Tales from the Amazonas

I must say… it was nice to feel missed when I went off the grid for five days. I knew there must have been some concern in The Lake District at least, because I’d received a message from my Dad; a man who “doesn’t like these bloody faxes” (he means texts), asking how I was and where I was.

I’d forgotten to say I was going into the Amazon on a five day trek (without electricity/internet)- whoops.

 

On our return to civilisation (I mean Wifi), I messaged both Mum and Dad;

“Sorry, I have been in the Amazon on a 5 day trek”.

Mum: “Ok. Good to hear from you! How was it?”

Me: “NEVER again!”

Mum: “Did you not enjoy it?”

 

And I thought to myself, it’s not exactly correct that I didn’t enjoy it. It was one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever done…. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but then I thought back to the first day of our trek when I said to Frankie…

…“I think this is going to be somewhere between an Experience and an Ordeal.”… and it was exactly that…

I suppose we can look at it with two questions…

1) “Would you like to go on a five-day eco-tour in the Amazon, trekking through the jungle on day and night safaris, swimming in the amazon, Dolphin watching, camping in the rainforest and visiting local indigenous tribes?”

…or…

2)  “Would you like to spend 5 days in the jungle, where it’s so hot and humid that doing nothing (literally lying still) feels like hard work, where the neverending cloud of mosquitoes is the least of your problem because everything is trying to poison or kill you. Oh, and you’re only allowed to bring a small rucksack, so you’ll be wearing the same sweat-soaked clothes day-after-day! Sound good?”

 

I mean I still to this day can’t decide which of these is a more truthful representation, but I’m pretty sure few people would say yes to number 2.

So I’ve written up our experience in the Amazon a bit like a story, in the hope that you can get a real feel for what it was like…

(please read, but if you just want the summary of our trip, scroll to the end)

 

Day1 – Leticia & Peru

Leticia is a Colombian city situated on the border between Colombia/Brazil/Peru in the Amazon. It is Colombia’s gateway to the Amazon, and as such was the starting point of our tour. There is a small airport located here, and stepping off the plane it suddenly hit just how humid the weather is here; and we didn’t know the half of it yet! Leticia is a city, so it’s relatively open to the skies allowing for some sort of breeze at least!

Being the unorganised buffoons that we are, none of us had prepared for our trip on any level, so our enthusiastic guide who met us at the airport first needed to take us to an ATM for cash (to pay for the tour) and to somewhere to sort our bags, get changed and pack everything we would take into the jungle.

After a rather rushed visit to a restaurant, where locals watched us throw all our clothes around in a mad jumble to find the most suitable items, I felt somewhat prepared, though with a constant nagging feeling that I had nothing I needed and everything I didn’t.

We were issued with our “gum boots” (wellies to us English folk), and a torch (which I then went on to “misplace” on the first night).

Time was starting to be against us, so our guide hurried us into a speedboat on the Amazon River and we travelled through what was an incredibly hectic area. This part of the river – around Leticia is shared by three countries, and acts as somewhat of a junction for traffic, goods etc being transported via the Amazon. It was much busier and hectic than I’d have ever imagined somewhere so deep in the Amazon to be. There was the stench of old, dirty diesel engines polluting the air and both my eyes and nose were confirming to me that the river here was heavily polluted.

In the dead centre of the wide river, where the countries met, sat a huge military vessel which all felt rather imposing protecting the three bordering countries (and, again not what I’d have expected to see), but people were going about their daily lives as normal, travelling around it.

Once on the open river, it felt so wide and vast, almost like you were travelling across a lake as opposed to a river, the water flowed much slower than I’d have ever imagined and is thick with silt; almost feeling thicker than water. We visited somewhere in between wet and dry season, so whilst the river felt vast, it was nowhere near as deep or wide as it would have been in wet season. Still, the debris that it would have cleaned out of the jungle in the wet season floated along the river… entire trees & huge amounts of driftwood bobbing along that our captain was constantly dodging.

After about 45 minutes we stepped off the boat and onto Peruvian land. So easily we were in another country, no border checks, nothing. It felt adventurous. And yet we didn’t know that we were only 30 minutes away from our first reality check of the trip.

