Welcome To The Jungle

Welcome to the jungle, we got fun ‘n’ games. Dah dah dah dah something something dah dah dah dah jungle, welcome to the jungle… But first you gotta get there. In order to get to Rurrenabaque, the gateway to Bolivia’s share of the Amazon Jungle you will need the following items:

Regular jungle companion.
  • Transport. You can take a 45 minute flight if you want a nice, safe way to travel with minimum hassle but for the purposes of this post let’s assume that, like me, you’re a tight arse who refuses to spend beer money on frivolous things such as comfort.
  • Nerves Of Steel. The bus travels down the road they built to replace the famous Death Road. I don’t know why they fucking bothered, the new road is just as terrifying as the old road if not more so. At least you do the old road on a little bicycle that you’re in control of as opposed to a fucking great big 4WD coach laden with cargo and people, edging closer and closer to the un-barricaded roadside as the driver keeps to the left in order to let oncoming traffic pass.
    NB: In lieu of Nerves Of Steel, Blissful Ignorance will suffice. Position yourself on the right hand side of the bus, turn your iPod up until your ears hurt and stare blankly out of the window whilst chanting, “If I can’t see it, it’s not there.”
  • Spare Underwear. In case of Nerves Of Steel fail and Blissful Ignorance is interrupted by the panicked screams of other passengers.
  • Valium. Explain to the pharmacist that you’re taking the 19 hour bus to Rurrenabaque and they may take pity on you and sell some to you. Or they may just stare at you like you’re an idiot or openly point and laugh at you. In the absence of Valium, try banging your head repeatedly against the nearest solid object until you lose consciousness.
  • Pillow. For profusely drooling into during periods of sleep and for smothering snorers and screaming children that break the precious sleep.
  • A ridiculously tall Australian named Becks who just happens to want the same thing out of a jungle tour as you do.
Milton and Ryna, our guide and cook respectively. Milton looks like he’s sucking a golf ball pretty much 99.9% of the time on account of the coca leaves he’s fond of chewing.

Once you’re safely in Rurre you’ll be needing accommodation which is a piece of piss to find, it’s not a big place and there are plenty of budget options to choose from. All you have to do is wander up and down the roads from hotel to hotel in the sweltering heat with your worldly belongings strapped to your back until you find somewhere that suits your purposes, preferably before the last drops of liquid seep from your pores and you collapse into a gasping heap, barely able to drag yourself to the bar and order a beer. It’s such a fucking hard life, this travelling business.

So you’ve arrived alive and in one piece, you’ve got yourself a bed for the night, you’ve located the nearest watering holes and accepted the fact that there’s no vat of iced water to submerge yourself in but that’s ok because there’s hammocks and and the ever popular tropical pastime of Not Moving. All you need now is a tour. Now, a good jungle tour should consist of a clean lodge with running water and flushing toilets, English speaking guides, food cooked on a grill and consumed inside at a table, generator powered electricity twice a day and comfortable beds… if you’re a pussy! I enjoyed my Brazilian jungle tour, it suited my run down, broken body at the time but now I was feeling fitter and ready for some proper jungle action.

This jungle tour might have been a little bit more jungley than the last one I went on but it still had little designated camps set up with a fire ring, shelves, and ready made areas to sling your rain tarp and mozzie nets.

I wanted camping on mats underneath mosquito nets, washing off in rivers and trekking deeper into the jungle with my pack containing everything we needed to set up camp that night in a new spot. I wanted to eat food cooked on an open fire whilst sitting on a log or the floor, listening to the jungle sounds around us, attempting to protect my food from ants with mandibles that you could skin a crocodile with and my blood supply from mosquitoes the size of pterodactyls. As to why I wanted to do this, I’m just gonna cite temporary insanity and get on with the post.

Milton is quite fond of chopping shit up. If he’s not wielding an axe to chop firewood he’s busy brandishing a machete at foliage.

