Lodgey and Life on the Road. Stories from South America.

17 July 2010

Bye, bye Bolivia

After bidding Meg and Hunter farewell, our next adventure is a mountain bike tour down the ‘world’s most dangerous road’. It is a narrow, rocky road with mountains on one side and a sheer drop on the other. It has earned its name because of the number of deaths from cars, buses and trucks going over the side.

Not so confident on a mountain bike – let alone on a road with that kind of reputation – I am extremely nervous.

We start at high altitude, 4300m and, as well as struggling to breathe, the bike I’m riding is much heavier than I’m used to.

The first part is downhill on a tarred road so it’s not too bad. But then we hit the dirt road and I’m all over the place. The road is covered in massive stones and, although we stop every 15 minutes to make sure no one has gone over the edge, I’m always the last person in. Geezer rides with me until a guide offers to escort me down so that Geezer can whiz down and enjoy it.
It takes us a few hours to get down to the town at the bottom and, as time goes on, my confidence picks up. Geezer has the time of his life but I’m relieved it´s over.

The next day we board a bus to a lovely little town called Copacobana on Lake Titicaca near Peru’s border. Needing a few days just to chill, we skip all the tours and relax in a cafe watching the World Cup. We get up early one morning to watch New Zealand play Slovakia and I wake the whole town with my yelling when New Zealand scores a goal.

To our delight, we bump into Meg and Hunter and after reassuring each other that we aren’t encroaching on each other’s space we agree to travel to Puno in Peru to see the floating islands made of reeds.

So after five weeks we leave Bolivia, having only intended to spend two. But who’s counting!

Geezer's birthday

The morning we leave Rurre, we had not only said goodbye to Rambo, but our new friends Meg and Hunter. So feeling rather depressed we get ready to go back to La Paz – dreading the mayhem, cold weather and high altitude.

But as Meg and Hunter are leaving they break the news that they have decided to come to La Paz for Geezer’s birthday. We are rapt.

We head to Rurre airport and get an enormous amount of grief from a security guard. So Geezer cheekily strikes a Hitler pose and army marches past him which has me in hysterics and the guard looking puzzled.

The next day is Geezer’s birthday but we have several missions to do including printing some photos to send to Rambo and booking a tour to San Pedro prison.

At the stroke of midnight, I sing happy birthday to my Geezer.

The next morning we are up early, wolf down breakfast and go to meet our guide for a tour of San Pedro prison – a famous prison that is run by the inmates not guards. It’s not your regular prison. It has restaurants, women and children live there and many of the inmates run businesses from there.

It is a common tourist attraction but it is still a surreal experience. The inmates ‘cells’ are more like apartments – some of which are two stories high – and many of them have pets. They hold elections each year to nominate inmates to run the prison, its finances and security. They pretty much bribe the guards to stay outside.

We spend a few hours there talking to some of the inmates and feel very safe. But it never escapes our minds that the inmates are there for a reason and after a while we leave.

We head back to the hostel to meet Meg and Hunter and are happy to be reunited because we miss them already. We make plans for drinks later that day but we are both exhausted.

It gets to 8pm and we are both in bed feeling knackered, desperately wanting to celebrate Geezer’s birthday but having no energy to do it.

Then there is a knock at the door and in march Meg and Hunter with a birthday cake and a candle, singing happy birthday. Their happiness and smiles, that have the ability to perk you up in an instant, make us jump out of bed and get ready to go out. They present Geezer with a gift – the most beautiful Bolivian poncho – and a card with words that make me weep. They have gone to so much effort. And we feel even luckier to have crossed their paths.

So we head to a great English pub underneath our hostel and sit on lounges in the corner listening to Geezer’s favourite music. They even play ‘I fought the law’ by The Clash not once, but twice, just for Geezer. Having been regulars in there, the staff let us stay until well past closing time.

We stagger up to our hostel in the wee hours and play some tunes in our room before calling it a night - a perfect night with Geezer feeling very happy to have had his birthday abroad in a great pub with great music and great friends.


