Second to Madidi Park, the most popular attraction for visitors to Rurrenabaque is Bolivia’s vast grasslands known as The Pampas. A guided tour seemed to be the way to go so we organized one from Rurre and it came to about $145 for a two-day, one-night tour – quite pricey for Bolivia! The guy at the tour company, a real slick used car salesman type, told us that we had to meet at the office at 8:30AM sharp the next day for our departure. He said we needed to make sure that we left on time to beat the other companies and to avoid the dust. Certainly an intriguing reason for an on-time departure.
After a restless night of sleep in one of the dumpier room offerings in Rurre we walked over to the tour company for our 8:30 appointment. A small SUV was waiting for us and there was a bit of commotion as the guide’s underlings strapped stuff to the luggage rack. The salesman neglected to inform us that there was very little space in the vehicle so I had to quickly pull some essentials from my pack before storing it in the company office.
Leaving Rurre the road quickly went from pavment to cobblestone to dirt. The next 50 miles of bumpy road looked as if it was made of ground-up brown chalk and each passing vehicle, pedestrian, and cow stirred up an impressive amount of the stuff. The calm winds that morning made the dust just linger over the road and many many times our driver plunged our vehicle into dust clouds we couldn’t see through. Three hours to go 50 miles – yep, still in Bolivia.
At the camp near San Rosa, our guide told us that there would be a bit of a delay before our rooms and lunch were ready. He suggested that we go relax in the hammocks for a bit. Thirty minutes passed, and then an hour before lunch was served. After lunch the guide told us that our first boat trip into the Pampas would start at approximately 4pm. At this point Amy and I were pretty frustrated with this tour company. We booked a two-day tour and we burned almost the entire first day in a car or hammock.
After the lengthy siesta we loaded up in one of the motorized canoes and headed up the river to see the pink river dolphins. The winding river was flanked by short water-loving trees and there were large wading birds everywhere we looked. The terrain reminded me of the Florida Everglades but the density of wildlife was seemingly much higher.
It wasn’t long before we spotted some capybaras, the world’s largest rodent, as well as some monkeys. The capybaras, which top out at around 100 pounds, were surprisingly calm around us photo-snapping tourists. At one point Amy got within just a few feet of one that was grazing on the riverbank.
Pink river dolphins, too, were easy to find but photographing them proved difficult. They would frequently break the surface with their fins and snouts but it was next to impossible to predict when and where they would come up next. We were given the option to swim with them but Amy and I declined and left that to the two Australians that were with us.
The next morning we were up early for our second boat ride on the river. With howler monkeys howling away in the distance we loaded into the boat just before the sun came up. A short while into our ride we heard something crashing through the trees along the river. Our guide pulled over to the side and before we knew it yellow squirrel monkeys were running around on our boat. Unfortunately, some of the tour groups feed the monkeys so as soon as they see a tour boat they jump on board and look for food. They must have been disappointed in us though because we didn’t give them any more than stares. One of them managed to catch and devour a huge water bug while we were stopped. Crunch, crunch, crunch!
The variety of birds that we saw during the ride was absolutely incredible. All sorts of herons and ibis plus a few storks and spoonbills as well. Rounding each corner of the snaking river revealed more and more birds. Equally plentiful were the caiman sunning themselves along the banks.
By midday we had all had enough of the boat riding. Hours in a rickety metal seat in the blaring sun was enough and we were happy to return back to the camp. After a quick lunch we loaded up in another vehicle (this time even more packed) to make the three hour trip to Rurre.
All in all, I would say that the Pampas are a great place to visit if you want to see lots of wildlife in a hurry. By Bolivian standards, the tour was very pricy and it makes me wonder how much money one could save by traveling independently to San Rosa and arranging boat trips from there. The next post will be my last on Bolivia and then the blog will take a turn for the South Pacific!