Published: April 2nd 2010April 2nd 2010
4 Days in the Jungle
Arriving in Colombia in itself was a big highlight for me, as I had earmarked here and New Zealand to be my top two destinations - Colombia because of the negative press and limited number of travellers and NZ because I have heard so many great things from so many great people about it. Time will tell I guess. Expectations of Colombia are high, I just hope I don’t view it too heavily through rose tinted glasses. Many people still think Colombia is dangerous because of its violent past, centred around the drug cartels and the existence of guerrillas in many parts of the country, however the current President, Alvaro Uribe, has transformed the country and is now focusing heavily on attracting tourists once again. The research I took before leaving suggests that Colombia is no more unsafe than any other South American country, so the prospect of dense Amazon jungle, Caribbean beaches and quaint mountain villages in the coffee region, all in one country, was too much of a temptation for me.
I checked into the Mahatu hostel (which has moved from the address currently given in the LP) with Danny, a guy
I met on the boat from Manaus, who was from Manchester and who had travelled in Peru with Nathan, one of my mates from home, a couple of months ago - small world! It is a basic hostel with uncomfortable beds and a very strange owner, although the surroundings are very nice!
We spent the first day getting our bearings with Leticia which is a small, yet beautiful (in its own way) town that I really took to. We took a taxi back to the Brazilian side to get the required exit stamp in the passport and then crossed back into Colombia to receive the entry stamp at the airport, where the immigration staff took the piss out of our lack of Spanish - very professional - lucky I have years of doing that to other people, so as not to take it to heart! We went back into town, found a tour agency and booked ourselves onto a 4 day jungle tour (with Amazon Jungle Trips) leaving in a couple of days. That night we met up with the Dutch couple, who were off to Peru the following day, and ze Germans, who had joined us at the
hostel, for a beer and some dinner before saying our goodbyes.
The next day we hired a moped and decided to use the extra horse power to explore Leticia further. There wasn’t a great deal to see, but we got a lot further out of town than we would have done on 2 legs and was much more fun, making the most of the day and making us feel as though we had achieved something. I also reduced my crash rate on a scooter by 50% which was a big plus for me! I must confess to being a tad nervous getting on it that morning, considering the last time I had ridden one in Thailand - a year earlier - I ended up facing the wrong way in a ditch 4 feet lower than the road!
The next day we met at the agency office and were whisked to the ‘dock’ by taxi, where our guide Romano would by waiting for us. He spoke little English, but as he carried a rather large machete, we had to trust him! The boat ride to Zacambu Lodge took 3 hours, which wouldn’t have been too bad had I
not been 6’3” and bent double for the duration of the trip, however I was privy to some spectacular scenery en route, so wont complain too much. The lodge was in the Peruvian part of the Amazon and was an ideal place to spend a few days…swinging in hammocks overlooking the river, watching dolphins splash about in the river and admire river folk plying their trade along the banks of the Amazon.
After lunch on Day 1, we were taken for a spot of piranha fishing! Now I’ve never been that keen on chucking a line overboard and waiting patiently until I feel a little nibble, however we were assured that we would catch something…and quickly. After 30 minutes without a fish we decided to make things interesting, dividing ourselves into 2 teams, England and Germany, with the 2 Danny’s looking to do what their football team hadn’t done for some years (apart from the 5-1 thrashing we gave them in Munch in 2001) and beat them in a competitive battle. The fish were still not biting, especially down the English end of the boat and I seriously had to question the knowledge of the skippers ‘fishing spots’, however
he still had the machete close at hand, which meant I was in no position to argue! After an early German lead, the English boys did the country proud, with northern Danny bagging a cat fish (1 goal) and southern Danny (that’s me) a piranha (2 goals), clinching the victory 3-1. An enjoyable ride back to base!
We went caiman hunting that night, which basically involved sailing the boat down the river and Romano shining a ultra powerful torch into the river bank, hoping to catch the glint of the caimans eyes in the beam. This worked a dream and we managed to spot a lot of them close to the river bank however, as we drew closer, in the hope that Romano would catch one, they would swim for cover. Maybe the reason they kept eluding us was due to the fact we went charging in with the engine revved to the full, something that seemed obvious to the tourists on board however, he still had his trusted machete by his side so again I made no comment. I’m not sure what would have happened had he caught a decent sized caiman as there was not much room
to move in the boat and didn’t fancy coming too close to the business end of one, so maybe it was best to settle for the baby caiman Romano was able to bring on board.
The next morning we went for a walk around the jungle in the hope (my hope at least) of seeing wild snakes, spiders, sloth’s and monkeys. In reality, we saw a few monkeys, from afar, a couple of parrots, a hell of a lot of trees, a couple of beautiful butterflies and the attention of numerous unwanted mosquito’s. Throughout the whole trip, we unfortunately saw very little wildlife, which was a real disappointment, yet made me appreciate how dense the jungle was and how far into it we weren’t. I guess it was pretty unrealistic of me to think that the snakes and spiders would happily pop out of their hideouts and wave to us, which also puts into perspective the lengths that the likes of David Attenborough take, to come up with the footage they do! After 3 hours of constant sweating I was pleased to get back into the boat and away from the constant hum of mosquito’s in my ears!!
