Even from the plane I was already quite excited about the view. We where flying quite low luckily long hours over the wanderful amazonas jungle. Rivers, some flooded areas, wanderfuly scenery. You see the water surface sometimes under the canopy as a sparkling mirror. The great amazonas jungle! One of my dream! What a beautiful green carpet! What is immediately obvious, that the Colombian part is quite untached. No big clearings no industrial areas or ranches just infinite green, wherever you look.
Leticia itself is nothing special. As always the people are even nicer, sometimes you wander how is it possible that everyone is so friendly with an open heart, peaceful, honest. Speaking about honesty, this is a unique feature I only see here before, nobody try to ripp you off, no tourist prices, no customized tuktuk or taxi fares. The only one time when someone told us a bigger price compared to the reality is actually happened here at the harbour, some tout approached us and told us a two dollar higher price than what it sould be. Regardless of this, I always ask some local guys or girls around before taking the bus/taxi/or shopping at the market, and we never ever actually where asked anything just the correct amount. This, is unique, not even in Laos. 🙂
The food is great all across Colombia, especially here. There is this phenomenon that as LP mentioned in the Colombian guidebook, that the food is not too tasty or less spiced than expected, they say even in the caribbean region, where they would excepth more spice, so as they wrote this, all the funky neo-backpacker are always compaining about the food, and they always mention that even in the carib region it is tasteles. So, first, although I’m not too fussy about the food I found the colombian kitchen appropriately spiced and i’m a hungarian, and as such we always overspice everithing but still, I was happy with the taste, secondly what is about the carib? Why should there be more spice? Is it closer to the salty sea or what? Anyway, as LP mentioned it, everybody keep complaining about it. For me and also for Susana who is way more into foods it was always great. Also not to mention the insane amount and variety of fruits. Especially in the north and here also, you can eat different ones for weeks without repeating them and usualy you will not even know the name of what are you eating. As i’m really into fruits, for me it was paradise itself. Oh, and I almost forgot the nice natural juices. Brrrr how can anyone complain?
Leticia is surprisingly busy and noisy, full with motorbikes, shops. It is also outstandinly well suplied compared to the fact, that you are deep in the jungle.
It is an interesting area, a tripple borfer region, if you walk on the streets to the east after a while you will end up in Tabatinga, Brazil. You hardly realize it, on one of the streets they have a small sign, saying hello in brazil, and also a few soldiers here and there, but nobody askes for a pasport or anything else. The Tabatinga side is a bit more messy and way less trees, less shadow, so we always concluded that it is way warner in Brazil. If you hop over the river, it is already Peru, same story no-one will ask you for any paperwork. Even the money… they accept all type everywhere. Ah, it is an other interesting thing, so when I went to Brazil for a longer period, I changed pesos from colomba to reales of brazil, the exchange rate was at least 25 percent better, than suggested by internet currency sites. And after a few weeks, when I arrived back still with a lots of brazilian money in my pocket, they changed it back with the exactly same rate, so I did not lost a dime. Same guys, same exchange shop, saying, ah, you came back, no worries, exchange rate is the same the other way around too. What? A nice good surprise. Don’t try this at home. 🙂
Our first cayman sighting is also connected to Leticia, at the main square, there is a small lake, inside a small cayman. We even saw her fishing.
But what suprised us the most, that for the first few days it was increadibly cold. The locals call this event the “brazilian” I suppose it is a big frontal system somewhere in Brazil and the edge of it with a coldforont peeks in a bit to the region, causing constant pouring london-like rain, and indeed a sharp drop in the temperature. We actually had to use our thermal pullover. I would not expected that to be honest. Our friends where saying that it is the best time for fishing as even the temperature of the river is lower and the fish is coming to the surface for some warmth, and it is realtive easy to spear them, as they also slow down a bit too.
