|A whole lot of this.|
We hopped on a bus destined for Santa Cruz, paid the driver to pull over as he passed the town, and strolled into Buena Vista around 5am. After waiting a couple of hours for the town to wake up, we found "Limber", a local guide. We negotiated a rate for a weekend jungle excursion, he helped us find a place to stay for the day and night, and by lunchtime we were clean and rested. Since we weren’t leaving until the next morning, we killed the day by exploring the town and hiking to a hotel located on a coffee plantation seven or so kilometres outside of town. It was a far way to go for a good cup of coffee, but the views there proved Buena Vista was not an ironic name for this location. We headed to Limber’s place that night (which was an auto garage...turned out he is a mechanic as well) to get some supplies, had a few beers in town, and hit the hay early, ready for an early morning.
|The jungle was in tents|
Boy were those warnings warranted! There were times in that initial hike that the mosquitoes were so numerous, I couldn’t look at or see anything else. We did, however, see some monkeys high up in the trees every now and then...unfortunately, none of them came close enough for us to take a decent picture or for me to try and steal one and bring home. Hiking along the banks of a river for a few hours, being eaten alive by the mosquitoes and dodging the biggest webs of the biggest spiders I have ever seen, we finally arrived at where was to be our home for the weekend. Limber pointed out a spot for our tent in the open woods, and he went around the corner toward an open, overhanging rock face, where he was to pitch his tent, and where our fire for the weekend would be built. We settled in for a bit and were back out for a hike in the afternoon; this time without bags, just cameras in our hands and a massive machete in Limber’s.
After doing this dance for a bit, we all stopped to sit still, be quiet, and listen. Another brilliant tactic...make the tiger think we aren’t there so when it meanders down to the river for a drink, it gets a nice surprise when it sees three fleshy human beings waiting for it. As it is, the tiger never showed up. We decided to head back to camp before the sun went down. My brain was still doing the multi-tasking dance and I guess it was too much for the ole’ cranium to handle. With camera and lens in hand and another lens strapped to my hip, I tried to negotiated a particularly tricky spot with significantly slippery rocks. Gravity had better ideas and before I knew it, my footing was gone, the rug was taken out, and I was hitting water. Luckily, I instinctively threw my camera holding hand in the air. This was a good move, be it that I saved my camera...though in doing so I sacrificed my back and leg, both of which took the brunt of the fall against the rocks. Then I realized I still had the other lens on my hip and it took the plunge with me. Quickly, I scrambled out of the water, ripped the lens out of the pouch it was in, and franticly shook it to dry it out. Without anything else, we wrapped it in a bandana and hoped for the best. Only when the ordeal was over is when I realized how much my body hurt from the fall and how much my leg was bleeding. But, with no other choice, we soldiered on. When we got back to camp, I doused my leg in disinfectant and wrapped it. My lens got another thorough drying and was placed in a plastic bag with silica gel packs (I’m lucky we thought to bring them with us). Limber whipped up some dinner for us, we ate sitting on rocks like cavemen, and by 8pm, with nothing else to do and exhaustion killing us, it was time for bed, looking forward to another fun filled day.
|A tiger cub's little footprint.|
The ground was slightly uneven to the side of Limber’s tent and I was wearing flip-flops. I passed around it in a hurry and my balance was slightly off so I reached out to steady myself against the rocky overhang. Immediately as I placed my right hand against the rock surface I felt a sharp stab in the fleshy corner close to my wrist. I yelped and looked at my hand but couldn't see anything, and then my it began to burn. I doubled over in pain clasping my hand. The whole of my right hand was enveloped in a firey burning sensation. I can see Mike looking confused as he asks me, “Are you ok, what's up?” I said, “I don't know, I touched the rock and now my hand is burning, I think maybe I spiked it on something.” But as he shone his head lamp and we both inspected my hand there was no mark. No red welt, or cut, or bruise, or anything, just that my hand felt like it was on fire.
We were both standing there utterly confused. I'm in almighty pain with nothing to show for it, and Mike's looking at me like, “What the hell?” And then he stepped back and said, “Dude, it's on you.” “What?” I replied. “Dude it's on you man, look.” I looked down. Crawling down the right hand side of my stomach was a large brown insect. I paused and thought maybe it was a stick insect. And then I saw its two white crab-like claws reflecting in the light. And then I panicked. Mike is still telling me, “Dude it's on you,” and I started screaming, “Get it off me!” The conversation went something like this for about two minutes:
“Dude, it's on you man.”
“Get it off me!”
“No, I don't wanna get stung.”
“Fuckin' get it off meeeeeeeeeee!”
