Amboró, Bolivia
17° 37' S 63° 36' W
Dec 16, 2006 22:30
Distance 66km

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Text written in: English

Parque Amboro and Bella Vista

So an early start was what we were supposed to have but the two of us were taking our time...the towns atmosphere had obviously seeped into our psyche through the night and packing, showering and eating took much longer than normal..that and we were the only two on the tour so we could dictate where and when. 8am, 8.30 turned into 9 which is when Hugo, our driver/communicado with the local community for the day, arrived to pick us up (as we had not turned up at 8.30 to check in). He was totally ADORABLE. The most wonderful looking Bolivian i have ever seen (might have something to do with the fact that he was 6 foot + and his grandfather was Columbian...just gorgeous.

Everything in the truck and while shoving down dry bread and jam we headed out of Samaipata, along the main road and then ventured down a whindy dirt road towards Bella Vista (a one road village set amongst the jungle and tucked between a collection of extinct volcanoes. I was excited the minute we entered the dirt road. A miriad of parrots flew above. The temperature was hot and steamy, the dirt was a strong ocure colour and the plants were as green as green can be. There were also flowers and each time we passed a little house the gardens were filled with fruit trees and extremely healthy crops. I was jumping up and down at every turn (a) because of the bumpy road in the 4 wheel drive and (b) because i was going into the jungle!!! at last!!! Erik had excited the two of us so much with the thought of seeing monkeys and sloths and parrots and toucans that I could harly wait.

After an hour we arrived at a little constrcution site (this was Hugo's tourism project - a little hotel in the jungle ). It was quite clear from the outset that Hugo had not prearranged our guide (who we were collecting in the village). Convienently, Anna is a linguist (with Spanish, French, German, Italian and soon to be Portuguese) and so could ease-drop on the conversation. The guides usually used for the trek were busy ( probably constructing the hotel) and so Hugo left us there and went looking for another one. In the meantime we looked around the construction site and found three little puppies all of which were adorable. They could not have been more than 3 months old and Anna and i were all over them. Within 20mins however i took a closer look and discovered that they were riddled with flees and so we quickly returned them to their pen. Hugo returned with Edil, a shy, short and shabby looking man who was quite clearly socially inept and reaked. He arrived with a machete and a shabby looking jacket and that was all he was to take with him for the next 3 days.

We were bundled into the car once more, the Edil and the ¨proper guide, his child and two strangers who needed a lift and were driven to the track head. Here, Hugo explained to Edil in VERY basic spanish (so much so that i coudl understand which made me question our adventure for the next 3 days) what was in the contents of a bag he was given, what we were to eat for each meal and where we were to go. Very last minute i thought and Anna looked even more concerned.

It started really well. Edil put on the bag and we discovered that the waste band was broken. Hugo didn't seem to mind and said he would be fine. Over the following days, the makeshift rope wasteband broke, the straps on the outside of the bag holding all the tents and pots and pans broke and then the last straw was the sholder strap. Lucky this last failure of equipment occured 1 minute from our last campsite and so we had time to make its final repairs to get him out of the jungle.

The first day we walked down hill into the jungle (if i get the photos uploaded you will be blown away by the scenery). The jungle follows the rivers that are lying between extinct volcanoes that sit in lines throughout the landscape. We plodded along, thick red dirt sticking to our boots, passing increasingly lush vegetation as we descended deeper into the jungle. Both Anna and i had cameras at the ready, expectant for an animal sighting, but alas...we were waiting for quite some time. A few hours in i had passed many different fungus, and thousands of different types of ants...effectively the most significant things in a jungle/rainforest ecologically and yes...i do love them alot my little group discovered (making them stop every five minutes for a Macro shot) but it was not the experience we had expected oso perezoso ¨lazy bear¨ (or for us - the invisible sloth). Many times we questioned our own timid animal- Edil, ¨will we have a chance to look for a sloth?¨- we were realistic, we just wanted a chance to look for one - he would always say yes, in the afternoon, or yes, later or, yes when we reach the camp...but at each turn we did not go looking and we just continued to plod along. 