At the beginning we where not really sure where to go from here, as my original plan was to go to Pacoa or Mitu, and canoe from there. So we had a few days of research and investigation, while we did that we also visited the immediate surrounding of Leticia. From here, towards Colombia, there is only one road out of the city. It goes exactly 26 kilometers. And funnily enough it is called the “kilometers” road. There is two bus riding them, one is called “kilometer 11” which only goes 11k towards the jungle, the other is called “kilometer 21” you can guess. The remaining 5 you have to walk, and when you arrive to the end, it turns to jungle, the road suddenly stops, and the forest takes over. We tought this is quite cool and also where rather keen to see THE jungle so we took the bus to the 11 and started walking from there. On the way we met a nice ice-cream seller guy, I think he was riding his small shop-on-the-bike to Leticia, but he stopped, we bought a few and he was entertained by the fact, that we actually walking to the nothing. Crazy forigners he tought. There is nothing at the end. Few miles later we met a gentleman with a truck, he gave us a lift towards the end of the road, he was going to his field/jungle to work with his son. He explained that the real end of the road, where the real jungle starts is quite a bit away, so he offered, that a bit further he has an other piece of land, and by the end of it a really nice jungle starts, with big trees, so we can feel free to open his gate, and have a walk in his jungle. He was really nice, and as it was already quite late, and the last bus leaves quite soon so we decided to visit his land instead of the end of the road. More or less where he described we found a new wooden gate, so we let ourself in. He mentioned that there should be some chicken places around, and if we pass them we will find the forest. So we where walking in to this area, absolutelly not sure if we are at the right place or not, as there where no chicken places whatsoever. In some countries they can shoot the uninvited guests, here possibly not, but being in Colombia and walking into a large jungle surrounded by a barbwire fence and a gate I was not really convinced about the positive outcome of our adventure. After a good 5-10min of walking, we arrived to a big clearing, a truly magical place, a few wooden houses here and there and a few guys seemingly very busy with their work. We walked to one of the man, expalining the situation, and what we where doing there, and he confirmed that the land we are looking for is indeed not this 🙂 in most western countried they would look at you with sharp eyes as a minimum, but here, he offered us a seat, a nice lemonade, and a good chat about the area, and what they are doing there. We even found a cage for chickens, but they exapined that those ones are not for food or eggs, they are for fighting. And the whole team is from Cali, they maintain and protect the land for an owner from Cali as well. I was still not sure, if it was a good idea to walk in there, but they nicely offered us a tour around their part of the forest. While we where walking neither Susana or me was not really sure what will happen next, maybe we really walked into some shady operation, as in the middle of the estate there was a large area filled with green leafs in some liquid and the tour in the jungle is just an excuse to attract us there and than chop our head off with the machete. But by the end nothing happened, they where extremely nice, kind, friendly… maybe the leaf-bath was something else… we will never know, and as we survived the event it is rather a nice memory about kindness and hospitality.
The following days we went to the majors office to ask for some detailed maps of the area, and to collect more information, as we planned to buy a canoe, and discover the area by paddling around the Amazonas. Suz was worried a bit about the security and the river as well and aslo about the concept of sleeping in the jungle altough he was really keen on it as well. By talking with the locals it seemed that this part of the Amazonas is indeed very safe, if we do not go close to Peru, everyone is saying, that here, ther are no bad people, no drog trafficing or labs, all this nowadays actually happening in Peru, and Brazil (which later turned out to be absolutely true) so decission was made to go upriver with a motorboat a good hungred kilometer or so, to buy a canoe, and from there it seemed easy to paddle downriver back to Leticia by the time Susanas plane is leaving. We where super-excited about the plan, again I hardly could sleep a day before we took the motorboat.
As for having a detailed map, I also switched on my satelit tracker, and accurately marked all the inhabited area on the way, so by coming back with the canoe at least we will know how far is the next village, or fishing-settlement/hut where we possibly can stop and sleep.
The boat next day went with some incredible speed, I measured 25knots with the gps, quite insane, especially on the Amazonas, massive logs and trunks are floating with the stream lots of dirt in the water sometimes they form big island like creatures… full respect to the drivers. And some consideres my canoe mission dangerous, well you should try this speedboats. After 2 hours we arrived to Puerto Narino, on the way once I tought I saw a dolphin jumping, but just in the corner of my eye, so was not really sure. The forest was magnificent all the way and finally seeing the amazonas in its full power.. I really had some megical moments. (Suz went forward on the first night, and had a peek from the river from Leticia, but I was waiting quite a while, as I really wanted to see the whole wide stream first, not just a muddy arean in Leticia. What a feeling, I could not thing anything else just to buy a canoe asap to enjoy and see all this slower, closer, better.