The eight days that we have spent with Rambo, we form a bond and it isn’t until we say goodbye that we realise the effect he has had on us.

Over that time we learn that he is one of 29 children, his father is just about to turn 103 and has had ten wives in his lifetime. Rambo tells us that his dad smokes a pipe with home-grown tobacco but only eats food produced on his farm. He says he is a pretty wholesome character. His brothers and sisters are scattered around the world.

Rambo is single and lives with five men. He says that once he wanted children but now it is too late and he believes that not having children and a wife keeps him young. He tells us this as a hassled, tired-looking woman with five children walks into the bar and we laugh. In trying to guess his age we had thought he was in his thirties. He is 49 and is fit.

The day after our jungle tour, Geezer and I are in an outdoor bar waiting for our flight to La Paz wishing that we’d had a better goodbye. Geezer looks out over the balcony and sees Rambo crossing the street. “Rambo!!!” he yells out and Rambo races up to join us.

He is on his way to get his machete sharpened but we have two precious hours with him alone so he tells us about his life.

When he was 22 he worked for a petrol company and was part of a team laying a pipeline deep in the Bolivian jungle. It is an area where an indigenous tribe lives and no one enters the area because the tribe is so dangerous.

Rambo and 19 of his work mates ventured into the area and were busy working on laying the pipe. He tells us that he heard a noise and out of instinct darted behind a tree. He then watched all 19 of his work mates get shot with poison darts to the neck that had been spat out of a tube by this tribe. The tribesmen then sliced their chests open and ate their hearts raw. He said he lay silently for hours, paralysed with fear. When he was sure they had gone, he made his escape and came across a woman from the tribe who helped him to escape beyond the tribe’s boundary.

This tribe wear no clothes. They are cannibals. The women live on the boundary and are not allowed to venture past a certain area. When they give birth, their babies are taken away before they even know its sex. The baby girls are mostly killed. If they have a boy, they are allowed to keep it until the boy is a toddler and then the men send him out into the jungle to fend for himself. Only the strongest survive.

Rambo then tells us about being a guide and how he is most at home in the jungle. He has a property in rural Bolivia with horses, sheep and a massive patch of jungle riddled with wildlife. He plans on retiring as a guide in 2012 to live there permanently.

He loves that we call him Rambo and we are surprised when he tells us that no one has ever come up with that nickname. He so looks like Rambo.

When it comes time to leave, we hug for a long time. But then he looks me straight in the eye, points to both of us, puts his hand on his heart and says ´para siempre in mi corazon´ – forever in my heart. And then he is gone.

I’m howling my eyes out and Geezer sheds a wee tear behind his sunglasses. It is a long time before we say anything. Rambo is one local we have met who will forever be in our hearts.

A jungle tour too?

We have a day in Rurre doing chores before marching into Madidi to say we are going on a four day jungle tour and we are taking Rambo, Rodolfo and Sandy with us. Madidi advises us that there are other guides we should use for the jungle but having spent four amazing days with this crew we don’t want anyone else. Our crew seem delighted with this and outside sits a smiling Rambo, who gives me a squeeze and says ‘ha Christina, jungle – si?!!’ (It’s difficult to say Kirsten in Spanish so I go along with Christina.)

Rambo then presents us each with a necklace made out of nuts from the jungle. But to ‘Burracho’ Rambo presents a wild boars tooth on the end of a necklace because even though they speak different languages, Geezer and Rambo have man-bonded.

We hug each other before leaving to pack our bags for our second adventure – and unintentionally have a massive night, which ends with us swinging in hammocks and talking shit.

Day 1 – A slow start to the day because we are feeling so dusty from the night before. We walk down to the River Beni with our packs and gumboots (a camping girl’s best friend!) to see our smiling crew, which cheers us enormously, and a boat full of camping supplies and food.

We eventually find out that Sandy, our cook, is a 27 year old mum of four kids and her mother looks after them while she’s away. So we realise that she’s had 24 hours at home with her young family before being whisked away again to feed us. But she sits back in the boat with her feet up, giggling at Rambo’s constant happy chatter and pranks on Burracho – including one where he pulls the back of the boat seat out as Geez is about to sit down and he goes arse over tit. Sandy is still laughing half an hour later.

