I love jungle. And I love wildlife. So, when I was in Bolivia, I really wanted to visit the Madidi jungle. Especially since I heard that there is quite a big chance to see a jaguar there.
To get to the Madidi jungle you have to go to Rurrenabaque first. Getting there is possible by plane or by bus. The last option isn’t really recommended, because part of the route is on the ‘Death Road’ and the name says is all. It makes a horrifying trip on small roads along huge cliffs. Dangerous and uncomfortable. So, my choice was easily made. Me and my friend, Kristel, booked a flight from La Paz to Rurrenabaque. But flying there turned out to be pretty ‘exciting’ as well.
‘Can we both have a window seat?’, we asked at the check in desk. The woman in front of us smiled and said: ‘Everyone will get a window seat’. Once we got on board of the plane, we understood what she meant. The plane had one row on each side and to get into the plane we had to bend. Walking up straight was impossible in the plane. Even for me. And just after everyone boarded, we left. There was no steward(ess), no safety instruction, no nothing. And the door to the cockpit was open.
The flight was beautiful. Through the snowcapped mountains. Over the Andes. But this also meant a lot of turbulence. It was one of my most exciting flights. And one of the most beautiful flights. But I was happy to set foot in Rurrenabaque.
The difference with La Paz was striking. From the cold to a high temperature. From the snowy mountains to a green area, which looked like broccoli fields from the plane.
A 7-hour boat ride to our accommodation in the Madidi jungle
We spent one night in Rurrenabaque and left for the Madidi jungle the next morning. Our guide picked us up and brought us to the boat. After an hour, we stopped to pay the entrance fee for the park and then continued our trip. We spent about 7 hours on the boat and saw the impressive outlines of the jungle and many birds on the way.
Once we arrived at our camp site, turned out that we were the only guests. We were surprised that the last tent of the camp ground was assigned to us. If something would happen no one would ever hear us.
We walked around the campsite. Two toilets, two showers and an open common area. Pretty basic but good enough, because we came here to see some wildlife and preferable a jaguar!
Our guide, Gilder, grew up in the jungle and he knew it as the back of his hand. We made several walks with him, saw monkeys, birds, spiders etc. Even tracks from ocelots and jaguars, but the jaguar didn’t show itself.
I (normally) love night walks
We did a night walk and saw spiders, snakes, frogs and other night creatures. I love night walks.
The next night we got ready for another night walk. Kristel decided not to join us, because her knees were pretty painful. I had a weird feeling in my stomach, but I ignored it.
We walked and walked but it was raining a bit and it seemed all animals were hiding from it. We didn’t see any animals so I suggested to return to the campsite. Gilder agreed so we started walking back. But then, all of the sudden, Gilder stood still like a statue and whispered ‘did you hear that?’. ‘Heard what?’ I didn’t hear a thing…
Gilder whispered that he heard a jaguar jumping away from us at only one meter distance. Gilder asked me to turn off my light. I did what he asked me to do, but I couldn’t be more scared. So, there’s a jaguar here and we decide to stand still in the pitch dark…
Maybe it lasted half a minute before Gilder turned his flashlight back on, but it felt like three hours. I saw that he now had his big knife in one hand and the flashlight in his other. Gilder moved his flashlight quickly. I asked him why we had to turn off our lights and he whispered that the jaguar will close his eyes if you shine your light at him and the only way to spot a jaguar at night is by the reflection of his eyes. So, he wanted to give the jaguar the opportunity to open his eyes again, in able to find it. But we didn’t find the jaguar and we had no idea if it was long gone, or still around.
We continued our walk to the tent, but my legs were shaking. Even Gilder said he was scared. That didn’t give me any confidence. I couldn’t stop looking behind me. I constantly felt like the jaguar could attack me from the back, so I was really happy to arrive at the common area where Kristel was reading her book, unsuspectingly.
A sleepless night in the jungle
I told Kristel about the jaguar that I stood eye to eye with, without seeing him! And how close by the camp site that was… We’d been searching for two days in the daylight and now… in the pitch dark, so close to the camp site it showed up. Kristel saw the irony in it, but we both felt unhappy that our tent was so far out from our guides tent. I convinced Gilder to walk us to our tent and to give me his machete to keep in the tent that night.
After quite a while, I finally fell asleep. But I probably woke up 10 times and I kept thinking ‘me and my big mouth… why did I so desperately want to see a jaguar…?’. Fortunately, there was no sight of a jaguar near our tent that night and we survived! Since then, I’m more specific on what I wish for. I’d loooove to see a jaguar, during the day, and from a certain distance’!
More inspiration for you?