Narino is a rather very nice place, no cars, no motorcycles, the only two vehicle are the emergency minivan, and the trash collector tractor. Lovely environment, large parrots are flying across the village, locals already knowing them by name, sometimes monkeys are visiting as well, several places around the village have a feeding place for them with some fruits. We found a nice hotel. The whole is quite close to paradise. Only disturbance is the early morning village-radio broadcast, which is outstandingly loud and the large number of missionaries. It seems that the whole Amazonas region is their primaly ground of distruction right now, even in the smallest village there are several different sects… I really do not like them (sorry if I hurt your religios beleif… well honestly I’m not that sorry) all they do is destroying the local culture, tradition and than bringing in the hunger for money, religious conflicts, and the stupid “western” mentality, which maybe working in some urban areas, but according to my view it should not be here at all. They trap the local population by offering stupid avdantages, and on the same time they bann the local traditions, and by doing that they kill the important knowledge this guys, or better, the parents of this guys where still maintaining. Before our worthless westerner culture arrived to this places, this ppl where living according to their traditions, they always had enough food, and cure to all the medical issues they had. Now, everyone lacking money all the time, everyone is sad, as they feel poor compared to what they see in the tv, kids has to go to school, instead of learning from their parents the skills they had and worked in that environment for thousands of years, if they want to have job, to earn money, as money is king in the jungle nowadays. This things are really disappointing to see, and here I had the unfortunate chance to see the religious machine working at closup. There is only one thing I hope the jehovas are right in it, they are waiting for the ultimate day, when all the true beleivers will go to heaven in the same time… well, at least the world will be a better place afterall. Shame on everyone who participates in this. If you beleive in god or something similar, cool, do it at home, if you come here to “convert” this people you are not any better than the other relegious separatist on the other end of the word with guns in their hands. Anyway, this is more valid for the Peruian and Brazilian side than the Colombian, as here the traditional lifestyle is long forgotten so what all the sects are actually doing is taking beleivers from other sects, back and forth. Also with the fortunate Colombian mentality and peacefulness ppl on this side seems to be by far more happier than the other two side of the border.
In the first few days we kept ourself busy by discovering the village and by looking for possible canoes. Not an easy task as what we where looking for is a canoe which just fits two ppl, but on the same time I will be able to handle it alone, after Suz flys to Dominica. Usualy you can find two types easily, big ones, with an engine, around 6-7 meters (just for reference, psyrema was 8.6) and really small ones for fishing, around 3 meters. We where looking for the almost none existing middle, with around 4-5 meters. Even if we managed to find the right sized ones, either the owner did not wanted to sell it, or it was calibrated for the local people, so to big europian would indeed sink it. After checking out dozens of canoes and talking with several owners and guys who could possibly manufacture one for us we where still not any closer to the success. Doing a new one could be a good option if we have a spare month to wait, but as we don’t we indeed where looking for some old ones. To buy a canoe is actually very cheap, even a new, traditional carved out one costs about a hungred eur, and the used ones are somewhat starting from 30. As days passed by everyone around us was aware of our operation, but still no luck. We met several nice locals, everyone is helpful and happy. One of them was called Francisco, he had a small but nicely made dugout canoe, as we chatted he mentioned he knows a lot about the forest and it is full with monkeys, tucanos and lizards, and also there is a nice lake around, if we want he can take us there, so we pinned down the event for next day. First a canoe ride around the lake and later a nice walk in the forest. Next morning we met him, and went togother to the lake, I bought my fishing gear, he bought his traditional one, a stick with a bit of like on it. He is an amaizing guy, knows a lot about the area, a few minutes after we left he already spotted an iguana, it is funny he could spot it from hundreds of meters, deep in the canopy a green lizard in a green environment. Took us 5more minutes to find it as well, well, our westerner eyes are not so accustomed for the forest. Again a few minutes of canoeing later he told us that he thinks dolphins are around, as he can smell them. Needless to say we did not smell anything new at all. But indeed a few minutes later I spotted one but unfortunately Suz was looking to the other direction. He also spoted out hundreds of birds, some of them where really awesome, white, with electric-blue stripes on the head. We stopped for fishing in several places, usualy went into the forest to the fooded area, needless to say who was more effective in fishing. Well yes, no fancy fishing gear can beat the local knowledge. Unfortunately we did not catch anything big but it was still fun to be in the forest under the canopy but still on the river. Wanderful experience. Many many insectes with all the color-combination you possibly can imagine, spiders, ants, and quite a few moscitos of course. He also spotted a small monkey as well, but regardless how hard we tried we did not see anything. He was laughing a lot on us. 🙂