Our first stop is on a beach with a high bank. We jump out of the boat and immediately sink almost to the top of our gumboots in super soft mud. The harder I try to get out, the further I sink until eventually I stack it and land on my backside in the mud. Everyone is laughing so hysterically that we are incapable of helping anyone, including ourselves – except Rambo who, with one swift swoop, pulls me out and pops me on firmer ground.

Rambo takes us on a quick hike while Sandy cooks up another storm and we spot jaguar footprints – one larger set and a smaller set - a mother and her cub.

We then motor up river till late afternoon to a giant wall of rock where pairs of beautiful giant red Macaws have dug out holes to make their nests. Then we hit Madidi’s campsite – which is nestled neatly in the jungle a stone’s throw from the river and in the most magical of spots! Rodolfo strings up four hammocks – two for sleeping and two for just swinging. We share a bottle of red with the crew, Rambo does his lovely prayer to Pachamama and Geezer and I doze happily in our hammocks under the stars.

Day 2 – We wake up to another magic Sandy meal which earns Sandy the loudest ‘Gracias, Sandy!’ yet and then pack up part of our camp to head off deeper into the jungle.

We hike for two hours with backpacks weighed down with food, camping gear and supplies. The walk to our next camp is probably only an hour but Rambo and Rodolfo stop constantly along the way to show us plants that are used to help babies sleep, ones that treat diseases like arthritis and for dyes in tattoos which they demonstrate by drawing on our arms. They also cut down a piece of vine and hold it upside down so that fresh water pours out. This vine later comes to our rescue when we run out of water mid hike and the boys manage to fill up a whole water bottle from a short piece of vine.

On our way to the camp, Hunter and I step on a log at the same time and it crumbles beneath us sending us falling into a heap and me staring into the centre of a giant dead tree. All I can think of is that it would be a perfect home for a giant anaconda and struggle like mad with my backpack and Geezer’s help to get the hell out of there. It’s the first of many logs we have to cross to get over giant pools of murky water and I quickly discover – much to everyone’s amusement - my appalling sense of balance made worse with a backpack on or an expensive camera round my neck.

We eventually arrive at a very basic but stunning camp site and set up tarps to sleep under. Meg grabs a machete and cuts down giant palm fronds that we use as sleeping mats. We are soon whisked away by Rambo and Rodolfo who tell us that we are going on a hike to another river which, given the heat, sounds perfect for a late afternoon swim. The hike is through thick jungle and Rodolfo machete’s his way through, bending branches and turning over leaves so that he can easily find his way back.

The small river is set in another beautiful setting on a sandstone beach and we haven’t even reached the water before we’ve stripped off. I have one foot in the water about to dive in when Rodolfo warns us that there are giant manta rays in the water but if we stay in the shallow bits we’ll be fine. My euphoria at having reached a spot to swim is suddenly dampened by this news but we go in anyway.

Geezer is the first one out and sits on the side with his shirt off. He suddenly realises that he is being bitten and rushes to get dressed. A few minutes later he is in agony and lifts his shirt up to reveal dozens of bright red welts on his back. Vicious sandflies have attacked him and we all scramble to cover up. Not quickly enough because before long we are all scratching like maniacs. But Geezer has born the full brunt and is in serious discomfort. Rambo later makes a tea out of a tree bark which he dabs on Geezers bites and it seems to calm them.

We arrive back at the campsite in near darkness, completely exhausted and anxious for dinner and bed. We have a restless sleep because all we can hear is the hum of hundreds of mosquitoes. And the heat is not helping our bites.

Day 3 – All of us wake bitten to buggery and not really looking forward to another jungle bash. But we put on our gumboots and set off on a different route from the camp. We haven’t gone far before Rodolfo tells us to sit on a log and listen. Rambo starts making monkey noises and after one or two calls a monkey calls back. We sit in silence and listen to Rambo calling out to this monkey and it clearly responds. Next thing a group of monkeys is swinging in the trees above us and we are in awe. The jungle really is where Rambo is at home.

