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.