We starting trekking into the jungle, and a Peruvian man joined our guide to take us to our accomodation for the night. He spoke no English, and so we had this unusual dynamic listening to our guide translate the Peruvian guide at the same time as he was speaking.

My Spanish had developed enough that I could understand the Peruvian guide was shouting back to our main guide “we need to walk faster”. So I hurried along. Ed and I stayed at the front whilst Kieron likely entered into an interesting conversation with the main guide about “Why do bees sting?”.

We reached a stopping point when the Peruvian guide suddenly halted proceedings. It was clear to see we couldn’t pass because a snake was in the way, it was translated for us by Darwin (our main guide) that we had come across the fastest and most poisonous snake in the Amazon. The jungle was too thick to go round it, so the Peruvian guide started shaking a stick at it.

All of a sudden we heard a call to action: “RUN!!”… and that we did, I’ve never run so fast in my life! I actually yelped like a girl even though I couldn’t see anything that was going on. But I didn’t want a snake in my pants, not this time!

The snake politely pissed off into the undergrowth and after a few macho laughs to reassert ourselves, we continued on our way.

Night started to fall as we arrived at our accomodation for the night. At this point, we were 2.8km from the Amazon river, so whilst not miles, still a significant distance into the jungle and there was no road access other than thin tracks for walking.

Yet we were confronted by this beautiful floating village sat on a lake. Apart from two South Koreans, the five of us were the only ones staying there. We had dinner, cooked by a local woman. It was typically South American….meat, rice, salad and plantain. Perfectly tasty.

After dinner we were all piled onto this rather wobbly canoe/boat for a night safari on the lake. As night fell, the jungle transformed itself from the sweat box we would never acclimatise to, to be colder than you’d imagine. Mist started to rise from the lake, which was surrounded by thick reeds, lily pads and about 4 metres back began dense jungle.

As the Amazon came to life, the sounds were impressive to say the least. Frogs, fireflies, insects, monkeys, birds all arguing for attention. But sod them lot…we were on the lookout for Cayman and could see their eyes reflecting off the light of the torch as we shone it into the waters. We paddled the boat over to say hello, but they’d fuck off (rude!!). Along the banks of the lake, in the thick reeds you could see crushed areas where cayman would have made beds, but still no cayman we saw!

All-in-all, floating around on a misty lake filled with crocodiles, in the dark was incredibly eerie, but definitely good fun!

Returning to the lodge, we were all in bed by 9pm. I’m convinced it was because we had all succumbed to the amazons draining climate, and nothing to do with the lack of wifi and/or Uncle Kev’s banter.

During the night, we were awoken by the kind of storm that made you worry everything was going to wash away. The noise was insane. I was in a room with Ed and Kieron, and didn’t feel I knew them well enough (yet) to go and wake them up to “protect” me, so I lay in my bed fearing for my life in silence on this floating village. Sounds dramatic I’m sure, but the storm was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I learnt the next morning that Kieron and Ed were both lying wide awake in their respective beds; “holding it together” I’m sure.

 

Day 2 – Kayaking Monkeys, Indigenous “Dancing” & Trekking Deeper into the Wilderness

Sorry, I missed a comma… that’s Kayaking, Monkeys…. not Kayaking Monkeys – which would have been much more entertaining.

In the morning we woke early (around 6am) for breakfast and then had an opportunity to head onto the lake on Kayaks. I remembered the beds in the reeds from last night, and went searching for more to try and seek out an Cayman. The kayaks were sort of moulded plastic which you sat on the top of, rather than having a small hole in which you sit. For somebody with zero “core strength” like me, this setup became quite tiresome. And to be honest, there’s only so many times you can paddle around a small lake before feeling a coffee in a hammock would be more appealing. Not for Keiron though. Out there for about an hour he was, despite the guide telling us we had 15 minutes. So we all patiently waited for him.

Next on the agenda, we got into a long thin (1 person wide) motorised boat and headed down the lake. There was an inlet river leading to the Amazon River itself. We travelled along this inlet, which was about 2 meters at it’s widest points for around 30 minutes until we reached the edge of the Amazon.

