Day 2 in the Pampas: Long clothing, hot days, and swimming with the dolphins
Our first adventure for the day was “to search for anaconda”, but our guide Bismark warned us that there would be a lot more mosquitoes there. Was I down? At first I was hesitant, but then I gave in. I was here in the Pampas, wasn’t I? When would I ever have this opportunity again?
The morning was luckily much cooler and windier than the day before, which meant that wearing head to toe clothing/pants/shoes wasn’t as bad as the day before (I had thought it was silly that the Japanese tourists covered themselves head to foot in clothing, but now I realize it’s both sun protection AND mosquito protection – somewhat). We had to wear wet rubber boots up to our knees, because we were about to go on land in search of the Pampas’ local snakes.
Despite wearing boots, we were up to our knees in dirty muddy grassy (and sometimes poopy) Pampas waters. The boots we wore did little except help us stay mud free as the water seeped into our shoes and socks. The whole area smelled like sulphur (AKA “doo doo”) and we were up to our heads in grass – it was a bit intense. We fanned out and were told to look around for anaconda – and that if we found them, we should stay at least 3-5 meters away from them. Kinda hard when visibility is about 3-5 feet of grass away!
After about an hour or more of incredibly slow sloshing through the grassy swamp, we started to head down towards the river. They asked us if we wanted to keep going, but we said no – we were tired and had had enough. Bismark then told us that the probability of seeing a snake was about 10% due to the high waters of the rainy season. Wish I had known that before I had decided to go on the trip! It was a long mosquito-filled walk back to the boat with our dirty wet boots.
After lunch, we had a little bit of time to rest. I took a nap for an hour or so until I awoke to the sound of Bismark’s call. It was time for us to go up the river to “swim with the dolphins” before we headed up to the Sunset shack to chill.
I knew I wasn’t about to swim with them (the river smelled like farts due to the decaying leaves, and my swimsuit top was what I wore each night to bed) but I was down for the trip. We went through some more mosquito covered bushes to find a large area where we circled around in our boat. Apparently, the dolphins like the sound of the motor and come out to play. There were a few groups of 3 or 4 of them – small, with gray with pink bodies. They would surface to slap the water or breathe, and would sometimes play with the bottles or hoses that the guides would put in the water. “They’re very smart” Bismark said, “They don’t collide with the boats or the motors”.
While the Argentinos and the men of our boat jumped into the black water below (“It smells like a sewage pipe” Ross the Dutch guy said) we watched from the boat and took lots of photos. Except for the one Argentino that I met on the first day, most of them didn’t “swim with the dolphins” – more like “swam in the near vicinity of dolphins”. A few had dolphins touch their feet, but that was all the interaction they got. Still, it was an amazing experience to watch small wild river dolphins play with us and the boats, against an amazingly gorgeous Pampas river backdrop.
At the sunset shack, los Argentinos again played musical instruments while the rest of us sat in silence. I knew Kevin was bored, so I offered to read his tarot cards.
After an amazing dinner, we all settled in. I wanted to go to the hammock area, and found the older tour guides talking in Spanish about something that seemed interesting. I asked the older man what they had been talking about, and he said that in the Pampas, a lot of people from other countries come over illegally to hunt the animals of the area – so the police and the rest of the state of Beni were going to impose stricter laws to protect the area. “They need to respect local laws and customs,” he told me. “If I kill a caiman or a monkey, and eat it, that’s fine. But if someone comes over here to kill animals and then sell them, that’s totally illegal”. We talked for a while more about Bolivian politics, and how people felt about the state of the country today.
Later that night, I showered for the millionth time and tried to go to bed. It was impossible. For a while, I was so hot that I thought about sleeping outside of the mosquito netting just so that I could breathe and cool down. The netting didn’t protect me completely anyway. That night I found a mosquito that had been sucking on my and squished it against my hands. It squirted out blood.
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Day 3: A Last Glimpse of the Pampas
I guess I eventually fell asleep because I awoke pretty groggy in time for breakfast. We had one more boat trip to see more animals that day, but Kevin wasn’t having it. He ran out of mosquito spray, and “didn’t want to deal with any more bugs”.
The morning of the 3rd day was actually the one time that I fully got to appreciate my trip there. Despite the bites and heat and sweat and dirtiness and bad sulphur smells, I really, really enjoyed this last morning trip. It was cooler, breezy, and I was wearing a tank top (realizing that I might as well bare my skin if I’m wearing Jungle Juice. It does nothing under clothes!). We went to a part of the river where we saw an amazing number of birds – cranes, birds of paradise, even one small bird that imitated the sounds of other birds. We hung out with a group of dolphins (including a baby dolphin!) for a long time, and saw a bunch of crocodiles and caiman on the edges. And one swimming, grass-eating capybara. It was just amazingly beautiful out there.
We came back and had our last lunch before jumping in our boat and going back to the start, where we had to wait for our jeeps. Ours took forever, however. I don’t know if it was because he was a bad driver or had a defunct jeep, but we went a slow 30-40 mph for most of the 4 hour trip back, listening to the same tape of 80’s hits (I actually really liked it) while the jeep hobbled on, tilting often to the side as if it would roll over into the bank. After a while, we even stopped to get a jeep part.
Eventually, the Japanese behind me told us that they had a flight to catch at 5:30 that evening (note to travelers: NEVER schedule a flight anywhere within 5 hours of returning from a trip, you will have a helluva time making it back to the airport in time!). In Spanish, I told the guy that they had to hurry back to catch their flight. In the rain and mud of the road, we hustled back and arrived at the airport – just in time to find out that their flight was cancelled. I mean delayed – they weren’t clear at the time what was going on with the planes. The Dutch couple bought be a beer as we waited for our driver to change the jeep’s flat tire.
We finally made it back around 6:30 pm. We were sweaty, wet, tired and dirty. I went straight to my old hostel, got a room and took a shower.
Later that night I met back up with Kevin a bar down the street. We got (free) drinks while he ate a whole pizza and watched old reruns of past futbol games. Later we walked up Avaroa just in time to see the local girls practicing a dance for their town’s anniversary party on Feb. 2nd. I wish I could be here for it, but I just can’t spend that much time in one city! The guys also did their dances. It was pretty fun to see.
That night, after Kevin and I parted ways, I stopped by a Spanish DVD selling store to find a girl watching that one corny Tony Jai film. As I stopped to check it out (and buy DVD’s for my friends back in the states), a whole bunch of men on motorbikes came up to watch too. We sat there in the humid darkness of the night, watching Tony kick some dood’s ass in his own surreal Thai kickboxing fashion. It was one of those moments in my travels where I felt a moment of connection to the town and a real appreciation for being in that community, at that moment….miles away from home, in another land.