Monday, April 13, 2009

(No) Snakes on the plain

The early night was necessary as we were up at 5:30am to pile back into the boat and head out through the waterways in search of any early risers amongst the wildlife and then to catch the sunrise. In aid of the former, Roberto was poling us along the river so that wildlife wouldn't be scared by the motor noise. Unfortunately, not all groups shared his view, so we were soon overtaken by noisily buzzing boats as other groups headed out from their respective lodges. And it turned out that our caution and attempt at being more ecologically sound cost us slightly, as when we got to the best vantage point for seeing the sunrise unobstructed by trees and the like, it was to find it instead obstructed by a boatload of travellers standing to get the best pictures. Pesky tourists....

After the sun was deemed to have risen sufficiently high that it was no longer worth trying to sneak photos past people's hats, we headed back to the lodge for breakfast, then geared ourselves up for one of the "feature activities" of the trip, going looking for anacondas. Now, those of you familar with said snake might have some of the same reservations I did, to whit, how wise is it to be wading hip-deep through what is effectively a swamp looking for one of the world's biggest snakes, one which is quite capable of consuming a human? My reservations were brushed aside, however, principally by the scorn with which my worries were met by Jen - another occasion on which more backbone might have been handy.

The first step was to pop into one of the other lodges and load up with wellies - like me, the rest of our group were not overly enamoured of destroying some of their only footwear this side of the Atlantic. I didn't hold out too much hope for this, given that I am generally larger than your average Bolivian and that it seemed unlikely that there would be any boots sized for my feet. Imagine my glee and surprise to find that they did indeed have some boots large enough for my oversized paws, and thus that I wouldn't be subjecting my poor Tevas to yet more abuse. Unfortunately, that was the high point in terms of both glee and comfort for the day, as it turned out finding a snake that isn't in the mood to be found in a swamp of high grasses, sucking mud and thigh-deep water is an exercise in futility. One, moreover, punctuated by the attentions of seemingly millions of bloody mosquitoes. Was not a happy bunny by the time we gave it up for a bad idea, not even after seeing a couple of rather large owls.

After we offloaded our boots, went back to the lodge and had lunch, I was finally getting back to my usual affable self and no longer swearing repeatedly as to my opinion of swamps, mosquitoes and snakes. This was good as the afternoon's activity promised to be somewhat more enjoyable, that being to go swimming with pink river dolphins. Now, I'd been a little nervous at the prospect of swimming in a river that I knew also contained caimans (and supposedly anacondas...) but Roberto reassured us that their teritories did not overlap, so we were safe to swim around the dolphins. Not sure I was 100% convinced, but it did enough to get me in the water.
This is where the joys of interacting with wild animal come into play once again, as although we could see them broaching around the lagoon we were in, they almost never felt brave enough or inquisitive enough to actually come up close to us - one of the other guys, Miguel, got splashed a few times by one frisky individual, but otherwise they kept their distance. The water itself was relatively deep, so given my utter lack of talent at swimming I stayed fairly close to the boat anyway, or found a submerged tree whose branch I could use as support. So, no up-close encounter with dolphins, but much more enjoyable than hunting mosquitoes in a swamp!

On the way back, we actually spotted more dolphins, so some of the group piled in for another attempt at getting close, and what with this and making a stop to have a look at a sloth that Roberto had spotted high up in a tree, we once again weren't back in time for sunset, though we were much closer this time. I headed over to the bar at the lodge's mirador, the Pink Dolphin, to get some post-sunset piccies and was surprised to discover that Tash, our Kiwi friend from Rurre, was there having booked herself on a tour the day after us. We had another chance to chat after dinner, when Jen and I joined some of Tash's group in teaching the German couple in their boat the rules of Shithead - that was an amusing test of my German skills, trying to come up with the words for the rules of the backpacker's favourite card game. However, we were interrupted in this by Miguel telling Jen and I that our group was about to head out looking for caimans in the dark. We had either forgotten this or just never been told, so there were several frantic minutes in which we attempted to at least partially insect-proof ourselves and put on some longer clothing before heading out. Again, for one of the feature activities, this was a bit of a damp squib, as Jen and I couldn't see a single caiman during our little cruise (though the others claimed to have seen one at one point). Once we got back, the dining area was closed so Jen and I finished drinking the last of our "babies" in our own enclosure before getting some sleep.