing tons of the highly erosive soils into the larger river below.
After a long day of descending from the rainforest into the jungle with a stop at a very pristine side stream for lunch and a swim, we arrived in Mapiri, a larger town on the banks of the Rio Tambopata where we would meet our river boat for the 3 day, 200 km descent to Rurrenabaque.
At about 8:00 a.m. the next morning we walked down to the “dock” to meet the boat. With two boatmen, a cook, our guide Alejandro, and several villagers catching a ride three hours downriver to Guanay, we loaded our gear into the 30 foot river boat and began our descent. Mining remains the chief economic driver of this region of Bolivia and the improved access and increased mechanization has resulted in environmental impacts I’ve only ever seen in texts and journals.
After three hours on the river, we entered the Rio Kaka and stopped for additional supplies in the larger town of Guanay. With some trepidation, we ate lunch at a small Bolivian kitchen just off the river the likes of which we normally avoided but Alejandro assured us that it was a usual stop. By the time we arrived at our first campsite that evening my gastronomic distress became evident. By 10:00 o’clock the high fever and chills set-in with all the symptoms of a full-blown case of Salmonella . With the outhouse situated 50 yards up a steep incline punctuated by a treacherous descent, by the six or seventh trip I actually knew the route well enough that I could still remain half-asleep without killing myself.
The next morning I took a Cipro in an attempt to repair my damaged gut but skipped the hike up the mountain to catch a view of the river below. I did manage the 30 minute hike up to the waterfall as well as the two hour hike in the jungle later that afternoon despite several deep breaths and pit stops along the way.
We camped one more night on the Rio KaKa before the confluence with the larger Rio Beni and on to Rurrenabaque to complete the 200 km on the river portion of the trip. Several jungle hikes along the way revealed a large ground tortoise, some night monkeys that looked very slow and sleepy in the mid-afternoon sun and a herd of wild pigs that have a musk gland in their shoulders enabling them to emit a rancid awful smell when frightened. We rolled into Rurrenabaque at about two in the afternoon, got settled in our digs at the Oriental Hotel, a lovely place that was cheap and clean with a nice courtyard full of hammocks to lounge in the heat of the jungle winter sun.