A few hours upstream from Rurrenabaque, our jungle adventures began.
We read reviews and recommendations, and compared prices, then somehow came to decide upon Madidi Jungle Ecolodge. Zero regrets. We emailed the company to say that our flight to Rurrenabaque had been delayed, they met us off the transfer bus from the airport in the evening. Showed us where the office is, recommended a cheaper hotel than our guide book, and did paperwork for the trip.
The following morning we returned to the office, paid, and were guided to the boat. There was an American family going at the same time. Mum, dad and baby left California in a van 3 years ago, now with a little sister (born in Brazil) they’re still happily wandering.
Three hours upstream on the Tuichi River
Madidi have an interesting model, each group or couple have their own guide for the entire stay. So, even though there were a few other people at the lodge, you really only interact with them over shared meals in the dining room. Meals are included, since there are no shops or restaurants in the middle of the jungle, and they cater for vegetarians and allergies.
While our guide took us to look for monkeys on this track, another couple were searching the jungle further west for toucans, and others were off fishing, or whatever. So, it kinda felt like you were alone. A romantic tropical hike with just Michael, me and Alejandro.
We went on one excursion each morning and one in the afternoon. Twice we also went for night walks with torches.
The lodge is a collection of wooden huts with woven rooves, in a clearing of the Madidi National Park. It is accessible only by boat and is invisible from the river, except for the welcome sign. We stayed in a cabin with a common bathroom to save money. This wasn’t inconvenient at all as there are four bathrooms only a few stepping stones from our door.
Simple accommodation. There is only power to the common areas until 10pm, then candles
The more costly private bathroom cabins are set further back into the jungle away from each other and common areas. There are a series of trails leaving right from the site, but due to safety you need a guide with you to walk them.
Our guide, and all others it seemed, was from a small village in the nearby jungle. He was knowledgeable about medicinal plants and taught us so much about the animals and trees.
Most of Madidi National Park is primary rainforest
There is a walking palm, whose long spindly roots grow metres out of the ground. If there’s not enough light will move to a new spot by growing new roots and abandoning the original ones.
Actually I think I’m going to move over there
Or the terrifying Strangle Fig which grows from seeds dropped by birds in the top of other trees. It drops dozens of roots to the ground, eventually surrounding, killing and feeding off the host tree, with the roots becoming a trunk.
This tree is in the process of being enveloped by the Strangle Fig
Talking about animals, over our three night stay we saw:
- Howler monkeys
- Nocturnal monkeys
- Capuchin monkeys
- Spiders monkeys
Monkeys are actually really hard to photograph. Fungus stays nice and still
Butterflies are much easier to get close to than birds
- A tapir
- Turtles laying eggs
- Heaps of birds that we forget the name of
- Brightly coloured spiders
- Dung beetles
- A huge catfish
- A cayman
This guy kept close watch the whole time we were fishing
- Monarch butterflies and other pretty ones too
- Fire ants
- Leaf cutter ants
- Scary and painful huge ants
- 500,000 mosquitoes and sandflies
This is as close as we came to seeing a puma
One of our excursions was to go fishing for piranhas in a lagoon. You catch them on a hand line, marvel at their sharp teeth and throw them back…
The cutest piranha of all
I failed. I caught real fish. We kept that fish and used it as bait for fishing in the river the next day, my idea. My plan was to catch a huge catfish and take a photo to show my dad.
A young Danish couple decided to tag along. So we took a boat upstream, the staff net fished for more bait. Then we stood on a sand bank to fish; with hand lines. The 20 cm bait fish was cut into four pieces, one chunk per massive hook.
The Dane got the head and I got the tail, the two guys got belly; this is important. She caught the massive catfish, turns out that they prefer the head. It didn’t feel right taking a photo of someone else’s catch, sorry dad, but believe me they’re huge. That night, dinner for all guests and staff was catfish, save the vegetarians.
On our third day a new British couple arrived in the late morning. We were all hanging out in hammocks awaiting lunch. About an hour later there was the sound of a woman shrieking followed by both running into the common area panicked. “There is a huge animal outside our hut… It came at me!”
It took me half a second, before asking if it was the size of a big pig with an elephant’s trunk… everyone but them smiled. “Oh, you met Toñito?” came the calm response from the Danish man. 5 minutes later the British lady was yelling (bashfully) at her guide, “you didn’t warn me about that creature!”
Toñito is a 8 month old tapir. A local hunter saw a jaguar and a tapir fighting, and took the opportunity to shoot them both. When he returned from the village with help to carry the kill home, they found little Toñito nestled into his mum. He’s been living at the ecolodge ever since.
Sandy banks of the Tuichi