We see herds of wild boars, small monkeys, big monkeys, macaws and a little bright yellow snake slithers across our path. Geezer leans in to take a photo of it and it rears up in defence before shooting off into the scrub.

Rodolfo sticks his machete into a tree and it bleeds out a dark red sap which the indigenous people use to treat a number of illnesses. He offers for us to try it and it has the weirdest taste as well as drying up all the saliva in your mouth. Geezer dares Hunter to lick a big glob of it straight off Rodolfo’s not so clean hand. He takes up the dare which is captured on video and has us in hysterics – including the guides.

After making a jungle swing out of a vine, we head back to camp which is absolutely swarming with wasps. We wolf down lunch and pack up as quickly as possible to get away from the wasps. In seeking refuge from the wasps we see the spot where Sandy has been collecting water from for our meals. It is a dark brown puddle of swampy muck and we are amazed that after seven days of drinking that water, we haven’t been sick. In fact if we hadn’t seen it, we never would have believed it.

It only takes us an hour to walk back to our main camp and Rodolfo is keen to take us on another hike. But we are exhausted and ask whether we can take the boat to fish or swim. They take us to the other side of the main river which has an incredibly strong current. We have a luscious swim in the cold water to wash and relieve our bites – particularly Geezer whose back is red raw. All of a sudden Rambo and Geezer are discussing the possibility of swimming across the river to where the camp is. They nod and we watch in amazement as they race each other against the current across the wide river and make it to the other side, punching the air in delight. Go Geezer!

We meet them on the other side of the river, head back to camp and spend the rest of the day sipping red wine, swinging in the hammocks and listening to the sounds of the jungle. Life doesn’t get much better than this!

Day 4 – I wake up to the sounds of Sandy cooking our last breakfast, feeling sad that this will be our last day with our crew. But we are all so mosquito bitten that the jungle is starting to get to us so we are keen to get going. We spend the morning packing up the camp.

We are pretty much ready to leave when I dash to the outhouse. On the way back a little black snake slithers across the path in front of me. Marvelling at my ability to stay calm, I then hear a large rustle in the bushes and see a huge snake slithering beside me. It stops. I start walking. It starts moving along side me. I pick up my pace and it does the same. I start running and it keeps up with me, making a hell of racket in the bush. I then scream like a maniac all the way back to camp... eventually arriving with everyone staring at me.

Rodolfo then tells everyone to be quiet and madly motions for us to follow him. He can hear a pack of wild boars. Still recovering from my snake affair and only wearing thongs, I decide to stay and Meg does too. Hunter follows Rodolfo with Rambo but he loses them and sits for a moment on a log to watch some monkeys in the trees.

He then looks down and about two metres away is a black panther which eyes him up for a split second before darting off silently into the jungle. He doesn’t have his camera on him but he says that it was too quick anyway.

Rambo and Rodolfo are excited for us. They love the wildlife and they love that we are so happy when we see something.

Before we leave, Rambo presents us each with a ring he has carved out of a nut and has been grinding up plant leaves to make a dye. He then paints our faces with the purple dye with some tribal pattern. I later scare a child in Rurre who looks at my painted face and runs away screaming.

We arrive back in Rurre and arrange to meet the crew for a drink later. Sandy doesn’t make it but Rambo and Rodolfo arrive looking quite different out of their jungle attire.

We are amazed that even though we all speak a different language, we communicate and laugh about our experiences. I’m sitting next to Rambo trying to translate where I can. I apologise for my appalling Spanish but he laughs and says “Christina.... you’re Spanish is very bad but I understand what you are saying!” He takes my hand and thanks me for translating over the eight days. He says that many groups speak no Spanish and it is a very different experience for him as a guide. Both him and Rodolfo tell us that they have loved us as a group, they loved that we wanted to camp instead of staying in the lodges and they loved that we took both of them to the jungle even though it had cost us more to take both guides. The feeling is so mutual. We eventually bid them a sad farewell.

