Animals of the Bolivian Pampas

As promised in yesterday’s post, here are a bunch of animals I saw while gliding along the Yacuma River in the Bolivian pampas. We also saw a couple river snakes and capuchin monkeys, but they moved too fast for me to photograph.

Bird of paradise

Bird of paradise

Sunbathing turtles--every single one moved surprisingly fast for a turtle, diving into the water when they heard our boat approaching

Sunbathing turtles–every single one moved surprisingly fast for a turtle, diving into the water when they heard our boat approaching

Capybara, the largest rodent in South America

Capybara, the largest rodent in South America

Blue and yellow macaws--we only ever saw them in rapid flight, in groups of three to six

Blue and yellow macaws–we only ever saw them in rapid flight, in groups of three to six

Cormorants

Cormorants

??

I can’t remember–a type of stork? Any of my birdwatching friends want to help out?

?? hawk

Savanna hawk

Egrets in flight

Egrets in flight

Cooling off

Cooling off

pampas bolivia

??

Not sure what type of bird this is

Egret

Egret

??

A pushme-pullyu! (Or two capybaras grazing near each other)

A pushme-pullyu! (Or two capybaras grazing near each other)

Top 5 Firsts: The Amazon Edition

Someday I’ll take a weeklong sail down the Amazon River deep into Brazil, immersing myself in the jungle. But that is an expensive option for another day. This trip, I decided the advantages of a Bolivian exploration of the Amazon basin were worth it: there’s no malaria risk in this part of the country, it’s a lot cheaper, and if you go to the pampas rather than the jungle, you are much more likely to spot wildlife. I had a wonderful, relaxing time, and I had some firsts.

Basically my home for a couple days

Basically my home for a couple days

1. Flying in a 19-seat plane

Tiny plane, big mountains to cross

Tiny plane, big mountains to cross

I was not super excited about this one, but this was the flight that was available, so this was the flight I took. There wasn’t even a curtain between us and the two pilots in the cockpit, so we could hear every ominous beep and blip from the navigation system. But the views of the mountains surrounding La Paz giving way to the dense jungle outside Rurrenabaque were wonderful.

Great views

Great views

2. Fishing for piranhas

I caught dinner

I caught dinner

I caught one! I haven’t been fishing in probably 20 years, but our great guide, Eloy, took us to a spot he says he always has luck with, and we all caught a piranha within five minutes of throwing our line overboard. When I pulled the fish out of the water, he fought like crazy, and those sharp teeth are no joke (Eloy still has a cut from three weeks ago when a piranha caught him off-guard). We all had piranha that night (it’s not that flavorful and there isn’t much meat, turns out), and at the end of the meal, the other woman in my group pulled apart the mouth and we all felt the teeth. Super sharp.

TEETH

TEETH–and yes, that’s beef that we used for bait

3. Swimming with river dolphins

The only interfering we did with animals was to toss the dolphins this ball; they loved grabbing it in their mouths and swimming around with it

The only interfering we did with animals was to toss the dolphins this ball; they seemed to have fun grabbing it in their mouths and swimming around with it

Speaking of teeth… The Yacuma River is populated by a species of pink dolphins, and like everything else in the area, apparently, they are armed with teeth. One of the much-touted activities of all the pampas tours is swimming with the river dolphins. What they neglect to mention is that the dolphins’ idea of fun is to swim up below you and gnaw on your feet. You can’t see them coming, because the water is a murky brown, and as someone who has never seen Jaws because that would make it difficult for me to enjoy swimming in open water as much as I do, I found this really freaky. A few times, a dolphin swam up to me so that its rubbery skin was right under my feet, but mostly it was biting. Sure, you’re supposed to remain calm because flailing just makes it worse, but that’s not easy. I liked seeing the dolphins (and they surfaced often, making a whooshing noise like a horse sighing), and it was cool to have them swim right by me, but I didn’t like the biting.

That is the face of someone whose feet have just been eaten by dolphins

That is the face of someone whose feet have just been eaten by dolphins

4. Chasing the eerie call of howler monkeys

Female howler monkey, just hanging out

Female howler monkey, just hanging out

I loved chasing after the howler monkeys. We heard the males calling to each other, in what Eloy said was a territory dispute, and we walked as quickly as we could in the direction of the sound. It was loud, and every time we thought we were right there because the noise was so loud, we had further to walk. The sound isn’t howling so much as it’s a guttural groaning, or that noise you make when you mess around with glass bottles–it echoed, too. This part of the pampas was very open, as forests go, but we saw no animals or birds on our quick-step toward the noise. Just tall, leafy trees, and empty space filled with the groaning and growling of howler monkeys. It was eerie and cool.

