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Published: February 9th 2009
You squash another mosquito against your skin while admiring the dense jungle scenery. Colourful birds fly past while you are distracted by pink dolphins jumping from the river. Indigenous children stop and stare while you float past remote jungle villages. Suddenly the boat speeds up and you hold on tight as it crashes through giant lilies and drift wood. You sit back and struggle to take in the size of the Amazon while looking at a million prehistoric trees. Suddenly it all sinks in, you are in one of the most remote and beautiful places on earth - The Colombian Amazon.
Leticia & The Trans Frontier
Where else in the world can you cross illegally between 3 countries several times in one day? On a Colombian visa I travelled back and forth between Colombia, Brazil and Peru without a single stamp in my passport. Not once did I receive a shake down or get stopped by the army. Leticia is the final frontier into the Amazon. Only accessible by air, this town is one of the most remote in Colombia.
There are no official boarder crossings within the trans frontier, while the towns of Tabatinga (Brazil) and
Leticia (Colombia) seem to be merging into one. Each of the countries agree this area is no-mans-land. There is no tourist infrastructure and very few travellers venture here because of its turbulent history making it a fascinating and remote place right in the heart of the Amazon Basin. You can easily spend your days sipping on the strange local beer while watching indigenous people transport fruit and veg down the Amazon waterways. It is a bizarre little place that quickly grows on you into a fascinating port of adventure right into the very heart of the Amazon.
The Jungle Experience
While sitting in the street watching life pass by I was approached by a local Indian. Before I knew what was happening I had negotiated a guide and boat at a ridiculously cheap rate for an unforgettable adventure down the Amazon waterways with three gringos I met the day before.
We floated down the Colombian backwaters gliding across mirrored lakes while watching pink dolphins breaching motionless waterways. My eyes followed the ripples to the bank of the river as strange fish jumped in fear from the tropical water. Colourful birds flew past catching prehistoric bugs while
small monkeys climbed between the tree tops. Occasionally I would hear a strange noise and look around for a few moments, my eyes struggling to adjust on the dense jungle scenery. Suddenly I would identify the noise and look on in amazement... Its yet another bird making too much noise for an animal of its size.
Indigenous children gathered at the banks of the river to see the strange gringos floating past. For a handful of sweets we were welcomed into their villages. Children would look on in fear as we approach their homes... You wonder why? Maybe its because you appear so large and alien... Or maybe its because they know the true history of the white man in the Amazon! Whatever the reason, their expressions were priceless, something I will never forget.
We spent some time wondering around the indigenous village. The children looking on from a safe distance. Their useless guard dogs snapped at our feet while the local elders showed us around their land pointing out fruit and veg growing in the surrounding area. Our guide pulled down a strange fruit growing from a tree, he opened it up and used it to draw
a ridiculous henna tattoo on everyone's arm.
While looking at the unusual animals kept by the indigenous people, the guide negotiates for a machete - leaving me wondering why?. The engine begins to rev as I climbed back onboard the motorised canoe. I flew through the Amazon backwaters towards the main river without realising we had illegally crossed into Peru. The crazy guide waved around his machete like Rambo... All we could hear was the deafening sound of the high powered diesel engine, the jungle landscapes were unreal.
Suddenly the engine cuts out. The guide had spotted a Sloth high in the trees. He controlled the boat into the embankment and began cutting away the tall grass for a closer look. We follow slightly bemused but incredibly intrigued. He eventually found the tree containing the Sloth.
Suddenly we could hear a chopping sound. We clamber through the dense jungle following the fresh path created by the guide. We look on in amazement as the guide begins to cut down the tree! After 20 minutes the tree slowly begins to fall, building up momentum as it plummets to the ground. The Sloth reaches out in desperation and manages
to cling on to another tree, it escapes to safety.. For now anyway.
The crazy guide is relentless, he finds the base of the second tree. Despite our rather week protests he continues to hack away. He claimed we were in Peru, its not his country and he had put so much effort into cutting down the first tree, he wasn't going to give up now! The second tree eventually crashes to the ground and the guide quickly scrambles into the branches pulling out the Sloth, its the strangest creature I have ever seen.
