Amazon Adventure & The Death Road

Route: La Paz – Rurrenabaque – La Paz (By Bus)

After a couple weeks on the road, it feels amazing to ride into a big city with such a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, dried goods, restaurants…and did I mention food? Walking into the supermarket here was a real danger. There are tons of imported foods from home (at twice the price you’d find back home). One luxury of city life — cereal with milk.

Another luxury — English movie theatre. We saw The Hobbit II after buying the Hobbit I from a street vendor for less than $1.

Our first night in La Paz, we were walking to a pizza restaurant for our second  dinner when I sprained my ankle. That night I was formulating all the chores I could do without standing — laundry, researching our route, blogging about my adventures to and from the bathroom. Luckily, it was only a minor sprain and I could walk normally after a couple of days. This also meant we could plan our jungle trek with Billy. He had been told Rurrenabaque, Bolivia was the best town to do a trek from.

There are two ways to get there — 30 min plane ride for $80 one-way or 19 hour bus ride for $10 one-way. It’s only 400 km but the road isn’t paved and is very windy. Being as we are on a budget, we chose the bus, but I wouldn’t recommend it! Our bus on the way there had a leaky roof, so we were getting rained on during the ride, which ended up taking 21 hours. We observed that even if we wanted to cycle, our bikes wouldn’t have liked the muddy/rocky roads, granted this is during the wet season. Beautiful scenery, though!

We arrived in the afternoon and went tour searching (after napping for a few hours in the hostel we booked into). There are two options to experience the Amazon from here — Jungle or Pampas (3 day is standard, ~$100). If you do a jungle tour, most operators take you into Madidi National Park. You don’t necessarily see many animals, but it’s an active way to experience the area and learn about native tribes. The other option is to go into the Pampas on a water safari tour where you see many animals, but spend the majority of the day sitting in a boat. The company Max Adventures sold us on the jungle tour at a discount price — thanks to Billy, our official bargainer. We were walking back to our hostel along the river when I decided to stray from the sidewalk to get a nice close-up of a pile of bananas. The ground was uneven and I came down on my weak ankle funny. That’s right, two ankle sprains in the matter of a week! Uhg. We insisted Billy continue on into the jungle while we relaxed on a boat in the pampas. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we really enjoyed our tour.

Getting to the river was an adventure. We had a crazy driver who didn’t let tail spins in the mud stop him from speeding. Plus, another car and a lorry (semi) got stuck in the mud causing an hour delay to help them out. We finally got to the boats and the scenery was well worth it. The lodgings built in the water were comfortable as well, except the boardwalk to the bathroom was flooded. When I found a baby cobra in the bathroom that raised his head to hiss at me, we were told not to use the bathroom at night because of snakes and cayman — ha! The next morning, because I like to attract danger apparently, I looked up from rinsing my razor in the water to see an alligator two yards from me! We also saw a good number of animals from the safe distance of the boat — hawks, howler monkeys, sloths, turtles, and more.

Our tour had two additional highlights. We went searching for anacondas, and a group of guys sank their boat when they thought the guide was going to drop a poisonous cobra in the boat. Comedy. We also swam with the only pink river dolphins in the world. They were shy, but one brushed my leg as it swam past. Bucket list item checked! (This morning Simon also found this great article on river dolphins and apparently the pink dolphins are the most intelligent: )

Billy enjoyed his tour as well, but wasn’t convinced it was completely worth the hassle of the bus journey to Rurrenabaque. And he didn’t even know what was in store for us on the bus ride back….

We decided to take the evening bus back to La Paz, leaving at 7pm and getting us back in the afternoon the next day. We were put in the last row of the bus, so all the bumps in the road were amplified (some sending us flying off our seats) Then, a drunk man peed in the aisle and it nearly ran on to our bags — not once, but twice! Almost on the verge of sleep finally, a grumpy baby shook the entire bus with his screaming. Needless to say, we didn’t get a great nights sleep. The next morning we stopped in a  town for breakfast where other passengers informed us that they just found out the road was closed for road maintenance. We weren’t able to leave until 5pm, meaning another night on the bus and a grand total of 34 hours for the journey. It felt great to get back in La Paz and the comfort of the casa de cyclistas!

The next day we cycled the “death road”. Rather than paying $100 each for the tour, we hired a mini-bus for the day at $15 each. This meant that we also used our own bikes. While suspension and wider handlebars would have been much appreciated, our bikes were fine overall. Billy got the only flat tire, which gave a group of locals time to catch up with us. They also had a flat and were walking their bikes down. Billy and Simon did their good deed of the day by changing it for them. It was a great ride with amazing scenery and the uphill ride to the bus station kicked our butts. It’s time to get back on the bikes again! We are now headed to Sucre for Spanish lessons 🙂

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