Madidi Jungle, Bolivia

Flying into Rurrenabaque, Bolivia we began our 5 day expedition to the Madidi Jungle. Flying, it's a 25min flight from La Paz. Taking the bus, about 18 hours. Taking the bus in the wet season (starting around mid December, our time of travel) there are warnings to take plenty of food and water as it can take up to 4 days. In the 'good' old days, the bus trip would also have taken you along the infamous 'death road'.

Sunset over the Tuichi River at the Madidi Jungle Ecolodge

So, Flying into Rurrenabaque was pleasant and interesting. I suspect airport regulations are a little more relaxed around here judging from how close we were shepherded to the runway.

Let's hope the pilot doesn't have a nervous twitch.

We chose to do our tour with Madidi Jungle Ecotours. They collected us from the airport and shuttled us to a hotel in Rurrenabaque. After so much time at altitude we were hit hard by the heat and humidity. I'd heard the phrase 'breathing air like soup' before but had never really appreciated how appropriate the description could be. Rurrenabaque is one place you won't complain about a cold shower.

A 3hr boat ride up the Beni and Tuichi rivers to the ecolodge.

The as-seen-on-TV amazon jungle boat we were to take our 3 hour trip to the ecolodge on didn't instill immediate confidence however by the end of the trip I loved it. A great way to escape the biting insects and humidity while cruising the river. And it didn't capsize, which helped.

At the ecolodge we discovered hammocks. I had never really appreciated just how great hammocks can be. During the non-jungle exploring time we could sit back and read a book (or an iPad) and swing to avoid the insects.

Yes, there's a theme emerging here. There were many mosquitos. During our adventures out into the jungle we would always have an entourage of about 40-60 mosquitos trailing us, waiting for a breach in our DEET defences. Turns out DEET works really well. The insects still follow and threaten and make buzzing noises in your ear, but they never really land on you unless you sweat too much and it starts rubbing off. Special thanks to Catherine for leaving her spray bottle with us, it was put to good use. It was also the first time I've slept under a mosquito net. Our own forcefield to keep the blighters away!

Each morning and afternoon we would head off on a jungle trail for about 3 hours. Our guide, Alejandro, would point out interesting trees such as the garlic tree which smells and tastes as the name suggests. It was used to flavour a catfish dish prepared for us during our stay. He would then stop us and point as he detects animals in the distance well before we (especially me) could see them.

Alejandro is from the local community that lives into the Madidi National Park. The community is fostering sustainable tourism as a way of preserving the park. Tourist income can justify preservation of the jungle against threats such as logging, hydroelectric dams and oil exploration. We saw some of the remains of oil and gas exploration, a flim of oil on the lakes near the Tuichi River in secondary forest, regrowth after logging. Our guide informed us this residual was left by TOTAL in the mid '90s [1].

There is a huge variety of animals in Madidi. National Geographic has claimed it has the greatest biodiversity for it's area on the planet [2]. We spotted three species of monkey, many spiders, predatory trees, beautiful butterflys, wild pigs, capybara, frogs, woodpeckers and many more.

Of them all I think my favourite are the Leafcutter ants. These guys worked day and night cutting up leaves and carrying the pieces back to their nest. The leaves grow a fungus as they decompose that the ants find tasty, they're essentially farming their food source. We saw one colony that was travelling up a tree about 3 metres, along a branch that crossed a stream, down the other side, cutting and collecting the leaf segments and bringing them back along the natural bridge to the nest. They were so busy trails formed due to their constant movement.

Leafcutter ants in the Madidi Jungle, Bolivia