A River Trip

We didn't really fancy riding back the same stretch of road for four days, so the 'La Paz by boat' posters around town instantly appealed to us. Of course it isn't really possible to go all the way by boat to La Paz, the river being only navigable till Guanay but going upriver that far would replace two days of riding hot and dusty roads with two days of lounging around on a boat and cruising right past the Madidi national park.

That decided the biggest hurdle would be getting the Perla Negra onto a rickety boat ...she is not the lightest of bikes weighing in at 250kg 'dry' ie. with empty tanks and no luggage. The ever-optimistic locals judged 'no problema' and with much heaving and cursing (by Axel) with the help of the three crew we got her loaded and were on our way. There was the guide and his wife -who cooked our meals- and two boatmen. One served as navigator and stood watch in the bow of the boat looking out for logs and shallow sand banks, at times pushing or punting us through the parts where we couldn't motor. The other, our 'Kapitan', in charge of the motor wore glasses as thick as coke bottle bottoms...a bit worrying. I guess the navigator served as his eyes.

It was like a dream motoring up the Rio Beni, a solid fence of tangled green on either side of us with plants in various shapes, sizes and textures. Palms, tall canopy trees, lianas all making up a heady exotic silhouette against the skyline, interrupted at times by neatly planted rows of beans on the occasional sandbanks close to villages. We didn't see much wildlife - mostly birds - especially Macaws, perhaps only because they make such a racket when they fly you would have to be deaf to miss them. The river was at times quite rough with scary rapids to navigate and I had visons of my beautiful bike ending up on the bottom of Rio Beni. In some rapids huge fish (about 40cm in length) would jump out of the water - I imagine to evade us the enemy - but by an unlucky manoevre a few of the suicidal fish would end up flapping about in our boat. Our companions were ecstatic, free fish!  At dusk we pulled up onto a sandbank at the junction of two rivers, we would take the right fork the next morning. The sandbank was infested with sandflies but we stuck it out to eat our free fish and to see the green slowly seeping out of the landscape to be replaced by shades of grey with cloud draped hills in the distance. The noises of the forest and the river mingled and we fell asleep to splashes, croaks, chirps and hoots.

We stopped for breakfast at the next town along passing an ever increasing amount of gold-diggers and loggers camps along the way, obviously we were no longer in Madidi protected territory. The town backed onto the river, ignoring it without seeming to need the water views as those who can afford the luxury do. The river was more the toilet and waste dump with streaks of multi-coloured rubbish indicating houses on the cliff-tops above. The town lived on the gold trade with handwritten signs "compro oro" or "We buy gold" hanging in shops and pumps, pans and other gold-digging paraphenalia for sale everywhere.

The vegetation changed markedly from then on becoming drier and hotter with the forest looking like it would go up in seconds if you put a match to it. We were unloaded shortly before Guarani directly onto the road that lead us back to Coroico. Again after much drama "Perla Negra" was unloaded - with a broken indicator this time. We unwillingly donned our stifling bike gear in the dry burning heat and were once again on the beautiful exhiliratingly precipitous roads of the Yungas.