Bolivian Amazon – Rurrenabaque

Amazon Tour: fly to Rurrenabaque
I booked with TAM, ticket bought the day before – for 420 Bs one way; 840bs for return ticket.
A 10bs airport tax is needed at the airport when you depart. A 7bs tax when you return, followed by another 15bs for some unlucky people. By this, I mean that some people were called to go to the opposite side to pay the tax. I was, so I headed there. Unfortunately I only had 10Bs left so I wanted to give 10bs + 1usd but the lady didnt accept; she waved me off at my final 10bs and stapled the ‘Bs 5’ on my flight e-ticket. Later I asked my friend; she paid 15bs. We asked another stranger, she paid none. It’s pretty strange.What I mean by ‘strange’ is that I guess it can be pretty disorganized and some might need to pay, some might not.

I booked it at a random agency along La Paz when I was walking for lunch. According to the paper I have now, it’s

Currently in Rurrenabaque, the gateway to the Amazon. Finally! I’m here! It’s a strange feeling, finally reaching the place(s) you’ve been reading about and anticipating its arrival – i am here, i am here. excited, of course! i’ve also crossed the halfway mark of my trip; i honestly wish it could be longer, like many of the travelers here. or do i? i don’t know, but i think so. get a part time job somewhere, that sort of thing. there’s the ‘practical’ Singaporean in me speaking – would the 5 months be better off here, than if i were home? these 2 months i can say for sure, yes! because here i expand my knowledge of a continent once so foreign, i deepen my love for a language, i encounter landscapes i only had the chance to see in textbooks, and as my first full-fledged solo trip to a continent this far away, it’s (supposed to be) a steep(er) learning curve… (but nah, it really isn’t, the trail is so established it’s really nothing) 5 months, i don’t know. i guess it’s for my future to speculate; i will find a reason when i do. oh, maybe retirement. i am always thinking about retirement. 😀
I love, love days like this, when I get to be completely alone
with no obligations to speak to anyone
lie in my hammock
should i read my book? should i watch a movie? should i write, write write? the best part is i have another day of this – this free self



Note how the cities start to grow from the sloping edges of the hills. Interesting.


Glimpse of the world’s largest rainforest!



the taxi stand area, you know, the one that takes you to your hotels after you land and exit the airport




spotting wildlife on boats




quite impressed with the new compact camera i bought with the 20x zoom – the monkeys were like 10m away


crocodile hunting in the night


Such a beautiful day!





we groan – we had to get our pants wet murking around the murky waters. I secretly felt a rush of excitement because it reminded me of muddy mangroves in Ranong, and the recent fieldwork in Cambodia.

This was an interesting fruit = apparently the Incas once used this as a form of ink. When you first poked into it it was invisible juice; after scribbling on another surface an hour or so the blue ink starts to appear.


Like those invisible ink we play with. But nature, nature always provides ~



they looked like a bunch of leaves from far

meat – piranha bait

busy fishing

Someone caught one! Check out that set of teeth.

riding towards the sunset

this was the sunrise, where the mosquitoes KEPT buzzing, attacking us relentlessly. It was impossible to soak in the romantic atmosphere of the sunrise. Impossible. Not with all the scratching, swiping and cursing away.

This was the later part of the sunrise. Miraculously, the moment the sun risen higher, shedding their yellow-white glow over the land, the (INTENSELY annoying) mozzies disappeared. Wow. We heaved a sigh of relief, and watched at ease, rewarded for the wait.

My agency was Sunset Travel in Rurrenabaque – 1390 bolivian pesos in all – including return flight ticket = ~200usd
Bolivia Pachamama – the tour company in La Paz which i stumbled upon while walking down the streets looking for food with Natalie
I feel like at this point, I’m actually forcing myself to write – the thoughts come as i stroll along the streets, but it does take some effort to sit down and type, instead of lazing on my bed just thinking about my days. Not eager to ‘spill’ as much; i guess i am tired. (or lazy)
The 3 days in Rurrenabaque –
First night I arrived peaceful and happy. The second day in Rurrenabaque we set off for the Amazon; about 2-3 hours on a bumpy van ride, slowing down every now and then to look at some random animal, cows going across the dusty pathway, a crocodile on the right.

