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.
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).
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!
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
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 wasimpassable 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!
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.