The male howler monkeys were harder to see, but very easy to hear

The male howler monkeys were harder to see, but very easy to hear

5. Stargazing from a boat while simultaneously looking for caimans

A sunbathing caiman

A sunbathing caiman

The stars out here, oh man. I got a crick in my neck from looking up; Eloy pointed out the Southern Cross and I hummed Crosby, Stills, and Nash to myself as I picked out an upside-down Big Dipper and the hazy glow of the Milky Way. I would’ve been content to float silently down the river looking up, but we were on a mission to see caimans. Caimans are in the alligator family, and at night you can see their eyes glowing red as they hunt their prey. We saw a couple sets of red eyes, glowing spookily in the dark night, and we even heard bones crunching as one ate his meal. The beauty and the brutality of the pampas in one short night ride.

Those are the eyes we saw at night

Those are the eyes we saw at night

I also saw a couple beautiful sunsets and many elegant birds. I dozed in a hammock under a palm tree. I ate well and went to bed early; the generator only ran from 6-10, so lights out was a literal thing. I loved the river boat rides, gliding along while the motor purred behind me and the scenery drifted by. I’ll get to the true jungle someday, but in the meantime, this was an excellent alternative.

Check out tomorrow’s post for photos of birds, turtles, and capybaras in the pampas.

Sunset on the Yacuma River

Sunset on the Yacuma River

 

Where Should I Go Next?

All right, dearest fellow travelers, are you ready to tell me what to do? It’s time for me to be moving on again, and I’m planning to make South America my next destination. If you’ve been, or you know someone who’s been, or you’ve planned your own trip, or you read a cool article once–I want to hear from you.

Sala de Uyuni (salt flats in Bolivia)

Here are a few places I definitely want to go:

1) Machu Picchu (Peru)
2) Iguazu Falls (Brazil, Argentina)
3) Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia)
4) Buenos Aires (Argentina)
5) Amazon jungle (Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador)
6) Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)
7) Patagonia (Argentina, Chile)
8) Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
9) Beaches (oh, any country)
10) Angel Falls (Venezuela–I know, the political situation, but it’s still a sight I want to see)

Carnival

Here are a few things I definitely want to do:

1) Spend a month in one town, learning Spanish at a language school
2) Volunteer for at least a couple weeks somewhere
3) Party at Carnival (not necessarily in Rio)
4) Attempt to tango in Argentina
5) See wildlife I’ve never seen
6) Hike at least part of the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu
7) Find a quiet place to write for awhile
8) Learn to distinguish among the various cuisines
9) Go to a futbol game
10) Dance all night to a local band

Sometimes called The Death Road, sometimes called The Most Dangerous Road in the World–either way, I’m not cycling down it

Here is a thing people do that I do not want to do at all:

Ride a bike down The Most Dangerous Road in the World

**********

So! Whaddya think? Know anyone who lives down there, or have a favorite hostel I should check out? What’s your favorite village I won’t find in the guidebooks but should totally check out? Got any online resources you found useful? Are there places you’d recommend I skip?

I will leave sometime in January, and I hope to stretch the money out for six months of travel. I’ll keep blogging here at Stowaway, and I’ll be working to get published elsewhere too. I’m getting excited for Phase 2 of my trip around the world! Join me.

Image 1Image 2. Image 3.

The Good, The Bad, and The Silly

The Good

Governor Quinn has signed civil unions into law for the state of Illinois. It’s not marriage (or for that matter, allowing tax breaks and family rights based not on marriage at all, but that’s another fight), but it ain’t nothin’!

This is how you show you actually care about young people and their health (oh and save your country millions of dollars in the bargain).

The Bad

It isn’t enough that you can’t get abortions through publicly funded insurance plans; the Pennsylvania Senate wants to pass a law prohibiting abortion coverage in private insurance plans. Please contact the PA Senate to let them know how reprehensible this is.

The Idaho Board of Pharmacy said the pharmacist who refused to fill a prescription for a Planned Parenthood nurse until they knew if the woman who needed it was having an abortion did not do anything wrong, since the prescription was eventually filled at another pharmacy. Even though the pharmacist refused to give a referral. And the medicine was to stop bleeding, which seems pretty time sensitive.

Oh and speaking of Planned Parenthood, that despicable organization Live Action is still working to get them de-funded and de-licensed. PP has even asked that the FBI investigate in order to protect their employees and the organization.

The always brilliant Maria Bustillos writes about just how easy it is for Amazon to delete books off your Kindle without ever telling you, and even access/delete the personal files you store on it. Did you know they actually went through and deleted copies of 1984 because of copyright concerns? I’m going to go ahead and call irony on that one.

The Silly

Here’s a map of the US that shows which states correspond to which countries in terms of GDP and also population. Texas has the same GDP as Russia? We already knew they thought they were an empire…

One of my friend’s coworkers has started a blog in which she posts a reused/repurposed item every day. She has an Etsy store too, in case you like her style. I wish she had some instructions on how to make some of the stuff, because I have a hard time going from concept to execution in crafts (I usually just end up covered in glue), but it’s still a neat look at making beauty out of the ordinary every day.