I’ve flown more than 50 times in my life, but never on business class and yet here I am flying to Bogota, business class with Avianca. I must say its really comfortable, I have more space for my legs, I got on the plane first without waiting a line and the service is excellent. But you know what.. I don’t remember booking a business class, I must’ve done it by mistake. I probably paid 20-30 euros more for it without noticing. Well Alex, It’s your fault so shut up and enjoy the commodities :). The fun part is I’m sitting next to a well groomed man who wears a suit and I think he couldn’t believe it when I sat next to him. He must be traveling business class because he wants to avoid …hippy looking travelers with dirty backpacks and lots hair on their faces! Well surprise motherfucker!! hahah
My trip to Leticia has been so intense! Leticia is a city of 40.000 people in the middle of the jungle and really close to the borders with Brazil and Peru. There’s no roads leading to Leticia, Amazonas simply because its surrounded by jungle. So the only way to easily access Leticia is by plane. That’s the reason why food is more expensive here, it costs so much to transport it by plane from other parts of Colombia. But this isolation is what makes Leticia special.. ahh and the forest.. and the Amazon river… and the hundreds of unique animals you can and will probably encounter.
Leticia is practically joined together with her Brazilian sister city named Tabatinga. The two cities are on the frontiers of the two countries and were always two different cities, but as the time passed by they’ve grown so much that they now run into each other. So from my hostel in Leticia it took me 10 minutes to get to Brazil by walking, which was so cool! I can officially say I’ve been to Brazil now! The borders were open so nobody asked to check my passport or anything. Actually there was no border control, there’s a simple, street that joins the two cities and you can walk back an forth freely. I had an amazing lunch at the Brazilian side, cooked with love by a couple of Peruvians who have a restaurant there. Peru is very close too, but you have to cross the Amazon river to get there. I must say the lunch was perfect! Using the same basic ingredients that exist in Colombian cuisine, they are making delicious food. It must be the spices and the way they cook. So much better than my experience with the biggest part of Colombian cuisine that has been pretty lukewarm for me.
At the hostel, I met with a lovely couple that were long term travelers too. Max from Germany and Nicole from Switzerland. The odd thing about Nicole was that she looked like South American but when she tried to speak in Spanish with Luisa, the owner of the hostel, her accent was even worse than mine. That’s odd, I thought. And in fact there was such a nice story behind it. Nicole was born in Lima-Peru but she was adopted by a Swiss family in a very young age. She wasn’t sure if the adoption was legal, as the information she had was a bit muddy. So she grew up in Switzerland and when she became an adult she decided she would do anything she could to find her biological parents, even if she failed or even if they were some complete assholes it wouldn’t matter to her because she wanted to know who they were. So she traveled to Peru with Max and they tried to figure out where she was born. They had no names and almost no information so it was a really difficult task. After a long search they found the her original birth certificate that led them to her parents last name. The fun part was they contacted Nicole’s sister through Facebook!! Nicole decided it was too much for her so she returned to Europe where she was able to process the whole thing. After some thought and communication through Facebook she decided to return to Peru and meet her biological family and so she did. She said that the experience was amazing. Her parents, brothers and sisters welcomed her and even gave her a room in the house to stay. So she stayed with them for a couple of months and now Nicole feels that she has a second family in Peru. Her sister speaks some English so she was translating for the most part as Nicole’s Spanish was pretty bad (its getting better now). Now Nicole’s mother in Switzerland is willing to pay for the Peruvian family to come and visit, which is such a nice gesture. Such an amazing story from such nice people!
Leticia was small, cute and tranquil. Maybe the most interesting part was Park Satander were every sunset a vast amount of parrots are coming from the jungle to find shelter in the park’s trees. The parrots or loros in Spanish are incredibly noisy and as they fly down in big groups it feels like it’s raining birds. Furthermore, there’s a nice little church next to the part and going to the top of it you are able to enjoy their dance.
But the reason I came here wasn’t Leticia or the Brazilian city of Tabatinga. It was the Amazon river and the jungle surrounding it. So for the first time in my life I decided to pay for a guided tour and spend 2 nights and basically 3 days in the jungle. I usually hate guided tours because I consider them a ripoff and most of the things they include you can do by yourself if you research a bit. But this was a real jungle and I didn’t want to take the risk.
