Why look, it is time for another meal!
Why look, it is time for another meal!

Our award ticket from Brunei to Sri Lanka allowed us to make a free stopover in Singapore along the way. We have both visited Singapore in the past so we didn’t have any particular sightseeing in mind, however, we were eager to dig into Singapore’s diverse food scene. Much like Malaysia, Singapore’s food world is a mix of Chinese, Indian, and Malay cooking styles and for being a relatively expensive travel destination, the food is comparatively cheap.

It had been a couple of years since I last visited and I remembered hearing all sorts of hype about the new Marina Bay Sands development on reclaimed ground near downtown. The development is supposed to be Singapore’s up-and-coming 24/7 entertainment district with shopping, theaters, a casino, museums, and a luxury hotel. The hotel is housed in three 55-story buildings that are bridged at the top by a “SkyPark.”

Although most of the complex is finished, public transportation infrastructure is still a work in progress as we discovered. Getting there was a sweaty schlep through a construction site in Singapore’s hot afternoon sun. For an orderly country like Singapore, this is way off the norm! Wandering around Marina Bay Sands was interesting enough but neither of us were willing to cough up the exorbitant SG$20 (US$17) admission cost to visit the SkyPark.

The following day we paid the Asian Civilizations Museum a visit. There was an absolutely massive line stretching out the door that we later found out was due to a visiting exhibit of terracotta warriors from China and because admission was free for the day. The wait was something like 90 minutes for the special exhibit but we found out way into their permanent collection and soaked up the aircon for a few hours. It is a fascinating museum and I particularly liked the video consoles that showed how some of the arts and crafts were made.

Black carrot cake (don't ask me about the name), a Singaporean favorite
Black carrot cake (don’t ask me about the name), a Singaporean favorite

As always, Singapore treated our bellies quite well. We made plenty of stops for snacks and meals at the food courts and hawker centers that fill just about every nook and cranny of the city center. On our last day we made the pilgrimage to the Maxwell Road Food Centre and I got a plate of chicken and rice from one of the famous stalls. I also ordered up some black carrot cake which is a strange wok-cooked savory dish that is a local favorite.

Departure board at Changi International Airport
Departure board at Changi International Airport

By mid afternoon on the third day we were growing tired of the hot weather and decided to head to the airport early. For those of you who haven’t visiting Singapore’s Changi airport, it is a sight to be seen. The airport has won piles of awards for being one of the world’s best. The usual passenger facilities like check-in areas, security and immigration are all well-designed and adequately staffed but what really sets it apart is what lies behind immigration. Loads of shopping outlets, free movie theaters, hundreds of free internet terminals, koi ponds, butterfly gardens, etc. Literally enough to keep one entertained for days on end.

We crashed out in some free massage chairs for a while next to a koi pond before making our way to Singapore Airline’s Silver Kris Lounge. We started at the lounge in Terminal 2 but it was very crowded due to some renovations that are taking place. Terminal 3 was much quieter and we made good use of the shower facilities and their speedy internet connection. I also made good use of their sushi and open bar!

The flight to Colombo was a short 3-hour hop on one of Singapore Airline’s new A330-300 aircraft. Amy had special ordered a vegetarian meal and I availed myself to Singapore Air’s “Book The Cook” service. Good thing I did “Book the Cook” because the menu was strikingly similar to what we had on the flight from Brunei. We didn’t know it at the time but the flight was to be our last taste of luxury (or even somewhat comfortable) transportation for the next few weeks!

