Monday, January 02, 2006

Amazonia and Wildlife Galore 1

I have returned from the jungle with only a few bites, a bit of a tan, curly hair and some of the best wildlife memories to show for 5 hot sweaty great days in Amazonia.

I flew out over the Andes (truly spectacular if a little scary in a tiny bouncy plane) to a place called Rurrenabaque - a jungle town based around non-presently existent tourists - I think there were about 50 of us. What then ensued was 4 days in hot humid mosquito-ridden jungly stuff that was just awesome.

On the first day I went on a 4.5 hour hike through the amazon rain-forest - it did not disappoint. I do not know what it is about South America but any time you try and do something simply it turns out more exciting. Arnie (German mate been travelling with for about 3 weeks) and I followed our guide Mario and his machete deeper and deeper into the thick-green stuff, literally slashing our way through thick foliage. We had a master class in rain forest plants and bugs. He was cutting fresh fruit off trees, slashing into trunks and offering us the inner liquid to drink as stomach medicine. There were trees covered in huge spikes, ones that heal broken bones, others that kill you, bugs that bite, BIG tarantulars, HUGE ants.....the list goes on an on. It was absolutely great. At one point we scrambled up and over a ridge (the machete was in prolific use as was every ounce of my balance) to a view of the rain forest stretching for countless miles in all its green splendour - quite quite wonderful!

By the end my respect for the surroundings had risen substantially - so many things can kill you or cure you and if you do not know which you are buggered. We tipped the guide well!

The next day we headed off on a 3.5 hour bumpy ride to the pampas. This is a vast area teeming with wildlife. The three days at least equalled my Borneo experience back in 2001. I swore I would never again disembark from a boat in the middle of the night to get a closer look at a large crocodillian, but that I did…. Quite a rush and addictive until the guide tells us to get the heck out of there because there is a big alli making angry noises in our close proximity.

The pampas is made up of a series of rivers teeming with life that seasonally flood into planes of reeds and sodden stuff. On the river I saw large numbers of caiman, alligator (most identifiable at night with their orange eyes gleaming - I enjoyed stroking a 2m monster that came ashore called Frederico), eagle, owl, stork, macaw, bird of paradise, heron, red and black howler monkey (you would not believe the noise they make - drown out a foghorn) and little spider monkeys. These are a few amongst many animals.

There were a few extra special sitings. On New Years Eve we did something that sounds silly but is part of the tour - we went practically wading across the flood planes looking for Anaconda. There you are walking mostly on your own or with a mate looking for the biggest snake in the world - hmmmm. After a long fruitless search Arnie and I decided to keep on for a bit after the others had give up. Low and behold South America did not disappoint. A couple of feet in front of me the biggest snake I have ever seen suddenly thrashed and to my relief shot off away from me. This was followed by some rather lame high-fives with the German. What does one do next? One goes looking for it! We thought we had tracked it to a copse of bush just as a guide caught up with us (no doubt in reation to our astonishment at the initial encounter). As we described its rapid movement and coulouration the guide quickly stepped back and warned us to do the same. He had determined that it was not an anaconda but a "cobra" - I believe a Bushmaster, the largest poisonous snake in the western hemisphere. These are apparently a lot more dangerous then anacondas and I freely admit that this somewhat put the shits up me - a real buzz though.

The adrenaline rush from the viperous snake was soon after relived in the form of an ant bite. Little was I to know that the tree I was leaning against was there home. They attacked and I had an anxious wait while the bite swelled. What excitment.....was it the potentially deadly or just downright painful kind? Thankfully the former. The others laughed. I fell in the mud.....and laughed too.

Fortuitously, later that day the guide found a 2m long anaconda. We were able to handle it solo and put it around our necks (it was a strong bugger I can tell you), but when they are that size it is not very dangerous - it is the 8m ones you have to worry about. We also saw a sloth, loads of remarkable pink river dolphins (that you could swim with) and to cap it all off 10 KAPIBARAS on the way back. One of the animals I have always wanted to see. And to think my sighting of the largest rodent in the world (somewhere between a rat and small horse) was nearly thwarted by the distinct lack of being silent skills of another traveller - for goodness sake, this is not a zoo, animals can run away and don't need help to hear clumsy humans coming.

Add a big night in the jungle pub (I will never forget zooming at top speed through the jungle rivers in the middle of the new years eve night, flash-lights turned off, stars above and some pissed guides "navigating" as crazy gringos rock the boat.... guilty as charged) and fishing for piranhas (I caught a tiddler) and you have an awesome 5 days.

A wildlife experience of a life time, and a lovely Christmas thanks to Mik, Princess, Arnie, Buster and Dingo (Dave). Simply great!!
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