Travels with a Tapir: The Amazon Jungle

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Pitifully late, this. But you’ll notice that the blog leaves us in the Bolivian saltflats. There’s much more to tell, especially if you’ve found this page looking for how to take the kids to Bolivia.

So let me continue with our trip to the Amazon Rainforest – a trip that only those with strong stomachs for flying should attempt.

We flew from La Paz to Rurrenabaque on the type of plane that makes you hold your breath, with excitement or fear depending on your temperament. Flying over the Andes on a tiny plane feels momentous (particularly if you’ve ever read that book about the Andes plane crash where the survivors ate everyone else).

When you travel with children, you often find yourself having to pretend you’re not scared. Clover’s repeated ‘I don’t like it, I don’t like it’, forced me to grit my teeth cheerfully and get on with it. “Why don’t you just read your book darling?” I suggested, as another mountain peak sailed past within touching distance.

At Rurrenabaque, they have to clear the wild pigs off the runway so we can land. We’re deep into jungle town – one paved road, a few restaurants and deep humidity after the heights of La Paz. After one night in a local hotel, we take a boat into the Madidi National Park for our one Amazon Jungle experience of the trip.

Why the Bolivian Amazon? It’s cheaper and less slick than Brazil. Also, the Madidi lodges are run by indigenous families, who are committed to keeping their rainforest protected.

First surprise about the rainforest? It’s unseasonably cold. Which seems a little unfair. It’s also a bit wet. The camp is comfortable, but with no electricity in our hut, and certainly no mobile signal, we’re far from home.

At Madidi, you can go into the jungle, or you can wait for the jungle to come to you. This it does at regular intervals, particularly mealtimes. The wild pigs are regular, and smelly, visitors, turning up to forage at all times of the day. They communicate by clicking their jaws, and then run off into the forest after they’ve eaten their fill.

Then there is Tony, the tapir, who our guide keeps insisting is wild. Tony is not wild. He is a disgruntled teenage tapir who was abandoned by his mother and brought up at Madidi, Sometimes he goes walkabout for a night, but mostly he turns up regularly to snaffle bananas from the kitchen and follow the guests around. Clover and I will never forget our Madidi moment when we found Tony trying to get in the loo with us (remember, he’s now about the size of a small horse) and I nearly shut the door on his nose.

Guides from the Lodge take us into the jungle for day and night walks. We spot monkeys of various types in the trees, and hear more. It’s bizarrely thrilling to see stick insects in their natural habitat (turns out it’s not a plastic case in a primary school classroom) and see leaf cutter ants scurry away with their prizes.

The girls learned to make jewellery from rainforest seeds, and insisting on tubing in the piranha-infested river, even though the water was freezing.

On the river we spotted an injured capybara (probably from a jaguar bite) and her babies. The guide was bleak about the babies’ chances – but the girls were hopeful they’d make it. We also saw a really wild tapir (not Tony) wandering around at the side of the river.

The sheer vastness of the Amazon jungle is hard to comprehend, as is the speed of its shrinkage. But it was amazing to see how the ecosystem fitted together, and to spend time with people who live at its heart. We can only hope there will be something left of it when the girls want to come back with their own children.

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