13 July 2010

A pampas tour at last

When we decide to give Madidi Tours another chance, we set some conditions - we insist on camping rather than staying in the lodges, which is what all the other tourists do, that Madidi doesn’t screw us again and we have the same crew.

Julian is so offended by us axing the first trip that he announces he will not be coming so we will have no translator. We don’t care. And by this stage in our travels, I feel quietly confident that I can translate enough Spanish to get a main message across.

So once again Sandy, Rodolfo, Meg, Hunter, Geezer and I set off in a jeep with less supplies for a four day tour of the pampas - this time with Carlos, our boat driver. After another amazing lunch (Gracias, Sandy!), we board our long, motorised canoe and Carlos is quickly renamed ‘Rambo’ when he dons a headband, khaki clothes, a bare chest and a wicked grin.

We are on our way! And feel pleased with ourselves when packed boat loads of tourists steam past us with boom boxes, dreadful music and disinterested looking guides. Our crew, on the other hand, are lively, excited about being on the river and seem to enjoy our company.

Rambo is quite a character (more on him later!). Sandy kicks back enjoying the sun with a smile, quietly planning our next culinary delight. Rodolfo, a quieter, older guide, immediately starts wildlife spotting. We instantly see pink dolphins and stunningly beautiful birds. I’m not a bird person but the birds are seriously impressive.

But it is the crocs and peeping eyes of caiman that have us gobsmacked. There are hundreds of them lining the banks. As soon as the boat approaches they bob underneath the water or slide on their bellies down from the banks and disappear under the boat.

We motor down river for several hours, passing the horrific looking lodges, until nearly dark. We pull in to a bank, unload the boat and set up camp on the side of the river, slightly anxious about the number of crocs we have seen on these very banks. Hunter has a fire roaring within minutes, Meg and Geezer hoist the tent while Sandy cooks up an unforgettable stew and we all throw back a couple of red wines – except for Rambo who sits quietly to one side of the camp fire not eating or drinking.

After dinner Rambo asks me about us – where we are from, our relationships, where we met. I assume that he is trying to get to know us but then he starts clearing a small space in front of him. He sprinkles the area with coca leaves and lights two cigarettes which he sticks in the ground upside down to burn. He then pours 96% pure alcohol on the pile in front of him and begins a quiet prayer to Pachamama (Mother Earth).

I cannot understand every word he is saying but he uses the information that I have given him to introduce Pachamama to us and to ask her to keep us safe. He asks her to make sure we have a great time together, to keep us well fed, to please bring out some wildlife and to protect his ‘new family’ – us. He says that in all his years as a guide nothing has ever happened to his group thanks to his prayer to Pachamama. He talks quickly and I can’t translate fast enough or translate effectively the beauty of his prayer. But I understand enough to know that our guide and boat driver, Rambo, is a deeply spiritual, tough yet gentle soul. And we all sigh at how lovely it is.

He then asks us to take a swig of the alcohol, which puts hairs on our chests, and to each pour some of the alcohol on the pile of coca leaves and say our own words to Pachamama. He shoves wads of coca leaves into his cheek. The boys follow with the coca leaves – and then dare each other to keep swigging on the 96% alcohol. Rambo chuckles quietly and says the word ‘burracho’, which means pisshead in Spanish! From then on, Geezer is known as Burracho.

We later discover that Rambo never eats on the first night of a tour as an offering to Pachamama.

Later that night we walk down to the edge of the river with torches and are stunned to see hundreds of caiman eyes peering out of the water – some not so far away from where we are standing.

Feeling tired, full and happy, the four of us squeeze into the tiniest tent imaginable and sleep like logs.

Day 2 – We are up early for a breakfast of deep fried goodness (Gracias, Sandy!), load up the boat and steam ahead upriver still amazed at the number of crocs.

By late morning we pass the point where most of the tourists stop and the water is so untouched that it is covered in moss. We eventually come to a narrower part of the river and a giant tree has fallen blocking our way. We agree that this must have been the part of the river Madidi told us was unpassable. Unperturbed, Rambo and Rodolfo get their machetes out and start hacking a path through the mass of branches. The boys help and together they figure out a way through – which ends with Rambo backing up the canoe and rams it through the trees at full speed taking everybody by surprise.

