Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Amazon Rain Forest and Wetlands, Bolivia (3/9/04 - 3/16/04)

This time the water I’m trudging through is warmer, but it's also smellier considering we're in the wetlands of the Amazon river basin. This time I'm thinking to myself that this is “some crazy white boy sh_t.”

Some of my friends and family would say that quitting a decent paying job to live out of a backpack is “white boy stuff.” I disagree. Wanderlusts should be explored, but trudging through waist high smelly swamp water that you can't see through, in search of an anaconda is NOT something that brothers do.

The guide in front of me puts up his hand, the universal sign for stop. Then he quietly whispers, "shhhh, back up quickly, but quietly." The five of us following him are trying to figure out what's going on as he continues a few minutes later, "I stepped on an alligator and it made a warning sound, that's why I told you to back up. I think he was about 5 feet long."

ALLIGATOR!!! Alright! Hold UP! You didn't mention anything about any alligators before we started on this trek! I really don't want to be out here looking for anacondas anyway! But I had seen the photos of adventure travelers holding 12 foot long snakes, and our guides convinced me that they wouldn't be dangerous because 1.) if we're likely to find one, it would be because it had just eaten and would be lazily resting in a tree above the water. 2.) They're not aggressive after they've eaten. And 3.) as adult humans we're too big for them to consider us worthwhile prey. To be honest, I really only wanted to make sure that our guides weren’t scamming us, leaving us to inhale cow dung on cow-patty island for 2 hours while they went to spark a joint and nap behind a tree somewhere. Now they're talking about alligators?! Oh, it's time to go back! But we were 1.5 hours away from REMOTE safety, and I’m not sure I could have found my way back without the guide anyway. So I stuck it out.

Three hours after we left cow-patty island (dubbed so by the half of the group that waited there for our return) in search of a snake, we returned empty handed. The only snake we saw was a small one in the mouth of a flying eagle that was apparently a better hunter than we were.

“There is too much water around for good anaconda hunting. It’s better in the dry season.” The guides gave us props for being the first group of “tourists” brave enough to go so far with them for so long (most wait on cow-patty island), but in the end all I have to show for my efforts is the worse case of sunburn I’ve ever experienced. My shoulders and back were tender for a couple of days, and now I’m peeling. It’s as if God afflicted me with a Caucasian malady to affirm that I was indeed doing crazy white boy stuff. I mean I’ve only been burnt once before. That was 12 years ago after hanging out at the beach in Italy with my girlfriend for 10 hours straight.

Hungry Monkeys, Pampas, Bolivia Posted by Picasa

That was the low point of an incredible week long tour of the rain forest and “pampas.” Highlights included having tiny wild monkeys eat bananas out of my hand, swimming with pink dolphins, learning the medicinal properties of countless jungle plants, spotting wild toucans, and witnessing the macaws returning home to their cliff dwellings.

Feeding A Monkey, Pampas, Bolivia Posted by Picasa

The macaw hike was some National Geographic/Discovery channel type stuff. We took a long canoe from our camp site about 10 minutes up the river. After following a serpentine trail through a bamboo forest for a half hour, the guide says that the next 45 minutes will be much more challenging, but not impossible. We end up climbing half way up a dry waterfall before we stop at a landing where we are instructed to proceed 3 by 3. Why? Not only because the next 60 yards is almost a straight vertical climb up a very narrow ravine, but also because the vines that we’ll be using to ascend the last stretch can only support 3 people at a time. How do they know that?! Have these vines been tested in a laboratory somewhere?! What if they can only support 150 climbers over a 3-month period, and I’m the 151st climber in the 4th month? ...Alright, Zik, just relax and enjoy the experience.

We were rewarded with an astoundingly spectacular vista. From the cliff top 200 meters above where we started the hike, we could hear howler monkeys roaring in the distance as we watched scores of macaws returning home in pairs at sunset. I found it equally interesting, and incredibly beautiful to learn that macaws mate for life, and that they are always seen in pairs. One pair was right under our perch cuddling one another. Simply beautiful.

Macaws in Flight, Amazon River Basin, Bolivia Posted by Picasa


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! Zik you rock! Now I am living vicariously through your travel experiences. Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined-Thoreau

6:00 PM  

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