Monday, February 6, 2012

Pimpin the Pampas

After weeks in the chilly altiplano, it was nice to escape to the Pampas (which means "plain" in Quechua) for a change in scenery.  Sam and I decided to book a 3 day, 2 night tour with Inca Land Tours, which we had heard good things about from a classmate in Sucre.  Surprisingly, we found out the day before the tour that we were the only ones who were on our tour.  One of the nice things about Inca Land Tours, unlike many of the other tour companies, is they don't pawn you off onto another tour if theirs isn't full.  So basically we got a private tour.  The only downside was we had really enjoyed meeting other people on our Salt Flats tour (after spending day in and day out with each other, it is nice to break it up with the company of others).

We arrived at the tour company, where we met our tourguide, Victor, and cook, Amalia, and we were off in a 4x4 to start the journey to the Rio Yucama, which depending on the weather can between between 2-4 hours on a dusty (or muddy) road.  A quick stop for lunch in the town of Santa Rosa (population about 10,000) and then we hopped on a narrow motorized boat that looks somewhat like an elongated canoe, except for instead of benches we used folding chairs to sit on.

Along the way we saw an incredible array of animals, including pink dolphins, turtles, crocodiles, howler monkeys, yellow monkeys, and a huge assortment of birds including some prehistoric bird that looked like a cross between a chicken and a dinosaur, some elusive tucans, and eagles.

After three hours on the river, stopping to look at and take pictures of the animals, we arrived at our rustic abode, a cabin just off the river with several rooms filled with beds and mosquito netting.  Reminded me very much of overnight camp.  There we met Oskar, the caretaker, and Negro the cat.  Negro was kind of like a skinnier, more wild version of Leo.  He loved to be petted and would sit on our laps as we tried to eat.

We relaxed for a bit, and then we were off to head up the river a little more and watch the sunset at another camp, where there were lots of other tourists who had apparently been drinking for some quite time, as well as cows, chickens and chicks, and a horny rooster (one other thing to add about this trip is the number of different types of animals we have seen doing the nasty).

Then it was back to our camp for the 45-minute ride back, and by the time we 
arrived it was completely dark out and the mosquitoes were in full swing (I couldn't even count how many mosquito bites I had by the time we left the Pampas).  Dinner was waiting for us, then a late shower (no hot water, but it is so hot and humid in the Pampas that you don't really need it) and off to sleep at the late hour of 9:00 pm (Sam and I have turned into quite the party animals on this trip).

The next morning we woke up around 6:30 am to the sounds of about 10 different animals, including the strangest bird hoot I have ever heard.  Then the most amazing breakfast we had so far on this trip...a fried egg each and a huge platter of buttered and toasted bread and freshly made donuts that were unbelievable, not to mention a fruit salad mixed with yogurt.  Amalia was a wonderful cook, but I don't think she was accustomed to cooking for just 2 people because every meal could have fed at least double that.

After breakfast we got ready to go look for anacondas, which required that we wear rubber boots since we would be wading through wet areas.  Unfortunately for Sam, he had not brought socks (it is not strange to assume one would not need a heavy pair of wool socks in tropical weather) but it turned out they were pretty important for wearing the boots, especially since he had to squeeze into a pair that was not quite big enough for him.  It was really entertaining watching Sam get stuck in the boots and require the assistance of Victor to pry them off.

We wandered around in some mucky area with tall grasses for awhile trying to find anacondas, which apparently are pretty hard to find, while I got frustrated as my only pair of pants that I had and white shirt slowly got covered in mud.  I am happy to walk around in mud as long as I am prepared for it, which I was not, so I was less than thrilled, plus wearing long pants, wool socks, and rubber boots is not super fun when your in the tropics.

That afternoon it was more relaxing for a few hours at the camp (looooooots of relaxing in the Pampas, and unfortunately the only book I had to read was The Scarlet Letter), then we were off to try to fish for piranhas.  Victor told us  there might not be any, since this time of year there isn't much oxygen in the water so it would be harder for them to smell the bait.  Sam did manage to catch a really tiny one, that was probably about 2 inches long, which flopped around the boat for awhile before Victor threw it back in the water.  

Then back to camp for more relaxing, a shower, dinner, then sleep.  Also, I must mention that we got to see up a close a capybara, one of the strangest animals I have seen.  It is the biggest rodent in the world, and basically looks like a cross between a guinea pig and an anteater.

Finally our last morning there we were told we would get to go swimming with the dolphins!  One of those things that I think in theory is more exciting than it is in actuality, but still pretty cool nonetheless.  Victor took us back to an area where there were probably about 6 or 7 dolphins swimming around.  Periodically you would see their nose or top of the head poke out above water for a moment.  Sam insisted that I got in the water first, which had some brown stuff floating on it that I will just assume was mud.  Because the water overall is so muddy, you can't see more than a few inches down, so it is a bit unnerving to feel a dolphins swim by you but not be able to see it, plus they nip at your feet, and at least a few times I accidentally would kick one as I was treading water and it would swim by.  After watching me for a couple minutes, Sam decided he did not want to come in, and after having my foot nibbled on a couple times (basically felt like I was stepping on a rock), I decided that was enough for me.  

It was then back to camp, lunch, and we were back.  Overall, it was really amazing to see all of the animals, particularly the monkeys (I love monkeys!),  spend time on the water, and practice speaking Spanish since none of the people on the tour spoke English.  It was particularly interesting talking to Oskar, who is just a few years younger than us.  He works for a few months of the year taking care of the camp, and rest of the year he spends traveling around Bolivia.  It was interesting to learn from talking to him how hard it is for Bolivians to get passports.  It takes a long time and costs a lot of money, which made me realize how much we take for granted how (relatively) easy it is for us to travel around.

More pictures here:
2012.1 Pampas Tour

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