We make it through and arrive at a small beach where there are pink dolphins lolling about and loads of piranhas.

This is my first time fishing and I’m horrified at the thought of catching anything. Geezer puts his line out first and immediately catches a piranha which he reels in – but the hooks are blunt and it doesn’t quite take. Rodolfo bolts over and tries to catch it with his hands but he falls in the water and the piranha makes a lucky escape.

Meg then reels in one while Hunter admires her fishing skills from the bank before bringing in a couple himself.

I stand there half-heartedly trying to catch something when my line tugs. I give it a quick pull and see a piranha on the end. I scream for New Zealand and the poor fish jumps back in to the water in fright. I am later more successful and catch a small cat fish. After much coercing, I hold it long enough to have my photo taken and throw it back in the water.

Giggling to herself at our fishing efforts, Sandy catches them left, right and centre for lunch. But when she stands up on the boat, she falls straight into the croc infested waters. She comes up laughing and we all decide that if she can fall in the water and not get eaten by a croc then it’s safe for a swim. Rambo and Rodolfo agree that while the dolphins are there, the caiman stay away. So we all go for a nervous dip, sun ourselves on the beach with wine and treats.

The beach is beautiful but we have to set up camp further down the river and enjoy another early night on a full stomach.

Day 3 – More river cruising and the scenery is absolutely surreal. The water is so still. It is so quiet that the only noises you can hear are monkeys in the trees, the plops of crocs sliding into the water and the gliding of our canoe in the water – and us rambling on.

Rodolfo takes us on an afternoon hike through the pampas and it is here that we appreciate his skills as a medicine man. He stops every few minutes to cut a piece of bark off a tree for us to smell, touch or taste. One smells strongly like garlic. Another is used to make hair dye. He explains that every plant in the jungle and pampas has a medicinal or useful purpose.

We get back on the boat and arrive at the most stunning of places – a perfect camping spot for our third night – but we are told that there isn’t enough fuel and we need to head back part of the way in the night with the motor off. So begrudgingly we start heading back, taking our torches on the way for some night cruising on the river. The whole way we spot caiman eyes watching us go past and hear the odd splash of a croc in the water. We make one stop for dinner and then keep going – eventually finding a suitable place to camp.

Instead of pitching the tent, we put mosquito nets over our sleeping bags and sleep under the stars not at all worried about the wildlife lurking nearby.

Day 4 – Our last bit of deep fried goodness for breakfast (Gracias, Sandy!) before we board our boat and motor back the way we came. We arrive back in Rurre late afternoon after a hellish jeep ride back from the river. We agree to meet Rambo, Rodolfo and Sandy the next day to tip them and formally thank them.

The four days have seemed like a whirlwind. The best times in our travels have been made by the people we have shared them with. Our crew who shared so much knowledge, protected us, fed us like kings and showed so much enthusiasm and passion for their jobs that we were constantly mesmerised.

And our new friends – Meg and Hunter – well what can I say? There have been few people that we have bonded with so quickly. Our wickedly funny and warm-hearted American friends, Kara and Dave, and now Meg and Hunter. We end up having a better experience because of them. We could have gone on any old pampas tour but by chance we met people that turned just a tour into a trip we will never forget. And it is because of the amazing time we have and the bond between friends that we decide instead of going our separate ways, we sign up for another tour – this time in the jungle.

Fate or fortune?

I’m not a strong believer in fate... more that shit just happens. But our latest adventure may have swayed me slightly towards the former.

The few days we spend in La Paz kill us – the high altitude, the constant feeling of being ripped off and the general craziness of the city. So after a few days we leg it to Rurrenabaque, Bolivia’s jump off point to the Amazon jungle and pampas, hanging for warmer weather and wildlife.

We board a tiny plane for a 35 minute flight to Rurre, desperately wanting to avoid the 20 hour bus ride along ‘Death Road’. We are close enough to the cockpit to see that the pilots don’t have their hands on the wheel until we land on a grass strip in Rurre – slightly unnerving when they’ve announced turbulence but there is none.

