The Things We Saw Down The Amazon River
Imagine a creature with the longest claws you've ever seen, except maybe on Wolverine, with fur like Chewbacca and the facial expression of The Joker, high.
That's what a sloth looks like.
As for the way they move, let's just say that by the time the one we were looking at reached the forest floor, I wanted to applaud.
After staying in the jungle for four days, we had decided to complete our Amazon adventure with a one day pampas tour.
There are two ways to do the Amazon. One is to stay in the depths of the jungle for a complete immersion experience. The other is to take a boat ride down the Amazon river, which is called a pampas tour.
The difference? Wildlife sightings are guaranteed on the pampas tour, as all the animals congregate at the river edges like they’re at the water hole at Pride Rock. When you stay in the jungle, most of the wildlife is hidden within it's depths, but you get to go trekking around, eating grubs and fishing for piranhas.
There are tours that offer both, but we'd chosen to do each separately. It takes a bit of sleuthing to find companies offering eco friendly tours.
By the time we got to the lowlands, the sun and the mosquitos were out in force. We climbed into the boat, Hamez, Ha-day and I, and sat down on the short wooden benches. Our guide, Norman, started the motor, then we set off cruising down the river, listening to Normans' running commentary on everything that was happening there.
There was a lot going on.
Squirrel monkeys were scampering all along the low branches at the edge of the water. As Norman guided the canoe closer, the more curious of the bunch came forward to meet us, hovering over the boat like little gremlins with tails. They hung around for awhile, sniffing, looking, reaching out towards us with small, padded hands. In the end, they decided we were of no interest so they jumped a few trees down and left.
There were more than a few slanty eyed capybaras, looking like guinea pigs on crack, eyeing us up from the bushes, while cayman sat motionless on the riverbank below them, with their mouths ajar. Even when they are resting, they look prepared to eat something.
The light pink arches of the amazon dolphins were gliding through the river in pockets. These dolphins have spent years evolving from life under the sea, to life in the river. Their long snouts enable them to dig deep into the river banks for food, and their skin is a light pink as a result of diet, sun exposure or behaviour - river dolphins flush pink when they get excited. Yep, they're blushers.
In the trees lining the rivers there were stalky, hunched grey birds perched next to short, fat coloured birds.
Unlike trekking through the hidden depths of the jungle, life along the river is exposed.
In sheer determination, we had requested to go anaconda hunting. Once again, we pulled up to the rivers edge, put on knee high black gumboots, and followed our machete weaving guide out in the swampy marshes of the jungle.
By the river, the Amazon was a brighter, more vivid green. The pampas are open lowlands that stretch on seemingly forever, underneath a pure blue sky unclouded by treetops.
We waded through tall, high grass growing from watery bogs that splurged mud up all around us with every step.
The mud ate our boots more than a few times so that we had to reach down with both hands in order to yank ourselves free, grateful it was only mud holding us there.
We trudged through heavy heat, swatting away mosquitos, until Hamez saw the small, green head of a snake, camouflaged to near obscurity in the bushes. Norman was excited. He praised Grants eyesight while Jade and I squinted through binoculars trying to see it.
The snakes head was poised just above the surface of the water, enough for Norman to conclude that it was the fake anaconda. Ah, the fake anaconda. A curve ball on an anaconda hunt if ever there was one. A curveball we hadn’t even known existed.
Back at the canoe, we were satisfied with all we’d seen. It may not of been the real deal, but like a good Gucci rip off, who would know unless we told them?
The trip back down the river was relaxing. The rocking lulled me into a siesta. I woke up when we were back at the dock. We climbed back inside the jeep, then drove to a small town where Normans’ friend was waiting, with lunch.
Sitting around her small kitchen table, eating chunky pieces of steamed catfish, Norman entertained us with stories about growing up in the Amazon.
I wonder if he tells other groups about us now, about how one afternoon he got a call which turned out to be a seven metre anaconda that had wondered into town while his group was having lunch.
After all that, the anaconda found us in the end. It’s a tale worthy of its own post.
We drove home that evening around sunset, stopping off along the way to watch hundreds of big beaked toucans fly into the trees for the night.
After seeing everything we wanted to see (except a jaguar, but that’s another adventure waiting to happen) we boarded the tiny plane back to La Paz, then flew straight to Santiago, the next day.