When I first got off the plane and collected my baggage:

One of the drivers approached me, mentioning something about ‘agency’ – i hence changed my plans of sharing cab with some other backpackers i had chatted briefly with on the plane, to going along with the driver. I thought he was sent from my travel agency; it turns out the drivers just approach you knowing you have to ‘report’ to your agency first. (it’s true, but the town is pretty small and the hostels clustered in the central area are within walking distance to the tour agencies i think – though i mightttt have had some trouble looking for the operator on my own). Nonetheless he was really nice and we chatted a little, and the taxi fare was only 10 bolivianos – not too bad I suppose, $1+usd – i got to the travel agency that the La Paz agency had registered with and they introduced me to a pretty cheap and decent hostel just round the corner – the Rurre Tucanes Hotel. (hostel dorms also available, 40 bolivianos a night, with wifi, hot shower and breakfast (albeit just bread with jam), the necessities.
With my weak Spanish, I (unreliably) learnt that from the taxi driver that most people here worked in tourism-related sectors – hotels, tour operators, taxi drivers…
We drove past some houses. Some were huts, wooden-looking huts highly reminiscent of those in Baan Rak Thai (the poorer households). I asked taxi driver if his house was like this – he said no, he pointed to another house with concrete walls – that’s his; the other tienes mas picars (bites).
Back to the Amazon tour:
We met at about 9am at the tour agency; packed our mochillas at the top, and then drove about 2-3 hours before arriving to the Amazon forest. I didn’t quite except it to be this far, we did stop along the way for lunch.

—Draft 2 – post-trip me does not have the energy to compile both into a neat stack