Lobster thermidor
Lobster thermidor
Singapore to Sri Lanka
ArtScience Museum (left) at Marina Bay Sands
ArtScience Museum (left) at Marina Bay Sands
Cooling off with an ABC at Marina Bay Sands
Cooling off with an ABC at Marina Bay Sands
Singapore's much-visited Merlion
Singapore’s much-visited Merlion
Hindu temple in Chinatown
Hindu temple in Chinatown
A few of the many interesting treasures at the Asian Civilizations Museum
A few of the many interesting treasures at the Asian Civilizations Museum
Chicken and rice and sweet barley drink at the Maxell Road Hawker Centre
Chicken and rice and sweet barley drink at the Maxell Road Hawker Centre
Black carrot cake (don't ask me about the name), a Singaporean favorite
Black carrot cake (don’t ask me about the name), a Singaporean favorite
Departure board at Changi International Airport
Departure board at Changi International Airport
Regional business class seats on SQ's new A330-300 aircraft
Regional business class seats on SQ’s new A330-300 aircraft
Prawn salad
Prawn salad
Lobster thermidor
Lobster thermidor
Kenyan AA coffee and creme brulee
Kenyan AA coffee and creme brulee
The rather obvious routing from Singapore to Sri Lanka :)
The rather obvious routing from Singapore to Sri Lanka :)

Once we finished our diving and snorkeling at Sibuan, we headed back to Semporna and bought tickets for the overnight bus to Kota Kinabalu.  Completing three dives that same day left me exhausted and I was certain that I would sleep like a baby regardless of the conditions on the overnight bus ride.  Naturally, I was proven wrong.

Yay, we get to travel in First Class tonight!
Yay, we get to travel in First Class tonight!

The bus left at around 7:30PM and by 9PM the air conditioning had stopped functioning.  Air con buses are great but air con buses with a broken AC unit are ten times worse than a bus without AC because the windows can’t be opened!  We spent the next few hours tossing and turning along with the other 47 people on the bus.  Around midnight we came screeching to a halt at some nondescript roadside eatery out in the middle of Sabah’s palm plantations.  Half the passengers and the drivers jumped out to take a break.  Since neither of us was managing any sleep in the sauna-on-wheels, we stretched our legs.  What happened next was quite unexpected.

Just as we were about to leave, the ticket guy from our bus came over and said we should move to the other bus.  Nobody else was moving but he said we could go “same seats, same seats” he proclaimed.  I double, no, triple-checked to make sure the bus was also headed to KK.  Indeed it was and he was just moving us because there happened to be open seats on their other bus (from Lahad Datu, another east coast city, I presume) and the AC was working.  I was mighty impressed by this gesture!

We arrived in KK at some horrid hour…3:30AM or thereabouts.   The second bus was much more comfortable from a temperature standpoint but the legroom was painfully minimal.  Making matters worse was the fact that they guy behind me wouldn’t let me recline my seat at all.  No sleep for me that night but at least we were out of Semporna!  Our hotel in KK was completely locked down so we had our choice between a 24-hour KFC and a 24-hour McDonalds.  We mooched McD’s wifi and enjoyed a couple of beverages for the next three hours.

Ferry boat for Kota Kinabalu to Pulau Labuan
Ferry boat for Kota Kinabalu to Pulau Labuan

Brunei, one of SE Asia’s more obscure countries, was our next destination on the trip.  Brunei has two small slivers of land on the north coast of Borneo and is home to about 400,000 people.  Huge amounts of oil have been discovered in Brunei and this has developed the country and made it one of the richest in the region.  Apparently, it is possible to get to Brunei overland from Sabah but it is a huge pain.  The easier route, and the one we selected, was to take a boat from KK to Pulau Labuan and then switch to a second boat bound for Brunei.  We left KK a little late in the day which unfortunately forced us to overnight in Labuan.  We found some decent Indian food there but there was little else of note.

The next day we made the quick one-hour crossing to Brunei’s port of Muara and caught a bus from there to the country’s capital – Bandar Seri Begawan.  Our immediate impression of Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB, for short) was that it is strikingly similar to Singapore.  Not in the sense of there being huge glamorous high-rises and crazy shopping malls – there isn’t anything of the sort, but rather, in the sense that the place was impeccably clean and well organized.  We just barely beat a tropical rainstorm to the hotel.

Downpour on arrival in BSB
Downpour on arrival in BSB

After settling into our room we walked to the city center and hired a boatman for a quick spin through Kampong Ayer, the nearby stilt village which many call the “Venice of the East.”  Apparently, Kampong Ayer is one of the largest stilt villages in the world and the nickname makes sense to me.  It is a bewildering labyrinth of canals and wooden houses and shops all strung together by wooden walkways.  What makes it particularly interesting is how the government has officially embraced its existence.  Our boatman kept pointing out schools, police stations, and even fire departments that were built into the village.  Additionally, many of the houses have drinking water and city sewage service.  Very cool!