So I rent a couple of rubber boots and then I took the speedboat from Leticia to Puerto Nariño. After 2 hours we were there. I was so amazed! Puerto Nariño is a well hidden diamond into the jungle. In fact I was waiting for a indigenous community and a primitive way of living, but Nariño was a recently constructed village with hotels, hostels, restaurants, lots of vegetation, cute roads made of stone and a very green football field next to the port. I was greeted by my guide Miguel. Miguel was born in a indigenous community nearby, named Santa Clara, he speaks 3 languages. His native one, Spanish and some very basic English. He took me to my hostel which was mostly made of wood, the walls of my room weren’t solid but in the most part instead of a wall there was just a mosquito net and a curtain. It wasn’t that hot at the time but I guess it’s never really cold, so walls are not needed. Next we walked into the jungle and found a ranch with an artificial lake where we saw some very big and scary fish and 7 Caymanes (Crocodiles). The crocs weren’t in a cage. You had to cross a bridge to get into the lake and then to climb up to a tower. Miguel was cleaning his boots and he didn’t tell me we were about to see Crocodiles so I went ahead crossed the bridge and climbed the tower. When I realized that there were a couple of huge Crocodiles in the lake I was shocked, I mean I had no idea and I wasn’t paying attention. There was a guy there feeding the crocs with fish and I must admit it was a very cool spectacle. Surprisingly enough in the same lake there were many huge fish that the Crocs weren’t hunting or hurting in any way. I mean the fish were huge but come on, you are a freakin’ Crocodile I’m sure you can win the fight. I asked and Miguel joked that they were friends. The explanation I got was that Caymanes are not able to open their mouth in the water because they will get drowned, so it’s impossible for them to hunt those fish. But I’m pretty sure I’d seen crocs hunting fish underwater in documentaries. Anyway, I was confused. The fact is that giant fish and Caymanes were happily living together in a lake.
In the evening we took Miguel’s fishing boat, more of a canoe really, and went into the main river. He showed me some nice stuff and I was amazed how fast he was noticing the various animals in the forest and the fish in the water. He spotted micos (little monkeys) and fish in the water way before I was able to see anything. The Amazon jungle is full of unique animals like the crocodiles we mentioned, lots of different birds including some huge parrots I wasn’t fast enough to photograph, monkeys, really big fish and PINK DOLPHINS. Yeah there were pink dolphins in the river and they were actually pretty friendly and playful. I saw them many times jumping out of the water, to our pleasure. One of them went really close to a girl canoeing nearby and was playfully bumping the canoe with its head. But the river is not all fun, there are some really dangerous animals there like sneaky little poisonous snakes, jaguars and of course anacondas! So I tried to keep my eyes and ears open. Miguel took me deep into the jungle, far from Puerto Nariño and showed me his hostel that was in construction. This 23 year old man who by the way is married and has a daughter is building a wooden hostel by himself!! Of course a couple of his friends are helping him and he had a construction plan from an architect, but he is building it himself! If a door brakes in my house I’m not capable of repairing it and this man is building the whole thing! That was pretty impressive.
Next we went to visit his birthplace. A local community of 44 people, living in small elevated houses (the river rises during the rainy season), surprisingly they had electricity and most of them are related, they are family! Oh my God, the incest, I thought but got over it after 20-30 seconds. Miguel has 6 brothers and sisters, I met some of them and were kind enough to share some of their homemade arepas with me. The arepas Miguel’s brother was preparing wasn’t anything like the original Colombian arepa I had tried in different places in the country. It was very similar to what my grandmother called “Patsounga”, it also tasted very similar. I ate them nice and warm and felt like I was back home in Florina. Then Miguel asked me if I wanted to meet his parents and see where they were growing Yuca and Platano. I agreed of course and we went into the jungle again. The problem was, I wasn’t prepared for that so I wasn’t wearing my rubber boots. I was wearing my sandals instead. I must say that walking into the jungle wearing sandals was a scary experience. Especially with all the huge little crawling animals that inhabit the jungle floor. I was about to step on a giant centipede that I hadn’t noticed when Miguel stopped me, took it in his hand and started playing with it. He tried to give it to me but I refused 🙂 In that part of the jungle I saw the biggest tree, biggest ants and the biggest parrots I had ever seen in my life. Finally we reached Miguel’s parents deep into the forest where they were processing Yuca. Yuca is a plant very similar to potato, very popular in this part of the world. His parents were very friendly and there was a very nice dog with them. The name of the local community was Santa Clara.
