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Serere Reserve

Written on: Sunday December 23rd, 2007

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Serere Private Reserve, Rurrenabaque, Bolivia

Author: Julie


After being in Rurrenabaque for 4 days, we finally left for Serere Reserve located two hours down river from Rurrenabaque. Yesterday, we spent a couple of hours shopping around for rubber boots and long white shirts after Eric had recommended them. Supposedly the white shirts would attract fewer mosquitos and the rubber boots would be especially useful in the rainforest since it rain season and the trails were mostly deep mud.

We left for the reserve at 11 AM on a long boat loaded up with bags, a couple of girls heading back to their families downriver, Eric our guide, Edmundo our captain and 2 young girls who would be staying at the reserve during school holidays. This is the rain season (or summer months) in South America and students are on their two month school break with classes resuming at the beginning of February. We spent two hours on the boat heading down river, with a stop at the plantation to drop off the two passengers and their boxes and bags of supplies. Our second stop was at another plantation where we ate our pre-packed lunches of chicken, rice and vegetables. The plantation was owned by an older gentleman who lived very rustically with a roofed area and hammock. He grew bananas, mangoes, and papayas. He had a few pigs in a pen and bunch of chicken running around. The mosquitoes weren?t too bad but I couldn?t imagine living and sleeping completely exposed to them. He didn?t have a closed in area to get away from them. When we were done eating, we fed our leftovers to the pigs that ate everything including the bones.

The next one and half hours we watched the rainforest pass by. Evidence of heavy currents and flooding could be seen everywhere with large pieces of shoreline having fallen into the water and large piles of full-sized trees piled up on the side where the water pushed them. Many times the captain had to pull up the motor to not hit the floating trees that were still in the water or when we passed in shallow areas of water that could be only 2-3 feet deep. The deepest areas of the river in normal times reached 8 meters but during the rain season could rise another 3-4 meters.

We arrived at the trailhead about two hours after having left Rurrenabaque. It was only a small slit in the thick foliage and as soon as we landed the mosquitoes began their incessant attack. The half an hour walk to the cabins was a little stressful since as much as we had been warned how bad they were they were worse than we thought. They were everywhere, in the sunlight we could see hundreds of them buzzing around and the worse place to be was behind someone else as you would be walking in the cloud of mozzies that would be following that person. The best place to be was either at the head of the line or 3 meters behind another person to allow the cloud of mosquitoes to dissipate to a tolerable level. When we finally arrived to the cabins we realised that no matter what, this was a wonderful magical place. Our accommodations were raised A-framed cabins with the four sides open to the jungle with large mosquito-screen windows. It had a large king sized bed with lovely bedding and a romantic looking mosquito net hanging above. The bathroom was tiled and had an open shower area. Around the room were tables made from large, oddly shaped slices of Ficus tree wood. After dropping off our bags and taking a quick cooling shower, we met the others in the restaurant lodge about 10 minutes down the trail from the cabins. The lodge was a large 2-story building with a woven roof. The first floor was where the open kitchen and dining area was located, on the second floor there was a large viewing deck with hammocks. Outside was a small lake with a couple of dugout canoes. Around the lodge were domesticated pigs and their piglets. All day long we could hear them grunting away as they rolled in the muddy puddles or see them eating anything they found on the ground. It was fun to watch the little piglets running behind their mom and trying to feed when she was lying on the ground.

We met with Mark, Maxine and Eric to discuss our itinerary for the next three days. Our discussions over, we headed to the lake and got into one of the dugout canoes. As we paddled around the lake, we saw Serere birds that looked like huge colourful turkeys. The name means Birds of Passion in Quechua and it lends its name to the reserve. We then saw beautiful storks sitting on the branches of a dead tree lying in the water. As we floated down, we could hear a sound like a howling wind which got louder as approached. It was the sound of Howler monkey marking his territory to other monkeys. It was so loud, I was sure he was near the water?s edge but I was wrong. We landed the canoe and headed into the rainforest. Following Eric?s exact steps, we walked for 15 minutes, heading towards the noise. We finally found the large, dominant male in the high tree branches howling the eerie sound. He was looking down at us with curiosity. Wanting to have a closer look, he hung upside down from the branch with his tail. After a while he got bored with us and moved on with his group. The mosquitoes had discovered us from the moment we had landed and after standing around in the same place for five minutes, we were all losing our minds. Mark and Maxine had brought face mosquito nets from England which were quite helpful in keeping the little blood suckers at bay but Kevin and I couldn?t find any in Rurrenabaque. I had a facecloth with me to wipe the sweat away from my face but it was much more helpful in keeping them away from me, along with the long-sleeved shirt, long pants, rubber boots and 95% DEET repellent we had sprayed all over. We were drenched in sweat and our clothes were sticking to us but it was better than being bitten everywhere. We quickly headed back to our boats where a soft breeze was blowing and not a flying insect was insight or hearing. We did a two hour loop of the lake, passing by dozens of different types of birds, a large turtle, and the relaxing sounds of forest around us. We heard more Howler monkeys in the distance. I dragged my hand in the water once in a while to feel the extremely warm water but as enjoyable as it would be to swim in it, it?s too dangerous of a risk. Within its waters lives anacondas, caimans and piranhas. A couple of years ago, Rosa Maria who spent her whole life living in the rainforest, was attacked by a caiman in this very lake. Every day she would take a swim across the lake and back and never had a problem with the local inhabitants but on this very unfortunate day, she was attacked by a 10-foot caiman which had escaped from a pen from a farm further away and found its way into the lake. After having been penned for so long and harassed by its owner, it was extremely aggressive. It bite her leg, dragged her down under the water, and started to do a death roll which rips the meat off its intended victim. Luckily, it could have been worse, a piece of her calf ripped off and stayed with the caiman but she was able to swim to the surface and call for help. The cook, who heard her, jumped into a boat and saved her. Her survival is a mystery and a miracle. It took two days before she was flown to the hospital in La Paz because the airline companies didn?t want to take her. Her condition was serious and considered too much of a liability to them if she was to die during her flight. Due to this delay in getting medical assistance, she now walks with a limp, needs the assistance of a brace and suffers pain everyday. It?s a sad story but at least she is still alive.

We returned to the lodge so relaxed to find that our supper was ready. We were treated to a wonderful meal of chicken, rice and vegetables. We spent the evening catching up with Rosa Maria who had left town a few days earlier and hadn?t been around when we had arrived at the reserve. We talked about her conservation efforts on the land she had purchased for the reserve. It originally belonged to a Spanish man who bought it from the government in the last 20s. He tried to turn portions of it into a banana plantation but it didn?t work as well as he thought. He finally abandoned it and the ownership passed on to his descendants who didn?t want anything to do with it. She was able to purchase it for a cheap price but there was a lot of work to be done. Travel agencies from town were using to bring tourists but were destroying the land by creating trails everywhere, leaving all their garbage behind, over-fishing the lakes, and trapping the animals to make it easier to show them to the tourists. Even after she had purchased the land, it took a couple of years to finally get them to stop coming there as they were run by the elite of the town and felt above the law. In the first couple of years of ownership, she pulled out garbage equivalent to 20 large barges, re-introduced fish species, and return or rehabilitated animals that had been taken out or orphaned by hunting.

We finally retired to our cabanas late into the evening. When we arrived, we discovered that one of the employees had tucked in our mosquito nets and left delicious chocolates on our pillow. It was so romantic! We took another cooling shower because it was so hot and muggy outside and crawled into our large, king sized bed. We both laid there for a long time, letting our eyes adjust to the light of the full moon, listening to the sounds of the crickets and insects filling the night air. It was such an amazing feeling to be there.