The waterworld of the Pampas

Kris, Line, Axel and I - all San Miguel volunteers- squashed ourselves into a jeep with three other travellers from Japan and made the sticky dusty bumpy trip to Santa Rosa in the pampas. The pampas is a wetland region in Bolivia that is largely underwater in the wet season but shrinks to a system of rivers and lakes teeming with wildlife in the dry. We had booked a three day tour and were hoping to see lots of animals that we had missed out on in the jungle because of the dense vegetation. Three hours down the road and five minutes into the boat ride we had already seen alligators, caimans, turtles, squirrel monkeys, capibaris and lots of 'thingymabob' birds. The alligators and caimans (not that we could tell the difference) were so common that soon we weren't even bothering to stop for them.

There was a real swamp atmosphere that night as we drifted slowly downstream towards cold beers at the Sunset bar, lighting up the lurking amber eyes of crocs with our headlamps along the way. We met our first South African travellers over a sweaty game of volleyball where World (ie. all the gringos) played Bolivia and World won. We cooled down listening to our guides singing bluesy tunes to the accompaniment of guitars, spoons and alligator skull washboards. 

With sore heads we left early to hunt for Anaconda! A bit of a problematic issue as fewer and fewer are being sighted and no-one has an explanation as to why, although it seems obvious that the unsustainable tourism practices have a lot to do with it! There are stories of guides disappearing for a few minutes to return with their successful 'find': a poor starving snake that they have kept stashed in a bag to show the eager anaconda-hungry tourists. We had made it perfectly clear to our guide that we would have none of that dodgy business. So hip-deep we waded along the silted banks of a waterplant rimed lake where hundreds of crocs floated in the distance. After two hours our guide accidentally stood on one and we got a chance to see it's head before it managed to slither away. Exhausted we returned to camp to recover by drifting downstream again to one of the few spots that, for a change, wasn't infested with crocs and that being due to the lithe pink creatures known as river dolphins. We all nervously slipped in to the muddy water to experience the sensation of swimming with dolphins. Mad!

The last day and an early start to catch a hazy sunrise (from deliberate fires by farmers to green their pastures) and we are rewarded with the whole range of monkeys: squirrel, howler and capuchin. Then it was off piranha fishing to catch our lunch but they were all pretty dismally bitesized. In the afternoon it was back to Rurre, 'real' life and a BMW with problems! Again Axel has to spend the day getting his hands greasy - the piston chamber is layered in a grimy soot which we think is a combination of bad fuel and high altitude inefficiency (too little air). Better than the suspected engine seizure but geez we didn't think the fuel was so crappy. We have a room in a big airy hotel run by an israeli who speaks german, hebrew, english and spanish. It has a beautiful view over the river and that evening a rainstorm lulls us to sleep with the curtains flying across the room on it's cool breezes.

Now it's time to say goodbye to Rurre and return to the high altitudes of La Paz and then onto Peru. But not exactly the same way we came...