After that we went back to Puerto Nariño for dinner and I was feeling so rich of experiences. The amazing thing about this place is the number of kids and young people. Someone told me that 70% of the population which should be around 3000 is under 30 years old. I was having dinner while watching the kids play football and I noticed a lonely teenager with a basketball throwing hoops when the football was on the other side of the field. That kid had style he was quite good, a lot better than the kids in Armenia who didn’t have the slightest idea about basketball. I played a bit with him, unfortunately he was too shy to speak with me but we threw some shots and I was surprised by the way he dribbled the ball miming my tricks :). Really what a nice and tranquil place to live I was thinking. I really want to return to that place. I heard that they accept translators as volunteers for 2-3 months. But can I leave in such a small place, without internet connection and huge spiders hiding in every corner? We will see, maybe it would be a plan for next summer!
When I returned to the hostel I was greeted by the owner, a couple of his friends and a German guy who was living in Medellin and was very keen on asking questions about the correct use of Spanish language. We chat a bit and they gave me lots of useful information about the area, plus some interesting stories and myths. They offered me a drink that was very similar to Greek “Rakomelo” and they laughed so much when I said that this drink was perfect if you wanted to get a woman drunk. They also explained to me how the local people have been using Coca leaves to boost their energy levels and reduce hunger. Well for Armando, the owner of the hostel or the Shaman as I called him, everything was a medicine. Alcohol was a medicine, coca leaves were a medicine, herbs of course were a medicine. The Shaman saw some little red spots on my feet. To me they were mosquitoes! I felt them biting me, I killed a couple of them on the boat before, but to him they were some kind of little insects ..arados or something, that had entered under my skin and were eating me. According to the master shaman the only way to kill them was to wash my feet with pure alcohol. He ran into the hostel and came back with a bottle of pure alcohol and started washing my feet. I was in pain but the Shaman had decided. The next day when I woke up I saw the spots and I was 99% sure that they were mosquitoes.. ufff those natives!!
Fun fact about the hostel. We were two people in the room but I hadn’t seen him/her. There was a red backpack on the bed next to me and I hoped she was a gorgeous girl and began to imagine things happening during the night… I know I watch too many movies haha:) Then someone was knocking at the door asking if Oscar was there… fuck Oscar, why do you have a red bag? Now I’m disappointed. When I finally met Oscar and introduced myself, he asked “From Greece right?” and I go “How you know?” ..and then I remembered that we have met in Cali in a cafeteria and we were chatting about the incident with Tilemachos. Oscar was in Cali with the French guy I had met in Spyro’s hostel in Medellin and ran into him in Cali.. You can’t hide in this country! 🙂 Oscar was from Spain, from Barcelona in particular and he was traveling in South America for a long time. It’s such a small world.
The next day I took the speedboat to Santa Sofia, another indigenous community in the middle of nowhere. There I met with Saul and Lucho, my guides for the next two days. After introductions Saul and I took a very small canoe, half of it was full of water and ran into the jungle paddling our way through. We weren’t in the main river but rather in a small river running into the jungle, with a lot of vegetation everywhere. I kept my eyes open for Crocodiles! After 30 minutes of canoeing and another 30 minutes of walking into dense jungle we arrived to the settlement, a wooden structure that had a kitchen, bathrooms, a big bedroom with 7 hammocks and a big yard. Saul’s wife, his sister and her daughter were working there preparing everything for the tourists to come. They welcomed us, they were very sweet and when they realized I was volunteering in Colombia as an English teacher they tried talking to me in English which was pretty fun. We had a nice breakfast, watching the monkeys on the nearby trees, they showed me how to plant Platano and everything was super nice.
Later, Lucho arrived with a family from Spain that was living in Colombia for a year or so. When they saw me the woman asked if I was from Argentina, then when I started talking they realized I wasn’t from a Spanish speaking country. The next question was from where.. they said Netherlands, England, United States.. I said I was from Europe, the man commented “Habla bien, es del sur” -”he speaks well he is from the south”.. next guess was Italy and when I said they were getting close they finally said Greece!! They were such a nice family
We once again started walking into the jungle. Today we heard some very interesting local myths about a creature named Curupila and was supposed to be the king of the jungle. Curupila has human form for the most part, except that his are turned backwards and that’s the only way to know that you’ve met Curupila. According to the myth he is a friendly creature, only harms those who harm the forest and he can take any form he wants including those of your loved ones. He is the king of everything in the jungle and if he wants to punish you for something he would take the form of someone you know or a beautiful woman and make you follow him into the forest. Then you are enchanted by the forest and you are lost forever.
We were having so much fun into the jungle, when I started feeling dizzy, my stomach was feeling funny that morning, it was a warning sign I didn’t pay attention to… and then the real fun began!
…to be continued!