On the first day we did stop at 3 waterfalls, one of which was carved into deep red rock and was quite lovely and the other we went swimming in ...which was a lovely relief from the heat and sweat from our walking. We were also lucky enough to see a family of Tejons, mum and 5 kids. It looks remarkably like an ROUS - Rodents of Unusual Size (for anyone that has seen the Princes Bride and for those that haven't its a huge rat, with a body more like a possum and a longer nose).

We arrived at our campsite at 4.30pm and started preparing the tents, fire and comida (food). Edil was an attentive fire setter, and (as pointed out by Hugo) we were in charge of dinner (aparently this was not Edils forte). We discovered why, Edil has 8 sisters and 4 brothers!!! He is the olderst of all the children (28years). His father died of a heart attack last year (a farmer - obviously working as hard as he can to feed his 1000 children)...Edil has taken over as man of the house as some of the other boys had left to work in the city. Poor guy...the path for his life was certain...he was to look after his sisters and mother and work the fields. He didn't have a girlfriend and at 28 it was not looking good because that is old to be finding a wife. Anyway ...he can't cook as his sisters and mother cook for him. With what we had (spagetti, packet soup, a tin of sweet corn, tomotoe paste and a tin of wieners), we made a sufficient meal over a campfire...which actually turned out to be quite satisfying. I had the opportunity to cook again and we laughed over the trials of camping. Later that evening (while being eaten alive by mosquitos) we played cards. Gin Rummy was aborted quicky as even Anna's spanish did not get through to Edil,  memory was more managable and i won hands down (i felt 10 again ...only better because i won!) and then we attempted Shithead...its just he could not comprehend some of the we plundered through and he lost every game...but we continued. At certain intervals through the night, head torches on, we would play with fireflies which lit up the landscape like little fairies and searched for weird and wonderful insects...and were there some weird ones- the best was a 15cm long and 1cm diameter centipede which had green armor. It was fascinating to watch.

After many failed attempts to get Edil to take us into the jungle at night to spot light for animals, we decided to see if they would come to us. With the dirty pots and pans, and some left over food we set up a sting operation. Piled high with potentially noisy falls, we stacked the pots and cutlery and empty tins so that any inquisitive animal, searching for food would wake us in the night and we could get a good look (set up conveniently directly outside our tent door!)...possibly due to the excitement of possible animal sightings and the sudden thought that we could be attracting a Puma or Jaguar (which could be a fatal meeting) but more likely due to my insomnia, the rocks under my mat and the fact that it was steamy hot in our tent, I didn't sleep and I can confirm that there were no bumps in the night. In the morning, Edil had cleared away our traps and he confirmed that not even the banana skin was taken.

We set off the next day a bit disheartned but maybe our expectations had dropped a little and so I began to enjoy the scenery a little more. We came out of the jungle by about 11 and were welcomed with a spectacular view of the valley. It was brilliant! The mountains have a distinct round top like a volcano, the slopes were covered in green grasses and the valleys were cluttered with green dense vegetation. Hundreds of parrots flew from valley to valley in flocks ...their squarking echoed in the same way they do at was very reminiscent of Wahroonga. Anna was getting tired and so too was I ...she did not see the point of walking with no purpose (ie the animals) now that we were out of the jungle...but I was loving it a was a wonderful place to be. And as we made our way to the pass to cross into a different valley we heard the lonely cry of a Mono (monkey) that may have found our spaghetti and banana from the night before. I was a little satisfied at the thought that I had passed it even though I had not seen it with my own two eyes.

