Back in June and July we had a three week school holiday and so myself, Karen and Jenny decided to take a trip to the Amazon.
We flew out of Cali late at night and headed for Leticia. When we got there it was “too wet to land” and so we headed for Bogota. After a couple of hours camped out in Bogota Airport in the middle of the night we set back out for Leticia, this time discovering that it was now just wet enough for touch down.
We sloshed our way onto the bus and headed through town for the port area which sits on a backwater of the Amazon. From here we caught one of the lodge’s boats down the river. As we left Leticia we left the backwater and joined the main river at a point where it is possible to see both Brazil and Peru across the water.
The sun was out by now and we pootled along the river which, even though we were over four thousand kilometres upstream, was still well over a mile wide in most places. We left Leticia behind and very soon the banks on either side were the edges of the rainforest with just the occasional clearing for a small dwelling or two.
Although we were 80 odd holidaymakers on a tourist boat, I still felt pretty adventurous.
Some years ago I stopped in a jungle lodge down river from Puerto Maldonado in Peru. It was a pleasant little place that had a dozen or so rooms, sporadic electricity and a tarantula colony by the front door. So I packed suitably, with much bug spray, long sleeved shirts and a pair of big hiking boots.
As it turned out our “jungle lodge” was a really quite luxurious place with air conditioned rooms, a pool and all the facilities you’d expect from a normal hotel. The bug spray was certainly useful, especially by the fruity drink dispensers, but we were not roughing it in any way, shape or form.
I took most of the excursions on offer. On one day we travelled up to Puerto Narino, one of only two port towns on the Colombian side. It has no roads, having banned almost all motorised transport, so it was very peaceful. It certainly made a change from dodging the manic motos of Palmira!
On the way up we crossed to the Peruvian side of the river to look at some Amazon River Dolphins. At first we saw them breaking water but then one of them decided to put on a bit of a show and was jumping right out of the water and twisting itself around.
On my birthday we visited an indigenous community about 20 kms from the lodge. Their guides gave us a guided walk deep* into the jungle, telling us about the medicinal properties of the trees. Colombia is not free of idiot hippies and one woman in our group started expounding on the superiority of natural medicine, ancient knowledge etc..
The guide then told us about his daughter getting ill when she was young. First the family went to a village shaman. When he was unable to cure her the family then went to the hospital in Leticia. They decided that she needed specialist treatment and the family were given a certificate to travel to Bogota for it. His daughter recovered and now she lives in Bogota.
Most houses/huts in the village have satellite dishes and the kids all seemed to be wearing cotton underwear beneath their traditional clothes. It seemed to me that they were making a sensible accommodation with modernity, while still giving us tourists the sort of experience we expected. We paid a 5000 peso tax to visit which is, well it’s a bit more than a pound now after the EU Referendum. This money goes to a collective village pot.
On our last full day we spent some of the afternoon kayaking up and down one of the backwaters. The river was almost still here and we paddled along gently, moving in and out of the shadows cast by the overhanging trees and looking out for the birds. Our guide Hubert was the most relaxed man I have ever met. It was a wonderful little excursion.
While we were paddling along we saw plenty of birds, although the larger birds of prey stayed to the main river as far as I recall. There were occasional families in boats powered by outboard motors who came past. We didn’t see any river creatures (there are anacondas, electric eels and caiman living locally) although when we stopped for a rest we realised that the river was alive with little splashes and ripples all around us.
All in all, it was a fantastic trip.
*about 200 metres!