Leticia & Jungle tour on the River Yavari

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July 26th 2013
Published: July 27th 2013
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Rio Yavari

At one of the stops on our boat ride from Iquitos I met Max and Sophie at a coconut vendor. A nice couple from France and Belgium, respectively. Arriving in Leticia, the four of us sweated our way around town trying to locate the hostel that Mojo and I had booked into, eventually tracking it down with the help of some friendly locals. Max and Sophie were flying out of Leticia in 4 days, so were keen to do a jungle tour straight away, starting the next morning. Our mate Luca, who we met in Iquitos was taking the slow boat to Leticia and not arriving for 3 days, so we decided to join Max and Sophie on the tour, getting a discount in the process as we had a group.

Despite Max and I staying up really late drinking Club Colombia beers in an attempt to cool down, we were up early to first go out to the airport to complete our Colombian immigration requirements, and then down to the river to meet our boat to take us the 4hours, initially across the Rio Amazon and then up the Rio Yavari. The Yavari is an important tributary for the Amazon, and actually lies just within the Peruvian border. To get there we had to cross the width of the Amazon in a little small engine driven wooden dinghy, some 5 metres in length, the crossing taking around 1.5 hrs. The Amazon is quite wide here, a guess would be 1.5km, nowhere near wide as it gets further down in Brazil, where at its mightiest is 15km in the dry season an up to 40km in the wet!

On the other side of the Amazon river, the border switches between Brazil and Peru, depending which way the river takes and what island lies where. There are a number of wood mills with massive piles of lumber, some of the wood legally logged, a lot illegally. The hot blue skied day of the morning quickly disappeared as thunder growled in the distance and flashes of lighting light up the horizon behind us. Soon it was sprinkling, and then it dumped down. Motoring up the Rio Yavari, it got a bit choppy as the river weaved its way around islands and lagoons that have either been cut off by land in the dry season, or surrounded by freshwater trees, like a freshwater mangrove swamp. Due to the rain, our boat driver Robin, took a short cut via a large lagoon, threading through a shallow and not very wide creek. The muddy Jungle was thick either side and we heard the squeals of Tamarind monkeys around us, and got our first taste of Jungle Mosquito's. The little bastards were ferocious, we all started layering on the DEET at dangerous levels, and flaying our arms and legs like a fish getting mauled by Piranha's.

Popping out of the creek, we saw flashes of pink or grey as dolphins broke through the surface of the muddy water. Soon the rain stopped and we could roll up the tarp protecting the side of the boat, and take in the view of the Jungle on either side of the river as we cruised up to our homestay for the night. The homestay belonged to a fishing family with 4 houses built on stilts up on a small island that had a lagoon at the back. The largest house had a number of open rooms for guests to stay in mosquito netted beds.

After a hearty lunch and some amazing fruit juice, we were back
On of the houses at the homsetayOn of the houses at the homsetayOn of the houses at the homsetay

During the last wet season, the houses were flooded
on the boat as we went Piranha fishing, catching a number of smallish red and white Piranha's, as well as some fresh water Sardines. The good sized ones were kept for dinner while the poor small ones became bait for their siblings, as bait is lost easily and at times it felt were feeding the fish, not fishing. With a decent haul, we cruised up to a large lagoon in search for more dolphins, spotting some, but not as many as usual according to the guides. The rivers here are teeming with fish, there is a constant sound of fish jumping out of the water as either a school of Piranha's attack from the below, or birds from above. At times they would jump in the boat, as we watched a beautiful sunset with lightning in the distant clouds.

Back at the lodge the Piranha's were fried up and complemented with a lot more food, as there is not much meat on their bodies, mainly bone and razor sharp teeth. For desert it was a bottle of rum that we brought with us, as the four of us sat out the back near the lagoon, waiting for the generator to be turned off so we could hear the symphony of frogs and night birds. It was a full moon, and once the generator ran out of the allotted fuel there was no artificial light, and just the sounds of frogs, birds, distant monkeys, and fish jumping out of the water.

After a solid Rum induced sleep,we were up early to take the boat upstream and go for a walk in the jungle. If you venture another 3 hours upstream there is a restricted area that is designated for indigenous tribes to live. There is a sign on the rivers edge saying that the government is not responsible if you travel further, as some tribes will attack you with spears and blow darts. Well away from this area we pulled over to the bank, and with gumboots on started walking through deep a muddy clay quagmire. The mosquito's smelled fresh meat, and started to feast upon us, biting through two layers of clothing. Above us, Brown Capuchin, Night, and Friar monkeys inquisitively looked on, scampering down branches to get a better look, and then jump to another tree in fright. Some of the trees where enormous, and others were able to walk themselves up to 2 metres a year to try and find sunlight, and trees to ail all or sorts of illness. Three hot, sweaty hours later,we emerged out of the jungle bloodied and bruised from the constant slapping of ones self to kill mossies.

