Thursday, February 6, 2014
Where on Earth is Rurrenabaque?
I think that after spending enough of my life visiting all the usual places, that the out of the ordinary just stands up and screams at me. I've always been curious about South America, but I've heard virtually nothing about most of it. I've heard all about Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Lima, and so forth; I wanted to find something else. I wanted to find a real adventure. I wanted to find something that not everyone did, but anyone could do. I wanted to find an adventure for anyone.
I give you, the adventurer in search of a location, an explorer that is sick of the tamed world, or someone who just wants something different and has seen one too many Indiana Jones movies, Rurrenabaque, Bolivia. It's not La Paz. It's different from that. Rurrenabaque is one of those places that the Spaniards showed up in looking for the lost city of gold and the locals just thought they were nuts. The locals held to their ways and resisted becoming part of the Spanish Catholic Invasion for decades. The town was officially incorporated in 1844.
Rurrenabaque has been many things over the years. Originally, the overseaers were interested in it because they had Quinine which was useful for headaches. After that, they were a big locale for rubber, and then timber. Now, they have gotten into the tourism and ecotourism business. And business is booming. The birthplace of the Amazon in the foothills of the Andes Mountains is a great location for tourists. They can't get enough of it. And all 8,000 or so residents of the town are happy to have them. For you, this means a friendly spot in the world to do some pretty amazing things.
Rurrenabaque is not a backward little village. It is true that a lot of the buildings are traditional and have somewhat thatched roofs. It's true that there are several unpaved roads. It's true that there are some livestock wandering around. That all just adds to the charm. Now, if you need a Holiday Inn or a McDonald's you are in the wrong place. If you want to try local culture and see what it's really all about in the countryside in Bolivia, you've come to the right place. You get to see the local handicrafts, go to market day, try the local cuisine in the local restaurants and bars, listen to the flute music, watch the traditional dances, and maybe even celebrate a saints day or carnival. It's unique and it's not what you would expect. It's not some backwoods village and it's not Rio. It's one of a kind and well worth a look.
First, you have to find a place to stay. There are ecoresorts with thatched roof huts and fancy tents. They are very popular and can be found in the more remote parts of the area. They let you feel at one with the environment and they leave a very small footprint in the universe. You can also stay on a ranch in the Pampas and see what that lifestyle is like. Or, if you like, you can stay in a more traditional hotel in town.
How do you get there? It's a little tricky. You can fly from La Paz on a small plane and it takes about 45 minutes. That's probably the easiest way. Is it the best way? It depends on how much of an adventure you're looking for. You can also take an 18 to 20 hour bus ride. Doesn't sound like much fun, but it would be immersing yourself in the culture. You can also get with a group and charter a boat and come in from Guanay which takes 8 to 11 hours. Guanay is also an eight hour bus ride from La Paz. That's something to take into account. But, no matter how you get there, the scenery is fabulous. I would fly just to get a look at the rivers and the Andes, but that's just me.
Now, I mentioned ecoresorts. There was a reason for that. The ecoresorts are out in the boonies where you find the Pampas and Madidi National Park, and that is where the true adventure begins. This is the end of the Andes and the beginning of the Amazon basin. This is one of the richest wildlife, flora and Fauna regions in the world. You can see all kinds of things out there. Chalalan Ecolodge is in Madidi National Park and gives you a front row seat for it all. There are all kinds of tours by land or by boat where you get to see some of the most amazing creatures you'll see in your life.
The Amazon River is home to the pink dolphin and they are all over the area around Rurrenabaque. Folks who take these river tours see many of them. You can also run across the Anaconda, which South America is famous for. You'll get o see monkeys, alligators, sloths, and the giant rats that the South Americans fondly call the Capydara. There are hundreds of exotic animals in the Pampas and in Madidi. This is the adventure of a lifetime. If you do go on the river for an expedition, they can last from hours to weeks. It depends on how long of a tour you choose.
The Tacana People are the largest group of local indigenous people in this area. They have lived here for centuries, and are taking the time these days to reclaim their ancient culture. There are many centers where the locals are gathering and practicing their ancient handicrafts and music. They take their woven crafts to market on the weekends and sell them to the tourists, and they perform with their flute music as well. It's a great way to get the culture of the people. This is their land. This is the way that they lived until the Spaniards came along. Now you get to see the Catholicism and the ancient ways mix. It's a unique and fascinating experience. A trip to San Miguel del Bala just 30 minutes down the river from Rurrenabaque or Rurre as the locals call it is well worth it to see the traditional culture of the Tacana People.
Whatever your reason for wanting to get away, Rurrenabaque has it covered. Be prepared to be outdoors. Be prepared for a view. The locals recommend that you visit between April and October because the weather is better. Whether you're there because you've heard about the bullfighting, or you're there because you want to see the local waterfalls, or the wildlife, or the rainforest, or the local people, or the handicrafts, or the occasional Jaguar that wanders by in the jungle, this spot is something amazing. It's hard to get to, and if you're only reason for coming is to try out the local hang gliding or zip lining, then you've missed the point. It's special. It's not your average vacation, and it's worth the time that it takes you to reach this remote location.
It's the beauty and the wonder and the people. This is one of those locations that you don't visit for just a vacation. This is one of those places that you visit to have a once in a lifetime adventure for anyone.