Saturday, November 17, 2012

#908 Colombian Rio Amazonas, Colombia

The Colombian stretch of the Amazon is tiny... probably not much more than 50km, but because it's the only part, it is well developed and easy to visit. While in reality you might actually pop over to the Peruvian side, and maybe you'll go shopping for chocolate (or in my case, Havianas) in Tabatinga in Brazil, the Colombian Amazon is beautiful.
All sorts of amazing animals to see -- while I never got to see the massive pirarucu fish, I ate it often and the scales are for sale in various forms of jewelry and ornamentation across Leticia. Piranas and other fish that swim up inside you are not really in this part of the Amazon, but alligators and anacondas swim the waters and can best be found at night. We took a small wooden canoe to "hunt" them -- finding alligators from their reflective eyes using our torch lights. Anacondas eyes shine back red, and I only saw them from afar, constantly remembering the Hollywood movie and feeling excited even though they are afraid of humans for the most part. The birds are absolutely amazing! Whereas I saw tourists excited about a toucan 20m away in Guatemala, in this part of the Amazon, toucans are friendly and hang out at jungle lodges, causing mischief as they squawk down from you while sitting on the loo! Other friendly green parrots chirp and chat, but it took me a while to get a response until I realised they only speak Spanish. "Hola!" The fascinating capybara is a small rodent and there are also monkeys, turkeys, toads, and of course, hundreds of spiders. I can still remember thinking that a divet in a tree was a perfect place to hang my hammock from, but when I went to shine a torch inside I discovered it was home to a large tarantula! When we saw some beautifully colored parrots on one of the lodges, I had an interesting conversation with a Colombian about which one was more beautiful. She said the red, which I think of as a typical parrot color, whereas I thought the blue one was nicer, and she said that was the typical color for them! There were lots of butterflies and moths, and even a terrapin sunning itself on a log. You can see another Amazon trend in the picture below -- the fruit of the huito is turned into a blue body paint!
Another animal that's common in the Amazon is the dolphin. There are two kinds, pink and grey, and where they swim, you know it is safe to swim because they chase away other predators.

Sleeping in the jungle in a hammock is a magical experience: sitting in the pure dark with the odd monkey call, and waking up the the music of the birds. Getting it set up is another deal entirely. The mosquito net and the rain tarp make for a complicated setup, but I felt as safe as could be, and only sighed over the annoyance of having to get out of it to pee in the middle of the night... shaking those gumboots out in case of critters in the dark!!

As my students like to say, when you first see Leticia, it is a tiny village, but upon emerging from the jungle it is the height of civilization! The docks are on ferries to counter the seasonal flood and ebb of the river

As for the villages dotted along the river, I've had the privilege of visiting three of them. Puerto Narino, to the western-most extent of the Colombian Amazon, on a little side river, is developed, groomed and charming, with little concrete paths and wooden huts. Following a boardwalk and then ending up on a jungle path leads you to Valencia, and further along back towards Leticia is Macedonia. 

Downtown Puerto Narino
The boardwalk just outside of Puerto Narino.
The viewing and water tower in Puerto Narino.
The view from Puerto Narino tower.
In general, the Amazon is mystical, primitive, simple, down-to-earth where nature is at its closest to human civilization. Medicine from the jungle, la selva is still used, and most people are actually afraid of the water. To build the airport in Leiticia, there are stories of having to bring all the concrete and stones in from Brazil because the earth by itself is too soft, but this is hard to imagine when seeing all the concrete roads in Leiticia. With its amazing sunsets, abundant bird life, multiple new animals, and peaceful vibe, it is a privilege to have visited.

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