Back at the homestay, the owner had found a sloth dozing in a nearby tree. Thinking that we wanted a closer look he proceeded to chop down the vines and supporting branches that the sloth was on, finally getting the startled little thing. Dazed and confused he looked around at us in slow motion like ET, with this big dopey smile on his face. Someone told me that like the Koala, they are pretty much permanently stoned from eating leaves. Mojo and Jose got the Sloth to grab their hands with a vice like grip under his long claws, placing him in another tree close by. We went for a swim in the river, where we were assured that no Piranha's or large Caiman would bite us, instead the freshwater sardines would attack the hair on my chest and legs, mistaking them for some form of food. It was very ticklish and a bit unnerving.

After a large and a siesta we ventured back out again up the river, this time to set up our jungle camp for the night. Our guide Francisco, found a suitable area and soon started chopping down small trees into various lengths and shapes that would form our shelter for the night. Which consisted of two long tress supported 1.5m of the ground by 2 trees with a V shape at the top. This was repeated on the other side, so that we could hang our hammocks, and then a small tree 2m off the ground in the middle of the site that would support the tarp. All of this was tied together with vines for rope. I felt bad that trees were being chopped down to create the camp. but felt a little better when told that the campsite will be used for future groups until it is too rotten for use. With the hammocks and mosquito nets hung, and lots of wood for a fire, we had a nice little settlement, so we headed back to the homestay to have a meal and grab our stuff for the night.

On the way back to the campsite, after eating, we went Caiman hunting, or more precisely Francisco did, as no one else was game enough to catch Caiman with bare hands. He caught a good sized one, around 60cm ( although a far cry from the 5m fully grown ones that hunt here), and we all took turns holding it and posing for pics, inundating the poor bugger with camera flashes. Then it was off to camp in the jungle with the mosquito's.

A large fire was quickly lit, making it even hotter, as we were all fully clothed with gum boots on. The mossies were insane, with mojo donning a mosquito head net for a while, before figuring out that the abrasive material was good for scratching with. The girls could not take the incessant onslaught, and soon took refuge in their hammocks. Leaving Max and I to drink rum and talk shit watching the full moon make it's path through the jungle canopy above us. Despite having a few mosquito's inside my net i slept solidly, with the others remarking in the morning that they could just hear the insects and frogs above my snoring...

The next morning we packed up the site, and went upstream for another hour to visit a small family that lived on a lagoon, and who had a group of animals, for conservation reasons they said, but in reality, only for tourism. Although the animals are treated somewhat ok, with monkeys roaming around, it was my least favourite part of the trip. There was a sloth in an enclosure, who just looked liked he wanted to be somewhere else, a porcupine in a small hatch, and a 4m caimain in a small pen. Apart from showing tourists some animals, the family made money by breeding Pacurari fish. A monster that can grow to 4-5m in length. They were nearing extinction, but now the locals have figured out to breed them, not easy as the mother actually feeds the young via milk glands behind their head. For show and tell, the owner tied some poor unsuspecting catfish to a long rope and through it into the breeding pond, just as the catfish rises to the surface and starts swimming away a massive chomping sound can be heard as the Pacurari break through water smashing the catfish and dragging it away with one of us gringo's holding onto the other end of the line. If you hooked one of these giants fishing, it would probably take you water skiing for some distance.

The weather cooled significantly due to a deep low system that had travelled up from the Antarctic, a phenomenon that occurs a couple of times a year, dropping the temperature by up to 20 degrees. It has caused snow in Brazil and some of the lowest temperatures seen there in 15 years. It made for a cold and wet ride home back to Leticia, via the Brazilian town of Benjamin Constant, where we had lunch.

Arriving back in Luticia, we found that Luca had survived his slow boat ordeal, albeit with some crazy stories, and the next day we set about trying to get some cheap flights out of here, as it is peak season for the next 6 weeks, causing the planes to fill up quickly. We managed to get a half decent price for some tickets to Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast, and three of us leave tomorrow.

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Walking PalmWalking Palm
Walking Palm

Can walk up to two metres a year in an attempt to find sunlight

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