Geezer suggests we ride on the back of motorbikes from the airport. I hesitate for a split second before flinging my backpack on to the front of a bike and next thing we roar away from the airport, wind whipping my face, yelling.... Hellooooo Rurrenabaqueeeeeee!!

Having been recommended Madidi Tours for pampas and jungle tours we head there after checking out a few other companies that seem to only cater to the masses. We tell the young Bolivian behind the desk (whose gob is so stuffed of coca leaves that he can barely talk) that we want something different, off the beaten track but most of all away from the throngs of tourists.

We are in luck. Madidi had been approached by the owner of a piece of land and they want to investigate whether it will make a good destination for tourists. It would be a seven day adventure – two days up the river, three days in the jungle and two days back – plenty of wildlife and camping with indigenous villages along the way. No tourist has been there. It sounds perfect.

But we add up the cost and realise that it is too expensive for us to do alone. We would have to find another couple that afternoon in order to set off in two days time. We tell Madidi that we’ll be back later to see whether they’ve had any other punters.

We are marginally hopeful - even Geezer offers to stand outside Madidi with a plaque. But we return later that day to discover that an Australian couple has just been in wanting the same thing. Julian, Madidi’s coca-leaf gob stuffed front man, tells us that we can probably find them in the bank as they’d just left. We walk out and immediately spot them – Meg and Hunter – two people pointing frantically at us with the biggest, warmest smiles and equally large hearts. The bond between the four of us is instant. We go for a beer and leave several hours later enormously excited about our adventure in unchartered territory with our new amigos.

The next day we arrive at Madidi to sort logistics and pay up when they tell us that the price has gone up and that they will have difficulty getting fuel because of a 20 litre limit per person. We need 400 litres. The owner of Madidi has to seek permission from the head of the navy to get more fuel. We even offer to round up 20 people (or for all of us to go in disguise five times) with jerry cans to get the 400 litres. They don’t appreciate our humour and sadly, the trip isn’t to be. It will take much more planning.

But there is another area we can go away from tourists, requiring less fuel and we can leave tomorrow. It will be a seven day adventure by boat on the river in the pampas grasslands.

So we wake with the sparrows, meet Meg and Hunter for breakfast and then jump in to a jeep crammed with a week’s supplies of food, water, camping gear, a cook, a guide and Julian, who will be our translator. It isn’t till we arrive in a small, not so remote, indigenous village that we realise there are no fuel tanks for the boat. Having been sat to one side away from the rest of the crew and villagers, we also realise that there is a tense village meeting underway with the chief.

After several hours of waiting and watching the negotiations, we are told that there is no boat, there never was a boat (but they had forgotten to tell us) and even if there was a boat, there is a giant tree blocking the river and we will never get through. We are also told that we can borrow horses from the village but once we reach the river we will be on our own, carrying all our supplies up the river bank – which actually turns out to be thick jungle filled with crocodiles, caimans and god knows what else.

Furious, we hold our own team meeting. Geezer is nominated chief spokesperson and tells Julian that we want to go back to Rurre because this is not what we signed up for and has cost us a lot of money. Easing the tension, Rodolfo, our guide, whips us off on a little tour of the village where he introduces us to some of the villagers who – along with Meg - crush sugar cane to make delicious fresh juice through a giant wooden press. And Sandy, our cook, slips us a kick arse lunch before we head back to Rurre.

We arrive back in Rurre and are told that our money has been spent on the food and supplies, and we won’t get much back unless we agree to another tour with Madidi. After another team meeting we decide that even though the day has been a disaster and Madidi hasn’t been completely honest, we know that Sandy is a wicked cook, Rodolfo is a fantastic guide and the four of us are already great mates so we agree to go with them on a less risky, more traditional tour of the pampas.

So we trudge through pouring rain to a moody hostel optimistic about giving the pampas another shot.

And in the coming days and weeks, Meg, Hunter, Geezer and I will regularly reminisce about the odds of having met each other and the adventures we would share. Fate or fortune? We all think both.