21.07.2016 - 26.07.2016
Trinidad is hot. That was my first, and is my lasting, impression. After months of somewhat chilly temperatures, I was happy to be back in tropical climes. Hello frizzy hair, sweaty face, and most importantly, ice cream.
Wandering into town on the first day, we set about finding some tourist information, to point us in the direction of Trinidad´s delights. The ´tourist office´was a kiosk, occupied by a sleeping man. I actually had to shake him to wake him up, although, he didn´t seem too fussed that he´d been caught sleeping on the job, and set about telling us where we should visit. First stop, as in any good South American town, the central plaza. And this is where all of my dreams came true! Well maybe not all, but one big one. There, climbing one of the many trees in the plaza, was a SLOTH. A happy little sloth, going about his daily routine, completely unaware of the human life rushing around him. I actually squealed out loud. I may have even clapped my hands and jumped up and down. I definitely embarrassed Celesta, but I honestly don´t care, because I SAW A SLOTH!!!
Our next destination was the local national park, interestingly sandwiched between the main highway and the airport. Not quite a nature paradise, but packed full of wildlife nonetheless. Birds, snakes, turtles, caiman/alligator (I don´t know the difference), and yayayayayay another sloth!! We were pausing in the shade when I spotted this guy inching slowly across the floor. I immediately jumped up and ran (okay, maybe I skipped) closer to get a good look and take some photos. Not wanting to disturb him too much, I crouched at a safe distance and watched him make his slow progress around the edge of the pond. I soon realised I was between him and his tree destination, and froze on the spot, trying hard not to dance with glee as he headed straight for me. Glee turned to an awkward backwards shuffle as he reached one hand out towards my bare leg, probably thinking ´what an interesting white tree this is.´If you notice his claws in the picture below, you´ll understand why I wasn´t keen for him to start scaling me. Again, I may have squeaked in excitement. Eventually, he reached a real tree, and began his steady ascent.
I´m not sure what happened the rest of that day as I was floating around on a cloud of sloth happiness.
Actually, we moved accommodation, to the centre of town, but that´s boring. (Not all boring: the only available taxis were motorbikes, and let me tell you, riding on one of those, with your backpack bouncing around behind you, rucksack sqashed between you and the driver, with nowhere obvious to put your hands, is a test for your balance and nerves! Sorry Mama).
The next day we braved the mototaxis again, to get to a lake where we had been promised we could swim. On seeing the slimy green water however, even the thought of paddling our feet lost all appeal. We were quickly persuaded to head further around the lake, to a hotel with a swimming pool, where we basked for the afternoon, the only two customers enjoying this little bit of luxury!
That night we packed up our small rucksacks, ready for our mini adventure into the jungle, starting early next morning. Most backpackers when in Bolivia, head to Rurrenbaque for their jungle fix, pre-packaged trips neatly provided by hundreds of agencies, each offering "guaranteed animal encounters" (how can you promise this without interfering?). This type of tourist hotspot hadn´t appealed to me, but seeing as Celesta and I seemed to be the only tourists in town, and our man Roger was the only ágent´offering this trip, we hoped our trip would be a little more authentic.
Picked up before dawn, we quickly stopped off to pick up a couple of extra passengers - a TV presenter and her cameraman, who were joining us for the day, to film the boat trip up the river. I´m not quite sure how to describe Milena the tv presenter, so let´s go with the word eccentric. If any of you have watched daytime South American tv, you´ll know that dramatic, over-the-top personalities, and slapstick humour are preferred. Think 70s Brucey, and you have the general gist. Thankfully we only had to put up with her antics, frequent stops for filming, and hundreds of selfies, for a few hours, before we returned them to the river bank, and we continued our 2 person tour!
I´m finding it hard to find the words to fully describe this trip, it was so incredibly, well, incredible. To be completely surrounded by nature, with only the sound of the boat motor is just ughhh, I can´t even think of an good enough word. We saw birds of all kinds, capybara (giant guinea-pig kind of creature, please refer to Google as I did not get a picture), and the wonderful pink dolphins. They were hard to get good glimpses of, but we saw plenty from the boat. We stopped off to meet an elderly gentleman living in the jungle, completely solitary, living off of the land, and basically kicking ass at life. Here we were treated to freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, pressed by his amazing hand built machine.
Onwards down the river to where it joined another huge river (I forget the name), mooring at a beachy bank for a swim. Just as we were washing off our all-natural mud mask, we were treated to the absolute delight of a passing schoal of pink dolphins. We froze in the water, and I could have cried when they came within just a couple of metres of us. Again, it´s a hard thing to describe, but I just marvel at nature, and the absolute beauty I have been so lucky to witness.
With the sun setting early, we headed back up river to our jungle home. Initially only booked for one night, we had quickly agreed to stay two nights, when offered to us on the boat. We were dropped off with Raquel and Angel, who had both lived their whole lives here, and would be taking care of us for the next couple of days. This was rural jungle life. We fished, we saw caiman, we ate piranha, we scavenged for lemons/cocoa/platano, we swam in the river to wash, we got eaten alive by insects, we got up at 5am to search for monkeys. This was only successful the second day, and I was thrilled when we saw 2 different types of monkeys! High, high up in the trees, it was beautiful to watch these little families, whilst trying to avoid the really crunchy sticks, and risk scaring them away.
As amazing as this experience was at the time, I´m afraid it´s been slightly tainted. On leaving the jungle, and before moving onto our next destination, Raquel and Angel had kindly offered we stay a night at their house in town, with the rest of their family - children, grandchildren, sons in law, dogs, and parrot. Looking forward to a slightly comfier sleep, fewer mosquitoes, and a good wash, we gratefully accepted. After one night, now clean, and reunited with our big backpacks, we bade farewell to the family, promising to return one day, and jumped on a night bus back to Santa Cruz de la Sierra. It wasn´t until I went to charge my camera a couple of days later, that I realised they had stolen my little bag of chargers, and other electrical bits and pieces. Thankfully, I had been suspicious enough to keep my valuables with me, so nothing of real value was taken. But I am sad that they weren´t as genuine as they seemed, and that it affects how I now remember that experience.
On arriving back in Santa Cruz, I hadn´t quite made up my mind on what I was doing next. At that point, Celesta was heading in the opposite direction, and I was waiting to see if Jorge would join me, and we travel to Brazil together. Having about a week to kill, in Santa Cruz, was not something I was overly excited about, so I was easily persuaded by Celesta to jump in a car with her, to her next stop, and a place that already held a special place in my heart.