From the boat, we also got a brief glimpse of the Sultan’s enormous palace which has 1,788 rooms!  It’s too bad we weren’t visiting Brunei a little later in the month because at the end of Ramadan, the palace opens for everyone to visit and feast.  One of the locals we met later in our stay told us that he goes with his family each and every year and that it is a party not to be forgotten.  If you are on Borneo for Ramadan, make it a point to be there – that was the message.

The Sultan's palace
The Sultan’s palace

The main attractions in BSB include the strikingly beautiful Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque and the Royal Regalia Museum.  The pictures of the mosque speak for themselves, it is an incredible structure and it is unfortunate that we weren’t able to visit the interior (closed to visitors during Ramadan).  The Royal Regalia museum was also quite interesting.  Photos weren’t allowed inside but you can imagine what is inside: all sorts of fancy royal clothing, huge parade chariots pulled by a 30 men, and of course the many gifts the Sultan has received from other governments.

On our second day in BSB we rode on a speedboat to Brunei’s Temburong district which is isolated from the rest of the country by a small piece of Malaysia (Sarawak).  The Lonely Planet highly recommended the ride even if we didn’t have a specific reason to go to Temburong and they were right.  The boat held about 20 people but had two 150-hp outboards strapped to the back.  Jetting through the narrow channels through the mangroves was lots of fun!  Once in Temburong we wandered a bit and then grabbed some cold drinks at a restaurant before heading back to BSB.

On the ride back, and I’m sorry I wasn’t fast enough to get a photo, we saw a huge crocodile sunbathing along the bank.  Now as a Floridian I feel that I am relatively well-qualified to make statements about the size of water-borne reptiles.  When I say huge, I mean HUGE.  This thing was far larger than the largest American alligators that I’ve seen back home.  The Wikipedia article on the matter informs me that water crocs can reach 20ft in length and top the scales at 2,000lbs – it also provides some scary narrative about their feeding behavior.  I believe every bit of it and I am sure glad that we weren’t kayaking the mangroves!

Seafood noodles
Seafood noodles

We found some delicious food in Brunei.  Much like Singapore, the local cuisine is a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian foods.  As we often do in our travels, we quickly found a convenient and favorite place to eat and we returned for a number of meals over the course of our three day visit.  The roti canai cooked up at this place for breakfast was mighty tasty and we also had some excellent noodle dishes for dinner.

Only in Brunei can one find a control tower with gold all over it!
Only in Brunei can one find a control tower with gold all over it!

BSB’s airport is one of only two on Borneo that is served by Star Alliance airline (on their own metal, at least) and available for award redemption.  Since flying out of Kota Kinabalu would have involved backtracking to Seoul, we booked two business class seats on Singapore Airline’s twice-weekly widebody service from Brunei.

Massage chairs at Royal Brunei's Sky Lounge
Massage chairs at Royal Brunei’s Sky Lounge

Brunei’s international airports departure lounge has vaulted ceilings and some small koi ponds scattered about that gave it a slightly Changi Airport (SIN) feel.  After thoroughly exploring the curbside section of the airport, including the very nice rooftop “waving gallery” that has tarmac views, we headed through passport control to get showers in Royal Brunei’s Sky Lounge and have a few snacks.  The flight to Singapore was a short 2-hour hop and we had a good view of the Sultan’s palace shortly after takeoff.