During the afternoon we went for a walk to the jungle. Francisco has a great knowledge of medical trees, and in general the whole jungle area around their village. At a certain point, Susana slipped on the mud and by falling down quite unfortunately she managed to grab something sharp and she ended up with a really serious looking deep cut in her palm and one smaller one across her arm. The one on the palm really looked serious, was bleeding heavily… Francisco quickly went to collect some natural remedies and arrived back with a small green trunk. He cutted it half and carefully sliced the inner whiter parts and made a small portion of mashed trunk with his knife, he carefully cleaned the still heavily bleeding wound with a shaved slice of the stern and also squeezed quite a bit of liquid from the mashed part. We covered it up with a bit of a paper, and walked forward. After a few minutes, the bleeding stopped entirely, 20min later the wound seemed like properly stiched togother. Bit later he stopped at an other tree, shaved off a bit from the bark, again squeezed it to the cut, and that was it. By the next morning Susana was able to use her hand again. Unbelievable. I mean the dept of the cut, and the fact that in the tripics all wounds take ages to heal I expected a few days rest. I do not know what was the name of the plant he used, but it had some magical qualities. You can not buy anything even closely this effective in a pharmacy. It was amaizing. We constantly kept watching the wound in every few minutes and we could not beleived to our eyes. Even in a colder climate, with a cut like this you would go to hospital possibly, and it would take weeks and several stiches possibly to heal, but this tree made some magic. The next day altough it looked entirely done, we still rested a bit with it, but a day later she already paddled a canoe and went to the forest without any issues. The whole purpose to go to the jungle first of all was to walk to the neighboring village a good hour away, called San Francisco as everyone recommended it to us to look for canoes there as they manufacture really nice ones but we where not lucky again, they just went to the forest to look for some woods, to start a new one, but there where nothing for us to buy. 😦 already feeling a bit desperate as our time was about to run off, we decided that next morning we do a quick round again, and if it is not succesful, we take the speedboat to the next settlement, so at least we do not spend all the remaining time she has in the same place. While doing this in the morning we actually spotted a perfect looking, wide, deep, beautiful dugout, so we asked for the owner. First the lady did not wanted to sell, but later she admitted that she already ordered a new one, just waiting for it to arrive, so we saw a chance here, and we told her, that we are able to compenzate her inconvinience until the new one arrives, and after half a second of thinking she was saying ok for the offer. We quickly went back to the canoe to take it to a test ride, but unfortunately it was letting a massive amount of water in every minutes, it is of course normal to have some river inside, but with this hole we would fill up to the top in every 10min, even the lady admitted that it is annoying to bail out the water in every second. She told us that she could repair it easily, it would take 3days. Unfortunately it would mean that Suz could not join me for the paddling, so with the hope that in the next village we may find the perfect one we stepped back from the purchase, but I also told to the lady, that if I could not find an other one in the next week, than I come back and buy hers, as it looks really lovely and also after Suz will fly home I will have unlimited time basically.
Our next stop was the small village called Macedonia. It did not started too well, the only place we found on the first day to stay is the local hotel, which was rather dirty. I made the serious mistake of going to the loo at night, which is in an attached small hut outside of the main building. The amount of cockroaches even surprised me, the seasoned traveller. Hundreds, but really hundreds everywhere. Brrrr. Well, if you have to go you have to go, but it was not pleasant to any level. Next day, fortunately they expected a bigger group of ppl, so we did not had a place there anymore but they where nice and suggested us a family with a place to hung our hamocs. This is how we met Gilermo and his lovely family. Most of the people in this region, including Gilermo belongs to the Tikuna tribe, which is the most widely spread indigenous group around the whole region, their territory extends from Colombia all the way to Brazil mostly along the northern shore of the Amazonas a few hundred kilometers towards east. The tikuna people have their own language, and they are very proud of their identity although they maintain very little from their original traditions, nowadays everybody belongs to a modern church, and lives accordingly. They kept their language, which even has a written form and also quite a decent part of the villagers are living from traditional art manufacturing or processing materials from the jungle to sell for artist living outside of the region or sometimes to design companies.
Our host family is working in the same business, they produce really high quality products, and every year Gilermo travels to the big cities and selling them on art-fairs or to galleries. They work just and only with natural materials, everything coming from the jungle. We where really interested in their activity, so he agreed that we can spend there a few days, and he will show us his best 🙂 it was a wanderful experience! We went to the forest collecting base materials. One of the most important is a bark from a special tree, traditionally tikuna ppl used it for hamocs, or cloths, or as a base for the classical and very typical feathery headdresses. First we went to find the appropriate tree, with a healthy bark and a good length, than after falling the log, he carefully removed the bark by gently hammering it off from the trunk, and later he separated the outter green shell from the yellow-white inner layer which will be used as the raw material for many things. When we had the bark, we went to collect some natural paints, like a green grass, which as a surprise will turn to nicely saturated blue, if you rub it to something, and a few hairy green round things as well, which contains red berries inside also some bigger leafs, for the brown. Unbelievable how much this ppl know about the jungle, on the way back and forth he always stopped at different trees and explained what it is good for. Monkeys and birds everywhere! Untouched forest!