We were to spend that night camped in the jungle, so after a late lunch and an afternoon siesta, we headed down river to a part of the jungle that Romano obviously knew. The river was completely still at this time and the position of the sun made for some amazing reflections off of the water. We arrived at a clearing in the river bank 45 minutes later and the 2 guides began clearing the forest floor of leaves and dead wood, ensuring no spiders or other lovely creepy crawlies would interrupt our beauty sleep…how reassuring. Hammocks were strung up between trees and mosquito nets placed around them. Firewood was gathered and our cooker was lit. The forest was pitch black bar the light of the fire and a couple of candles were place near our hammocks. A massive piece of fish was successfully barbecued over the flames and after quickly devouring it, we were heading into the jungle for a night excursion! Not being a fan of all things creepy and crawly I was dubious about this part of the trip - the thought of walking into a spiders web in the darkness, didn‘t do a great deal for
me. Romano and his mate had some pretty good torches and we were able to see ‘some’ wildlife, though again nothing like I was expecting, which was a shame considering our surroundings. At one point, we all turned all off our lights and I promise that you couldn’t see a thing, even your hand in front of your face. Yes, I was thankful for a guide…and also the invention of artificial light! We got back to our base and had a beer (even in the Amazon jungle this can still be arranged) before getting into our hammock, ready for the sounds of the jungle to put us to sleep. This would have been the perfect way to drift off to dream land however, the primary sound was from mosquito’s buzzing in what felt like right beside your ear! It got so uncomfortable that I had to resort to my iPod to put me to sleep, which worked for a while until I felt I was cheating the experience and went back to the hum of the mozzie.
Unfortunately our night in the jungle was cut short by the torrential tropical downpour that descended upon us at about 01:30. Before
I had realised it was raining, the 2 guides were up and packing everything away and within about 5 minutes, the 4 tourists and 2 locals were back in the boat, heading for the sanctity and safety of the lodge, albeit 40 odd minutes away. What made things more ‘interesting’ was that the rain was so strong that the torch on Romano’s head barely worked and we had to rely on the light given off from the lightening to guide us home. From what I remember, we only had one near miss with the river bank, but it did get me thinking that whilst my mates were getting up and preparing for another days work, I was full steaming it down the Amazon River being led by the light of mother nature. If it hadn’t have been so funny I think I would have cried, because if we had smashed into the river bank, the 6 of us would have made tasty piranha food for some time. I’m not sure what my insurance company would have made of it either, but another experience to tick off all the same!
After a little sleep, we were up again and heading
back to the jungle for another trek. Although it was very interesting, witnessing some beautiful ‘flora and fauna’, I was still frustrated as the harmful and dangerous still eluded me. It looks as though I’ll just have to rely on the zoo once again! We visited an indigenous community in the afternoon which was interesting to see how they live, but didn’t learn a great deal about them. They all had satellite dishes too, which demonstrated not only how ‘indigenous’ they were, but how technological the world had become, with the supposedly most cut off people still able to keep relatively up to date with current affairs.
The morning of the last day featured a rematch between England and Germany on the fishing stakes, with the points system as follows: an edible fish, regardless of species was worth 2 points, and anything else 1 point. Ze Germans took an impressive early lead, bagging 2 piranha’s in the opening 10 minutes, rocketing them into a 4 nil lead, or 5-3 on aggregate…this was the return leg…the away fish caught rule doesn’t apply! We had to change spots a couple of times. Although the fish were biting, both teams struggled to
constantly land anything, which became increasingly frustrating, especially to the English lads who were by this stage, into the opening stages of the second half and staring defeat in the face. Thankfully northern Danny hooked an edible sized catfish to bring the aggregate scores level, only for one of ze Germans to land a 2 pointer seconds later. The pressure was well and truly on the English, especially me as I had contributed bugger all, all day! With the final whistle looming I felt a big bite on my line, snapped my wrist back and saw a decent size fish on the hook…England had an equalizer and high fives were shared before concentrating hard for the closing stages. I was determined to beat ze Germans…they have imparted too much heartache on my 27 years already, so you can imagine my delight when, with 3 minutes of extra time already played, a beastie piranha took my bait…and the hook in its cheek…allowing me to pull him into the boat and record a famous victory, 7-5 to the IN-GER-LUND! Ze Germans looked dejected down the other end of the boat and being the gracious victors we are, mad sure they knew about
it. But don’t worry, the 2 world wars didn’t feature in the victory song…we couldn’t make it fit…doo daa, doo daa.
We headed back to Leticia in the afternoon in yet more rain and spent one more night with the strange owner of the Mahatu hostel. Flights were booked the next day and we were bound for Bogota, away from the heat, humidity and the bloody mosquito’s!!
There are more photos below