Colombia January 10 to February 15, 2020
We left on a miserable, rainy day that delayed our flight over an hour. They called for boarding on time and we stood in the loading dock for a good 15 minutes before we were told to turn around as we couldn’t take off.
Mexico city airport is one of the most confusing I’ve encountered. The board said our flight was leaving from gate B, yet the gates are numbered. After asking someone we found it to not be an actual gate so asked there about the gate. She told us the flight was closed so we’d have to go back out and book a new flight. Huh? We had over an hour before departure?! Sure enough, she did some more checking, there was some conversation and she told us to go to gate 28 and they would tell us what gate. Of course, that gate was at the other end of the huge terminal. On our way, we met our seat mate from the previous flight, also looking for gate b so we told him the story and he followed us. There we were told to wait 10 minutes and they’d tell us. Shortly after the flight was posted at that gate with a 1/2 hour delay.
It was a beautiful sunny day in Bogota and we found a yellow taxi to take us to our guest house where Martha greeted us with a kiss on the cheek like we’re old friends. We settled into her lovely home and went exploring. Right next door was a man selling sim cards. We didn’t buy one in the airport as they were $50 USD for what we needed. He spoke no English but we managed with our sparse Spanish and google translate. We left with 2 working phones for less than $10 CAD each Later we went to find the restaurant our host recommended and he saw us walking by, called us in and gave us each another 1,000 pesos. Wow, that was nice! Apparently there was a discount for buying two.
At the restaurant we ordered two meals and we understood the man telling us we needed only one. Another patron with more English confirmed the portions are huge and we wouldn’t need two meals. He was right We could barely finish it.
Back at the guesthouse our host offered us a coffee but at 7 pm we were exhausted so were in bed by 8 pm
Breakfast was at a bakery down the street where again we were challenged by our lack of Spanish. REALLY need to learn more of it. It didn’t matter. We ate what we got and it was good. 😀
Our hostess found us a taxi. The fare TO the airport is half what it is FROM the airport. Interesting.
Although it was only supposed to be a 20 minute walk from the airport, the heat hit us like a wall so we took a taxi to the hostel. For 10,000 pesos (about $4) we were glad we did as we would have never found it. Maps.me wasn’t accurate and there was no sign for Hipilandia.
We were warmly welcomed by Stephanie, settled in, dropped our bags and went exploring. There’s not a lot to see in Leticia. It’s the capital of the region but basically a jumping off point to get to the jungle. We had booked our tour with Hipilandia hostel and travel and were excited to get started!
After dinner of roast chicken and potatoes we spent the evening sorting our bag and figuring out WHAT DOES ONE TAKE IN THE JUNGLE?? We packed a few clothes in ziplock bags as chances were good we’d get wet. Most of our stuff we left at the hostel.
We met Pauline and Martin, our fellow travelers, were issued rubber boots and set off to catch the 9 am public boat to Puerto Narino (70 km). We met Juanita who would be going into the jungle with us and walked around after visiting an interesting museum where we learned about some of the jungle critters and what to expect. Puerto Narino is the most eco friendly town in Colombia. There are no cars. Only an ambulance and a garbage truck. Nobody even uses bicycles as they’re kind of useless. The streets in town are nice interlocking brick but between villages it’s just muddy paths.. They walk (or boat) everywhere. After lunch at the Waira hotel, we met our boat driver who took us up the Amazon river. 2 hours later we arrived at Atacuari. Near the tiny Indigenous village is a cottage built by Elliot. We dropped our stuff, put on long sleeves and pants and headed off on a Jungle walk. Our guide lives in the village and told us Ticuna stories about Cura peda.and the dolphin man. You’ll have to talk to me if you want those. OR visit the jungle yourself! Every Indigenous person we met had a story of a friend or relative having had some kind of contact with Cura peda or the dolphin man.
As we listened to stories it got dark and the jungle came alive with the night sounds. It’s NOT a quiet place!
Dinner back at the cabin was fish rice and patacones cooked over a fire in the kitchen. VERY basic facilities but they produced a wonderful meal.
After dinner we enjoyed a boat ride up Amazon River and a tributary caiman hunting. We saw a small one and were back shortly after 11 pm where we fell into bed, exhausted.
Up at dawn with birds, I relaxed and enjoyed the place, walking around, sitting by the river and drinking coffee till breakfast at 8 which was lots of fruit and eggs. About 9 am we took a boat ride up Amazon and another tributary. It was gorgeous! You can walk it when it’s not flooded. Now it’s under 3 metres of water. The Amazon basin is currently at 80%. It’s expected to continue to rise till April or May then decline as it does every year..
At one point we got off the boat and tried to catch crickets. Good thing for Juanita and our guide as we’d do without otherwise. We tried fishing but had no luck. Good thing we’re not counting on feeding ourselves. Further up river we saw dolphins frolicking.
Back at the cottage we went for a quick swim before Lunch at 2ish.
3.30 back in boat to go upriver again. We fished for piranha on the Peru border. People living in the jungle don’t pay much attention to borders. Martin, Juanita and Christian managed to catch a few piranha. Next we went up a tributary looking for animals. Just the ride is beautiful. We saw squirrel monkeys and lots of beautiful views. Once it got dark we saw pretty tiny, bright green frogs that made a big sound but no luck with the caiman hunting. Again we just enjoyed the sounds and views of the amazing night sky. With NO light pollution the stars are incredibly bright
Back about 8.30 for dinner. Fish cooked in banana leaves rice and yucca
Up at dawn and again wandered the property but this time I ran into some nasty bugs that stung. I endured 3 bites that hurt for a few hours. OUCH! . While enjoying the view Christian brought me a coffee. Nice!