I danced on the spot like a epileptic convulsing and shaking my t-shirt trying to get this bug off me. Said bug at this point casually saunters along my body and down my leg. As it reached mid way along my thigh I can really see its curled up tail and that it is indeed a scorpion. I don't think I could have panicked, screamed or shook any harder or louder until finally the damn thing was off me and running along the floor into the darkness.
I could now see my hand swelling in front of my very eyes. The burning pain was also now traveling along the length of my right arm and into my arm pit. I don't do jungle. I come from a rain swept island off the coast of Europe, where the nastiest thing mother nature can throw at you is mad cow disease. The most dangerous thing in my corner of the island is feral teenagers, and at least I'd have seen them coming.
I didn't know any better, I honestly thought all scorpions were deadly and that my number was up. I stood there and did the maths in my head. It was a easily a three hour hike in the dark to the car, then maybe a two hour drive to civilization. God knows how long there after to find a hospital. I felt dizzy, sat down on a rock and looked at my giant burning hand. I wish I could say I was cool about it but instead as I sat there my eyes welled up and I quietly leaked a few tears, thinking, “Great, so this is how it ends.”
Limber had been busying himself helping to move our stuff. As he came back I showed him my hand. Through the power of mime and broken Spanish we told him what had happened. He barely raised an eyebrow. Through the power of mime and the grasp of the odd key word he basically told me “Yeah it's going to hurt for a while, you'll probably feel it in you armpit too.” I asked if it was fatal. “Nah,” he replied, “just annoying.”
So that was fun. We dried our stuff and the inside of the tent and tucked in...again. I slept ok, though I can’t say the same for Stefan.
Funny enough, the next day wasn’t as event filled. Stefan was feeling better by midday, so we headed out for another hike down a different river. There was more green, slippery rocks to be negotiated, and I was extra careful. Though there were lots of slips had, no complete falls occurred. The environment was harsh and the day was extra humid from the nights’ rain, but our eventual destination was one of the coolest sights I have ever seen. Walking up this river, one can hear an ominous waterfall sound, though can never see the source until the end is reached. When the final corner is turned, a (what I would estimate) 75 foot waterfall reveals itself. It is located in a circular, woody grotto and the only place to go from there is up, to see where this waterfall originates.
With no possibility of climbing the sheer rock face to see this, we could only admire the beauty of the falling water surrounded by the jungle’s greenery. We were incredibly exhausted, but the opportunity to swim in such a location was too great to pass up, so fully clothed, we all hopped in the freezing cold water (sans cameras, I might add). Standing under the waterfall was painful and incredible at the same time. It was a well deserved break from hiking and totally worth the brutal environment to see. Unfortunately, the lens that took a bath with me the day prior was my wide angle lens, so I don’t have any good shots of the place, though Stefan was able to capture a few good ones. After staying in this location for about half an hour, we hiked back down the same path in which we came, stopped occasionally to try and get a shot or two of huge blue butterflies that seemed to be everywhere, and were back at camp by sundown. Limber made dinner again (at this point I’ll say that the dude really knew how to make good camping food...he had been working in this role for 15 years, and he’s only 34) and we ate like Neanderthals again. We again tucked in around 8pm with exhaustion dominating us.
|Large waterfall. The white blob to the left is Stefan.|
We thought our troubles were over...but then we ran into a road block. Apparently the citizens (all ten of them) of this little pueblo thought the road was impassible and forced us to wait two hours until they deemed it safe. After being allowed to pass, we didn’t see anything on the road worth blocking it over. But, at this point, all we could do was roll our eyes. When we finally got back to Buena Vista, Limber took us to his place so we could shower up before heading to the bus. His wife and kid were home, and she was nice enough to make us lunch as well. When we were ready, the family even drove us to the next town over to catch a car to Santa Cruz, so we could then get a bus headed to Cochabamba. We purchased tickets in the Santa Cruz terminal, hung around for about an hour, then promptly passed out in our seats when we boarded the overnight coach. We were headed home and our troubles were NOW over. Kind of.
Around 4am, when the bus was an hour outside of Cochabamba, the engine broke down. A brief look out of the window told us we were somewhere in the mountains. Without speaking to each other, Stefan and I seemed to reach the same conclusion...and that was, “I’m going back to sleep and I’ll deal with this when I wake up.” About two and a half hours later, we stirred right in time for the back up bus to show up. We switched coaches, rode into Cochabamba, and were walking into our apartment with a few hours to spare before lunchtime.
So, not so much a Joseph Conrad novel...but certainly an experience. I can’t say the same for Stefan, but I actually would go back. Though, I’d make sure I’d be better prepared!