It’s about 30°, blue skies, mid-afternoon. I’m lying on a hammock in the shade by a swimming pool, no one is here. A row of palm trees partially obscure the wide, brown jungle river just beyond. The occasional motorised canoe and strange songs from various colourful passerines are all that break the silence. I’ve not long woken from a siesta and am now absorbed in a good book, Wilde’s ‘Dorian Gray’s.
But all is not well in paradise. I farted about 20 minutes ago and the air is so thick and still that the odour lingers about me unchanged, noxious as the moment of inception. There is nowhere for it to go, dissipation es imposiblé. Problem is, I’m so drained of energy from the heat and my nap that the thought of moving away is a heinous proposition in perfect equilibrium with the detestability of staying in this fetid cloud. Fortunately after another ten minutes my lungs have adjusted to this atmosphere, forgetting what clean air tastes like and accepting the new state as a permanent reality. When I eventually get up I trip over the hammock and crack my phone.
That’s Rurrenabaque in a nutshell. Well maybe there’s a few other things going on I guess…
Flights leave from La Paz in a rusty little 20 seater, going from the cool mountains to the stifling rainforest in less than an hour. The airport is cute, about the size of a McDonald’s.
I had the impression this was a sleepy village mostly full of tourists but wrong I was. It certainly isn’t very big but is very lively. My first two nights I walk along the river and the shore is full of locals eating at stalls and restaurants, hocking various wares or just sitting on the benches chatting. Everyone here seems to have a 50cc motorbike and the most obvious hobby seems to be whizzing round town in a cyclical procession. Per Bolivian fashion the riders wear shorts and flip flops, maybe a t-shirt if you’re a bit of a wet blanket, and crowd on 3 to a bike. Not a helmet to be seen of course. A large crowd is gathered in the attractive little square, it looks like a cross between a protest and a motorbike rally. Who knows here. Another evening school kids play a game where they link arms and block an intersection, letting some of the bikes through and making it difficult for others. I can’t quite figure out the system but curiously the motorists seem more amused than annoyed. Who knows here.
Both nights I have some absolutely delicious spicy empañadas, fresh tropical juice, watermelon and Popcorn (£1.50 all up) and watch the deep, red sunset swiftly fall. While I’m cosied up on the bench with some friends of hers, the cook tells me it’s B$8 for the food. The friend starts talking to me and I figure out that she’s saying I should pay B$10 by virtue of being a rich gringo. It’s a difference of about 30p that I’m happy to pay, the cook seems a little embarrassed by her friends demands. They talk more to me and I have no idea what’s being said, eventually just raising my arms in confusion and they laugh as I depart.
I stayed at El Lobo Hostel for a couple days before my Pampas Tour (the reason I’m here). It looks pretty nice, muy tranquillo, right by the lovely river but it is dead quiet. The pool table is almost unusably bad. There seem to be three house dogs, including a nice Golden Retriever, who earn their keep by enthusiastically barking at any new arrivals for 5-15 seconds and then returning to their perpetual nap. There is also a house child. I mean, like everywhere in Bolivia people bring their kids to work. The kid, at a guess he’s between 2 and 13 (I’m not very good at guessing), likes attention. At breakfast he points at everything on the buffet saying
and feigning upset whenever I eat something. Without my consent he trades his half eaten sandwich for my juice, giggling, tauntingly at me. He makes up for it by helping me stuff my charger into my mug where I neatly, and with much satisfaction, store my wires.
There is an inevitable night out. I have the most interesting conversation with an electrician from Hull and an Essex cook who looks like a young, ginger Dumbledore. They work on our research station in Antarctica and hearing the handyman’s and chef’s perspective on that world is fascinating. I own the pub quiz then two dutch lads have the pantless walk of shame at the tourist bar for getting seven balled at pool. We slap them on the back as they pass, Game of Thrones styles, “Shame. Shame. Shame.” I end up “chatting” with some locals; an eager business man and the local drunk who tries his English and shows me pictures of the daughter he’s not allowed to see, then speak with two girls using Google translate and they give me a fun ride on their bike, passing my hostel about five times before they understand I’m staying there.
The last night I talk with a 6″7′ pale, moustachioed, kiwi with a basketball vest and a backwards cap. He volunteers at the hostel and does a mean BBQ. He tells me a 17 year old died in a bike accident this morning. No surprise, unfortunately. He goes on that a few days ago two cops were drunk driving and ran someone over, killing them. A crowd got together and dragged one of them to the square for some mob justice, details are unknown but he assumes they couldn’t get away with killing him, anything else is probable. We figure out that this was probably the commotion I saw in the square on my first day. Who knows here.*
*- Who knows here? Local people obviously. It’s just me who doesn’t.