What me and Becks wanted, aside from a large, walk-in refrigerator stocked with vodka, was a four day jungle adventure but given the fact it was the end of the season it was hard to find. There were three day tours up for grabs but we didn’t think that would be enough so after some hard bargaining with a lovely Czech chick at Mogli, we ended up on a five day tour for a reasonable price but it would just be the two of us. A day more than we wanted but what the hell, if we were gonna put ourselves though this we might as well do it properly.

Our luxurious first camp.

Anyway. Day one. We emptied our bags out and filled them with food supplies for the trip plus anything else we thought we might need, such as enough DEET to strip the paint off a cruise liner. We’d been told that the best thing to deter biting insects was to drink water infused with fresh lime, something about them not liking the citrus in your blood, but I’d been fooled by natural remedies before. Screw the hippy shit, nothing says “Fuck Off, Insects” like a mist of foul smelling chemicals permeating the air around your flesh. So our first camp was a bit of a luxury affair, what with the proper beds and the wooden shelter with a nice, big table to eat at. And here’s where we learnt the local way to consume coca and no, you don’t rack it into small lines and inhale it through a tightly rolled tenner.

The local way to chew coca leaves. Once all this was in my chops I had no fucking room for saliva.

What they do here is chew on a little stick-like thing til it’s soggy, then you take some leaves and place the foul tasting stick thing on top. Sprinkle a little white powder on top… what? Oh, it’s bicarbonate of soda you fucking druggy… then add more leaves, more powder, more leaves until you have enough to stuff into your gob. Now, there’s no dignified way to do this, you just stuff it into your cheek so it looks like you’re sucking a golf ball and let your saliva do the rest. Weirdly, the three tastes mingle and become sweet. Whilst you have it in your mouth you’re not meant to drink water, however, whiskey and lime in honour of Pachamama is apparently ok. Now that’s my kinda worship.

Turns out I’m pretty crap at shooting arrows at water bottles.

The majority of this tour, we knew, was jungle trekking. This afternoon we eased ourselves into it with a wander through the jungle, swinging on vines over crocodile infested ravines, feasting on worms, battling giant insects… ok so maybe there weren’t any ravines or indeed crocodiles but the swinging was still good fun. The mosquitoes do follow you around though, as you walk you notice the swarms of them flying after the person in front and you can only assume they’re stalking you in the same manner. And here’s a handy jungle hint; Always remember to DEET your arse. At some point you’re gonna have to drop your trousers to have a piss and they’ll be ready for you, waiting to attack when you’re at your most vulnerable; squatting in the trees, trying to keep your balance with one hand, waving the savages off with the other and all while trying to aim the stream in order to avoid hitting that dry leaf that’d redirect your piss straight back towards your feet. Nothing like the smell of ammonia to add to the stench of sweat and insect repellent. Adventure is SO sexy. I think it’s time to invest in a Shewee.

Before bedtime on the first night, we sat together and chewed coca leaves, drank whiskey and burnt cigarettes for Pachamama. I love a goddess with vices. I just need to find a deity with a penchant for strippers and crack and maybe I’ll discover religion. But anyway. There’s only one way to get from place to place here and that’s on your own two feet with all the supplies strapped to your back. You meander your way through the jungle, following Milton’s lead as he hacks at vegetation that has the audacity to almost get in his way. He’s a bit too ready with that machete is our Milton. He swipes at everything even if it’s not blocking the path which things very rarely were. I mean, we’re not talking dense, middle-of-the-Amazon foliage here, we weren’t on the lookout for undocumented mammals lying in wait to take your face off, or little known tribes wanting to shoot you in the neck with a poison-tipped arrow and use your scalp as a lampshade. It’s a relatively well used tour track at the end of the day but hey, who are we to argue with the dude with the huge slicing device?

If you visit the jungle and don’t swing from a vine, did you even visit the jungle? And if you come to South America and don’t purchase a pair of stripey gringo trousers, did you even come to South America?

