I received an email from a Bolivian buddy of mine inviting me to join him on a venture to the Amazon Basin in northern Bolivia. After a quick Wikipedia search and learning this area is known to be one of, if not the most, bio-diverse locations on the entire planet, I replied with a definitive "Hell yeah!" Then I proceeded to fantasize about playing with pink Amazon river dolphins.
Yes. There are pink dolphins living in some of the freshwater rivers in the Amazon Basin in the district of Beni. Not a little pink, but pink pink. Like the color of a wad of Hubba Bubba stuck on the bottom of your shoe. Why are they pink? I don't know. I searched for an answer online and failed. Even biologists can't answer the question.
Upon arrival, my Bolivian buddy loaned me a new Honda Rancher for nine days to search for the mystical Bufeo (the Bolivian term for pink dolphin). I saw lots of food-stealing monkeys, hungry crocodiles and even 150-pound guinea pigs called capybaras during my 900-mile trip through swamps, dusty trails and seasonal savannas, but no dolphins.
Maybe I'm lucky I didn't run into one of the pink dolphins. I've seen clips on YouTube of dolphins violating humans. Seriously, look it up. Flipper could have molested me. In defense of the dolphins' sexuality, the indigenous people tell a tale of the Bufeo morphing into a studly dude who seduces girls (not dudes), knocks them up and then bails before sunrise to become an Amazon river dolphin again. Either way, I didn't see one. Maybe, theoretically, the billions of crocodiles I did see ate all the dolphins.
Every year since 1997, the organizers at Ecotourism ATV Caravan Bolivia (www.caravan-atv.com) have put together ATV expeditions to the most remote parts of Bolivia. The Caravan has explored everything from the "World's Most Dangerous Road" in the Andes to the low-lying Jesuit missions of the Bolivian Pantanal, a tropical wetland and the world's largest wetland of any kind. They specialize in taking people off the Gringo Trail, where you get to experience sparsely populated parts of the country but in relative safety. The Caravan covers food, medics, mechanics and rooms or tents. The deal also includes a camp chef. Without him, you might end up having to eat the local delicacy-fire-roasted armadillo.
Bolivia's portion of the Amazon Basin is over 600 miles from the actual river, yet it better preserves the classic image many travelers associate with the Amazon than the real thing. While Brazilian rainforests continue to shrink due to ranching and farming, the Amazon rainforests of northern Bolivia remain relatively intact. The lack of year-round tourism conserves the indigenous people's ancestral customs.
Exploring the Bolivian Amazon is nearly impossible most of the year due to the onslaught of unrelenting downpours in the summer. During the rainy season, everything turns to mud, putting all road travel on a holding pattern. Exceptionally low and flat, much of the area is covered for up to four months of the year by a slowly moving wash of water. The only means of travel during the summer is by small aircraft or ox and cart. During the dry season, the water evaporates and the Beni becomes a hot, arid savanna, great for riding ATVs.