I do not even know how to begin this post. It has been a week since my 3 days in the jungle – and I feel like I haven’t fully left it. This was undoubtedly one of the top highlights of my travels. And I will definitely be returning for more. (10 months later, I did in fact return for more and you can click here for my more recent post about my 2nd trip to Rurrenabaque and the Bolivian jungle. The more recent post has more info about what to do when in Rurre!)
I realized perhaps a week prior to my arrival in the town of Rurrenabaque, Bolivia, that I simply could not end my 4 months in South America without visiting the Amazon. Fortunately for me, the Amazon is enormous and spans many countries, and I happened to be in one of them. Rurrenabaque is a small city on the outskirts of the amazon. It has become a recent popular tourist destination because of it’s close proximity to The Pampas (swampy-wetlands flourishing with wildlife) and Madidi National Park (the Bolivian rainforest).
From what I can tell, the Pampas tours seem to be the more popular choice amongst backpackers. I did both a jungle and pampas tour. I believe the Pampas is more popular simply because it is more relaxed, and frankly, to most westernized people, the jungle sounds like a scary place. While I enjoyed both tours very much for different reasons, the jungle certainly left a stronger impression on me. The Pampas felt very touristy, while my experience in the jungle felt completely authentic (almost – I still had to pay the tourist fees and all).
My jungle tour was essentially a camping trip. With me were two lovely middle-aged women from the Czech Republic who were looking for an authentic rainforest experience, along with Miguel (our guide) and Jaco (our cook). I become good friends in the rainforest with our guide, Miguel, who dubbed me Reina “Queen” of the jungle. He is perhaps the most unique person I have met along my travels, and possibly ever. This is a person who was born and raised in the jungle by parent’s from different indigenous tribes (there are two from the region that still exist today, although their culture is diminishing). Although this is a person who was never taught to read or write and has never travelled more than a couple hours by car away from where he was born, he is fluent in 3 languages (Tacana – the native language, Spanish and Hebrew). And he can tell you what every plant in the rainforest is, what it is used for, and how to properly prepare it for it’s task.
Perhaps something that struck me even more than this unusual set of knowledge is that this is a person who has no internet presence what-so-ever. I have met plenty of people making a statement by rejecting facebook or twitter or whichever popular social-media device pisses them off. This is a person who does not even have email. He has a cell phone, only because he needs it for work, and he keeps the phone number taped to the back of it.
Surprisingly, this made me a bit uncomfortable. I have met so many wonderful people on my travels and sometimes I have been sad to leave them behind. But in a way, our generation never really has to say goodbye to anyone. We always have a way to remain in touch. Maybe we don’t stay in touch – but the option is always there. This is the first time since I was probably 6 that I have made a friend that I legitimately had to say goodbye to. I never realized how uncomfortable goodbyes could be when they are actually final. I have a feeling that a lot of people of this generation would feel the same way, but when do any of us ever meet anyone that we can’t even send an email to from time to time? Amazingly, there are still cultures alive today that do not find these things necessary. It makes me realize how much more emotionally difficult this sort of travel must have been for backpackers in the pre-internet era. Anyway, this is all way beyond the point of my jungle experience but I thought it was very interesting and thought-provoking so I wanted to share it with you.
While in the jungle, I learned so much. Ok, so after 3 days I would not be able to survive on my own out there – but I have a far greater appreciation for the ability to use the abundant natural resources that the jungle has to offer in order to survive. I was a bit sick with a cough and sniffles while I was in the jungle. By pulling bits of the right plants and preparing them in a tea, our guides were able to help me stifle my cough. And by breathing in the jungles version of “horse-radish” (the root of a small shrubby plant) I was able to clear my sinuses a bit. I learned that you can make glue from the sap of certain types of trees, anti-itch serum from the roots of another tree to relieve mosquito bites, even how to find fresh drinkable water from inside a tree by cutting open the right type of branches.
La Selva, I miss you! I thought for sure after 3 days and 2 nights (sleeping on the ground under a mosquito net) that I would be thrilled to return to civilization. I was wrong. Next time, I am coming for more than 3 days. So be ready for your Queen!
I have posted A LOT of photos in this post to show only a small piece of the animals, plants and insects I saw in the jungle.
BOAT RIDE ON THE BENI – We entered the jungle by boat on the Beni River. Our guide started painting our faces before we even arrived using fruits from the Amazon. CAMP SITE – NIGHT 1 – This was the more civilized of the campsites. The bed frames are useless, and I am not sure of their purpose. We slept on the ground next to them under the orange tarp.JUNGLE CRAFTS – Once arriving at the camp, we searched for firewood to make our lunch and dinner. Immediately after, Miguel started getting his Jungle craft on. He made each of us ladies a fan out of plants. This proved to be extremely useful and appreciated, both for cooling off a bit, and swatting away unwanted flying critters. I do not have pictures of our jewelry, but throughout our days in the jungle we collected seeds and coconuts and various materials for creating completely natural pieces (So up my ally, I know).CREEPY CRAWLERS – Among the first things to greet you in the rainforest will always be the insects.BUTTERFLIES – But butterflies are so beautiful that I prefer not to classify them with other insects.MUSHROOMS – The jungle is full of fungus.PARROTS – On our first day we trekked to a location in the jungle were the beautiful red-green macaws live. They form holes in the wall of a cliff where they live in pairs and shelter their eggs. We climbed to the top of the cliff where we had a spectacular view of the forest and the river with the stunning Macaws flying past us in the foreground. While at this incredible site, Miguel showed us how to paint our bodies with yet another natural pigment from the jungle. This time instead of orange fruit, we painted ourselves with the purple created from crushed up leaves (that were green, I swear) mixed with water.A BEAUTIFUL SUNSET – On our return to camp.CEREMONY – We performed a traditional (well, smaller version of a traditional) ceremony on our first night in the jungle. The purpose is to thank Mother Earth and ask for her protection.CHILDISH FUN – That’s right, the jungle is a playground. Kids (and big kids) in the jungle enjoy the same things as kids in the suburbs of Detroit.HOWLER MONKIES – Howler’s live as a family in 1 tree for 2-3 weeks at a time. They consume all of it’s fruits, and when the tree has nothing left to offer they move on. I felt extremely fortunate that my next-door neighbors at base-camp were a family of howler monkeys.CERDAS – Wild pigs. These guys also live in families, but their families are gigantic. We got up-close and personal with a herd of wild-pigs. But sadly they were very fast moving so the only decent picture I got was of this lonely guy, hanging out a few meters away from his pack.JAGUARS – Ok, I did not actually SEE a jaguar, but we found lot’s of traces to suggest they were close by. Also, late at night, when half the group was sleeping, Miguel pointed out the sound of their nearby growl. CAMP SITE – 2nd night. It started out as just a pile of sticks and we quickly transformed it into a pile of sticks covered in some plastic.FISHING, JUNGLE-STYLE – I cannot get over the advanced technology we used for fishing. Ok, in all honesty, the life-long vegetarian in me did not fish. But I accompanied the group that really wanted to catch their dinner. After a short time of fishing in a smaller part of the river, the ladies and I had a chance to bathe in the larger part of the river (which felt freaking amazing), before re-joining our guides for more fishing. Instead of hurting any harmless fishies, I took pictures. Amazingly, this fancy bit of equipment was extremely effectiveDAY 3 – Wrapping up camp and preparing our return from the jungle.