This short boat ride felt very much like the Amazon I was expecting to see. It was thick jungle on all sides, having to duck and avoid branches and leaves in the face whilst we pushed on through thick undergrowth. Reeds, bamboo, tropical bush all engulfed the non-existent “banks” of the small inlet we were travelling along. There was no clear sign of where water ended and land began. Other than the sound of the engine it was mysteriously quiet, with the odd rustle of undergrowth reminding us we weren’t alone. I loved it.

Once we reached the Amazon river, yesterday’s captain was waiting in his speedboat for us. We travelled a short distance up the river to a small island called “Isla de Mono” – Monkey Island. We were warned to remove all valuables, hats, sunglasses and leave them on the boat. A short walk into the island, which had the tell-tale signs of a recent wet season marking the tree trunks up to around two meters, we came across a clearing. In the clearing the guide gave us some bananas, and then instantly upon us they descended.

It took me back to the Thailand Monkey Bite of 2009, which was “fun”. There were literally 10 monkeys crawling all over your body fighting for the banana. They were hanging from our clothes. It was un-easing at first, with even big man Kev looking a tad uneasy. But we soon settled in and then it felt fun. They were very small monkeys (I forget the breed), and so they were quite cute. They seemed to enjoy leaping through the air onto another one of us banana wielding humans to get as much of the sweet stuff as they could.

After 20/30 minutes here, we returned to the boat, completely covered in banana and shit. Adding to the quickly growing scent of sweat that was soaking into our clothes.

After Monkey island we headed further up the river to a small village on the banks of the Amazon which was still home to indigenous tribes. I say indigenous tribes, but it was clear that the village had adapted somewhat to the steady stream of tourism from tours like ours.

As we arrived in the village, there was a mad rush to “prepare”. Villagers swarmed the central tent with handmade crafts they had for sale. Locals changed out of their casual gear and into the traditional dress.

Luckily Keiron and Frankie took an interest in the local wares that were for sale and snapped a few items up, meaning Ed, Kev and I could focus on enjoying the “dance”. There was an elder, I guess like the grandmother of the village, leading a dance performed by the children. I’ve never been one to mince my words…. It was bad. Very bad. The children seemed to find it equally entertaining as we did and the effort exerted on their part was minimal. Some of the other local children took an interest in my phone, so we had some selfies and videos.

Kev led the way with the applause – I remember admiring how good he was at providing positive feedback whilst I sat there rather dismayed thinking….”what was that?”.

We chatted and laughed with the locals as we made our return to the boat.

Quite a bit further up the river, we once again disembarked, but this time we had to take all belongings with us, for we weren’t returning to the boat for 2 nights. We walked for about an hour I’d say, maybe longer. Half way through our journey we came across a small creek that was too flooded to walk through, so we had to wait while a local fisherman came to get us on his boat to travel 4 meters across a little stream (no joke).

We passed through a small village which had a large church and a football field for the children. We stopped here to top up on water.

The sheer heat of the amazon was truly becoming a reality now. Deeper into the jungle, it was clear we were leaving civilisation behind. We had to cross a piranha infested river by balancing across a fallen tree. I learnt I’d be no good at tightrope walking; FYI if anybody was expecting me to make a debut in such a sport.

Eventually we reached a clearing. There was a large wooden shack with beds in it and a seperate building with a kitchen and table to eat from.

Darwin, our tour guide clearing recognised the impact the heat was having on us and let us have a rest for an hour or so. We lay in in bed, grabbed a futile shower… I say futile, because imagine “showering” (throwing a bucket of water over yourself while standing naked in the jungle), and then instantly becoming covered in sweat again and have to climb back into the same sweaty, banana covered clothes you’ve just removed.

After our rest, the sun was setting and Darwin took us into the jungle for a night safari, however, I chose to decline purely for reasons of utter exhaustion from doing nothing. I really can’t explain enough just how humid and hot it is in there. So I had an extended nap.

On returning from their night trek, the guys told me they’d seen a baby anaconda. Well I hadn’t come here for baby anacondas…I want the real deal! So I didn’t feel I’d missed out much.

There was this delightful woman who lived in the village (the one with the church) who came up on the evenings and morning to took dinner and breakfast. She was called Camila (If I remember correctly).