First day was…
Drive there, lunch halfway, reached and rested, searched for some wildlife, returned for dinner, night time crocodile hunting
Can’t remember the exact facts anymore e.g size (damn procrastination) but some crocodiles we saw did attack humans. We came close to one at one point, after which it disappeared. I got a little nervous – thankfully I’ve never watched much documentaries on crocodile attacks, augmented by the fact that I was in Bolivia – but certain scenes did flit through my mind. There’s something about the crocodile’s eyes at night – I think they light up or something. Will google.
I did ask a little about Rurrenabaque. About 2000 residents lives here, and there were some community schools or something but could only be established with a minimum of 20 students. Once again I am reminded of how deterministic the place you were born in was to the kind of lives one could lead.
The second day we were to wake up for the sunrise but it was cloudy, so we ‘slept in’ till 8. Program of the day was anaconda hunting. Chances of spotting them was about 10% though, he warned. We put on boots and walked through the murky waters, past the branches and the bushes. Groans in unison were heard when we reached the point where the water level was high enough to seep into our boots. No pasa nada, I’ve had plenty of practice in FA and Cambodia. What are muddy mangroves compared to this? I think to myself, smiling at my last experiences. I love geography.
Before he started the walk we did have a brief introduction to anacondas – he showed us some photos on his phone where they had blue tongues. He highlighted that these snakes are in the wild, their behaviors are unpredictable.he also said that to destroy a habitat is more damaging to the species and ecosystem, than catching a single snake – something like that. So he did in some cases have to catch the snakes with his bare hands. If he had said it casually, I would not have thought anything. But because he had some sort of looking on his face as he said this in almost a resigned, guilty tone, I figured that other tourists have probably lambasted the amazon tours as ecologically unfriendly, unethical etc.
Walked for about 2 hours at least, spotted some creatures, like fire ants, termites, spider web the thickness 1/4 of a strand of hair, some plants, and most interesting of all was this fruit that created a temporary tattoo. Not quite sure of its name, but it sounded like bimanzana (will google eventually); apparently the indigenous people use it for ink. Our guide cut the fruit open into half – ordinary, innocent enough. A fruit cut into half. But the juice of this fruit can stain you for days, he says, showing us a ‘tattoo’ looking part of his arm that had his name in Hebrew. He cut several branches with a penknife, sharpened their tips, and used them as ‘pencils’ jabbed into the ink of the fruits. We went ahead to create our personal tattoos. Give it two hours, he says.
The ink was invisible, I was a little skeptical at how this juice, completely invisible upon its application on my skin, could darken this much. According to the guide, a couple of years ago a group of Israeli girls were fooling around with this fruit, laughing and squirting its juice at each other, including their faces, and had their flights home the next day. Well, imagine their horror a few hours later.
We didn’t see the anacondas. When we emerged from the murky waters back to the boats we were disappointed. There’s only a 1% chance of seeing them, he says. Hm, he said it was 10% at the start…. 10% to 1%, I mentally noted :p apparently it’s more likely to spot them in rainy seasons. (Note to self: google) Still, I understand. It is after all in the wild. Went for lunch, then piranha fishing.
Piranhas – I wanted to catch one but at the same time I didn’t; catching one meant I would have to watch the fish struggle and wrestle helplessly because of ME. I never quite liked the nature of fishing, prawning, eating them fresh after. A hypocrite I guess, I can’t quite stand the removal of the estrangement process, I happily devour the sanitized versions of these meat, ignoring that everyday other humans do the same gestures I find hard to do. Why, because I think I am cruel and not doing so makes me less cruel? Truth is I suppose I do it every time I eat meat. I just don’t think this level of discomfort is enough for me to stop eating meat altogether. Survival of the fittest, I think to myself (consolingly).
It was also the idea that if all of us tourists fished for piranhas, what were we doing to the ecosystem? Admittedly, I wanted to fish for them; I did want our group to successfully get one or some. It would be interesting. But I suppose at the same time there was the nagging question about the Eco-chain or whatever you call it – tourists fishing for piranhas everyday? Multiple groups too. What if I was playing a role in ruining the amazon? In fact, human presence also does to some extent. Was that going to stop me? From visiting sites of nature and Antarctica? Honestly, no…
Caught the sunset.
Explored the town of Rurrenabaque and found kids playing by the lake. Sat and watched for awhile, and was inevitably reminded of the importance of place – how incredibly life-shaping it is, the place / country you’re born in.
About 2000 residents lives here, and there were some community schools or something but could only be established with a minimum of 20 students. Once again I am reminded of how deterministic the place you were born in was to the kind of lives one could lead.
The next morning we woke up early for the sunrise. It would have been romantic, except for the mosquitoes that relentlessly pursued us in the dark. Strangely enough, as soon as dawn broke, they pretty much disappeared.
Back for lunch. After lunch we headed out again, the plan was to swim with the dolphins. Spotted some wildlife on the way.
But before that our guide first arranged for us to fish for piranhas again, seeing how unsuccessful we were the day before. This time we caught about 4, but too small to be cooked and eaten. Other tour groups did eat theirs, which were, as they described, ‘skinny, had lots of bones and tasted like fish’
After some time we decided to abandon these sneaky piranhas that kept successfully stealing the meat bait away, and proceeded to look for dolphins!
I can’t swim so I stayed on the boat, watched some of them float around (dolphin less). We did spot them when riding on the boat, but they soon disappeared. Ohwell! After some flopping we headed back; I suppose it was about 4pm when we got back, packed up and then set off back to rurrenabaque.
The next day was chill. I lay in my hammock, eating my biscuits, finished slaughterhouse five. Wrote a little. Thinking of which book to start on next.
Actually not really. I woke up pretty early, and walked around the town centre. I suppose there’s this part of me that just feels an urgent need to see as much as I can (without compromising my safety, hence in the day) – like if I stay past 1030am I get a little jittery and anxious, even though Rurrenabaque is a really small town with nothing much to do. I just wanted to see everything – see the shops, the things they sold, the people, what they did, how they lived, etc etc I suppose what I can’t stand is lying in my hammock when I still have things to see. So I walked about 3 hours and covered probably the whole town.
At the port area I saw some children and walked up to them. One of them was fishing. Looking at these kids playing reminded me of the children in Baan Rak Thai. I guess in every place there IS a school of sorts; at 1pm I saw children in the same clothes – the uniforms I suppose – walking home. And then they will grow up here, I think to myself. And the kids in Singapore back home.
I walked into a shop to buy some bananas, which costs 1 boliviano for 4 bananas. That is… About 18 cents sgd for 4 bananas. Great! The lady talked to me for awhile, we conversed in Spanish. I feel like I’m more fluent now, always using the same words when explaining myself.
Well. I just napped for about 2 hours. What was I saying? I really want to sleep, but so much happened today.
I guess on this day I also realised that even swimming is a privilege. According to German girl who was volunteering in Santa Cruz for a year, Bolivians can’t really swim because of the lack of need to. The lack of the luxury of swimming pools. Maybe those who live by the rivers do. I suppose that does quite make sense. But learning to swim as a privilege! I forget.




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