The Sloth looks like ET. It moves like someone hit its slow motion button. It can not walk as is designed to live in the trees. The guide passes me the sloth. Its fur is covered in parasites. A thousand bugs run from its body and all over my hands. Its claws are long but not sharp. I have no idea how this creature has survived evolution, it does not appear to have any defence mechanism... Its pretty much the joke of the jungle!
We continue through the jungle and over to Colombia for lunch before before arriving on Santa Rosa Island in
Peru. Back to civilisation we walk through the small town and found a bar along the river banks. Some animals were kept in the bar. I got to play with a Spider Monkey, Anaconda and Crocodile.
The Spider monkey was incredibly cheeky. It proceeded to steel my hat and sunglasses. It took me 10 minutes chasing the monkey around the bar to get them back during which time it proceeded to climb on the back of a dog and ride it like a rodeo horse. It was like watching something out of a TV comedy with myself, a dog and spider monkey running around the bar! Well, it definitely entertained the locals anyway!
I was given the Anaconda to hold. It proceeded to wrap its self around me. Our crazy guide then threw me a crocodile to hold. The crocodile went crazy and snapped, taking a chunk out of the anaconda. I stretched out my arms and closed my eyes in fear, expecting the anaconda to retaliate. Luckily I managed to keep hold of them both, that situation could have gone bad!
Eventually we cross illegally into Brazil and watch a stunning sun set over the Amazon
river before returning to Colombia for an early nights sleep.
4 Nights 5 Days By Cargo Boat
The day before our Amazon Adventure we negotiated a price with a cargo boat captain (Voyager) and made a claim on some deck space by stringing up our hammocks. We paid around fifty pounds for the journey which was to include three basic meals a day over a 4 day period while living on the boat.
For four days we headed down river from Colombia (Leticia) into Brazil (Manaus) sleeping on the deck of a cargo boat. There must have been over 200 people on the boat in very cramped conditions. The food became monotonous and the sound of the engine forever in my ears. The midday heat was unbearable as a thousand prehistoric bugs crashed into me as the sun went down, still it was an amazing adventure taking us right through the heart of the Amazon waterways.
The sleeping conditions were poor and it was incredibly humid at night. Everyone's hammocks was closely packed into the boat. At night it was difficult to adjust my sleeping position. Any slight movement would often result with one persons
elbow in your ribs and another's feet in your face. I had people actually sleeping both above and below my hammock. I remember hoping no one decided to fart. The conditions reminded me of a scene out of India!
The boat broke down on a few occasions. The most memorable being the engine exploding while I stood next to the engine room. It slightly deafened me in my left ear! The boat proceeded to drifted down the Amazon without any control. Eventually we crashed in the embankment as the engineers repaired the boat. We were in the middle of no where, I have no idea how they repaired it!
Unfortunately the captain would insist on playing Latin music full blast as we floated down the river. I have no idea why? maybe he thinks we want to party down the Amazon? It completely disturbed the peace but for fifty pounds I couldn't really complain, this was the cheapest way from Colombia into Brazil.
Every morning we would see pink dolphins jumping along the side of the boat. Large birds would fly over head and often land on the boat railings. Strange bugs would crash land onboard while
I would watch people jumping around to get away from the unusual creatures.
One evening hundreds of giant beetles crash onto the boat. A few of the passengers decided to have a bug fight. We all proceeded to pick up the rather large bugs off the deck and throw them at one another. Have you ever seen a group of adults jumping around like monkeys... Try playing this game, its hysterical!
Finally arriving in Manaus was a real surprise. For a city in the remote Brazilian Amazon its massive with over 2 million people. Its industrialised and nothing how I ever imagined. In comparison to Leticia, it was obvious there would be no wildlife close by. The city appears to create a lot of pollution into the local waterways. The surrounding area suffers deforestation and atmospheric pollution while the inner city itself is dodgy and seedy, one of my least liked cities.
If anyone is looking to do a Amazon backwater adventure, Colombian Leticia is definitely the place to go
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