Brunei
Yay, we get to travel in First Class tonight!
Yay, we get to travel in First Class tonight!
Ferry boat for Kota Kinabalu to Pulau Labuan
Ferry boat for Kota Kinabalu to Pulau Labuan
Downpour on arrival in BSB
Downpour on arrival in BSB
Fancy hotel room in Brunei
Fancy hotel room in Brunei
The direction to Mecca.
The direction to Mecca.
This is what happens when you go from an aircon building into the humid outdoors in BSB.
This is what happens when you go from an aircon building into the humid outdoors in BSB.
The Sultan's palace
The Sultan’s palace
Central BSB
Central BSB
Our ride to the Temburong district of Brunei
Our ride to the Temburong district of Brunei
Ginger drink
Ginger drink
Seafood noodles
Seafood noodles
Tasty roti canai for breakfast
Tasty roti canai for breakfast
Pizza Hut, even in Brunei!
Pizza Hut, even in Brunei!
Downtown BSB
Downtown BSB
There is a great observation deck on top of BSB airport.
There is a great observation deck on top of BSB airport.
Only in Brunei can one find a control tower with gold all over it!
Only in Brunei can one find a control tower with gold all over it!
Coi at Brunei's Airport - it's like a minature Changi airport!
Coi at Brunei’s Airport – it’s like a minature Changi airport!
Our plane for Singapore
Our plane for Singapore
Massage chairs at Royal Brunei's Sky Lounge
Massage chairs at Royal Brunei’s Sky Lounge
The Sultan's Palace
The Sultan’s Palace

Seoul Subway Map
Seoul Subway Map

We flew from the Cooks to Seoul by way of Auckland and Sydney – an 8,300 mile journey in total.  We had a 16-hour overnight connection in Sydney where we had hoped to make a quick trip down to the harbour.  Unfortunately, the weather was absolutely terrible with gale force winds and heavy rain.  In the end we didn’t venture far from the hostel which made the stop mostly a waste of time.  It was also an expensive one due to Sydney’s horrifically expensive airport transportation – the train from the airport to town (a 15-minute ride) costs close to US$20 each way!

Bibimbap, the Korean national dish onboard OZ602 from Sydney to Seoul
Bibimbap, the Korean national dish onboard OZ602 from Sydney to Seoul

The flight up to Seoul was our first with Asiana Airlines, Korea’s contribution to the Star Alliance.  Both the food and the service were exceptional and the passenger load in business class was only about 30%.  After passing along Australia’s coast we crossed Papua New Guinea and then a good portion of the western Pacific ocean.  For the second meal I went with the Korean menu and got to try bibimbap for the first time – some assembly required.  Fortunately for me, Asiana includes a brief set of instruction in English in the back of the menu.  The basic idea is to add rice to all of the provided fillings (meat, pickled veggies, mushrooms, sprouts and some small dried fish in this case), top with sesame oil and then mix until combined.  Quite easy and the result was absolutely delicious.

Seoul's Incheon International Airport
Seoul’s Incheon International Airport

In contrast to Sydney, Korea’s airport transportaton is affordable.  A little less than $4 got us train tickets from Incheon International to Hongik University in central Seoul – a 44 minute ride.  From there we had a 10 minute walk to our hostel that was made much easier by the map they provided.  Like many places in Asia, postal addressing is seriously wacky in Korea and most business cards include a map otherwise.

Hustle and bustle with lots of neon.
Hustle and bustle with lots of neon.

Seoul felt a world away from the quiet island we left behind.  Lots of people, lots of noise, and lots of neon.  We spent a better part of the first day wandering some of Seoul’s over-the-top shopping malls.  I made the stupid mistake of leaving my portable hard drive in Rarotonga (it’s being shipped home now) so I was in the market for a new one.  Fortunately, Korea has plenty of hard drives so that problem was easy to solve.  I also got to work on satisfying my craving of strange and exciting packaged food products which is one aspect of the far east that I love so dearly.

The Han River
The Han River

The landscape around Seoul is strikingly industrialized.  From the roof of one of the malls, I snapped this photo of the Han River which splits Seoul.  It looks like a black and white photo, doesn’t it?  Well it’s not…that was full color.  It was just a hot and hazy summer day.

Much like the Japanese, it would seem that the Koreans love their shopping and the country certainly has a good assortment of over-the-top department stores.  Usually they are 8 to 10 story affairs with a built-in grocery store and food court (basement), many levels of shopping (middle), and then a floor or two of fine dining (top).

