Welcome to the jungle, baby!

Good news! I am not infested with parasites, eaten by piranas, or bitten by an alligator. A baby alligator nibbled on the finger of one of the Israeli tourists; Chaim will have a zigzag scar, which is great for those fish/amphibian stories, you know where the one that got away, gets bigger and bigger with each retelling.

Overall the pampas portion, which touted itself as ecologically sound, wasn’t every eco at all. The guide was machoer than most, with the muscles to prove it. In fact I can’t even think of him without the theme song coming to mind (Macho macho man, I wanna be a macho man). The first night on the way back from watching the sunset at the Sunset Bar (known for its cold beer) we were shining our lights from our canoe out into the dark river to catch the red glow of alligator and black caiman eyes… When suddenly our boat halted. And Macho was knee-deep in the river stalking an alligator -- a niña we later found out when he turned her over and spread apart the thin slit beneath her belly to reveal: no testicles. Anyway, he explained alligators to us for a while and passed the poor lass around. This is when she snapped her jaw shut on the Israeli’s finger. Nacho, er… Macho wasn’t too worried. After all, she was just a baby alligator, and the moment too opportune to not start in with the big alligator story. The one where Nacho gets his forearm chomped by a papa alligator, and needed 100 stitches to sew up the rip. Needless to say, Nacho’s scar is bigger than Chaim’s will be.

What else? The Pampas was interesting, lots of animals: capybara (the world’s largest rat that looks like a giant guinea pig), alligators, black caiman, eagles, hawks, water birds, paradise birds (one of the world’s oldest species of bird), squirrel monkeys (yellow, cute, but people were feeding them bananas, sigh), anaconda, cobra. Oh, and I went piranah fishing (one of the piranah’s bit Nacho’s finger) and then my favorite part: swimming in brown water with pink dolphins. One of them touched my foot with its head. In the end, it was like going to the zoo. The park is even called zoologico natural.

In the jungle, everything was really so much more natural. The guide grew up in the area and knew a ton about the plants, animals, sounds, uses, and stories of the forest. I did a five day tour which took me a little deeper into the jungle than the shorter 2- or 4-day tours. We chased after wild boar -- dear god how they stunk. We fished and bird watched (toucans, parrots), we tiptoed after monkeys (squirrel monkeys and cappuccino monkeys), drank water from the uña de gato tree, made rings out of miniature coconuts, painted our faces with some red juice of a very green plant, and night hiked to look for night animals -- where we saw wild jungle deer and the one species of night monkey that I can’t remember the name of.

Rurre, Let me count the ways

It wasn’t easy to get here, but I’m glad to be in Rurrenebaque. It’s the dry season, but it’d been raining in Rurre for days. The planes to get here are old and driven by vision, so when it’s raining or difficult to see, all flights are canceled. Also, the airstrip on the Rurre side is grassland, so if it’s muddy, the plane can’t take off. Anyway, loads of people basically waited at the tiny military airport for about a day in hopes of catching the next flight. It was bumpy ride in a 20-seater plane, ending with one of the flight crew pulling out a metal pipe, shaped like the beginning strokes of a digital number 5, attaching it to a hole in the roof of the plane and spinning it round and round. The stewardess (ooh so non-p.c. of me) searched frantically for gloves to aid the man in his spinning. I’m not sure what it was. A mini survey tallied two votes for depressurizing the plane, one vote for lowering it’s wheels. But it turned out that every time the airplane was about to land, it caught the wind, which lifted the bugger up so we couldn‘t land (even thought I think we all paid tariffs for having luggage over 15 kilos). Whatever the guy was turning so arduously made it so we wouldn’t catch the wind. We landed suavamente on the grass strip with applause and laughter.

Anyway, I love it in Rurre. Rurrenabaque. In the hostal with the wobbly fan whirring. The night birds yowling. Cicadas and crickets. Dogs barking. Mopeds mowling. Born to Be Wild sounding out from Moskkitos, the cozy discotheque. All just a bug screen away from my ears.

