After an exhausting day of ice climbing and bellies full from the monstrosity of a pizza that Rob so kindly ordered, the gang were very much looking forward to tackling the world’s most dangerous road on two wheels. As ever, an early start to the day followed by more pancakes for breakfast and an introduction to our biking guide for the day, Justin. a.k.a. Rob mark 2. After an hour or so ride to the top, we set off on the 5 hour ride down death road. As biking goes, it wasn’t that strenuous seeing as 99% of the ride was down hill. However, a quick look over the edge focused the mind and nearly brought back the morning’s pancakes for all to see. The highlight of the ride was probably when Rob fell off his bike whilst trying to show off his skills to Justin the guide. The ride was good fun though and we ended up in an animal reserve near Coroico at the bottom of the road. Emily and Rob however, took serious issue with how the park was being run (they are animal pros you see). We were instructed not to play with the monkeys etc. And we definitely, definitely, definitely didn’t. We hopped back on the bus that took us to Coroico where we went straight to our luxury hotel. We dumped our bags and jumped in the swimming pool! Being able to swim without having to carry little Peruvian children is a real joy. We then got all steamy in the sauna, had dinner and went to bed.
FREE DAY. Yes, that is correct. Villa Maria Team 2010 actually had a FREE day. A lie in, buffet breakfast, pool and sunbathing. Hallelujah. Bizarrely, most of us failed to sleep in seeing as we’re so used to pre sunrise wake ups. However, it was still a great day. One that culminated in a poker tournament with punishments for the losers. All you need to know is, that night at dinner, clothes were removed, people were kissed, food was eaten without cutlery and Rob was flirted with…a lot. As with every day on Quest, this one went remarkably quickly. And it’s safe to say that the group were not looking forward to the 16+ hour bus to the Bolivian jungle the following day.
The less said about this day the better. Got on bus. Romy and I had bought cookies for breakfast. Rob very angry. Stopped in Nowhereville and had second breakfast…steak. Started getting hot in bus. Group realises how much they were bitten by sandflies in Coroico. Bites get itchy. Bus gets flat tyre. iPods run out. Delirium ensues. Arrive in Rurrenebaque 16 hours later. Noisy Israelis in hostel. Heat unbearable. Rob steals fan for himself.
Woke up feeling very sweaty, but had no idea how much more sweat was to come. We left Rurrenabaque and headed for Jacj Cuisi, an animal park that is part of the Inti Wara Yassi group. We arrived mid morning and pitched our tents in the sweltering heat. Machetes were used to clear the area for tents. No one will tell me why I’m not allowed to hold one…something about being injury prone…After the tents were pitched, we began preparing lunch for us and the other 15 or so more permanent volunteers at the park. But then it started to rain. Real rain. Jungle rain. I was moved from chopping veg to holding a tarpaulin over the camp fire. What a job that was! However, the rain cleared as quickly as it came and after lunch we split into two work groups. The first group had the unenviable task of moving bricks from one pile to another. The other group had an equally tough job of carrying bags of sand uphill deep into the jungle. After a while the groups swapped round and realised how hard both jobs were. Absolutely knackering. We went back to camp and had dinner and passed out in our tents after a feeble attempt at drinking Ceibo (98% alcohol).
Woke up feeling sweaty and sticky once more and relaxed a little before going on a jungle walk with our very own Tarzan and Jane, Rob and Vanessa (a park veteran). We split into two groups and headed our separate ways. Robs group walked up hills for a few hours and saw nothing. Vanessa´s group walked along a river and saw an armadillo and tarantula. I definitely made the right choice! We got back to camp and had a bit of free time before going back to Rurrenabaque, where we all took much needed showers and went for dinner at Giuliano´s, the best restaurant in Rurre.
Woke up early, again, and headed for the Pampas (wetlands near the jungle) in big Jeeps. A few hours later and we had arrived. A really nice lodge by the river. We had lunch at the lodge and went on our first boat tour. We saw loads of animals, the group favourites being caimans (like alligators) and capybara (huge mutant guinea pigs). We had a go swimming with the pink river dolphins. But they seemed to be busy fishing. Only a few of us got nibbled. We went back to the lodge and had dinner and chilled out on the hammocks before going to bed.
Got up, had breakfast and got straight on the boats for more animal spotting. Saw lots more things, birds and even monkeys who jumped in our boat and stole Aaron´s banana. Dolphin swimming was more successful, lots of us got nipped. I got back into the boat fairly quickly when they appeared, but to be fair, they look a lot like sharks. We went back for lunch then out again in the afternoon piranha fishing only to realise that we were all very very sunburnt. One boat was a lot more successful than the other. My boat’s catch totalled one small catfish, a frog and lots of reeds. No muy bien. Oh well. The other group did better, but no one caught piranhas. After a great afternoon we were heading back to the lodge when we decided to stop for some canoe wrestling, gladiator style. Unfortunately, the fun and games ended before they had started. Three cameras fell in to the river, two broke and mine, the third, sunk to the bottom of the river. Despite a courageous dive to the bottom, my photos are lost forever. Very sad day for Jungle Joe. We had dinner at the lodge and relaxed on the hammocks again before bed.
Woke up fairly early, went straight to the boats and got off them again to go on a walk looking for anacondas. The walk was about 3 hours long, which doesn’t sound bad considering our 17 hour day trekking. However, the heat and humidity really gets to you. Especially when we don’t see a single snake the whole 3 hours. Oh well. Good exercise I suppose. We had lunch and the lodge and were then hurried back into the jeeps to Rurrenabaque once more. My jeep’s arrival in Rurrenabaque that afternoon could only be described as dismal. We were met by an ashen faced Rob who told us that our 16 hour bus back to La Paz the following day had been cancelled and we had to get on a bus for La Paz leaving in half an hour. Thoughts began running through my head, my iPod wasn’t charged, I hadn’t showered and was simply not ready for a 16 hour bus right now. Panic mode was ensuing, But just before I reached critical point, we were led to an office where some of the other guys were waiting with PLANE TICKETS! Rob had been lying all along. There was no bus. Only a 50 minute flight back to La Paz. The flight back was luxury. After a quick nap we were there. The thing that was forgotten was the drop in temperature of about 20 degrees. Bloody freezing. But it didn’t really matter. We were back in La Paz, minus the hell of the 16 hour bus once more. We got back to our hostel that evening, were reunited with our clothes and had another enormous pizza before all collapsing into our beds oblivious of what the next 2 weeks had in store…
Jungle Joe reporting for Quest Overseas