Animal Sightings in the Madidi National Park

Any trip to the Amazon would not be complete without seeing animals and insects!  Although this was not the primary reason of out trip, we still managed to see a lot of wildlife.  However the 2 main things that we will remember are:
  • You can easily recognize the wild pig by their smell (which smells a bit like liver pate).  We learned to recognize their stench from quite a distance (WELL before you even hear/see them)!
  • A trick for getting a tarantula out of its lair:  just put some saliva on a stick and wiggle it in the tarantula hole.. 
Here are some the animals we saw:
And a few insects - look how our guide draws the tarantula out of its lair:
They also had an observation platform where we could sit and watch animals come to a water hole.  The strange thing here was that the animals came here to eat the clay mud.
We didn't manage to spot any pumas or jaguars, but we did see some fresh jaguar paw tracks ;)

Weaving Roof Panels

One afternoon, instead of exploring the jungle we decided to help our guide with hand-weaving roof panels…. we're not sure we were that much help but we managed to finish one full panel, which he will use to build a structure near the kitchen to house a clay oven.  The process is time consuming, but not that complicated.  You just need to know which leaves to use, and have a lot of patience.  The nice thing is that these roof panels will last for the next 20 to 30 years!

To help us, our guide made us a coca leaf ball to chew…. this is commonly used by locals because it keeps you awake and cuts your appetite.

Fishing and Cooking in the Jungle

On our trip back from the community, we were offered the opportunity to fish for Pacu (Giant Piranha) using local fishing techniques.  We first had to fish sardines from a little stream so that we could use them as bait to catch the bigger fish.  We set out by rubber boat to find a spot where we could fish for the Giant Pirahna.

It seems that neither of us have a fisherman's instinct - even with our guide's help, we both still came up empty-handed.  Fortunately for us, the American couple that we were with managed to catch 2 Pacu and a Trout.
The following day, we opted to help our cook prepare the fish for lunch.  But first, we needed to find some Bamboo in the rainforest and bring it back to camp.
With our cook's help, we prepared the Pacu in 2 different ways:  some in Bamboo, and some wrapped in giant leaves.  The recipe was quite simple - marinate the pieces of fish in lemon and salt, stuff the fish into the bamboo / wrap in the leaves, and then cook the fish over the open fire for a couple of hours.  Despite the marinade being the same, the taste/texture actually varied quite a bit between the 2 different preparations.  The results of both were really good - juicy, light, and very tasty!

Community of San Jose

As part of our Madidi National Park tour, we had the option to go visit the village that the founder of Berraco del Madidi (Pedro) came from.  The community of San Jose de Uchupiamonas is located an additional 3 hours up-river (by boat) plus a 30 minute hike from the shore.  It was founded about 400 years ago when some Franciscans came to South America to covert the indigenous people to Catholicism.

The community village was really nice.  Their biggest problem (and probably their biggest advantage) is that they are so far from any other cities/villages that it's hard for them to sell anything they grow.  The community is fairly self-sustaining and they educate and work hard to keep their village clean and very well maintained.  Their main source of revenue is from their 2 amazon tour projects that are located on the land they own: Chalalan and the new Berraco del Madidi.
There is also no prison here, but beware - if you conduct yourself badly you may spend the night in this contraption
They even have a tractor but unfortunately, they have not been using it for a while now because they do not have the money/resources to change the tire that went flat.

Exploring the Jungle

During the 5 days, we went on several hiking trips in the jungle where we learned about the various trees, plants, and animals, and what we can do with them:

