Mission Impossible: Getting to the Bolivian Jungle

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After a few weeks of high alti­tude and cold weather, Tim con­vinced me that it was a good idea to go down to sea level to do a jun­gle tour, despite my fear of spi­ders and snakes. There are many options as start­ing points and we decided to try the clos­est one from Sucre, where we had been hang­ing out for the last few days. Our plan was sim­ple, we’d take a bus to Santa Cruz, the largest city in Bolivia, and then from there we’d eas­ily be able to fig­ure it out.  Easy, it was not.

It all started with a 14 hour overnight bus ride from Sucre.  The road was not paved and boy did we feel it.  We’ve taken many long buses over the years but this was def­i­nitely the worst. Imag­ine the feel­ing of con­stant tur­bu­lence as you are dri­ving up and down some of the steep­est cliffs you’ve ever seen with­out a guardrail in sight.  Not to men­tion the fact that the road isn’t actu­ally big enough for 2 buses to pass each other.  We sure did get our $11 worth.

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When we got to Santa Cruz we took a well-deserved rest and toured the city a lit­tle. It is one of the fastest grow­ing cities in the world and the city itself is inter­est­ing; the peo­ple seem to have a lot more afflu­ence than in the rest of Bolivia and it kind of felt like a dif­fer­ent coun­try. The next day we hit up var­i­ous tour agen­cies and were told that there were no tours due to it being rainy sea­son.   Finally we found an agency that was will­ing to take us and told us they had two oth­ers inter­ested in order to com­plete the group.  We gave our deposit and started get­ting ready to leave the next day.  We stopped by the agency again, and they informed us that the oth­ers had can­celled.  We told them we’d wait another day to see if any­one else showed up, but it never hap­pened. We took our deposit back and started mak­ing plans to head north to Trinidad.

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The amount of dif­fer­ent infor­ma­tion we got from peo­ple about how to get to Trinidad was appalling. Some said the roads were closed due to the rain, oth­ers that it would take up to 36 hours to get there. We took a day to think about what to do and vis­ited Yvaga Guazu (or what we deemed “Jun­gle Lite”) a pri­vately owned eco-park that is set up to show you plants and ani­mals in the nearby jun­gles. It was there that our awe­some guide told us we could eas­ily take a day bus to Trinidad. We tried our luck and went to the bus sta­tion, asked around and the next day we were on our way.  An inci­dent free 11 hours and two buses later we arrived after five days in Santa Cruz.

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The town itself wasn’t too excit­ing; peo­ple just drive their motor­bikes around the main plaza all evening.  Tim was really excited to get a bike of his own and join in on the fun.  One of the main high­lights of Trinidad was the steak din­ner we had one night at La Estancia. Hands down the best meal of our trip so far.  Trinidad is not a touristy des­ti­na­tion, in fact in the five days we were there we only saw about four other tourists, which was not a bad thing.  We asked around about jun­gle tours once again due to rain and lack of tourists we were left with­out any jun­gle activ­ity.  Our next move was to try and get to Rur­ren­abaque, where we knew there was a 100% jun­gle trip guarantee.

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We were told that the roads were closed due to rain and that the only option was to fly.  It was a risk we knew we were tak­ing when we went to Trinidad, but we’re still sad to have to fork out the extra cash for a flight.  TAM air­lines were the cheap­est option ($58 CAD) so we decided to book with them.  We headed over to their office and just our luck, the power in the whole town went out! The power only came back on after the office closed so we had no choice but to wait until the next day.  When we returned the flight was sold out, and the next flight they had avail­able was 5 days later.  Stay­ing in Trinidad five more days was not some­thing I was will­ing to do, so we had no choice but to go book our flights with the more expen­sive air­line Ama­zonas ($90).  Right before we booked, we decided on a whim to go back to the bus sta­tion to see if any­thing had changed and low and behold, there was a mini-bus leav­ing at 7am the next day!

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Bright and early we com­menced our jour­ney to Rur­ren­abaque.  After about 30 min­utes we arrived to our first ferry (makeshift scary look­ing struc­ture of planks of wood).  We all got out of the minibus and walked onto the ferry along with the vehi­cle.  We then drove some more, until we arrived at the 2nd ferry cross­ing.   The vehi­cle ahead of us was stuck in the mud, and all of the men (Tim included) lifted and pushed it out as all of us women stood in the shade and watched.  Every­thing worked out and we made our way to the third cross­ing pretty quickly.  The line-up was really long and we waited for at least an hour for our turn.  As we got on we realised that the road was actu­ally under the river and finally under­stood the impact of rainy sea­son on the roads.  We we’re lit­er­ally float­ing by all kinds of veg­e­ta­tion and saw many birds, all the while chat­ting with some locals.  We got back in the bus and drove onwards.  We saw quite a bit of wildlife from the road and we’re get­ting pretty excited about what was in store for us.

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At our last rest stop, just as we we’re about to drive off, a really angry man started shout­ing at the guy sit­ting in the front seat.  We quickly under­stood that he was accus­ing him of steal­ing his cell phone.  Things started to get really heated and then the guy got out of the car and started emp­ty­ing out his pock­ets to show that he did not have his cell­phone.  As he was get­ting back into the car, the man noticed his cell phone hid­den in the door pocket and imme­di­ately grabbed it and started punch­ing him in the face.   He ended up break­ing the visor on the side of the win­dow so the dri­ver got involved and they had a scream­ing match over who was going to pay for it.  The other pas­sen­gers joined in as they we’re impa­tient and wanted to leave.  Then we just drove off and nobody said any­thing.  It was really weird and awk­ward; Tim and I just sat in the back and kept our mouths shut.   When we arrived close to our des­ti­na­tion, we dropped off the thief near his house on the side of the road.  Of course, this was not with­out inci­dent either.  The dri­ver wouldn’t open the trunk to give him his back­pack as he wanted it as col­lat­eral for pay­ment for the bro­ken visor.  They argued for 20 min­utes and once again every­one (except us) got involved.  Even­tu­ally we drove off with his backpack.

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At 10:30 pm we pulled into the bus sta­tion in Rur­ren­abaque.  We had finally made it to the jun­gle after almost 2 weeks of try­ing.  Our mis­sion was com­plete! Who­ever said it’s not about where you are going, but how you get there, def­i­nitely knew what they were talk­ing about.

7 thoughts on “Mission Impossible: Getting to the Bolivian Jungle

  1. Bill

    Your mom and I are in mass end ny. Eat­ing lunch at Tim Hor­tons read­ing your post aloud ang laugh­ing hys­ter­i­cally. Can’t wait for the Jun­gle chapter.

    Love Manoelle and Bill

    Reply
  2. Etienne Grosjean

    That’s a very good report! Will there be some­thing on the jun­gle itself? One good idea will be to show your route on a map, because I am lost try­ing to fol­low you. (may be with dif­fer­ent colour depend­ing of the mode of transportation)

    Reply
  3. Pingback: The Bolivian Jungle Pampas feat Dolphins, Anacondas and Tarantulas | Laughing Abroad

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