We had a lovely local meal prepared by her own fair hand. After that, there was little more to do in the pitch black of the jungle other than to go back to bed. There was no electricity here. Phone batteries were dying (hence my poor selection of photos), no Wifi. So we went to bed.

But that wasn’t the days end. The sound was surreal. The wooden hut we were sleeping in had a thin mesh for walls, so we may as well have been sleeping outside; the noise was immense. The jungle truly comes to life at night time. Despite the mesh, there were cockroaches, insects I’ve never seen or heard of all over the place. It was a game of keeping them out of your bed. Eventually I must have drifted off, but the rain woke me later on in the night.

 

Day 3 – Piranha Fishing, Piranha Eating, Lazy Snakes and Fire Ants.

The next morning we were awoken by the blazing heat of the sun beaming down into our little hut. We all waited for our turn for a once again futile shower, by now, day 3 we were really getting into the last of our clean clothes. I’d peaked too early and enjoyed a Day 1 & 2 of Lady-Gaga style outfit changes, meaning everything was stinking of dry sweat (lovely).

We had a lovely breakfast prepared for us in our neighbouring hut. It was delicious. Then we headed out into the jungle to sit by a Piranha infested river and sweat a little bit more. I was the first to catch anything, but it was a tiny little thing which I later accidentally stood on. Frankie was the real winner of the day, striking lucky twice in a row and scoring lunch for us all! I caught nothing more. I’m sure Keiron fell in a few times. The combination of the sticky heat and my failing to catch anything meant that after what felt like 10 years sat baking in a sauna I began to become restless. But soon Darwin took us back to the camp.

Back to bed we went… it’s strenuous being a fisherman. Our (Frankies) Piranha was then served for lunch. It was nice. It’s sort of like a meaty white fish. Rather bland in taste, but with a nice texture and massive set of gnashers.

In the afternoon of Day 3, we donned our sweat-robes and headed into the jungle for a day-trek. It was really interesting! We learnt about how local tribes would use the different plants, barks, trees for various things including clothes and medicines. A particular highlight was this tree which when hit with a big thick branch it would create a monstrously loud echo – very impressive. The locals would hit it three times to scare off the jungle demons.

It’s not an uncommon sight in central/south america to see lines of ants marching along gathering snacks for their queen. But here in the Amazon, it’s never going to be a normal ant. Instead we found an army of ants going into these weird mounded holes in the ground. Darwin explained how they take the bits of leaf to a snake that lives underground. As a thank you, the snakes lets the ants drink a milk which it secretes. A symbiotic relationship. Lovely yet also a bit weird to be honest.

Darwin originated from a tribe in the Amazon years ago until he became a tour guide. All this talk of ants got him on to telling us about how the tribes years ago would use fire ants to punish locals who did not live by the rules of the tribe.

He explained to us, that as a child, the village elder woke up one day from a bad dream. In the dream he’d seen that another local villager had been molesting an underage child (dreadful I appreciate, but it was a dream!). So the elder mysteriously had a grave dug in the village. Nobody knew for what, other than that somebody was about to be killed off. The accused was then led to a tree which was the home to some fire ants. The punishment was that the man was tied to the tree naked.

The elder would then bang and shake the tree. The fire ants would then descend to the accused, and enter his body through every hole (eyes, ears, mouth, nose, ass) and eat his body from the inside out. He would die within 15 minutes from shock. Darwin told us that he remembers crying at the sight of it, rather understandably.

I mean it all sounds rather a horrible demise for somebody sentenced via a dream, and i’m not entirely sure if it’s true. Perhaps Darwin was the one dreaming!? All the same, an interesting tale.

It had been the plan that we would sleep in the jungle, in Hammocks. On our trek we found the perfect spot and returned to the camp to gather hammocks and necessities. However, on returning to the camp, Darwin proclaimed the rains were coming and advised that we instead remained in the camp. The rains didn’t come, I suspect he just wanted a nicer “bed”. Slightly disappointing, but I certainly wasn’t going to send him to the fire ants for insisting I slept in a proper bed and not a hammock in the middle of a snake infested jungle. And I didn’t need any more mosquito bites. I already had quite the collection.

 

Day 4 – Eco Town, Pink Dolphins, more “Dancing”, Voldemorts Amazon Retreat and Sunset Swimming.

