I’m at the side of the track, which more resembles a muddy swamp, watching in disbelief as one jeep after another makes a desperate bid for freedom only to become stuck at this impasse. Like wasps in a jam jar, there seems no escape. I’m covered in mud, panting after the exertion of another failed attempt to push our vehicle out of the gooey mess. Time is ticking and I have a flight to catch!
Let’s rewind a few days...
Just six days left before I’m due to fly home to the UK. For the past ten weeks I‘ve followed the gringo trail through Costa Rica, Peru and finally Bolivia. Having missed a trek in Peru due to a nasty bout of salmonella poisoning, I decide to book a final three-day jungle tour to the Bolivian Pampas. As an enthusiastic geographer, it would be sacrilege not to see at least some of the great Amazonian hinterland. The tour will allow me two whole days to return to La Paz and catch my flight back to the UK. I weigh up the risks, and after playing out the worst-case scenarios in my head, decide that I’ll have sufficient time.
I fly into the jungle town of Rurrenabaque. The tour operator informs me that since nobody else has signed up for the tour that day, I can join the group leaving tomorrow. Communicating in a mixture of pidgin Spanish and hand gesturing, I am reassured that I will have no trouble making the return flight to La Paz. Despite serious misgivings, I sign up.
Next day we leave by jeep for the pampas. All goes well until we arrive at a particularly muddy section of road. About 50m in length, the scene includes semi-buried jeeps, a jack-knifed lorry and a number of people either helping to free the stricken vehicles or observing the pandemonium from the roadside. After an hour of manoeuvring, our severely over-heated 4x4 vehicle makes it to the other side.
During the following three days it rains incessantly, and, despite having a great time, the more it rains the greater my feeling of trepidation grows. Will I make it out of the jungle in time to catch my flight?
The jeeps are late picking us up. ‘Signor, they are on their way, I promise’, I am reassured repeatedly. After a two-hour delay and with only four hours till takeoff, our jeep sets off. The aforementioned 50m section of road is now a muddy river of gloop. I help with the rescue effort. Despite our best efforts the vehicles do not have sufficient traction to make it out. My treasured walking boots, which had served me so well on a trek to Machu Picchu two weeks before, are abandoned in the mud. (Refer to attached photo).
Finally, one vehicle makes it through and there is momentary jubilation. Now with only two hours to go and after discussing the urgency of the situation with the tour guides, I’m allowed to jump ship and climb on board this larger 4x4. After half an hour of bumping and skidding over the unpaved, flooded road surface, we are still 50 miles from the airport and it is becoming increasingly apparent that I’m going to miss my flight.
Suddenly, and very unexpectedly, a helmet-clad motorcyclist waves down the jeep and gestures to the driver ‘I need Jon Moore. Is there a Jon Moore here?’ Halleluiah! In a flash I’m on the back of his bike, clinging on for dear life. Prising one white-knuckled hand off the driver’s shoulder, I check my watch. I might actually make it! It’ll take only a few minutes to check in, pass security and make my way to the single runway.
As the bike splutters into Rurrenabaque, I watch in despair as my plane taxies to the runway and disappears into the low-lying clouds. It left early, 15 minutes before schedule! Unbelievable! I’m told that due to unpredictable weather, flights sometimes leave before their planned departure times.
My fears unfold. With only one scheduled flight per day, I’m forced to spend another night in Rurrenabaque, resulting in a missed fight home to the UK the following day. Life is full of risks. Most come off, but sometimes an error of judgement can land you in hot water - or in my case - a glutinous quagmire. The result? A great deal of apologising, a blown budget and a costly flight home the following week. Lesson learnt!