The Amazon

Monday was another holiday here, so Isa and I went to the Amazon. The flight from Bogotá to Leticia, on the Amazon River at Colombia’s extreme southern tip, takes about 90 minutes, so less than five hours after leaving our apartment we were in the jungle.

Leticia is a town, so we weren’t under rainforest canopy—but we weren’t far from it. The town only has about 35,000 people, and outside there’s not much development, so if you want to get deep into the jungle, you can do so from Leticia.

With two days there, that wasn’t our plan. We arrived Saturday afternoon and spent the rest of the day exploring Leticia and its neighboring border town, Tabatinga, on the Brazilian side. Our hosts, parents of friends Isa made in France, live in Tabatinga, so we got settled at their place, walked back to Leticia, and with Isa’s expired driver’s license rented a golf cart that we took turns driving through the two towns and to the Amazon River. We ate an early dinner and, tired out by the extreme heat, fell asleep at about 8. (Isa was later woken up when our hosts got home and began chatting her up—a conversation that lasted three hours.)

The next day we did an all-day boat tour on the river. From Leticia’s little “port”, we set out to cover 90 kilometers (each way) and make seven stops. The first stop had macaws, a friendly monkey, and water lillies. The second, “La Isla de los Micos,” had dozens of monkeys. The third was an “indigenous community” that was actually a community of desperately poor Colombians descended from indigenous people who live on the riverbank and perform their “tribal dance” when tourists come. They also sell crafts that were clearly not made there, as many of them include well polished wood, and there were no tools anywhere in sight. (This whole environment upset me enough to make me, after about five minutes, wait in the boat for the rest of the group. Interestingly to me, the rich Colombian tourists from Bogotá immediately accepted the offer to join the “tribal dance” and had a great time dancing, unbothered by what upset me. I didn’t see whether or how much they gave to the “indígenas.”) The fourth stop was a small national park with huge trees and a group of Colombian soldiers setting up camp as part of a training exercise. The fifth stop was lunch, accompanied by this guy, who apparently is some type of monkey. The sixth stop was Puerto Nariño, the second-largest Colombian town on the Amazon River, which, as Wikipedia explains, “is entirely pedestrian, no car or motorcycle being allowed, as an experiment in an ecological community. The traffic with the smaller communities along the river, and with Leticia, the only other Colombian municipality in the region, takes place by motorboats.” Our guide, who was from Puerto Nariño, explained this to us and didn’t mention whether he or others in the town resent being unable to participate in efficient modern commerce or large-scale construction. For what it’s worth, the town is quite pretty. The seventh and last stop mirrored the fourth. In the painfully named Puerto Alegría, Peru, we were introduced to a few dozen impoverished “indigenous” people whose only visible means of sustenance seems to come from showing tourists their exceedingly cute animals, including sloths. Again I was very uncomfortable. Finished with the tour, to get back to Leticia we zipped along the river for another hour as the sun set.

On Monday we did very little: We walked some more through Leticia and Tabatinga, we tried to rent a buggy to move around faster, we had lunch, and then we flew back to Bogotá.

We were treated perfectly by our hosts, who housed us, fed us, and transported us around.

Despite not putting on any insect repellent, I got bitten only four or five times over the weekend. I only had to swat bugs away once.

I absolutely loved walking around and seeing Portuguese everywhere, as it is in Tabatinga. I’m not sure whether I’ve written about this here, but I’ve fallen in love with Portuguese from hearing and seeing some of it, and I really want to begin studying it when I feel I’m done studying Spanish.

This weekend, for the first time, I:

  • Went to Brazil.
  • Experienced a rainforest, sort of.
  • Witnessed the vastness of the Amazon River.
  • Spent time in three countries (Colombia, Brazil, Peru) in one day without being in a single airport.
  • Drove a golf cart on regular roads with car traffic.
  • Held a sloth.

I really enjoyed the environment and hope to be back in the Amazon before too long. When I was in Peru, the one large destination I missed was Iquitos, also on the Amazon. Now that I’ve been to Leticia, I can see how easy and how fun it would be to make the three-day boat trip between those two towns. Someday.

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