So we walked back to the amazon river, once again testing our tightrope walking skills.

From there we went further up the river yet again and Darwin had a secret up his sleeve that he was finding very entertaining. We would be sleeping somewhere “special”.

The sweet breeze of “cool” (boiling hot, but moving) air I remember thinking as we zoomed along the river with our magical speedboat man who always seemed to just “be there” when we needed him.

First we went to a place called Puerto Narino which was a real surprise. It’s an eco-town deep in the amazon, on the Colombian side. It was really quite beautiful. There were no cars, motorbikes, but it was relatively built up, and there was a really a nice atmosphere around town. You just wouldn’t have expected to find somewhere like this in the Amazon.

Close by there was another village with local tribes who put on a dance, it was better put together than the one from Day 2, and we were invited to join in, but it felt incredibly touristic – obviously set up for our entertainment. There were more local wares for sale and Frankie was enticed by a lovely pestle and mortar. I churned out my Espanol to secure a good deal for him ;-).

Further along the river was one of the highlights of our trip, seeing pink Dolphins. They live in the river and are blind (because of the rivers murky water). They are naturally grey, like the Dolphins we are used to, but appear pink when they are jumping out of the water, because when they exercise (e.g. swim) their skin turns pink. I have no photos unfortunately because they never came close enough to the boat to get a decent photo , or they would dive back down too quickly. But it was really exciting. The guys got in the water to try and entice them over for swim, but I think the Irish-white skin likely scared them off.

After the Dolphin watching we were presented with our surprise; Voldemorts house… in Medellin I went on a city tour and the guide told us how locals don’t like to call Pablo Escobar by his name, much like Harry Potters famous “he who shall not be named”, and so some locals jokingly refer to him as Voldemort.

We travelled further up the river and arrived at this beautiful villa on the river. It had huge gardens surrounding it with a watch tower (for amazing views) and a beautiful big swimming pool. It was a dream come true. Electricity, swimming pool, real beds, real showers.

And Darwin now got to reveal his big surprise. It was once owned by “Voldemort” himself; his weekend getaway and was now owned by the state, converted into a hostel. However, nobody else was staying there, so it was all ours. There was a small family living there who upkept the maintenance of the villa. They had a baby called Marcelo who was the cutest kid ever and kept us busy with his guided tour of the grounds. All he could say was “este” (this) and would point at things and simply say “this”! Me and Frankie are still arguing over custody of him 😉

After our swimming pool excitement had worn off, we were taken to the real swimming pool for sunset.

Five minutes up the river, and we arrived at a large adjoining lake. Frankie, Kev, Keiron and Ed were straight in, but I was scared of the river dwellers (anacondas). After I noticed they didn’t get eaten, I also went for a dip. It was a really cool experience. Swimming in this vast wilderness, with the sun setting. Something not to forget.

After our swim, we went back to the villa for the evening. A lovely meal was prepared for us.

 

Day 5 – Return to civilisation.

We enjoyed breakfast overlooking the amazon in the front of the villa, said our goodbyes to Marcelo and headed back on the boat to Leticia. It took around 2 hours to travel back to Leticia.

Whilst I was grateful of clean clothes, I actually didn’t want to reconnect to Wifi. It had become quite a nice feeling to be disconnected from the internet for a while, and the thought of reconnecting felt quite overwhelming. The competition to see who had the most messages ensued. I won obviously 😉

Back in Leticia we had this really odd whistle stop tour of Leticia and a quick jaunt over the border into Brazil to see a local market. My attention had dwindled now and all I could focus on was clean clothes and showers.

As we boarded our flight to Medellin to continue our tour of the country, I said to Frankie “an experience, or an ordeal?”… definitely somewhere in between we agreed.

 

WHERE ARE THE PHOTOS?

I’ve intentionally not included photos so you can imagine for yourselves. But if you want to see how it looked, check out my Instagram @life.by.kyle or search “lifebykyle.com” on facebook where you can find a gopro video I created if our experience.

 

TRIP SUMMARY:

Tour Guide Company: https://www.amazontouroperadores.com/

Days: 5 days, 4 nights.

Starting Point: Leticia (has an airport).

Cost: £250 per person in total

Spending Money: very little (£20).

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