There are a lot of trees in the jungle. Once the plane was low enough to see, I could really appreciate the vast, endless treetop ocean in which I would be living for the following week – the first part of my “Goodbye Colombia” tour, accompanied by my Paisa friend, Sandra.
I heaved my heavy pack through the small, once drug-riddled town of Leticia in search of the hostel we had booked. A few years ago one could witness kilos of cocaine being openly traded in the streets, that is if one were brave enough to visit. Of course the Lonely Planet’s address for the hostel was woefully off, but with the aid of a phone call we eventually made it to Mahatu. The hostel is run by a well-travelled Colombian guy and is situated in fantastic grounds on the edge of town – birds chirp (seemingly throughout the night) and the pond is populated by ducks, freshwater turtles and jungle fish.
Now I have a confession to make – I started eating fish during the past few days. The reason being that I couldn’t face eating nothing but rice, beans, eggs and plantain for three weeks, and I don’t want to get even thinner. Morally I can’t really justify it, and now I’m feeling a bit guilty. I’m not sure if this means I’m no longer vegetarian, I think maybe the guilt will keep me from continuing like this…
On Friday we caught the speedboat to Puerto Nariño, two hours upstream of Leticia. Puerto Nariño is a small community, devoid of motorised traffic (there are no roads) and apparently eco-friendly (there are recycling bins). We trudged from the pier to our hostel, Alto de Aguila, situated outside of town, beyond the point of mud-free concrete paths. A plethora of jungle wildlife has made the hostel their permanent home – most notably a troop of four pygmy monkeys. The smallest of the four, Max, took an immediate liking to Sandra, refusing to let go of her arm. Throughout our stay he proceeded to molest all-comers with little nips and squeaks to remind one that he’s around. And of course he knew all the little holes in the building, meaning it was not unusual to open the door in the morning to find Max stuffing himself from the table of free fruit laid out for both monkeys and humans to share. Or he would run around the room, looking in all mugs, spilling anything of interest so he could lick it off the floor. Even tea wasn’t safe, though he proved his English etiquette a little lacking as he ripped open the tea bag, depositing the contents on the floor and eating the paper. Other permanent guests included a couple of parrots who had sadly been adopted already clipped, so couldn’t fly. They were regularly visited by parrots from the jungle, one of whom has usefully learnt to open cans of beer with his beak.
From Puerto Nariño we visited Lake Tarapoto and the pink dolphins of the Amazon. The river itself deserves a mention – it’s bloody massive! I guess that’s not news – “The Amazon is massive” – but it really is. In many parts you would think you were in a lake if you didn’t know, they say it’s up to 5km wide in these parts. The dolphins deserve less of a mention – all we could see was the odd flash of pink from a distance as they came up for air. Swimming in the lake was wonderful, though. On subsequent days we trekked into the jungle, walked to an indigenous village and ate random jungle fruits. Amazonian grapes are particularly interesting with their thick inedible skin, hard stone centre and near liquid flesh. We finally spent three nights in Puerto Nariño, a magical place in the heart of the Amazon.
Yesterday, we popped over to the island Santa Rosa, Peru, for a spot of lunch. After a pleasant 10-minute boat ride from Leticia we found ourselves on this tropical little island, where we enjoyed a decent, if overpriced lunch. Then something quite serious happened. In many places in this Amazonian border zone (Colombia meets Peru and Brazil here) one can see anti child trafficking posters. As we were relaxing on a bench on Santa Rosa, I saw the issue first hand – Sandra turned to me and asked if I heard what the man and his daughter on the bench opposite were talking about. I hadn’t been paying attention, so she explained that the guy had been trying to persuade the girl, of 10 years old, to have sex with him for money. Fortunately she declined and after the man had slunk off back to his hotel, Sandra spoke with the girl to get the full story and offer some support. Apparently he had come across from Leticia and was looking to fill the time while he waited for the 11 year old he had pre-ordered to turn up. I took a photo of the guy, however I’ve decided not to publish it here. The blatancy of his actions goes to show it’s still pretty lawless down here in the jungle.
Now back in Leticia, we prepare to set forth back into the jungle to take part in a shamanic ritual tonight. More on that to follow. Meanwhile take a look here for more photos of the jungle.