Another fun aspect of this trip is the fact that neither Ryna or Milton spoke English so me and Becks got to practice our Spanish and I have to admit, I’m quite proud of how far my Spanish has come. I mean, I can’t hold an intelligent conversation, not that I’m claiming to be able to do so in English either, but if they speak slowly, which they’re obviously used to doing, I can understand the main things. My Spanish is very very broken but I can make myself understood. In your face, language barrier. Yeah.

Our second camp was more basic than the first. There were no beds here, just thin logs set up so you have something to drape the rain tarp over and tie your mosquito net to. We’d be sleeping on a roll mat under the nets which was fine by me. I can sleep pretty much anywhere as long as I’m warm and nothing’s attempting to chew through my flesh. So we set up our makeshift bedroom and after a feed we were off on another walk to have a look at some more jungle.

We stopped somewhere to try our hand at fishing but shit it was hot! Underneath the jungle canopy it’s humid and sweaty but the shade protects you from the direct sunlight. I suddenly found myself stood on the river bank clutching a piece of wood with a fishing line attached, the sun beating down on me. The rays, not gently caressing my face, but beating me round the head whilst shouting,”Excuse me but you weren’t using that top layer of skin were you? Because I’m going to strip it from your body if it’s all the same to you.”I retreated to join Becks in the shade and left the fishing to Milton who seemed immune to the huge ball of fire in the sky.

Indulging in a spot of fishing whilst trying not to completely melt.

Other cool things we saw today included those vines that you can chop up and drink fresh water from, and a huge fucking tarantula. Actually it wasn’t huge by tarantula standards but spiders are my biggest fear. Just writing the word stirs something primal inside me, it’s a fear I’ve never been able to overcome and nor do I want to. Everyone’s allowed to be scared of something and for me it’s spiders. Oh, and babies. But generally they’re slower and you can stamp on them before they run up your leg.

Apparently this is a small tarantula?!?

He found it (the tarantula, not a baby. There are very few cabbage patches frequented by stalks in the jungle. Because that’s where babies come from, right? I mean… right?) in an old ants nest. He’d been trying to find one to show us by fishing around in holes with a stick he covered in saliva, a technique I’d seen used in Brazil too. I’m not sure how I’d cope if I saw one emerge from a hole, its horrible hairy legs pulling its huge body out of the ground. Shit no. I’d rather chew my own arm off and beat myself to death with it thankyouverymuch.

Obligatory fish catching tourist pose.

We got back to camp, cooled off in the river, had a feed then it was back out with torches to try to catch tomorrow’s dinner. I do like fishing. Not in a sporting way, but in a fish-taste-good kinda way. If I can’t feel anything nibble then I tend to get bored and wander off, but if I know there’s stuff in there then it’s game on. And game on it was. Becks wasn’t that bothered about it so me and Milton sat there in the dark with our lines. I had mine wrapped around my finger and here’s another handy jungle tip; Never wrap a fishing line around your finger unless you’re fishing for things that don’t swim such as traffic cones or shopping trolleys. Hehe, spot the city chick. Without warning the line tensed as a catfish tried to make a break for it with the bait. I swear it nearly took my fucking finger off! Shit it was exciting though, Ryna helped me reel it in, Milton smacked it over the head with a piece of wood and I posed for the photograph like the beaming tourist I am.

Ryna prepping a catfish one of us caught for cooking.

Day three and everything is out to get you in this place. We got to our third camp and, as usual, made a beeline for the water. Milton told us that we had to splash before we got in, then continue to splash while we were in there. Hmm… Ok… And what exactly were we trying to scare off? He also warned us against going too far out so I abandoned the idea of a swim and began to make my way back up to camp when I noticed something black and slimy attached to my foot. A leech! My very first leech! Now, how did you get these things off you again without leaving their faces buried in your blood vessels? On my way to fetch my camera, I showed Ryna. She ripped it off my foot telling me it was no bueno and that it’d drink my blood and grow big. Well there went its chance to be a Facebook star. I contemplated sticking my foot back in the water to catch another one for a photo then decided against it on account of the risk of finding myself knee deep in anaconda digestive juices.

