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Rurrenabaque, sitting on the edge of the jungle wasn’t in our initial plan for our Bolivian travels. While searching for volunteer work I came across a small organisation that was handling the updates for the next Footprint guide (Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador), and as they were running short on time needed some help researching Uyuni and Rurrenabaque. I had already planned to visit Uyuni, and Rurre sounded like an unusual destination in Bolivia, so we decided to take up the challenge.

We were paid a little money for the job, so rather than taking the horribly long, bumpy and notoriously delayed bus, we opted to fly in and out. We immediately stripped down to shorts and t-shirts on arrival, and lapped up the tropical heat- a nice break from the chilly La Paz winter nights. Rurre sits on the edge of the Beni river and a typical jungle town – sleepy, relaxed, with a small centre and green lush surrounds. It had a few notable additions due to the tourists influence- a wonderful French bakery, and Casa del Campo, a small homey restaurant serving up the best food we’d had for a long time.  We had a few days to research and update the guide book information, absorbed the heat, took to having to sister after lunch when the whole town shut down, and watched the word cup final in a gringo pub.

In Rurrenabaque, tourists generally decide on visiting the jungle or the pampas on a tour for 3 days. For the guide book we had to visit all the accommodation options, restaurants, and tour agencies to review the prices and check that they still existed. After visiting all the agencies, we decided to go with Madidi Travel as it looked like the least ‘tour’ orientated tour – they seemed to let you relax a bit more and plan what you wanted to see and do. The pampas tours promise lots of animal sightings, spending most of the time on the river areas, while the jungle tours offer a quieter look at the intricacies of the forest flora, usually with some moneys thrown in.

It was a pleasant three hour boat ride out to the Sierre reserve on the edge of the Madidi National Park. We’d met an Australian couple who had just committed to volunteering in the reserve (and were about to find out what they’d been thrown into), and chatted happily for the few hours.

The buildings were set unobtrusively amongst the jungle with a number of cabanas with mosquito nets over the beds, fly screen walls and candles for the evening, five minutes walk from the main large house (for eating and hanging out). After arriving and settling in we had a few hours walk with our guide, and spotted some squirrel monkeys feeding and playing in the trees above.  In the evening we went searching for camans (small alligators) on the lake out the front of the main house, and spotted them everywhere- red eyes shinning on the lakes surface and hundreds of babies between the reeds.

We were up early the next morning, hoping to catch some squealer monkeys who are most active in the mornings, but unfortunately the clouds darkened and rain set in, so we scurried back to the main house for a warming breakfast. It rained, and rained, and rained all day. We were restricted to the breezy main house, and our cabana, made some jungle rings out of seeds, and layered our few clothes to try and hide from the cool wind. In the afternoon we were able to take a canoe out on the lake, and on dusk saw plenty of water birds nesting and feeding on the lakes edge.

The rain continued intermittently, but the next day we braved the weather for a short walk and a paddle around Largo Gringo, before taking the boat back to Rurrenabque, a very different trip this time, with us all huddled in rain jackets.

Due to the terrible weather – apparently the worst cold spell for ten years- we were stranded in little Rurre for a few extra days. They seemed to be very reluctant to fly the small planes in low cloud, so each morning we would check into the airline office, run off to the French bakery to buy our allowance of bakery goods (quiches, pan au chocolate, mushroom pastries…..oh so good!), then return to wait until they inevitably decided to delay the flight another day. Finally, on the third day, the cloud lifted just enough to get us off the ground, and we landed safely once again in forever sunny La Paz.

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