07.23.2012 - 08.26.2012 82 °F
Madidi National Park, July 23 – 26
Rurrenabaque is a larger town of about 20,000 people and surprisingly, one of the most touristy we encountered in Bolivia. It is cleaner than most Bolivian cities but the preponderance of pedestrian obstacles with the potential to maim or kill reminded us that despite the numerous tiendas catering to turistas and the absence of any cholitas it is still pure Bolivia.
At 8:00 a.m. our guide Raul met us at our hotel and walked us down to the boat dock for the ride upriver to the Madidi Jungle Lodge in Madidi National Park. After an hour riding up the much larger Rio Beni we entered the Rio Tuiche and motored for another 2 hours before reaching the lodge. The Madidi Jungle Lodge is run by native people that live in the park and is supported by several international conservation organizations working to enable the locals to profit through the health and success of the park. We arrived in time for a typical 3 course lunch that is the standard for trekking in this part of the world. After lunch we rested a bit before embarking on a three hour hike in the jungle. Our guide’s ability to spot birds and other creatures great and small was really something to behold. It made me feel a little like a blind person stumbling through the wilderness by comparison.
The sound of the jungle may be more memorable than the many species of birds and animals that we saw along the way. Tiny birds like the Motmot that mimics almost everything and has the biggest voice in the jungle. The variety of bird whistles, booms, and tremolos produced a wondrous jungle chorus. As you may have guessed, our guide knew every bird call and could usually find the culprit often high in the canopy without the aid of any binoculars. Over the next four days we spent 3 hours hiking in the morning and two hours each afternoon. Along the way we saw numerous species of parrots large and small, toucans, hawks, falcons, storks, and terns; cappuccino, howler, and spider monkeys; caiman; and butterflies of every color many as large as small birds; large herds of wild pigs, capybara, and numerous prints of jaguar and ocelot. Trees like the walking palm that moves up to six feet per year infused a sense of magic on the place.
We spent one morning fishing in a small side drainage of the Tuiche, hooking several fish but Bridget was the only one to land one. That afternoon we motored a ways up the Tuiche to fish some more. Our guide was the only one to catch a fish, a large giant piranha with a set of teeth deserving of the reputation but our guide assured us that they are not aggressive. Between the caiman and the piranhas we declined the invitation to go tubing on the river for our last morning opting for a last long hike in the jungle. After lunch we loaded up into the boat for the 2½ hour trip back to Rurrenabaque. Along the way we stopped at some high sandstone cliffs where several dozen pairs of red macaws are nesting. After working so hard to see the birds we could often only hear in the jungle canopy, it felt almost like cheating with the large raucous parrots so close at hand.
While at Madidi we met one of the few Aussies that we ran across during our stay in Bolivia. Shane McCarthy is one of the few wanderers I’ve ever met truly deserving of the moniker. An elementary school teacher from Melbourne in his 50’s, over the last 30 years or so, his program is to work for 3 years or so and then he usually takes 18 to 24 months to travel the world. A master of languages, he speaks English, French, Spanish, Vietnamese, and some Arabic. He is also an engaging storyteller, and he kept the kids rapt with many stories of his travels throughout the world. With their suburban, U.S. upbringing the kids found him an unusual and mysterious creature unlike any they had ever encountered. I couldn’t help but hope that his carefree carpe diem attitude might be catching.
We returned to Rurrenabaque in the late afternoon of the 4th day, had dinner with Shane and thanked our lucky stars for our plane ticket to La Paz the next morning instead of the 20 to 30 hour bus ride depending on weather facing Shane. Raining hard as we left for the airport prospects for leaving seemed to dim, but then the clouds broke and our plane landed and we arrived in La Paz before noon that day.