The jungle and the hairy hitch-hikers

8th December 2008, Chile
Sorry, I'm running slightly behind with messages, but I'm still alive mum - and I'm still wearing a vest and washing behind my ears of course!

About the jungle. It was brilliant and very rugged. From Rurrenabaque we went on a 3 hour boat ride through Maididi National Park, down the Tuichi River - 6 girls in a boat: all we were missing were the pina coladas!

I must add mother that I am now engaged to both Tarzan AND Mogli but I shall come to that later...

We arrived at our camp and lugged all the food and water for our 3 days through the jungle to a clearing with some open thatched huts on sticks. Here we discovered a plethora of biting creepy crawlies that were to literally 'bug us' for the rest of our stay. They including bedbugs, ticks, sand flies and mosquitoes, not to mention all the bees and spiders. And there were far too many ants. Our guide classified them as sweet, bitter or toxic – it's all about whether you can eat things here! They included the famous bhuna ant which is massive and has the most painful bite ever - it is agony for 24 hours. There were also bats nesting above our beds which was quite cool.

The jungle was really dense and hot with all sorts of exciting sounds but not nearly as much wildlife as in the pampas. There were however, beautiful big red and yellow macaws. Poor things, they should have been safely snuggled up in a pet shop! Noisy buggers they are!

Our first stop was to visit the macaw wall in the jungle where all the macaws and parrots go to feed off of the minerals on the wall. It did seem funny to see so many of them together in the wild. Many of these parrots are extremely endangered.

Our guide introduced us to lots of creepy crawlies and made us swing on vines, Tarzan style, managing to fit in a good grope on each of us as he kindly helped us to swing by pulling our waists and pushing our bottoms.

We discovered there was no running water or electricity at our camp, which was great as we had to bathe in the river which was beautiful, especially as it was so hot and sticky, as you can imagine. We had a good old mud bath and exfoliation whilst we were in there, probably massaging innumerable parasites into our skin.

There was a group of boys already at our camp who were making jewellery with their guide Milton (AKA Tarzan... see where I'm going with this?) Their guide made me a ring (anillo de promeso) and put it on my finger, so we are now officially engaged, greatly to his delight and amusement.

However, whilst the boys were making their jewellery, we girls insisted on trekking to the other side of the jungle to make a camp, literally using a sheet of plastic and sleeping on the floor of the jungle. No frills, just a bit of plastic below us and a mosquito net. We fished for our supper. We were described as 'chicas vlientes' by our surprised and reluctant guide but we insisted we go.

When we got there we were just so sticky, and I had been attacked by the biggest bug we ever saw, apart from a tarantula! I looked down and saw that I was being watched by a massive pair of eyes on my leg! Of course I instantly thought it was a spider and had the guide running back through the jungle to locate my scream. He practically licked his lips when he saw the bug on me! I'm sure it would have made quite a feast as it was so huge, but my only concern was removing the thing!!

We were so relieved to reach our camp on the next river after a day's sticky trekking. The river was covered in iridescent butterflies in blues, oranges and yellows and we had to literally climb down a vine to get to it so we could wash and access water - which we boiled over a fire so we could drink it. We cooked all our food on the fire and prepared plenty of water for our journey back the next day. We then spent several hours swimming, attempting to catch fish and being nibbled by them in the river.

We managed to catch a big catfish and after dinner went for a night walk which was terrifying considering my fear of spiders. We found, unsurprisingly, a tarantula pottering about. We had seen jaguar prints on our way across the jungle, near our camp, so went to look for them. Rhi was convinced we were being stalked by one so we turned off our torches and froze, hearts pounding, only to turn them on and find we were being stalked by an armadillo! We also saw night monkeys who were following us curiously and several herds of chancho (wild pigs) who are incredibly noisy, making weird clicking and snuffling noises. Couldn't quite understand our guide who only spoke Spanish, and that in a whisper. I think I understood that they had just killed something and that there were about 80 of them, which scared the hell out of us although I could well have been wrong. It's just so intense in the heat and noise of the sweaty night jungle and with all lights off you can't see a thing but you can hear sounds all around you.

Needless to say it was a fairly sleepless night amidst the jungle sounds on the hard floor. A herd of chancho raided our camp in the morning to wake us up, and after a greasy breakfast of dunkin donuts (fried doughballs with sugar) and biscuits, we divided the rest of the food up to carry back. As I was unloading the bag, a MASSIVE orange and black hairy spider trundled out of the bag towards my hand. Not for the first time I nearly soiled myself and squealed like a dying piggy!

Our return journey was very educational, learning about all the different medicines from Doctor Carl Kennedy - our guide was called Carlos and was a doctor of jungle medicine from an indigenous local tribe. Deep in the Selva his family still lives from the plants and animals there. We saw trees where one drop of sap could kill you within minutes but if prepared properly could cure all sorts of ailments. It is used to tip the spears for hunting. We saw trees that can cause abortion, increase fertility, get rid of parasites, and cure rheumatism and malaria. The trees have bark that tastes and smells like garlic and repel mosquitoes etc. We also learned how the ants chew leaves which emit a toxic gas so that bears don't eat their nests.

When triumphantly back at our camp, after a swim, Carl Kennedy made each of us a ring out of a nut, and a necklace, once again taking advantage of the opportunity to have a quick grope as he put them on us. Hence, I am now also engaged to Mogli (Dr. Carl,) although so are Rhi and Minton!!

On our boat back we stopped to pick up a mad Frenchman from the shore who had some kind of jungle fever and talked and swore to himself for the entire journey, not making eye contact with anyone, wandering up and down the tiny boat and rocking it so we all feared for ourselves!!

The next day we went to get our plane back to La Paz only to discover they had booked us on the wrong flight - for the day before! So after a nasty confab where they accused us of missing our flights, and told us the present flight was full, we had to pay again to change the flight even though it was their mistake. We were then delayed for 9 hours due to fog!! Apparently this is quite normal though and we were lucky to go at all, the planes are so small and there is no proper airstrip. In the rainy season sometimes people are stuck there for days on end!

Anyway, I'm boring myself now and there's so much more to tell since then so I'll abandon ship for now. Next one will be the end of Bolivia – we're now in Chile but on our way back to Peru.

Hope all's well. Hopefully I won't leave it so long next time,

Lots of love, Kate xxx