Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Imaginary Couple

You probably don't need me to tell you that I failed badly to get much sleep, despite Jen nabbing some space in the row in front so I could spread out across the back seats - the unfortunate spacing of the seats, the gaps in between them and the associated pointy bits to dig into my back, ribs etc meant that I had had maybe an hour or so of sleep by the time dawn came and I could see the landscape through which we now bumped and juddered. Jen, meanwhile, slumbered on regardless. The aftermath of this led to my christening her the Dormouse.

We eventually bounced into Rurre around 10:15am, 18 hours or so after leaving Yolosita - this for a journey described in many guidebooks as taking around 13-15 hours, when we didn't even have any major hold-ups. I was by this point doing my familiar post-bus impression of a zombie, and was thus overjoyed when the guesthouse Jen and I had singled out as our preferred choice for the stay turned out to have a lady at the bus waiting to meet people. So we shouldered our packs and headed off across town in the once-more-unfamiliar tropical climate, headed for El Curichal. Here we were to have the first of various experiences of people assuming that the two of us were a couple - once we'd assured the staff that no, we didn't need a cama matrimonial (the wonderful term for a double bed) and a multi-bedded room would in fact be perfect, we dumped our bgs and headed into town to try and sort out our tour for the next day.

I should explain at this point that the principal reason for visiting Rurre is to go on these tours, which are generally classed as either selva (jungle) or pampas (grasslands). The former go into the Parque Nacional Madidi, the latter into the Reserva Municipal Pampas de Yacuma. The former are intended principally for experiencing being in the jungle itself, seeing the plantlife, the latter are far more focused on seeing wildlife, which has rather less places to hide in the savannah grasslands that make up the "pampas". Given that both Jen and I had decided we were more interested in animals than plants as such, the decision to do a pampas tour was a fairly easy one. Somewhat more vexing was working out which of the many operating companies in town to use.

The lady who took us to our guesthouse had recommended one company, Shayna Tours. The guy working around there had recommended another, Donato Tours. Some friends had ben with Indígena Tours and recommended them. Another friend who'd travelled there had suggested looking at Bala Tours. And then, once we finally managed to sort out getting Jen's traveller's cheques (surely these days the most useless thing you can take travelling) cashed, at a hardware store for some unexplained reason, a British ex-pat married to a local lady suggested we try Inca Land Tours. All too confusing, as most of them offer almost the same thing for almost the same price. In the end, we went with Inca Land Tours, after an hour or so trying to work out what the hell to do.

With the essentials for the day done, I retired to our (twin) room and crashed out. Four hours or so of kip later, I felt mostly back to human, and shambled out of bed to find Jen chatting away with one of our fellow guests, a Kiwi lass named Natasha, or Tash to her mates. We sat around, chatted for a bit, exchanged tales of how wonderful the trip down on the bus had been and commiserated about how weird it sometimes feels as an older backpacker surrounded by some of the pubescent wonders who are on the road these days. Then my stomach's rumbling reminded us it was dinner time, so Jen and I headed into town for dinner.

Our eventual choice for food was the Luna Lounge, a funky place with big, wood-beam and thatch roofs and an open-ir dance floor in the middle, but one which, like most of the town, was dead as a dodo on Easter Saturday. However, we were made to feel warmly welcome by a garrulous fellow who marched up to us with the menus, insisted we sit down and then introduced himself as "Johnnie 5". Yes, 80s movie fans, that is as in the robot in the Short Circuit films. Turns out he was the manager. And that it had been his birthday yesterday. And that he was still apparently a wee bit pissed. And that he ordered the waiter, who was having a fit of religion and didn't want to serve alcohol over Easter Weekend, to give us a couple of cocktails at Happy Hour prices. And that he thought we made a very nice couple. "But we're not..." we started to explain, but he was having none of it. Very nice food, though, even if there was some confusion whereby "Johnnie" had taken my order for fish and I got served up with chicken - when I queried this with the waiter, I was told that there was no fish. Hmmm.

After our slightly surreal dinner experience, we stocked up on some supplies for the jungle, notably including a few bottles of vino, and headed back to the guesthouse. Carrying said supplies, notably the bottles, involved cradling the overworked carrier bag to my chest, which Jen decided made me look like I was holding a baby, so our bottles of wine were christened "the babies" for the remainder of our trip. And back at the guesthouse, we promptly set about re-packing our bags so we could fit everything needed into the daypacks, and drank the first baby, chatting with Tash whilst doing so. Nice and chilled.