Bolivia Destinations Latin America

Animal-spotting in the Amazon Basin

The starting point for the Amazon basin in Bolivia is in a rather nondescript, almost Asian-like town of mosquitoes and motorbikes called Rurrenabaque.

I know what you’re thinking when I say Amazon.

You’re picturing trekking through dense jungle foliage in sweltering heat, with machetes to hack away the vines and giant rainforest leaves.

Well, at least that’s what I pictured. But the pampa is something completely different, and a tour into these wetlands is as close to the Amazon as you’re going to get from Rurrenabaque.

Amazon basin

The pampas of the Amazon Basin is mostly a swampland.

The Pampas Tour

During the three days of our pampa tour, we barely touched dry land. Having arrived just at the tail-end of rainy season, the pampa was essentially a large expanse of water several metres deep with reeds, spindly trees and ratty bushes emerging from its depths.

But the pampa, unlike the Amazonian jungle nearby, is all about the animals. There are lazy sloths that make dragging oneself along the ground look like the most tiresome activity there is. There are funky-looking birds sporting mohawks, sly alligators, sun-baking turtles.

But most amusing of all are the squirrel monkeys, among the loudest and most vivacious of primates I have ever seen. They quarrelled constantly, were daring enough to approach the boat to try to eat the Bolivian flag adorning the tip of the barque, and spun themselves up and down and around vines and each other so fast that acrobats can’t compare to these creatures.

Squirrel monkeys

Squirrel monkeys may just be the cheekiest animals alive.

Our camp in the pampas was built entirely upon stilts, with rickety wooden pathways connecting our dorm rooms to the bathrooms, dining rooms and (perhaps unwisely) bar. Beneath us, the camp pet alligator Pepe resided. Our days were spent mostly lazying in the hammocks by the bar and swooping maniacally on the abandoned left-overs of other groups, so we could gorge on more fried chicken and spaghetti.

We touched dry land for approximately ten minutes on our second day to search for anacondas. When the tiny island we were on showed up nothing, our incredible guide Taz led us directly into the butt-high, slimy water.

Whilst the walk can’t quite be described as pleasant (picture constant swatting of mosquitoes and disquieting concerns about whether that was a twig or something else in your boot), it was certainly exhilarating and we eventually found ourselves a dozing rattlesnake and two horribly furry tarantulas.

Tarantulas

These tarantulas were so well camouflaged an entire group walked over them before our guide spotted them.

On our final morning, after dopily watching the sunrise across the flats and stealing piles of chocolate cake and donuts from abandoned breakfast tables, we tried our hand at piranha fishing.

Piranhas, for the record, do not live up to their infamous reputation with their frenzied and insatiable appetite for meat. Only two of us – one of them the guide – managed to catch these small but toothy creatures. One among the group who tried to punch a piranha to death got what was coming to him; the little creature took a nice nip of his finger.

piranha

Piranhas are smaller than expected.

Our final Amazonian adventure was to swim with the pink dolphins in the surprisingly dense waters. ‘Pink dolphins’ is both an apt and yet also misleading name, since although these fish are rosy in colour, they are not, as one would think, in any way cute. In fact, they have noses like a swordfish but rounded, which felt awfully strange when one prodded me in the foot. But they were actually shy with us and the activity wasn’t so much dolphin swimming as chasing.

On our last night together, we visited the famous and infamously-gringo Moskkitto Bar in Rurre. The night proved a long one, but it seemed appropriate to appreciate this legendary tour group as much as possible before our individual adventures began once more in the morning.

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