I got hit by quite an unpleasant cold leaving Puno and couldn’t get rid of it before arriving in La Paz and got quite sick. It wasn’t getting any better in this polluted and high altitude city. I initially wanted to bike through the subtropical valleys known as the Yungas, -some steep forested slopes squeezed in between the Cordillera and the Amazon lowland – but than decided that a holiday in the Amazonian Jungle was a better way to cure my cold. I booked a ticket and left the next day. Amaszonas Air runs a small plane and the flight to Rurrenabaque itself is quite spectacular. We first climbed over the Cordillera Real and flew right past the top of Huayna Potosi, a popular easy climb at 6088m, than descended down into the Amazon basin at 200m. I expected to get hit by a heat wave leaving the plane, but instead it was surprisingly cold at 17dgrees. The region gets a rare southerly air flow a few times during winter and it gets unpleasantly cold. Rurrenabaque itself was a quiet and very relaxed little town. I did the tour of the agencies and decided on a 3 day jungle trip with Madidi-travel, an organization using all its profits for conservation work. Parque National Madidi is quite possibly the most bio-diverse of all protected areas on the planet. It is the variety of habitats, from freezing Andean peaks of the Cordillera Apolobamba in the southwest through cloud, elfin and dry forest to steaming tropical jungle and pampas in the north and east, that accounts for the array of flora and fauna within the park’s boundaries. In an area roughly the size of Wales (1,895,750ha) are an estimated 900 bird species, 10 species of primates, 5 species of cat (with healthy populations of jaguar and puma), giant anteaters and many reptiles. Madidi-travel specializes in tours to the private Serere Sanctuary in the Madidi Mosaic. It’s a conservation project and the tourist are their way to finance it. They only have a few at a time, which makes for a very pleasant experience. They do a great job at sharing their passion of what they do and my guide, Severo, was very knowledgable. The camp consists of a main house and many mosquitonet-walled accommodation houses a wee ways away. It’s a great experience to sleep in the jungle and listen to all the noises, especially the howling monkey which makes a tremendous noise in the mornings and evenings. The guides took us for walks through the jungle and rowing excursions on the lake. We saw many kinds of monkeys, crocodiles, bats, a rescued baby tapi living at camp, a variety of birds, etc… and went pihania fishing. We didn’t see a jaguar, even in August are the best chances as he likes eating the turtels eggs along the river banks. My only regret was that I didn’t stay longer, 3 days was just not long enough as the travel up the river to the Serere Reserve already takes about 3 hours. Oh….and the food was amazing, best I’ve eaten in months. After this amazing experience I had a warm humid night in Rurrenabaque before catching the early morning flight back to La Paz.
I spent the day around town and the next day took a bus to La Cumbre at 4725m and an hour out of La Paz and biked all the way down to the Yungas via the ‘most dangerous road’. It was a very beautifully scenic ride starting with snowy mountains and finishing in tropical forest. The first half was asphalted and than there was a choice of the new road and the old road, now used mainly for bike tours and with the reputation of the ‘most dangerous road’ of the world. Once the only road, all the traffic had to navigate this at times very exposed road carved into the mountainside and often slippery due to the moist climate. By history this road has a high death toll and the many crosses on the side of the road tell the story. But it is a most amazing scenic ride….and now without the traffic much safer!
I had a last day in La Paz getting organized to finally move on. I took the night bus to Sucre saving myself a not so interesting pampas Altiplano ride on a high traffic road. I immediately liked the feel of Sucre, often referred to as Ciudad Blanca, owing to the tradition that all buildings in the center are painted in their original colonial white. This works to beautiful effect and in 1991 UNESCO declared the city a World Heritage site. From 1825 to 1899 Sucre was capital of Bolivia, but lost this role to La Paz after a civil war. I had a day wandering around and as I was still hanging on to my cold decided to stay an extra day and visit the colorful indigenous Sunday market in Tarabuco, popular with tourists for its textiles and the many local people in traditional dress.