Welcome to the Jungle!
With breakfast demolished at Sain’s second restaurant and sharing morning Hola’s with the local workers who were also enjoying Team Sain’s hearty kick start. It was the perfect start before clambering down to the river bank and boarding our new mode of transport. A traditional long boat motorized canoe! Here we met up with Llallo (motor man), Peta (navigator), Patricia (expedition cook) and of course Sain who swapped his “Trump wig” for the captains hat! Taking our places onboard we were soon chugging down Rio Mapidi which is a tributary of the mighty Amazon.
The scenery was now deep jungle broken only by sporadic mining activity. The river flowing fast like a torrent of chocolate milkshake due to all the mining discharge introduced us quickly to life as a boat-man working these rivers! We sat back as the river calmed and read our books, listened to music and generally relaxed and took in the vast views. The canoe being expertly threaded through the rapids by Peta and Llalo which was a joy to watch. Desperate jungle dwelling families working like beavers to dam off small pockets of river bank to allow them to pan for gold.
The bigger operations will always miss something and these people work long hours in waste deep waters searching for enough precious metal to put food on the family table. As we cruise by its evident that mining is essential for this part of Bolivia. Our lunch stop today was Guanay. More delicious local fare served up alongside curious locals was a welcomed treat after our first 2 and a bit hours on the canoe. Moe ventured off with Patricia to stock up with supplies for the coming days camp and canoe breakfasts, lunches and dinner. Ever the perfect host we always had plenty of beer, vino and marshmallows for the campfires!
As we punched on to our first wild camping spot the anticipation was building as evening drew in. Forming a human chain we emptied the canoe within minutes of all the camping gear, supplies and personal belongings. If it did not feel like a expedition before, it certainly did now! Our goal was to set up camp and whilst Patricia and the crew got dinner going and the fire on. This gave us plenty of time to enjoy a quick dip in a crystal clear plunge pool before a 10 minute hike/climb to a look-out point to take in the solemn sunset and changing jungle attitude as day slipped into night.
An awesome pasta dish around the campfire as fireflies provided the twilight entertainment just rounded off the perfect introduction to the jungle part of this adventure. As the darkness took hold we all enjoyed the vino tinto that washed down the crispy marshmallows. The steady breeze and smouldering fuego kept the midges at bay and providing you kept covered up a bite free evening was enjoyed by all. The bottles running dry we all retired to our tents with the exciting news that in the morning we would hike 40 minutes to a waterfall where we could swim and wake up before enjoying deep fried empanadas, fresh coffee and a scrambled omlette packed with local vegetables.
All up and ready for our morning bath we set off in the relatively fresh morning air. Through vine laden trails, over rocks and across streams we arrived at the waterfall. The hike made things sweaty again and the pure relief and refreshment of our al fresco bath was simply exhilarating! Always looking for a chance to bomb or dive, Claudio and I set about conquering the climb up a couple of meters to a ledge that allowed us to go behind the waterfall. Aline a keen climber back home in France was not one to miss out. She got back in the water swam over to us and using brute strength we simply hoisted her up to join us for a selfie behind the cascading water.
The long awaited bomb and “in like a pin” from me was soon on the cards as we had to start our journey back to camp for brekkie! On route Sain pointed out a snake and evidence of indigenous people extracting rubber from the trees. The empanadas were that good I think 8 or 9 passed my lips. Feeling ready to burst we climbed back on board the already loaded canoe (what a crew) ready for another full day of relaxing and watching the jungle play out on the banks of the river. The hours drifted by, photos taken, naps sneaked in, chapters reeled off, onboard lunch consumed it was simply effortless to enjoy this part of the trip.
Peta offered up an idea of another swim in a plunge pool deep in the bedrock. Camp site 2 did not have the riches of a natural waterfall and pool to freshen up in so 30 minutes before we called it a day we attempted a quick head dunk to rejuvenate us. G took this one step further and decided to go in fully clothed with phone and passport! Not sure it was fully intended but it did make us all laugh and capture a soggy englishman on film!
As G started the big dry out the rest of us were putting tents up and collecting fire wood. Wild camp night 2 played out just like the previous – Muchas vino, excelente comidas (food) y fuego grande! Oh and this time the mozzies were out to play hard so covering up and spray was a must for night two! But again the moonlit riverside camp under the watching monkeys and glowing fireflies was worth every ear buzzing blighter! Experiences like this don’t happen without a bit of “manning up”.
The 6th and final day was always about the final push to Rurrenabaque where our adventure with Gravity would end. Another gut busting breakfast followed by a slick de-camp played out. Our final treat before embarking on Rurrenabaque was a 2 hour jungle hike with Sain as our master guide. The canoe dropped us off 10 minutes down the river and we looped back to rendezvous with them at a muddy stream estuary.
G and I have never never been in a proper jungle before and we loved every minute of it. Dense jungle brought the imagination alive. All the jungle based films played out as we tried to imagine what could be around the next tree. The sound effects from Arnie’s “Predator”, the ethics of Sigourney’s “Gorillas in the Mist” and Axel Rose’s screaching lyrics of “Welcome to the jungle” were rattling through my imagination and fuelling the teenager within. How on earth he navigated us through is beyond me. There was no trail and if you stoodstill for 10 secs to take a photo whilst the group pressed on you would see nothing, that was how dense it was.
Luckily we lost no one as we waded through and enjoyed Sain’s (via Moes interpretation) live jungle lecture. We did not see any major wild life but plenty of evidence it was never far away. Termite mounds the size of London’s Gherkin, soldier ants big enough to lift your foot up, wild pepper hanging from vines and a tree twice as old as the Inca that Sain claims he has climbed to the top. These were some of the amazing things that unfolded with every swipe of the Columbian swaged machete! But my personal favourite was re-living a moment from “Predator” when Arnie slices a vine in half and then drinks the water that flows from it. Its true boys never grow up and this 36 year old was as happy as an ant-eater setting eyes on that Gherkin for the first time! The jungle trek was over and I know all five of us were disappointed it was. But yet again this tour just keeps on giving. Just before we waded back onto the boat we had to have another picture for the family album.
That was it, one last time, climbing back onto and taking the padded seat on the canoe just before we ploughed on to Rurrenabaque. I could of stayed on that canoe for weeks, thats how relaxing and amazing it was to be ambling along this absorbing part of Bolivia. Everyone felt the same and every member of the crew made it their intention to give us 5 a experience we wil simply not forget. After a quick stop to register with the national park ranger and see some massive spiders it was time to disembark one last time as the trip and canoe ride ended on the banks of Rurrenabaque. An emotional and grateful farewell to Sain and his team was brief as they turned around and sailed the 3 days back to Mapidi! So that was it, Ride and River was over for the 5 of us and I’m not sure what else we can do in South America that will come close.
G and I decided that we had seen enough and we did not have a need to push on further into the jungle and do the Pampas or other tourist excursions. Our journey here was all about those 6 days. So we enjoyed a couple of nights with Moe enjoying the great food and bars of the very cosy but cool Rurrenabaque before flying to La Paz with Amaszonas Air for £65. The 30 minute flight was also great fun and a great way to wrap up our 6 day expedition!
I would like to wrap up by thanking the whole Gravity team for leaving no stone unturned and putting on a effortless and simply once in a lifetime experience. Please think twice about seeing Bolivia as simply Uyuni Salt flats, La Paz, the death road and Copacabana! Commit to this adventure, experience the real Bolivia and not see another tourist whilst doing it – well apart from members of your group of course! It is so well organised and catered for, anyone of any riding ability or fitness can fully enjoy and embrace this 6 day tour.