On our second day we took the subway downtown to check out some of the sights.  I bought some seaweed rolls with pickled veggies to have for breakfast and we grabbed a bench just outside one of the major department stores.  As I was chomping down on my food we watched the growing mass of people eagerly awaiting the 10AM opening.  Eventually, two white-gloved employees from the store wheeled out a cart with fresh OJ, cookies and coffee to give away to the waiting horde.  What it a promotion?  I suspect not, probably just business as usually in a country that highly values customer service.  Free OJ to go with my seaweed!

Namdaemun Market
Namdaemun Market

A little later we stumbled upon the changing-of-the-guard ceremony at Deoksungung Palace so we popped in for a quick look around.   There were a number of traditional Korean buildings as well as a couple western-inspired structures that were built around the turn of the century.  There is also supposed to be a very nice art museum on the palace grounds, however, we had a lunch reservation we had to make.

Changing of the guard at Deoksugung Palace
Changing of the guard at Deoksugung Palace

Amy had read about a small obscure restaurant in Seoul that specializes in “Buddhist temple cuisine.”  Thanks to another blogger’s thorough description we had no problems finding Gamrodang which is very impressively hidden down a series of winding alleyways.  We selected their cheapest meal option, an 11-course meal which cost about $25 per person.  Each course was rather small but we were decidedly stuffed by the time we left almost two hours later!  The food was excellent and there were all sorts of strange ingredients I had never tried before.  Bamboo salt is one of the stranger things I have tasted!  Below is a listing of the courses.

  • White lotus leaf tea
  • Cabbage kimchi with cactus
  • Germinated brown rice porridge with pine mushroom
  • Salad with herb sauce
  • Grilled pine mushroom, grilled lotus root, grilled yam with pine needles + bamboo salt
  • Fried tofu with hot pepper paste
  • Vegetables wrapped in rice pancake
  • Assorted pancakes with vegetables + glasswort sauce
  • Spicy wild lanceolate root and pear with mustard sauce
  • Rice and cereals, Bean-paste stew with dried cabbage, wild greens and korean pickles
  • Dessert-rice nectar, Acacia with honey wrapped in millet pancake, Ginger cookie
11-course vegetarian temple meal at Gamrodang
11-course vegetarian temple meal at Gamrodang

On our third day in Seoul we visited Changdeokgung, a 15th century palace which is famous for it’s huge Secret Garden.  The garden can only be visited by guided tour and we followed advice in the guidebooks and reserved tickets in advance.  So far on this trip we have been very lucky with weather but that can’t be said for our morning in the Secret Garden.  Because of the rain we finally caved and bought umbrellas from a vendor in front of the palace.  No doubt he went home that day with a huge load of won!

The Royal Library in the Secret Garden at Changdeokgung
The Royal Library in the Secret Garden at Changdeokgung

The garden was quite nice although it was much different from what I was expecting.  Unlike a Japanese garden it was less landscaped and felt more like a natural growth of the forest.  The most notable structure inside of the garden is the Royal Library which looks out over a pond.  Pity about the rain because I am sure the garden is all the most impressive when the weather is good.  Either way, the garden is a nice change from the big city just over the wall.

After the garden we took the subway back to the hostel to grab our bags.  We decided to grab one more round of cold drinks at a convenience store before we headed off to the airport.  As always I scoured the shelf looking for the strangest thing I could find.  Eventually, I came across a bottle whose only English read “oriental raisin water.”  I thought that sounded promising so I threw down some won and made off with it.  It tasted nothing of raisins, grapes, or fruit for that matter.  The liquid was clear and light brown similar to tea.  After asking Amy for her opinion we concluded that it tasted like water that had been infused with the flavor of Rice Krispies.  I love how weird Asia can be!

“Oriental raisin water” (which tasted like Rice Krispies) and some other snacks
“Oriental raisin water” (which tasted like Rice Krispies) and some other snacks

Later that evening we flew with Asiana from Seoul Incheon to Kota Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo.  It’s about a five hour flight to get down there and we flew on an A321.  Dinner was served shortly after takeoff and I plowed through some fried monkfish and a very nice German reisling.  Out the window there were bright lights dotting the ocean as far as I could see – squid fishing boats out in full force.  We encountered some pretty ominous t-storms over Manila but the crew skillfully threaded through them and we hardly had a bump the whole way down.  Arrival into Kota Kinabalu (KK for short) was right on time and it wasn’t long before we had our packs and Malaysian visas!

