Saturday, August 10, 2013

Selva tour (July 25th - 27th, 2013)

We were really happy with the pampas tour we took with Escorpion travel, so we decided to go with them to the Madidi National Park as well. This is considered one of the world's most biodiverse regions.

It was just the two of us and our guide Tomba on this tour, which was all the better - the more people, the less chances of seeing animals. In fact, after the short boat ride upriver and having lunch, Tomba told us that we can laugh, cry, talk etc for the next 20 minutes, and then we need to shut up. We were to have about ten meter spaces between us, and after every minute or so, we were supposed to stop and listen to the rainforest (selva). If we needed to ask something from the guide, we were to whistle. Every once in while Tomba would stop, beckon us closer, and show us something interesting. We saw trees that smell like garlic and that can be used as a natural insect repellent, trees for producing the antimalarial quinine, Viagra, or medication for arthritis, rubber trees, mahogany, and many others. We also saw, and more often heard and smelled wild pigs.

A turtle shell. Its inhabitant was likely eaten by a jaguar.

After we had walked like this, experiencing the forest, for about three hours, we arrived at our campsite. Here, we set up our mosquito nets and sleeping bags, and went fishing in the neighboring lake. Radek caught two small piranhas (which Tomba later used, unsuccessfully, as bait while trying to catch a bigger fish from a close-by river). While we were fishing, I eyed a caiman across the lake. I looked away, and suddenly, it was about five meters away from us! We promptly decided to return to the camp. In the meantime, Tomba had started a fire and cooked a huge dinner for us. He also used a frying pan covered with a plate and hot coals to bake a chocolate cake for me, as it was my 30th birthday.

Setting up our mosquito net

This caiman gave us quite a fright!

Mmmm - my birthday cake smelled good!

It was already dark after dinner, and we went for another walk in the forest, using our flashlights. We already knew from our tour in the pampas that if we keep a flashlight at eye-level and shine it, by chance, at an animal, we can see its eyes. Our guide thus found a large spider and a butterfly. Right before our return to camp we also chanced upon an ocelot (a dwarf leopard), but we could only see its eyes.

During the night, the sounds of the jungle were amazing. We were told to be wary, though - even before finding a friendly bush, we were to wake our guide, so he could check that it is safe.

The next day, we once again went on a walk in the forest. We saw more boars, a capuchin monkey, and jaguar tracks, and drank water from the stem of a cat's claw liana. Our guide also had several "tests" for us. For example, he judged our observation skills by walking ahead and hiding - we fortunately managed to see him before he could give us a fright. He also led us off path and asked us to return the way we had come - this we achieved by checking for plants that he'd marked with his machete.

Radek drinking from a liana

The evening brought two other groups to the camp. We had dinner, and Tomba took us two on another evening walk, away from the noise. Unfortunately, we did not see many interesting things this time. We then agreed that the next day, our guide would wake up at 5:30, and we at 6, so we could get an early start away from the crowds. After that, Tomba requested, or even ordered, that we go to bed (it was 8:30 p.m.). Sleep turned out to be impossible - from what I could gather, Tomba and the other two guides started drinking. Our guide seemed to be by far the most drunk, and certainly the loudest. The others managed to get him to his mosquito net at about 2:30 a.m., but all throughout the night he was talking in his sleep. Of course, he did not get up at the agreed time, but to our surprise, at 7:30 he was already preparing breakfast for us. I was rather upset about losing sleep, but after walking in the forest for a couple of hours, my mood improved.

We arrived at the camp near the place where the boat had dropped us off two days earlier, and lay down in the hammocks. Tomba kept us busy by teaching us how to make jewellery out of the local plant materials. After an early lunch, we waited for a boat to take us to a community that lives in the national park. We were told that of the money we paid for the tour, 50 bs goes to the Torewa community, and 25 bs out of this is meant to provide breakfast for their schoolchildren. The Torewa community used to move from place to place. A couple of years ago, however, a school was built for them, so they will likely stay put for a while longer. Our guide told us that the laws don't apply to these people - for example, if the children don't want to go to school, they need not. This may change soon, though. We did not see many people during our visit - just a lady making chicha for her husband. We did, however, see their banana plants and papaya trees - the people trade fruits and fish for other products that the community needs.

One of the several types of banana grown by the Torewa community

These will soon be yummy papayas

A boat ride back to Rurrenabaque ended our tour to the selva.

Our return to Rurre

More photos of the plants, mushrooms and animals we saw in the forest are available here.

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