Tuesday, February 22, 2011

3079 Mosquitoes Bit My Ass in the Bolivian Amazon


                                                     We headed to the Amazon with an eclectic mix of people from all over the world. Laurie and I as well as another Canadian, Octavia, an Aussie boy, Jake, a Norwegian boy called Haccon, an American girl, Mica and an Argentinean man named Jorge. We jumped in a van on route to the Beni River. It was a 3 hour ordeal reminiscent of the bus ride to Rurennabaque (read about that here). It began to rain. Already I was thinking that things could not get worse. At the boat launch area, we were swarmed by mosquitoes. Half a bottle of mosquito repellent between Laurie and I and we figured we were ok. We waited forever for the boat to be ready for us, and once we got on the way, we were cruising down the Beni River. Our guide was named Jonny, and he didn’t speak a word of English. The mosquitoes were everywhere, but our repellent appeared to be working.

The view from our motorized canoe was beautiful. The banks of the river were framed by lush green vegetation and the clouds had cleared away leaving the sun shining down on us. The tree branches hung down in the water like Tarzan vines and bright red flowers spotted the greenness of the jungle like freckles. Monkeys played in the trees and birds soared in the air. Finally my lungs were enjoying the oxygenated air, unlike the altitude and pollution of La Paz. There were many other boats on the river, all filled with tourists heading deep into the Amazon just like we were. After 3 hours of cruising, we began coming up to the camps. Slowly, each boat stopped at their camp. Just when I was starting to enjoy the jungle, we arrived at our camp. It was deserted. A layer of grime coated everything. It seemed like the camp hadn’t been used in years and years. Around this time, my ass began to get extremely itchy.

We settled in the sheltered kitchen area for a delicious dinner. Easily, the food was the best part of the jungle tour. After that we hung out in the screened in hammock room, where we ended up spending most of our down time. It was the best part of the jungle. As long as we only opened the door just enough to sneak inside and closed the door right away, the mosquitoes stayed out. Twelve hammocks hung in a circle from the edge of the room to a central pole in the middle. It was relaxing to swing and get to know the other travellers. It is also very easy to scratch your ass in a hammock, and mine was growing itchier by the second. We went to see the sunset at a soccer field near by, where the gringos played the locals and usually lost. There was a concession stand selling beer, coca cola and chocolate bars at exorbitant tourist prices. I am still unsure if I feel like it was a tourist trap or if we were helping out locals by paying those prices. All I know is that stand must make a killing!!!!!

That night we hung out in the hammock room and talked about life, music and travel. At 10 pm the generators shut off and we all went to bed. It was really hot and humid out still, so I slept in my bed wearing only a tank top and underwear. My ass had been sooooo itchy all night. When I scratched my bare ass cheek, I was shocked at what it felt like. My entire ass felt like what I imagine the moon would look like. Big swollen craters and small valleys in the few spots there was a lack of bites. My entire ass was a mosquito bite! It was dark so I couldn’t see exactly what it looked like. But I knew it was bad!

When I woke up in the morning, the first thing I did was look at my ass. It was worse than anticipated. Actually, I didn’t have an ass anymore. Every single inch of skin was bit by multiple mosquitoes. They had feasted upon my ass meat. I guess on the canoe ride I neglected to spray my ass with repellent. Bad mistake. Those crazy jungle mozzies bite right through pants.

The next day, we were off to hunt for anacondas. I was really excited about this part! I love trudging through the wilderness looking for wildlife. Our boat pulled up alongside a few other parked boats. Immediately, I wondered if we were really going to find some snakes with 50 gringos combing the jungle. We walked through a wet field to some tall grass and reeds. It really didn’t seem like the jungle, but if this is where the snakes were, I was excited to be looking. One step and my rubber boot filled with water. There was a hole somewhere, just big enough for water to get in, but not enough for it to drain out. The entire time I was walking around with one boot full of water and one dry foot. The mosquitoes in the air seemed more abundant than oxygen. It was a sunny, hot and humid day in the jungle. But any inch of exposed skin would immediately become lunch for 300 mosquitoes. I trudged through the 40 C jungle in my rain jacket and long pants.