We arrived at the road and made our way to Edil's house (which was a surprise to us as we thought we were to walk through the jungle for atleast 2 days (but what can you do ahev to go with it). His bag was deteriorating and he needed to get a change of clothes (low and behold he did need more than a jacket). We got a glimps at some of his sisters and his little home (where some 12 -15 people lived at any one time). There were dogs and puppies, cats and kittens, parrots of different varieties, 3 different types of chickens and chicks all running in and out of the house, being kicked or whipped by the family to get out of the way, being shoed from the table that they set up for the two ¨gringoes' and generally a pain in the arse. But I thought it was great. We gave half our food to the family (we were not a fan of the wieners, bolivian cheese or ham in plastic and no matter how hungry we were we had no need for half a kilo of sugar and 25 bread roles). Also I was keen for Edil to reduce some of the weight in his bag...little did I know that he was going to walk the rest of the day and half of the following day with a wheelbarrow to push the bag!

Set off again we walked down the road with the wheel barrow. Everyone we passed asked if we were ¨going to the bottom¨...and sure enough we were going to the bottom but not before a long and hot walk along the ¨top¨. We passed many little homes and farms tucked in the jungle, we witnessed slash and burn Bolivian style, ate figs from the tree, got inundated with butterflies of different varieties and really did feel like we were walking in the tree tops. It was a great walk.

Edil ditched the wheel barrow after about 2 hours and we descended again into a ravine but this time we walked along the river (Anna got very wet feet as we crossed the river a number of times...this never bothered Edil). We then entered a garlic forest. I had wondered what the smell was but to be honest at first I thought it was Anna. She is a terribly polite English girl with a proper English upbringing in a little country town - Sommerset (near Bath) but man! She can fart like a trouper. Many of you know that I can hold my own in this department but it only took her a day and she said (after a huge fart) ï'm glad we are on farting terms!¨hillarious.... but no the smell was not Anna, it was the garlic that grows in the trunks of the trees...and thus, it is known as the garlic forest. This day we walked for about 8 hours. We saw another rodent type thing ...a ferrat animal (I would know the name but our animated guide did not divulge very much). We arrived at our camp for the night and this time we were all stuffed. We went for a refreshing swim and pounded our sore bodies with water from a strong waterfall in a very large river we understood to be the ¨bottom¨ and then we started the preparation of the food. This night we had an excellent meal. We had collected some fresh parsley from Edil's farm, an onion, some fresh tomatoes and we had pasta and butter. It was great (also possibly from the hunger and the amount of walking we did). It was really hot during the night ...crazy hot and again I did not sleep and so the next day we were very slow to get going. We made scrambled eggs on the fire which was a welcome meal and then we headed off. Edil went crazy with his machete to get us to the path. It was a bit like out of ¨Romancing the stone¨ but less romantic ( I WISH!!) We arrived at our destination ...where our horses were to be waiting for our horse ride back to civilization...but no horses. We waited a while ...I had a succeful bowel movement which is more exciting than you think (in South America this can consume your thoughts for days) and then we found the source of our great enjoyement for the rest of the day - the horses.

I can say with absolute confidence that I love horse riding. There is nothing like flying through the jungle/countryside with just the sound of the horse and the breeze. It is just wonderful. We were on the horses for 7 hours. It did take us a while to get them going but once we did ...and they galloped,  it was egzilarating. For the first two hours we had our bags...this was a bit frustrating, but once we met up with Hugo back at the village, he took our things and we were free to run. About half way back along the road, my horse refused to continue (little did I know that he had done two trips the day before and was absolutely buggered. I should have caught on a little earlier which we viaéd sharply left up a river and almost took my head off.. I could not control him no matter how hard I tried and one of Edil's sisters (who brought the horses to us in the morning and ran along side side for half of the distance) retrieved me from the bushes.  Only a few seconds later I was turning him to walk on following a bought a giggling by all and the reines broke, he felt this as so took off into the tree on the other side of the track...this time we went in further and I was no use what so ever so I grabbed a tree and half held onto the horse with my legs. He stopped but kept a little tension there ...i'm sure if I let go he would have taken off all together.  This set Edil into a frenzy of was the most animated I have seen him. He swore and broke of a branch from one of the trees to hit it. Then he took it by the bit and hit it across the face!!!! This came at a bit of a shock but you kind of get used to it here as the way things are. So from then on he was quite obedient as Edil was always within sight. But once we had found Hugo and left the girls at their house, Anna and I were riding alone. My horse stopped when noone was in sight and Anna was a long way ahead. After a bit of whipping I did 't think he was going to continue so I jumped off. Just as I did, another horse came running from a far paddock and was making to jump the fence. I had been warned earlier by the girls that the horses in this valley have a tendancy to fight and so I was a little nervous. I tugged and tugged like Atraeu from ¨Never-ending story¨ but just like ...hmmm I can't remember his name (is it Artes)...anyway the horse,...he was not moving. Luckily the other horse, no matter how loud it yelled and jumped about, could not get over the fence, even though it really wanted to.