  • Garlic Tree: There is a tree (not a plant) who's bark taste exactly like garlic (strong garlic).  Similar to the garlic bulbs that we are used to, the garlic tree bark is used to flavour food or can be made into tea for medicinal purposes.
  • Water Vine:  There is a special vine that when cut, pours out clean drinkable water.  This water also has medicinal properties.
  • Palm Heart:  We learned how to identify and extract a palm heart from the palm tree….FYI, the palm heart tastes AMAZING when fresh :)
  • Balsa Tree:  Used to make local rafts.
  • The bark of a certain tree can be used to make very strong ropes.
  • Purple dye bush:  When the LIGHT-GREEN leaves of this bush are ground up, they produce a permanent DARK-PURPLE dye (didn't believe it till we saw it!).
  • Perfume Tree: There is a tree that has a very fragrant sap that indigenous women use as a perfume.  
  • Tooth Brush:  There is a plant who's stem tastes like cloves, which they use these to clean their teeth.
  • Ant: There are ants that can be used as stitches for large cuts.  You can pick up the ant and let it bite the wound closed with its large mandible, then you remove the remaining body of the ant and leave the head clamped on the wound until it's healed.
  • Bullet Ants: Highly venomous, but some indigenous people used it to cure arthritis.  Apparently they allow the bullet ant to bite them in the area that is aching (ie. the knee).  They then get very sick and suffer from fever for 4-5 days, but after that the arthritis is completely gone!


Madidi National Park

We decided to visit the Amazon from the Bolivian side with a new company called Berraco del Madidi (  They're a smaller agency (max capacity of 8 tourists) that is more remote and geared toward sustainable eco tourism.

The adventure started with a 45min flight in a 19-passenger plane that flew right next to Huayna Potasi of the Cordillera mountain range, and brought us to the town of Rurrenabaque.  From there, we took a 6 hour boat ride up-river to the Berraco del Madidi camp, where we would spend the next 5 days.

The camp was really pretty with rock paths, brand new wood panel floors, and everything was super clean - surprising considering we were 6 hours into the middle of the Amazon jungle! 
Over the next five days we did a bunch of activities and had a lot of fun…..we decided to split our experiences into multiple posts, so stay tuned...! :)

Relaxing in La Paz

We decided to spend a week in La Paz and do nothing, so that we could re-energize before setting off to explore the rest of Bolivia. This also gave us the time to get our Brazil visa (which is a lot faster than from Canada….it only took 2 business days).

That being said, we still took some time to explore the city

and play with pigeons

Final note to all future explorers…. there are a lot of things that can be done out of La Paz: trekking (Choro), mountain climbing (Huayna Potosi), downhill biking (the death road), and more. But with Dom's recent hand injury, we decided to leave these for another trip :)

1.2kg (42oz) of Steak

Ofri and Niv (an Israeli couple that we met in Colombia) recommended the steak at a restaurant in La Paz called "El Arriero Currasqueria (Casa Argentina)"…. in particular, the 1.2kg steak.

For only 25USD, we couldn't say no… and to our surprise, we actually managed to finish it all!! Chris Miserva and Delphi would be so proud of us! :) AND, we even decided to go back to the same restaurant a second time!!

1.2kg of Steak (including bread, salad buffet, and fries) = 175 Bvs (~25USD)
Bottle of red wine = 80 Bvs (~12USD)

It seems La Paz loves their pizzerias, so we also indulged ourselves a bit there :)
Family size pizza = 79 Bvs (~12USD)
Bottle of red wine = 45 Bvs (~7USD))

We also enjoyed several other cuisines… food is relatively inexpensive in Bolivia :).

Cholitas Wrestling

Every Sunday night in El Alto (a city very close to La Paz), you can be part of this not-so-typical tradition: Cholitas Wrestling. It's like Nacho Libre meets the Quechuan indigenous woman. There are both men and traditional indigenous women fighting in this spectacle of lucha libre. It was a bit cheesy but we were still entertained (especially when one of the Cholitas got annoyed with the spectators and started throwing water and other things into the crowd)

Fiesta del Gran Poder (La Paz)

We arrived in La Paz during "la fiesta del Gran Poder". This festival started as a candle light procession, but over the years became a folkloric festival with up to 25000 dancers. When Dom's bus arrived in La Paz, he wasn't able to get a taxi to the hotel because the parade blocked so many of the main roads. The parade started sometime around 9am and ran continuously until about 10pm!

There are also hundreds of street venders selling food, treats, souvenirs and alcohol.