Everything is warmer here, including the people. The general reception I’ve encountered in Bolivia is, well, tentative. A withholding of information and eye contact. Signs everywhere warning: Cuida sus pertenencias. Not warm at all. Could be the cold weather. One chatty hombre in the bus on the way to Pelechuco said as much. He worked as an explorer and said, waving his hand toward the window, “Just look at it (snow, glaciers), so so cold. In the jungle, everybody is warmer and they talk more.” But maybe it’s the dog-eat-dog ambiente in the cities and pueblos of the altura. Everywhere you go, somebody’s telling a lie and ripping someone off. So people are weary and approach it all with caution. And of course perspective. Some might pin down the lack of eye contact as a tendency to lie or some minor disrespect. I met an architect from Belgium who just thinks the vendors in La Paz are just timid. I don’t know, in the end it’s a chicken/egg situation. Por ejemplo, papel higenico. Toilet paper is so rare, you can’t even find it in hotels. Did Bolivians stop giving the luxury of toilet paper because it was always running out (getting stolen)? Or do people steal the toilet paper--when it’s there--because there’s never any toilet paper?

Viva Bolivia Hacia El Mar

Bolivians love to party. Last time I got back to town the party was for San Pedro (I think; it’s hard to keep all the saints straight). This time it’s another saint or independence or something, but the party’s been going on since Saturday, and today’s a feria day with more parades, singani, and meat in the streets. The goings on are spectacular. Oh and a movie’s being filmed near the hostal (Austria) in Plaza Murillo.

I just ate huevos rancheros with real honest to goodness corn tortillas. Mmmm how I miss tortillas, I’ll have to somehow coordinate cooking lessons with Elena so she can teach me how to make tortillas. If anyone knows how to do this, Elena does.

So the hike from Pelechuco to Charazani in the Cordillera Apolobamba was beautiful. I wish I could upload pictures onto this thing, but it takes way too long. I added some pics to my Flickr account from my California trip. They’re not in order, but you’ll notice a lot of crotch shots. This is what happens when Drew or Lydia get a hold of my camera… I love these “special” surprises.

Anyway, everything I read about the trek said it should take about five nights, but we did it in three nights and four days… the second day was killer. Supposedly we’re in the dry season, but there was hail and there was snow. We heard that it even hailed in La Paz, unheard of this time of year. It was cold, but since we were walking up up up to 5100 meters (16,700 feet), the temperature and weather all evened out. When we made it up to the 5100-meter pass, I cried. It was almost like marathon tears, but I can’t remember if I cried or not when I finished my marathon. I think mostly I was just confused and needed to use the bathroom.

Aside from my acclimatization problems (it’s just not happening as seamlessly as I’d hoped it would, guess I’m a sea-level girl), one of the hardest parts of the trip were the bus rides (12 hours to Pelechuco and 8 hours from Charazani back to La Paz). Motionsickness? Maybe. But there are so many people crammed into the bus with their wares, 100-lb bags of rice or other grains, oranges, and other craziness. Everything in the aisles, bags, abuelos, babies, you name it. And bathrooms, forget about it. Luckily the conductor of the Charazani-La Paz bus didn’t stop to pick up more people every five minutes. On the way to Pelechuco, we must have stopped 50 times, including to let all the hombres off to piss (sissies).

Wifi in La Paz!

I'm in La Paz at a little pub with free wifi... Can you believe it? I can't. It's solyluna-lapaz.com -- somebody make sure this bad boy is in the Directory! Here's the skinny version of what I've been up to, trekking and relaxing more or less. Spent about a week in Sorata, a beautiful valley town, super tranquilo, but there was a bit of a bread controversy. "No hay pan, no hay pan." The first day I arrived, everything was closed on account of protests. Folks protesting the cost of flour to make bread, evidently. And for this reason, all three hornos (ovens) were closed and not making pan. From Sorata I hiked up to Laguna Chillata (4200 meters) and Laguna Glaciar (5038 meters) in the Cordillera Real -- without bread for sandwiches, mind. Even with acclimatizing in La Paz (orgullosamente 3600 meters), reaching Laguna Glaciar was hard! I met an Indian girl from Kenya who was also looking to do some trekking and ended up hiring a guide and mules, which costed us about 50 bolivianos each per day, including food -- about 6 bucks.

Tomorrow I'm going to take a micro (tiny bus) about 12 hours to a small town called Pelechuco to trek the Cordillera Apolobamba. It's supposed to be one of the most beautiful treks in all of Bolivia and off the beaten path a bit, I think because of the lack of decent transportation to reach it. Most of the hiking will be above 4000 meters with 5 higher passes. The hike is about 4 or 5 nights and 5 or 6 days.



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