I had to be rescued by the owners who came for me after a while. The replacement horse, surprise surprise, the grey angry horse from the field! All the locals were laughing at the sight of me next to the grey horse and I was convinced that I was going to thrown off and killed. He could run that was for sure. I was told to go first as he did not like any other horses and so ahead I went...I did not really have a problem with this. It was a little scary at first but once I go the hang of it I was having the time of my life. Anna, asked if I wanted to go on her horse, if I was scared and as I figured she wanted to have a go on my angry horse I swapped. Well what a pleasant surprise that was. This chestnut horse (who was actually Edil's horse) was just so wonderful. Anna had had some trouble getting him to gallop earlier which was strange as she (having been brought up in the country in England) was an experienced rider. But not me...Sometime he kicked and he didn't like to go down (which I completely sympathized with) but after a good hour or two we were as one. He knew what to do when we go to a river and on the other side he would take off. I started to get used to the rythym and mastered the canter. I had the reins in one hand and held onto the saddle in the other. I would whip him (only lightly) and using the Chequan words that Edil used we would gallop. God it was great! Every now and then he would try and run off into the jungle for some food and probably a break and after trying for a while I had to be rescued by Edil a few times (I am not as tough on the horse as he is. By the end of the road we were all tired. On the down hill, I had started to get off and walk as he was so nervous that he would fall that he would stop. I didn't mind at all because he would wait for me to get back on at the bottom and then we would fly along!

Such a great day.

Anna fell asleep in the back of the truck on the long ride back to Samaipata and Hugo and I talked and watched the scenery change as we got closer to civilization. Hugo took us to the bus but it had already left for the afternoon so we waited for a collectivo taxi to Santa Cruz - our next destination. The driver requires 4 people to leave and thankfully we were not waiting long (we were five - how typically South American). It is a 3 hour drive and even though the two of us were positively buggered we talked the whole way...about friends and family and experiences. It made the time pass easier.

We arrived at the Taxi terminal after dark and went straight into the first hotel we saw to shower and crash. The room had only a double bed, you got electricuted if you turned the hot water on in the shower and there were two different TV's on which were louder than one could imagine but it was only $20bs each and we were stuffed. I had started to feel pretty rotten about half way through our cab journey but put it down to tiredness and dehydration (as I was on the horse for 7 hours and I didn't really stop to drink). When I had a shower (cold) at the Hotel in Santa Cruz (the name of which neither Anna nor I can remember) I discovered that I had a tick on my ancle ...that was why!!!! I have actually never had a tick and so was a little unsure as to what to do ...but I remembered someone telling me you have to burn them lighter and matches at hand we got rid of the little critter which was firmly in place...and after a few Neurofens and a Snickers bar for dinner I was out.

Photos / videos of "Parque Amboro and Bella Vista ":

View of Bella Vista (at the edge of Amboro National Park) Anna Richards (26, Summerset UK) Hugo (Amboro Tours) Edil o(laiden with luggage)ur guide Edil with the wheel barrow Red waterfall Our animal sting operation Riding through the jungle Orchid Yellow flower (dah) Fungus (featured heavily in this roll of film) Fungus and more fungus The glowing ëyes of a firefly by night leafy toad Giant centerpede an ant having a go at my t´shirt