After arriving home Gilermo processed the goods… the colors had to be extracted, the bark had to be hammered and dried out on the sun, special palm leafs will act as a form of ropes. We where amazed. The next few days we spent here with his family, finishing the materials, going to the Amazonas to fish, looking for Canoes. By the way, fishing, we spent the evening on one of the balsas along the shore, spinning for some catch, all the fish we got had some strange story. One has a big side swimmer with very sharp spikes on it, so if you try to grab it it will close it and your hand will be in pieces in no time, the other one basicaly eats everything, even you if you sink to the bottom, it will enter you through your ass 🙂 the next one had poisonous spikes, and than obviously there are the piranhas… fish are mean here. Finally I managed to catch a quite decent sized of the type which has poisonous spikes, and several smaller from the rest, that made our dinner especially tasty. Nothing is better than a fish you catch.
Although we loved it here, we had to go on, we still wanted to visit one more indigenous village before Suz has to leave. This was an experience we will never forget, and Gilermo and family will be always in our heart.
He was kind enough to take us to the next village with his canoe, to an other indigenous community, the Yagua ppl. He told us that he knows someone there and we can sleep there no problem, we understood that he has a sort of a simmilar facility as him with a place for hamocs for visitors. When we arrived Norbey our contact was not at home only her wife, and she was not really sure if we actually can sleep there or if we do how much it will cost. This suprised us a bit, and as we looked around there where no other option in the village so we waited Norbey to come home. Later we understood, that he is not really used to accomodate forigners, it was some sort of a misunderstanding from Gilermos side (or a joke maybe) but it was already quite late and nowhere else to go, he was kind enough to allow us to sleep infront of his home basically on the street. He is indeed a really nice fella, full with interesting stories and informations about the village. He is not a yagua but a tikuna but the wife is, same as most of the peopel of the settlement. The situation was a bit awkward as Norbey being a Colombian wanted to do anything to make sure we feel happy and confortable but also as he is not used to this situations he always felt shamed of some sort which he should not be, first of all he was a wanderful host and secondly we really did not wanted any special treatment just a place to seep. We hoped to stay a bit longer originally but we also realised that it would put way too much pressure on our lovely host, so we decided to go to the next village next day. While we where waiting for the canoe to pick us up, we experienced one of the funniest thing. The village was preparing for a celebration in a few days so they brought in a cow to cook it later for the crowd. First of all, the cow arrived on a canoe like thing, and it was really a nice big cow. But also the fact, that the ppl living here are actually living in the jungle, they know very well, how to handle all the dangeurouos animals of the forest, but absolutely no idea what to do or how to walk with a cow. At a certain point the cow escaped and was running up and down on the streets, the whole village gathered arround it and when the cow turned his had everyone was running away. It was hell of a situation, and everybody enjoyed the event from the village except the guys was responsible for it. It was funny seing the whole village buzzling because of a cow while there are several monkeys and caymans living there as “pets”. Kids where shouting “Cow! Cow!” and running around. We where loughing a lot needless to say, especially on the fact, that when the cow escaped he was running towards the crowd, everybody tried to run away including Suz, but instead she managed to actually fall into someones home. 🙂 I think locals will talk about this for quite a while.
From here we went to one of the most beautiful settlement along the Amazonas we visited, Santa Sofia. If you arrive with the speedboat it does not show its beauty, but if you arrive across the flooded forest with the canoe, it is breathtaking. A big lake, a nice bay, giant trees growing out of the water, the settlement built on some small hills, a nice blue church. If you are around, make sure you come here, it worth all the effort.
We managed to sleep in a reserve, deep in the jungle. A nice hotel, with two rooms, and a green lush forest around. They even have a small monkey called Michaela, he/she (it is not clear) is lovely, she loved Suz a lot, everywhere we went she was following us, she was cleaning the mud out of her trousers like as it would be her fur, she was always climbing to her… lovely small creature. Well almost… she did not liked me too much, every time she saw me she was showing her thong towards me, I understood that it must mean “I dont like you” in monkey-language.
Unfortunately for Suz it was time to go to Dominica, so we took the speedboat back to Leticia to catch her flight. Hell of a two week it was! Again an adventure I will never forget!