After my amazing tour of the world’s largest salt flats (see previous post), I headed north to visit Bolivia’s portion of the Amazon rainforest. After an overnight bus from Uyuni (Bolivia), I arrived in La Paz, the administrative capital of Bolivia (population 789,000+), where I spent the night, awaking the next morning to the parades and music of El Festival Gran Poder:
“Festival of the Great Power, a religious celebration paying homage to El Señor del Gran Poder or Jesus Christ. Every year, more than 30,000 dancers representing La Paz’s neighborhoods and folkloric groups, dance along a 6 kilometer route through the city’s streets. showcasing the rich and diverse Bolivian culture. Inspired by historic events, the conquistador, Inca, slave and Indigenous costumes are bright and beautiful featuring voluminous skirts, hats strewn with ribbons and elaborate masks. The extravagant handmade costumes take around two or three months to make with seamstresses importing fine fabrics, sequins and threads from overseas.” (http://www.lapazlife.com/fiesta-del-gran-poder)
It was an amazing spectacle that I enjoyed for several hours before heading to the airport for my short 45-minute flight over snow-covered mountains to the small town of Rurrenabaque (population 8,400+), the gateway to Parque Nacional Madidi. Stepping onto the tarmac, I immediately felt the heat and humidity of the jungle. Wow, what a change from the cool temperatures of La Paz, the highest national capital in the world (13,313 feet).
Per Wikipedia: “Madidi is a national park in the upper Amazon river basin in Bolivia. Established in 1995, it has an area of 7,320+ square miles, and, along with the nearby protected (though not necessarily contiguous) areas Manuripi-Heath, Apolobamba, and (across the border in Peru) the Manu Biosphere Reserve, Madidi is part of one of the largest protected areas in the world. Ranging from the glacier-covered peaks of the high Andes Mountains to the tropical rainforests of the Tuichi River, Madidi and its neighbors are recognized as one of the planet’s most biologically diverse regions. In particular, Madidi protects parts of the Bolivian Yungas and Bolivian montane dry forests ecoregions. Madidi is home to more than seven hundred species of animal and some 860 species of bird, more than in the whole of North America. There are also more than five thousand species of flowering plant.”
So how did I spend four days in the plant’s most biologically diverse region? Checking out lots of amazing plants and animals of course! I took an organized 4-day tour with four other travelers: Carole and Josh (England and Australia) and Kathi and Valentin (Germany).
After a night in Rurrenabaque, our group was taken via boat up the Beni River to the Madidi Ecolodge. Our very knowledgeable and personable guide, Simon, pointed out the various birds we saw during our 3-hour trip up river to the ecolodge. After settling in to our private rooms, the five of us and Simon spent each of the 4 days together taking hikes through the jungle and/or boat rides along the river, rain or shine, in search of critters and to learn about the amazing variety of plants that make up the jungle ecosystem. Along with teaching us about the flora and fauna of the area, Simon, a native to the area, taught us about the native communities living in and making a living from the jungle, and pointed out the many plants used by locals for medicinal purposes.
So what animals did we see? Many, including (but not limited to): monkeys (squirrel, tamarin, red howler), capybara, tapir, peccary, caiman, turtles, piranah, macaws (red-and-green and chestnut-fronted), white-throated toucan, red-necked woodpecker, hawks, vultures, shorebirds (i.e., wood stork, roseate spoonbill, cocoi heron, yellow-billed tern, snowy egret), an array of gorgeous butterflies, and insects, including long trails of fast-moving leaf cutter ants. While we didn’t see a jaguar, we did see jaguar tracks on the trail. Exciting! We also got to bond with Tonito, a cute orphaned tapir who visited the dining cabin at least once a day for fruit. And of course, we were surrounded by a large variety of flora, including many species of flowering plants and mushrooms. Amazing!
Visiting the Amazon was an amazing experience, made even more amazing by the fun people, including our guide Simon, who I got to share the experience with.
Here are a few pictures. Click the link to see the full photo album: https://goo.gl/photos/JHWEjFCx7qF1nzYPA
Travel notes: recommend Madidi Ecolodge (lovely private rooms, great local food, very knowledgeable, friendly guides and staff), Arthy’s Guesthouse, La Paz (good common areas & kitchen, very nice owners, close to bus station), and Hotel Oriental, Rurrenabaque (lovely garden, good location on plaza); tap water in Bolivia is NOT potable (treatment needed).