Jungle - Parque Madidi, Bolivia


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Attack of the Wild Pigs (con't)
Tue Nov 12, 2002 5:29 pm

Welcome to the Jungle
Our squeaky-cleanness was not to last long, however, as bright and early the next morning we headed off into the jungle in a boat with two guides, a translator, and two Swedish boys.

The river Beni is much wider and has a much stronger current than the river we went up on the pampas tour. The navy (yes, the bolivian navy is stationed on the river -- they have no sea!) and the police make tourists wear lifejackets, and ask that all of the boats on that river have a Bolivian flag. The water can apparently get fairly dangerous in the rainy season, when the whirlpools get into full swing. We could see some small ones along the way, but nothing that was going to suck our boat down. We also saw TONS of butterflies crossing the river that day. I counted about 90 per minute as we zoomed upstream.

We arrived at camp and heard tales of jaguars, tapirs, snakes, spiders and wild pigs from the group that had just returned from a 5- day jungle tour. All those folks would be gone after lunchtime, though, and Patty and I would have the place to ourselved for the next two days.

We unloaded our things into a camp very similar to the one we had in the pampas, with the exception that we had to tromp about 10 minutes through the brush and over a stream to get there. You would be amazed with how much stuff the guides piled onto their backs to take to camp. I would never think of trying to lug all of that around.

Why we will be famous in Rurrenebaque
Our guide decided that because we were such a small group, we should try going where other groups don´t normally tread to see some spider monkies. We were walking around, tracking the monkies, which the guides could hear in the trees. The guides were quite amazing -- they could tell how many animals were where in the jungle, just by listening to the different sounds.

At one point, the guide in front heard some wild pigs coming through the forest, and told us to crouch down. The guides estimated that there was about 150 of them approaching.

We crouched for a few minutes as the piggies neared. I could hear them grunting and crunching their way through the underbrush. We stayed crouching, I assumed to keep from scaring them off. Pato, one guide, was in front, then Patty, then me, then the two Swedes, then our guide, Eriberto, then the translator with broken flip-flops, Daniel.

All of a sudden, one of the chanchos (wild pig in spanish) appeared in front of us. I had him in clear view. He was greyish black, with black markings on his face that looked like tusks, but that were simply markings in his fur. He was probably a meter to a meter and a half long, and maybe a meter in height at the head. He looked up and noticed Patty in her bright orange T-shirt and started making grunting noises and staring suspiciously. Patty tells me that at this point, Pato pointed to his machete as if to say, ´no problem, I´ve got this under control.´

Then the pig staring at Patty started to make clicking sounds with it´s teeth. We were later told that this is how they communicate. Other pigs started clicking in reply.


Pato stood up, and the hairs on the back of the one chancho I could see stood straight up on end like a porcupine.


So we did. You don´t ignore a guide that runs. You follow him.

With the chanchos in hot pursuit, Patty and I pushed the Swedes out of the way and barreled through the leaves and trees after the guides.

After about a minute or so, the guides stopped running, turned around, and made a whistling noise.

Now that we were in safety, we learned about what COULD have happened to us.

Apparently, these wild pigs protect themselves from jaguars by forming a circle around the cat and attacking it. These pigs were talking to each other to organize such an attack on us, and we had escaped through the back of the semi-circle. Had one of us been on our own, one of the guides said, our only hope would be to climb up a strong tree, FAST.

No, I did not get a photo of the pigs. Silly me, I was afraid of scaring them AWAY with the sound of the velcro on my camera bag.

This was only the second time our guides had been chased by pigs. The previous time, they captured a piglet and the others came at them in revenge. We did nothing but sit and look! But boy, they were mad. We figure we are going to be legends in Rurrenabaque for our pig adventures.

We did learn later, however, that there may be an article in the March 2000 edition of National Geographic about these same pigs. They ate one guy, and bit off the buttocks of another. When I get my hands on the article, I will tell you if those are the pigs I saw. There is also an article in that edition about Madidi Park, which is the jungle we were in.

Night Walk
That same day, we went on a night walk through the jungle, where we saw all kinds of creepy big spiders, and a poisonous snake. The translator said that if that snake bit a horse directly in the jugular, it would kill it in 5 minutes. Pato didn´t seem to care much about this, though, and picked the thing up to show us.

Day 2
The Swedish boys left around 6 in the morning, and the next two days were spent in quiet solitude with our guide Eriberto and our cook, Firenzia.

Firenzia made the best fruit salad, and managed to bake a cake for us one day over the open fire. Plus, she came tromping out in the woods with us at night. She was awesome.

Patty had her head set on finding some tapir -- animals that have small trunks, so we went looking for the fruit that they eat during the day so we could try to track them at night.

No such luck. We found some footprints during the day, but did not find any tapirs at night.

I´m going to take a break in sequence here and mention that practically everything in the jungle bites. The snakes, the spiders, the mosquitos, the sandflies, the ticks, the teeny white flies that live by the river, and the ants. Patty was unfortunate enough to be stung by the mid-sized reddish army ants. The stings didn´t look like they felt too good to me! The teeny ants that looked like sugar ants kept getting me. I could barely see them, and they didn´t leave any marks, but sheesh, they hurt. There were also GIGANTIC ants that BIT, not stung. Those suckers, we were told, could actually draw blood. If you get bit by one, it hurts for hours. If you get bit by two, you develop a fever. If you get bit by more, well, I assume you´d be in rough shape. We managed to not get bit by any of them, which was good.

That night, Eriberto showed up at our cabin and said "TAPIR" When Patty opened the door, he shoved a HUGE toad in her face. It took two hands to hold it. We let it stay in our cabin, though, since it eats up to 1 kilo of mosquitos a night.

Day 3
We spent the morning of our third day hunting for seeds to make necklaces and rings out of, and then made the jewelry. We were fortunate to see a river otter on our couple of hours out that morning. He popped his little head out of the water to look at us a few times, and then drifted away.

After lunch, we headed back to Rurrenebaque, stopping off at a cliff to watch Macaws. They are quite beautiful.

Patty and I were both sad to leave the jungle. We were learning so much, and it was excellent to have a knowledgeable guide to ourselves. We learned all abou the medicinal and practical uses of the plants -- tree bark used for clothing and building doors, tree sap used for glue and insect repellent, vines used for tying things and for filtered drinking water, green leaves that dyed things red when squished, fruits that were good to eat, trees that were good for curing rheumatism and impotence, flower stems that were natural anesthetic and more. We could have easily spent a few more days there and enjoyed ourselves, bu there is still much to see and we have to be in Cusco by the end of November to do the Inca Trail with Patty´s folks.

Where are we now?
After flying back to La Paz (stomach turning this time) and getting stomach cramps and headaches from the altitude, we took a bus this morning to Copacabana on Lake Titicaca.

Well folks, that´s all for our exciting adventures for the moment. I´m sure there are some details I missed -- we´ll have to fill you in on all we learned in Rurrenebaque when we return.

Ciao amigos!

Alison and Patty
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