This is how Ryna cooked the fish. She wrapped it in leaves and, once the flames had died down, basically barbecued it.

Aaaaand it was time for another walk. We were over the walking by now. There’s only so many times you can marvel at trees and nature before you just want to sit down and chill out and enjoy the dead fish you caught the day before. We agreed to one last walk that night to go caiman spotting but apart from getting from one place to another, that was it. No more walking for recreation. Feet were now strictly a mode of transport and a device to stop you from blowing over in the wind.

Caiman bothering.

As we set up our bedroom, Milton and Ryna gazed at the blue skies peeping though the canopy and told us that it would rain tonight. Me and Becks looked up and the cloudless sky in confusion but still, we dutifully draped both the rain tarps over the frame as Milton dug a small trench around our setup for drainage. They’d told us stories of sudden, tropical storms, where entire camps were washed away over night and trees nearly fell on unsuspecting tourists. But come on. Tonight? Really? When there wasn’t even a sign of a cloud? That night, as the torrential rain lashed down onto the tarps and ran into the trench that Milton had dug to protect us and our stuff from getting wet, I vowed never to scoff at the weather predicting talents of a Bolivian tour guide ever again.

Day four. Chill out day. After me and Becks had said we didn’t want to do anymore random walking we just spent the morning at the camp not doing much. It was great. Under the protection of a smouldering ant’s nest (which apparently deters mosquitoes although the mozzies here probably aren’t scared of much short of dragons), Becks got an ankle massage from Milton, we did a bit more fishing and later on, after walking back to the camp where we spent our second night, we headed back to the river bank with the fishing line and Milton’s pipe fashioned from a fish fin bone. Ingenious. I’m not a stoner, I stopped smoking weed years ago but I had to have a go at this. Milton, Becks and me sat together, stoned as motherfuckers, pissing ourselves laughing at god only knows what. The water I think. I have no idea. It’s been so long since I smoked anything, the last time I got stoned I ate everything in the fridge and spent half an hour laughing at Eastenders before passing out on the sofa much to the amusement of my housemates. These days, the only thing I inhale into my lungs is fresh air and occasionally the weirdly pleasant scent of magic marker.

This is really quite ingenious. A pipe fashioned from a fish fin bone.

So we drew to the end of our trip in the jungle. On day five we headed back to Mogli’s base camp to wait for the boat that would take us back to what passes for civilisation in this part of Bolivia. Milton made both of us necklaces, mine was made from fish fin bone and some seeds, and I thanked my lucky stars that I still had enough blood left to function with given the state of my back. Yep, they got me good despite the long sleeved shirt and the DEET. They have no respect for fabric, they just stick their little pointy mouths through your shirt and suck your blood, not giving a flying fuck that you’re actually using it. They got me on the arse good and proper too. Guess who forgot to DEET their buttocks. It was so fucking itchy, all you want to do is rub up against the spikiest tree you can find. When I was sat on a log, fishing, I found myself scraping my butt up and down the log like a dog trying to remove a worm from its arsehole. I’d be mourning the loss of my dignity if indeed I had any to lose in the first place.

The absolute fucking state of my back! And that was with enough DEET to drown a horse.

It was a brilliant tour, though. Definitely a day longer than we needed but I had a fabulous time. I was intending to do a Pampas tour after this one but nah, I think I’ll wait until high season and come back for that when there’s less mosquitoes. Sure, the place will be full of tourists, but if they want to remove your bodily fluids at least they’ll buy you a drink first.

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Rurrenabaque, El Beni, Bolivia
Stayed at: Jungle camps.
Activity: Jungle trekking with Mogli Tours

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