Squid fishing boats somewhere south of Korea
Squid fishing boats somewhere south of Korea
Seoul, Korea
Bibimbap, the Korean national dish onboard OZ602 from Sydney to Seoul
Bibimbap, the Korean national dish onboard OZ602 from Sydney to Seoul
Seoul's Incheon International Airport
Seoul’s Incheon International Airport
Seoul Subway Map
Seoul Subway Map
Nice big screens showing the position and number of the next train.
Nice big screens showing the position and number of the next train.
Technically correct, I suppose.
Technically correct, I suppose.
Hustle and bustle with lots of neon.
Hustle and bustle with lots of neon.
Canned coffee: one of my favorite treats in the far east.
Canned coffee: one of my favorite treats in the far east.
Some kids were really working these machines over.
Some kids were really working these machines over.
One of Seoul's many malls.
One of Seoul’s many malls.
The Han River
The Han River
A parade at COEX mall.
A parade at COEX mall.
Remember those giant rodents (capybara) we saw in Bolivia?  Well a cartoon version is now all the rage in the far east.  Meet Kapibarasan!
Remember those giant rodents (capybara) we saw in Bolivia? Well a cartoon version is now all the rage in the far east. Meet Kapibarasan!
Some department store food court fare.
Some department store food court fare.
Message received.
Message received.
Gimbap: a common Korean snack.  Seaweed wrapped around rice and a filling (often kimchi)
Gimbap: a common Korean snack. Seaweed wrapped around rice and a filling (often kimchi)
Quiet city street near our hostel (Hongik University area)
Quiet city street near our hostel (Hongik University area)
Namdaemun Market
Namdaemun Market
Changing of the guard at Deoksugung Palace
Changing of the guard at Deoksugung Palace
11-course vegetarian temple meal at Gamrodang
11-course vegetarian temple meal at Gamrodang
5 months and 20 days into the trip and I finally caved on an umbrella purchase.
5 months and 20 days into the trip and I finally caved on an umbrella purchase.
The Royal Library in the Secret Garden at Changdeokgung
The Royal Library in the Secret Garden at Changdeokgung
“Oriental raisin water” (which tasted like Rice Krispies) and some other snacks
“Oriental raisin water” (which tasted like Rice Krispies) and some other snacks
Departure board at ICN.
Departure board at ICN.
A “sunny” summer day in Seoul!  That white dot is indeed the sun.
A “sunny” summer day in Seoul! That white dot is indeed the sun.
Squid fishing boats somewhere south of Korea
Squid fishing boats somewhere south of Korea
Storms near Manilla
Storms near Manilla

When I told a good friend of mine that I flew to RBQ, his first comment was “Isn’t that the name of a sandwich at Arby’s?”  Indeed, it is the name of a sandwich at Arby’s (the Arby-Q) but RBQ is also the airport code for Rurrenabque, Bolivia – Bolivia’s gateway to the Amazon Basin.

Rurre is about 150 miles from La Paz as the condor flies and there are two ways to get there.  Option 1 is a long bus ride that takes 18 hours in the best of cases and often as much as 30, and as a bonus, having a ticket doesn’t necessarily mean you will have a seat.  Option 2 is a short 40 minute flight.  Advice from other travelers was unanimous: take the plane!

For about $150 with picked up round-trip tickets with Amaszonas (Z8 to us airline nerds) in their Fairchild Metroliner 23 which makes the trip to RBQ seven times daily.  Check-in at La Paz’s El Alto International Airport was much like the process for any other airline at any other airport in the world.  ID check, a few questions about baggage and the selection of seats.  After paying the departure tax we headed through security for a efficient-and-respectful (read: outside-of-the-USA) security check.

Nice tow for the powercart!
Nice tow for the powercart!