Jonny, our guide, explained to the one fluent Spanish speaker on our tour, Haccon, that we had a great chance of finding some anacondas as a sunny day in the rainy season is rare and the snakes should all be out in the open. After that, he told us to spread out and look for anacondas and cobras. SERIOUSLY?!?!?! Man eating snakes and we were just going to be off on our own in grass taller than I am??? I was surprised, but I love that kind of stuff, so I was off on a mission. Thirty minutes went by; I was soaked in sweat and not a snake in sight. Some people headed back to the boat. I continued my mission. After awhile, I was over it. Were there even snakes in this place?? No one found a snake that afternoon, and we headed back to camp a little defeated.

The afternoon brought the chance to swim with the pink dolphins. We just had to find them first. We went into a bay off the main part of the river. The water was still. It smelled terribly of methane and rotting. According to Octavia, our new Canadian friend, the entire jungle smelled of methane and sadness. I agreed. Jonny revved the engine and sped our canoe in circles. As much as I wanted to swim with these beautiful endangered species, I didn’t think it was right to come into their territory and disturb them from the depths just to see them. Slowly, a few began to appear. I didn’t get a great look, as the just skimmed the surface. I saw a lot of dolphin backs and maybe a side or two. It certainly was not like the brochure pictures, where a happy gringo is swimming in beautiful green water, one dolphin face up and posing for the camera beside him, while others jumped in the air behind. I have certainly learned my lesson about believing brochures in Bolivia.

Two out of the three of the Amazon activities I had been excited for had been a bust. I was REALLY hoping to catch a giant piranha the next day to make up for it all.

That night it rained. Not a good old city rain shower, but an Amazon Jungle rainy season rain. I awoke in the middle of the night from what sounded like machine gun fire, but was really raindrops. After the previous night’s fitful sleep in the suffocating humidity, the rain was a nice breath of fresh air.

As we got in the canoe the next morning it was still raining lightly. I didn’t mind, because I know in Canada, the fishing is usually better in crappy weather. I was going to catch a giant piranha!!!! My feelings of hope were dashed when I saw our fishing gear. A piece of ply wood, about 10 cm long and 4 cm wide acted as the rod and reel. The line was so thick you could have caught a 700 lb fish on it, or knitted a sweater. We had rusty barbed hooks, from which we threaded a little chunk of raw llama as bait. Trying to stay positive, I gripped the ply wood and threw my line in. And waited….and waited. Eventually, I caught some jungle reeds.

We were all fed up with the jungle by this time, and were anxious to get back to Rurrenabaque. We had a flight at 5:45 pm (the tour agency promised we’d make it) and we knew it was a long way back.

Jonny wrapped our stuff in a tarp, and we were headed back to civilization. When our canoe arrived at the boat launch, we were anxious to get into the van. Looking at the time, we knew it would be close if we were going to make the flight. An hour went by. Jonny didn’t seem to be concerned. He said that we were waiting for a different van to come and pick us up. We watched the clock apprehensively. We just wanted to get the hell out of this jungle!!! Missing our flight would be a kick in the junk. Every van that pulled up, we ran up to it with hope and always were disappointed. Jonny got tired of us asking him when we were leaving and hid from us. Finally, we got in a van. We had 2 and a half hours to make a 3 hour drive. The driver promised we would make our flight.

True to his promise, he got us there before the plane left. Because it didn’t leave. Delays throughout the day caused our flight to be cancelled.

Will we ever escape this jungle hell???????
Find out next!!!!

In all the negative memories of the jungle, I almost forgot the best part. We saw many wild crocodiles, and one of them, I was close enough to touch it. In the issue of safety, I only stuck my hand out about a foot away from his open mouth. I could have gotten closer, but I like my arm.

Join me as I TRAVEL MY LIFE AWAY!!!!

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