22nd January 2000: Trinidad, Bolivia (Day 185)
Six months today! Half a year spent roaming South America with my brother Mark and great friends Jono and Irinia. Our overnight bus from Sucre dropped us at 5.30am in the rather remote town of Trinidad in the north west Bolivia. We intended to celebrate our semi-anniversary with a celebration dinner in Trinidad but it didn’t quite have the charm we were expecting (and we weren’t expecting a lot which says something!). Open sewers ran aside the roads releasing their putrid smells onto the unexpecting passers-by. The buildings, even around the central square were plain and uninteresting. Even in small villages I had seen more elegant and impressive churches that the main one in Trinidad. We looked in one hotel which was charging an expensive rate for nasty little rooms. We left our bags in their store room for a price and agreed to come back later. Off of the central plaza we ordered another American friend egg breakfast in a large cafe. Once again we got scrambled but just couldn’t be arsed to complain knowing it would make no difference.
Having spent just 2 hours in the town, I made the suggestion we jump on the next bus to Rurrenabaque which was our next port of call. There were few disagreements! Luckily for us the only bus of the day to Rurre was due to leave an hour later. Unfortunately, Rurre wasn’t its final destination so had to pay for a full ticket to Riberalta at £13. We could have got a bus to Yacomo and then another bus from there to Rurre but we wouldn’t save much and would have to spend a night in Yacomo (not a pleasant prospect according to our guidebook!).
An hour later, we were onboard the bus to Rurre. Not the much nicer looking bus the ticket seller had shown me when I bought the tickets – he just shrugged when I mentioned this. It was also delayed but that isn’t unusual so we made ourselves as comfortable as we could. An hour later at 11am, the bus trundled into life. Passengers who had managed to jam open various windows to defuse the heat during the wait had to rapidly start closing them as clouds of fumes and dust filled the interior and finally, we pulled slowly away.
The drive was beautiful in terms of scenery although bumpy enough to make even the most hardened travellers feel the strain. There was only a narrow dust road, baked hard in the sun and either side of it stretched out across grassy savannas and patchy forests. The occasional green parrot flew by and the various squawkings indicated that many more were out of sight. Thousands of cows filled the savanna as this was cattle country. They seemed statuesque in their heat induced motionless but with the occasional fly-removing tail swipe giving them life.
Over the first few hours, we had three rivers to cross in the pre-bridge way. The bus was maneuvered onto a wooden barge with the passengers lined up down the sides as it was punted across the muddy waters. The sun was high and offered no mercy to passengers who sought shade during this process and the high humidity caused a glow of sweat on everyone’s face. At the far side, it took about ten minutes to get the bus off of the barge and up the muddy banks. At least here, there was a few trees we all sheltered under – but so did the mosquitoes. Everyone was swatting, squishing and flicking in all directions as they descended by the thousands. I covered myself in repellent and this seemed to keep the worst at bay much to the envious eyes of the locals.
Two more rivers were crossed in much the same way and then it started to rain. It was still very hot and sunny but cupful sized water-drops were falling from the sky. Within seconds, the thick dust in the air that had been causing me to have an undesired dust tan was settled to my relief. However, within minutes, the previously hard baked dust of the roads was now a thick, sticky mud. Our bus was suddenly skidding wildly from side to side in some cases traversing up the road at 45 degrees to its direction of travel! The front wheels would take the front of the bus up the centre of the road whilst the back wheels were on the verge of slipping into the even muddier drainage gully. We stopped several times while the wheels were dug out and rocks and branches laid down for increased grip. With more sliding back and forth, the bus somehow managed to stay on the road and huge jolts made sleep difficult but when the sun went down over this beautiful land, there was little left to do.
23rd January 2000: Rurrenabaque, Bolivia (Day 186)
It was 4:30am when the bus pulled up and the driver shouted that this was Rurre (as the locals refer to Rurrenabaque). Only the four of us got off. The driver shouted a quick ‘ciao’ and then the bus left us for its onward 18 hour journey to Riberalta. The guide book had said the journey from Trinidad would take 8 hours. The ticket seller had said 12 hours. But the bus trip had finally taken over 17 hours!
Our inadequate map provided us with a game of ‘work out where we are’. With a mag-lite to find road names and the occasional meandering drunk to quiz, it took an hour to find Hotel Tuiche which was the Lonely Planet recommendation. It was still only 5:30 so the hotel it was all shut up. We pitched outside deciding not to knock on the door in case the hotel might eventually charge us for a night that was almost over. However, an hour later it began to rain again and we ended up huddling in their porch until the door was opened by the night porter. She looked as surprised as we did but offered us a room with two beds (which they didn’t eventually charge us for) where we fell asleep for a few hours.
My shower was a cold but refreshing dribble which cut out every time the loo was flushed. But it allowed my to remove the two days of grime and I could finally get a brush through my hair. Breakfast at a local cafe was one of the best yet – even getting our eggs right and it was cheap at 90p.
We looked in one of the tour agencies before the heat forced us to seek shade and rest in the hotel. Here, we spoke to a couple of groups of travellers who recommended two agencies – Flecha and Fluvial. At Fluvial, we were asked about the possibility to go on a longer four-day jungle trip to maximise our chances of seeing something. After a siesta through the mid-day stifling heat, we decided to check out Flecha. The girl there was so much more enthusiastic than the bloke at Fluvial and this different alone sold us on them. Five minutes later, we were $80 poorer and excited at the prospect that tomorrow morning, we’d be off to the jungle! The ‘Social Club’ provided a light lunch before we headed out to a few local shops to pick up some essentials such as a sun hat and plenty of water. I thought I’d trust our guide to keep us safe from crocodiles so didn’t buy a tempting machete! A few more hours were spent in a melee of relaxing, chatting and the occasional spot of packing. A drink with three Ozzies in Heladeria Bambi closed off the evening nicely as they talked about how much fun they had had in the jungle!