Our aircraft arrived about 30 minutes late and the ground crew set to work on the turn.  Much of this was fairly normal, although, I was entertained when they pulled the power cart up with what appeared to be rust-colored late 80′s Fiat Uno.  Refueling, a walk-around by the new crew, and baggage loading took all of twenty minutes and soon after they called us for boarding.

We had seats in row 9, the very last row of the 19-seat aircraft.   The last row is actually three seats across but the middle was unoccupied so all together we had 18 passengers, a captain and a first officer.  After everyone was onboard the captain yelled something to the passengers in the first few rows.  It may have been about the huge backpack in Mr. Seat 2A’s lap or it could have been a safety announcement, I am not sure which.  Either way, it must not have been too important because a few seconds later the engines started up and we started to roll.

The takeoff roll down runway 28L seemed exceptionally long but I guess most of that was due to the thin hot air at El Alto’s ridiculous 13,400ft (I guess that means most jumbos have to de-pressurize before landing here!).  Once airborne, we climbed to the west for a good while and caught a glimpse of Lake Titicaca before turning back to the east to shoot the pass through the Cordillera Real.  The views through the desolate and glaciated mountains was spectacular though the ride was quite bumpy.  Mere minutes after passing the Cordillera, it was as if the Earth just fell away as the Altiplano gave way to the Amazon Basin.

Just before arrival in Rurre we passed over a couple smaller mountain ranges covered in jungle as well as the town of Rurre itself.  Touchdown on RBQ’s runway 32 was nice and smooth and I got to experience my first dirt taxiway a few moments later (complete with horses roaming about).

Turning on to the downwind leg.
Turning on to the downwind leg.
RBQ
RBQ

Our return trip, one week later, was much the same although the weather was rainy and dreary and we suffered a 3-hour delay.  I am happy to report that the open-air RBQ terminal has a proper complement of stray dogs, a detached eatery and the most outhouse-like bathrooms I have experienced at any commercial air terminal.  My biggest regret is that I didn’t ask the guy running the show if I could come up into the small control tower to get a picture!

RBQ toilet and eatery
RBQ toilet and eatery

When it was time for us to go, we found out that we had to load ourselves back in the bus that had brought us from downtown Rurre.  The dirt taxiway we had used the week before was impassable thanks to the soggy ground so the bus took us out on the runway to meet the plane.  Inboard passengers got to stand in the drizzle while their bags were unloaded then we traded places with them.  Amaszonas doesn’t refuel at RBQ (they carry enough fuel from La Paz) so the turn was nice and speedy, I bet the plane was on the ground less than 15 minutes!

Aircraft servicing on the runway (due to muddy taxiways)
Aircraft servicing on the runway (due to muddy taxiways)

The 40-minute flight back was surprisingly smooth considering the violent thunderstorms we had had the night before.  My window fogged over pretty badly thanks to the humidity so I did the best I could with the photos.  The view of the Cordillera was again spectacular and before we knew it we were touching down on 10R at El Alto.  All in all a great trip, although, I will admit I was a bit nervous flying a rural Bolivian airline!  Next up on the blog will be our tour through Madidi National Park.  More photos below, just click the thumbnails.

LPB-RBQ
Inbound aircraft arriving at El Alto Airport
Inbound aircraft arriving at El Alto Airport
Nice tow for the powercart!
Nice tow for the powercart!
All loaded up!
All loaded up!
Turning on to the downwind leg.
Turning on to the downwind leg.
Passing Rurrenabaque and the Beni River
Passing Rurrenabaque and the Beni River
On bumpy final into RBQ.
On bumpy final into RBQ.
RBQ
RBQ
Very happy to be on the ground.
Very happy to be on the ground.
The return trip started on a rainy day after a three-hour delay
The return trip started on a rainy day after a three-hour delay
Hand-written boarding passes!
Hand-written boarding passes!
One of the competing carriers.
One of the competing carriers.
RBQ toilet and eatery
RBQ toilet and eatery
Aircraft servicing on the runway (due to muddy taxiways)
Aircraft servicing on the runway (due to muddy taxiways)
Seat controls (luz, not working)
Seat controls (luz, not working)
Parking next to some classics
Parking next to some classics
Happy survivors!
Happy survivors!

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