Fighting with Caymans: The Bolivian Jungle

Hundreds of alligators and caymens, pink river dolphins, turtles, monkeys, an anaconda, owls, toucans, capybara (largest rodent in the world), piranha, Stork, rufescent tiger heron, king vulture, hoatzin, blue and yellow macaw, parrot, Amazon kingfisher, greater ani, toro toucan, red crested cardinal, woodpecker – I saw all of the wildlife and more on my journey through the Bolivian jungle!

At roughly 5am I left my hostel in La Paz for the world’s highest airport in El Alto. Why? To catch an early morning 15 seat plane that would take off from the frigid Andes only to land in the dense Bolivian jungle less than an hour later. That was the plan until I was bumped from my plane because of an overbooking. I and more than 5 others were the unlucky enough to get bumped, and then lucky enough to catch the next flight out only a few hours later. Theoretically in time to start my 3 day pampas tour.

Strangely enough, this would be my second time in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia’s gateway for visits to the jungle (technically rainforest).  My first time was 5 years ago as a 17 year old on a group tour for 6 weeks in Bolivia. I knew exactly what to expect; an exciting flight in between the snow-capped Andes mountains.

Upon landing on the grass field in Rurrenabaque, I grabbed my tiny backpack and huddled out the airplanes door to be met by a representative from my tour company, Indigena Tours.

My group of 3 British, 1 Australian, and 1 Swiss had already been waiting anxiously for 2 hours. Less than 5 minutes later we drove off in a jeep for 3 hours along various unpaved and lopsided roads. After a quick and meager lunch of a tiny piece of chicken with rice, we loaded our gear into a very basic motorized canoe and took off down the Rio Yacuma for an epic jungle adventure.

It was absolutely beautiful just rolling down the river with a warm breeze and the sun shining through the trees.

Each aligator we spotted was exciting, even when we were soon told that they are about as common as mosquitoes in the jungle.

We soon spotted out first rodent, the largest in the world. It is truly an ugly creature.

Th river was fairly wide and muddy, and its banks were home to an incredible amount of flora and fauna. At one point during the first few hours we stopped by a tree and were ambushed by monkeys. According to our awesome Bolivian guide, there are 3 main types of monkeys in this area: squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys and howler monkeys.

Later on that day we settled into our remote jungle lodge complete with hammocks, cold showers, and toilets without paper. It was basic but all I could really ask for being in the jungle and all.

Later that night we took the canoe for a spin in the complete darkness. The purpose was to shine our flashlights (I did not have one) along the banks to catch the bright red reflections from the caimans’ and alligators’ eyes. Apparently once you get the hang of spotting them you literally see hundreds. But I never got the hang of it and resoted to snapping photos and then looking for red dots! I believe this is when they feed so I was careful not to get to close the side and you know, get eaten.

We spent the next morning on a short hike in search of anacondas. The best part was feeling like real life Indiana Jones the way we walked knee deep through the muddy fields trying not step on anything dangerous. The guides spotted this one just 30 minutes into our search.

As soon as the guides picked this little guy up he shat all over the place – a fascinating introduction to anacondas.

Besides the 1 anaconda we found, the actual scenery was beautiful.

Going back the same way we hiked for a bit until we reached our lodge. I relaxed the only way I know how while lunch was being prepared.

Another way to relax is by picking fights with the resident cayman like these 2 Kiwis staying at the lodge with us.

They seemed to win judging by the cayman running away.

Later that afternoon we took a ride around the pampas and settled on a spot where a quite a few pink river dolphins were circling. The presence of the dolphins meant we could safely swim around with them.  We jumped off the boat into the river only to not to have the dolphins avoid us at all costs.  I had hoped they would actually come up and touch us, but when we would get within 10 feet of them they would swim away.

On our way back to the lodge we stopped by this place to watch the sunset and play some soccer.

It was a very peaceful hour sitting with a few beers while I took in my surroundings.

and dinner I could only assume

and finally the sunset I had been waiting for.

On our last day we did one of my favorite parts of the trip. We fished for piranhas – a truly authentic jungle experience. Armed with a flimsy plastic string, hook, and raw beef I tried my best to catch some. Each of us would get a bite within 10 seconds, no exaggeration.  It takes a lot of skill to actually hook them. Apparently I had none as the only fish I could were tiny ones I was told to throw back. But I still celebrated with the other fish my group caught.

Lunch was a truly “hunter and gathering” experience.

And this cake concludes my pampas jungle tour!

Jason Bartoli

"Jason is the best person you'll ever meet here. He's just a ray of sunshine. An adventurer, businessman, and has a 4.9 Uber rating. Lovely person inside and out. I say, go message him" - My Mom

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