As you read this post, you’re going to wonder why the hell I recommend taking the jeep to Rurrenabaque instead of the much more straightforward hour-long flight. It certainly wasn’t plain sailing. But that’s half the fun. Looking back, I have some great stories, and the need to keep spirits up for almost two days in a cramped van certainly brought our group closer.
The reason we took the jeep was that flights to and from Rurrenabaque had been cancelled for the past week and a half, and we didn’t want to risk delays or cancellations. There’s a public bus there too, which costs peanuts, but the road is so dangerous, getting a bus along it is a life-threatening exercise I’d never wish on anyone.
As luck would have it, an Aussie couple, Van and Claire, from my hostel had put up a notice asking if anyone would like to share a 6-person jeep and do the pampas tour with them. Within minutes, I’d agreed to join them, along with two Dutch guys, Nils and Daan, who were taking time out of their studies to travel together. The next day, we roped an English guy called Sam in with us, and popped off to Honey Tours around the corner to do a deal. They gave us the whole trip, transport and Pampas tour with Indigena included, for B$1670 per person.
The jeep there took 15 hours and the way back took 18! It sounds like a nightmare, but there was so much going on I barely had a chance to get bored. The group I was travelling with was great entertainment, and there were some hilarious moments during games of Celebrity Heads where we scared ourselves by how easily we were able to predict the thought processes of our new companions.
Although there were no real hiccups on the way out, we still only arrived to our hostel at 3am, giving us 4 hours’ sleep to prepare for the next day’s tour.
The return journey, on the other hand, was insane.
To begin with, I should explain that the road to Rurrenabaque is, in the most part, just as bad as the infamous Death Road. Its mortality record is on a par (when we asked Oscar, our driver, how many deaths there were per year, he replied ‘Per day’), and there are roadside crosses and upturned cars in the river to prove it.
As you drive, the dust from other traffic forms a thick layer on the windscreen so it’s almost impossible to know which way is road and which is cliff face.
Our first obstacle, though, was the simple task of filling up on petrol, which took an hour. And this was after picking up one of Oscar’s relatives, thus making the jeep even more uncomfortable. By 11, we should have been 3 hours outside of town and we’d barely made it 30 minutes up the road. Then, after an uneventful couple of hours, we came to a road block at 1:30, where we were informed that, under no circumstances, were we allowed to pass by until 4 pm due to road works.
This was quite a blow to the morale, until we peered down off the bridge at the murky river below and decided to pass the time by swimming in the river and jumping off rocks. A word of warning if this happens to you – we’d somehow avoided insect bites until this point, but as we dried off from our swim, we were eaten alive.
Back in the jeep, we’d barely made it 30 minutes further before the engine started to make a worryingly loud grumbling noise. Oscar pushed on to the next village, where we found that the exhaust pipe was almost split in two.
And so, we waited another hour – some of the group so delirious they began an exercise session – while a dude crawled under the wheels and attempted to fix the problem.
We continued on and it began to get dark. We were still on the scary road and it didn’t make us feel more comfortable when Oscar asked to change the music back to his collection of 80s classics because our music was making him fall asleep!
Then there was another road block. We waited 20 minutes and, when it was time to go, the jeep wouldn’t start. Oscar assured us it would work eventually, so we sat stationary for a further 20 minutes waiting for the jeep to spring back to life.
A little along the last stretch of dodgy road, Oscar nearly drove into the cliff because he’d momentarily dozed off. Better that than the precipice I guess. We then had to wait a while as traffic passed by a landslide, where huge rocks and a tree covered the road.
Finally, we came off the really dodgy road and had just a couple of hours left on easy tarmac, but Oscar pulled over because he was tired and we all tried to nap for a bit – a near impossible task. I don’t think Oscar had got much sleep because he continued driving at 20MPH and swerving across the cat’s eyes. Once again, we had to shout to wake him as he swerved off the kerb.
We got to La Paz just before 3am, and the final straw was not being allowed to drive down the blockaded road of our hostel. During the detour, Oscar drove down a one-way street and went through a red light!
And so it was that we crawled into our Loki Hostel dorm beds in the early hours, still caked in piranha blood, sweat, insect repellent, dirty Amazon water and a tonne of dust. I’d never been muckier and I was exhausted, but my only thoughts as sleep grabbed hold of me were what a fun, eventful adventure we’d all just experienced and how much I’d miss the guys I’d shared it with once I left La Paz.