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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.