Again we boarded the boat for a tour. I saw squirrel monkeys but they aren’t good at posing for pictures. Fished for piraña and Anita caught a baby. Went up another tributary and saw dolphins. The tributaries are like a maze. Good thing our guide knew where he was going
We visited an indigenous community of Atacuari where they were electing a new leader.. 80 families live there. They farm the giant fish Pirarucu. It’s a weird fish that has lungs and gills and feeds it’s babies with nipples on it’s back. A couple of the men managed to find one in the pond and show it to us.
There are only two stores, both selling alcohol drinks and junk food
From there we walked back to the cottage where we cooled off in the river and then had lunch and packed up for our next place.
This time we went down river in the boat. Some saw pink dolphins but I missed it.
We went past Puerto Narino on the Amazon then up the river behind it to Lake Tarapoto. There we stayed in a tree house in hammocks. I slept surprisingly well!
More caiman hunting then a late dinner and fall into bed.
Up at dawn. Explored the property where I saw squirrel monkeys, blue morph butterflies and lots of birds.. Coffee courtesy of Christian again. After breakfast we again packed up. I could have stayed there longer. The tree house was nice and the surroundings so peaceful.
Back in the boat downriver to Puerto Narino. We dropped our stuff off at the Waira hotel.. Back in the boat we headed down river to visit San Antonio in Peru. A villager took us on a canoe ride into jungle. Next came a walk where we slugged through ankle deep mud and battled mosquitoes. We learned more about medicinal plants and how to survive if lost in the jungle. Back in the canoe and back to the the village, we walked past homes and people doing various things like preparing yucca for various things like tortillas and crunchy things you put on lots of things.. Then we loaded into another boat to another place where we slogged through more mud through a corn field. The village man pointed out sloths we never would have seen without him. One even moved! Needless to say, we’re very thankful for rubber boots.
Back in the boat to Puerto Narino for lunch of pirarucu fish. It’s the largest fresh water fish in the world and delicious. We had it for several meals and enjoyed it as we likely won’t get it again.
Relaxed for a bit then walked up river through a couple of villages to the indigenous village of San Francisco. The path was good for most of it but there were lots of very muddy hills. Christian helped us crossing a flooded creek in a board we couldn’t see. So hot! The walk took about 1.5 hours and Christian picked us a few weird fruits along the way. All of them delicious
Our boat driver was waiting in San Fransisco. I never did understand his name. He was a lot of fun, always singing and laughing. There I finally saw pink dolphins. To cool off we jumped off the boat and thoroughly enjoyed a refreshing swim. Apparently it’s dangerous to swim from shore as that’s where the stingrays and caiman hang out.
Back to Puerto Narino we walked, still soaking wet (but it’s hot so we didn’t care) to find home made ice cream . They call it ice cream but it has no milk. More like frozen smoothie as the main ingredient is some fruit of the jungle Ricoh anyway
Our room had a bathroom and a shower! Nice! Only cold water but it was nice to get really clean.
Dinner was pirarucu fish again but in . In coconut sauce. So good.!
Friday, January 17, 2020
The morning dawned with pouring rain. The plan had been to walk to or from San Martin but the rain looked like it was here to stay so we got in the boat and went that way. Down the Amazon River and then up the River of hammocks (there’s a story to that name) to Ticuna community of San Martin. This community is more used to tourists. I asked to see someone’s house and was shown a home where they were preparing a tapir a hunter had shot. It was all done in the kitchen area which is just a place for a fire that hangs out the back so the smoke doesn’t come in the house. Something was cooking in a big part and there were animal entrails neatly sorted on the floor. I asked if that was the kitchen but said it wrong and apparently asked if it was dirty instead. OOPS! I apologized profusely!!
ON the way back in the boat Christian produced a bag of fruit that had been cooked and peeled. It tasted like pumpkin and had a edible seed that tasted like a nut.
We cleaned up our rooms, packed up and enjoyed our last lunch of Arapaima gigas (Pirarucu)
Anita and I wandered Puerto Narino for a bit, enjoyed our last ice cream and we all boarded the public boat back to Leticia.
Back in civilization all the cars and busyness seemed so noisy! At Hipilandia we dropped off our stuff and headed to the park to see the parakeet invasion. It happens every night at sunset. The noise of all the birds is deafening, even over the traffic noise and the park was full of people. We climbed the steeple of the church across the street for the view.
On the way back we grabbed a bag of chips and called it dinner. By then our room mates had finished sorting their luggage. Pauline and Martin were going on a 4 day boat ride down the Amazon to Brazil! We exchanged information so they can share how it went.
Saturday January 18, 2020
A lazy morning was enjoyed dawdling over coffee, breakfast, catching up on work email and watching the antics of their two small children. Juan even shared the giant grapes Elliot provided.
This 4 night 5 day tour with Tarapoto Amazonas was excellent and I highly recommend them. You’ll learn a LOT! Hipilandia Tours
You can contact them through their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/hipilandiamazon/