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Kat & Andrew's Worldwide Adventures

The Amazon!

COLOMBIA | Wednesday, 16 November 2011 | Views [1650] | Comments [1]

We said our goodbyes to the boys in Bogota and flew to Leticia which is a small concrete town built miles from any other civilisation in the Amazon jungle. Leticia borders Brazil and Peru and the great Rio Amazonas (Amazon River) flows between them.

We were greeted at the airport with a sign bearing our name (so cool!!) and taken to the Amazon Jungle Trips office to leave some bags there (we just took one with us into the jungle) and were then dropped off at the port. We went on a small speed boat for an hour to get to Zacumbu Lodge.

That trip completely blew my mind – I had that moment of realization: I am in the Amazon. THE AMAZON! One of the most wild, remote and incredible places on the planet! I am seeing the places in the world that I’ve always wanted to see and experiencing everything the world has to offer, not just another city, not just another historical building, but The Amazon! Our driver called our boat ‘the flying boat’ and it sure flew! We were gliding over the water so smoothly, like we were barely touching it, with the wind roaring in our ears and making our eyes water (not to mention causing me to extract dreads from my hair afterwards!).  The Rio Amazonas is so much wider than expected and we flew down it past the corner where the 3 countries meet, and onto the Rio Javari with lush tropical jungle in Brazil on one side and Peru on the other, and the odd shack built onto the river sides that people call home. Dusk was arriving so the sky was lit up in brilliant shades of blue molding into orange and yellow with the clouds throwing messy patterns across it all. The reflection on the water caused the illusion of rippling silk. We passed locals packed onto little canoes that were so weighed down, the water was reaching the top of the sides of the boat yet they seemed totally unconcerned.

Zacumbu Lodge is situated on the Peruvian side of the Amazon. The lodge is made completely of wood and has an elaborately made thatched roof. The whole lodge is up on stilts due to the river rising 12 metres in the winter. At the front of the lodge is a hammock area where we spent all of our down time. Our room was a comfy double bed with half of the roof being wood and half mosquito net under the thatch. The generator clicks on lights from 6pm-10pm every night. Once we had been shown around and were all settled in, we were served a delicious dinner in which we got to sample Piranhas and the largest fish is the Amazon, the Perauku.

9 other people were also staying at the lodge and after dinner, we were split into two groups and taken out on a large motorized canoe into the darkness in search of baby Caiman (alligators). Ramiro was our guide and Al our captain for our entire stay. They were both absolute professionals and very friendly. It was fantastic seeing them do what they do best in their world so unlike ours – such as plucking a caiman out of the shallow waters on the river bank in pitch blackness with bare hands! Caimans are left to fend for themselves from the age of a month old and they can grow to be 8 metres long. Ramiro explained some information to us about the Caiman and those who were brave enough got to hold the little creature (I even gave it a go!). Afterwards the Caiman was carefully put back into the water to return home.

The next morning we were all served breakfast promptly at 8am and split up into two groups again to go off into the jungle. I was super nervous as I’m not a fan of spiders and because I’m a worrier I kept foreseeing some poisonous insect or animal attacking me or something finding its way in to my ears, nose or down my pants! When we first entered the wild jungle I stuck close to Ramiro’s heels in case anything happened to me that I needed help with but it turned out to be unnecessary worry (as it usually always is….)

The area that we explored wasn’t as dense as I expected and wasn’t quite as dramatically crawling with bugs as expected. Sure I saw loads of them, and even a few decide to hitch a ride on me until I discovered them, but it wasn’t terrifying. We were provided with knee high thick rubber gumboots so even as I saw spiders almost the size of the palm of my hand scuttle past my feet, I didn’t panic. (If they had gotten into my boot however it would’ve been quite a dramatic spectacle!)

It wasn’t long before I was in the mind set of wanting to see something really awesome such as a snake or a tarantula! We found a few tarantula nests but unfortunately no one was home. We did however see the cutest little monkeys jumping from tree to tree and many interesting birds and butterflies as well as bugs, camouflage frogs and a lizard. The jungle floor was very squishy with decaying leaves and rotting pieces of trees. It seemed like there was plenty of life on the floor, but due to dense rainforest canopy, there is much much more above in the trees.

Tropical rainforest is the earth’s most complex ecosystem. The Amazon contains an estimated 50,000 species of plants, one fifth of the world’s total. One study found 3000 species of beetle in five small plots and estimated that each tree species supported more than 400 unique animal species. There are up to 250 tree species in a one hectare radius where in a normal forest it would be around 3 or 4! More than 75 monkey species reside in the Amazon. (On a side note: The Rio Amazonas measures more than 6200km. Its flow is 12 times that of the Mississippi and it carries one fifth of the world’s freshwater. Its discharge into the Atlantic every 24 hours equals to that of the Thames in a full year!)

We were shown a vine that grows from the trees (eventually killing it) that is a parasite. It is so strong it can hold up to 200kgs. We each had a go as being Tarzan.

Another tree we were shown, we tasted. It was horrible, but the natives use it as prevention for malaria.

After 3 hours I was glad that the walk was over. Not because of being scared covered in bugs like I had expected, but because we were constantly plagued by thousands of mosquitos dive bombing any area of exposed flesh including our faces, and their incessant humming in our ears was driving me crazy. We were all wearing long sleeves and pants as instructed to prevent being eaten alive, but due to the heat and the 92% humidity, we were uncomfortably roasting. I know that females aren’t supposed to sweat, but man, there wasn’t a part of me that wasn’t sweating! Stupidly, the only long sleeved top I had happened to be Marino wool, which I used as a thermal whilst snowboarding in Canada…. Need I say more?!

After a blissful cold shower (which unfortunately was barely a trickle as we were all showering at once), we were served a delicious lunch. With full bellies we enjoyed a siesta in the hammocks listening to natures sounds surrounding us. 3 people returned to Leticia leaving us with a group of 8 in total. That afternoon some of us were taken to a small Peruvian village and shown how they live solely by the land (however they had generators for lights and a satellite dish for a TV yet no windows or doors!!)  Ramiro also explained that Amazonian families are very large; he himself has 12 other siblings! In this village, 80 people reside there which is only 6 families! Unfortunately we didn’t get to meet or interact with many of the locals but we were shown their pets. A huge pig, featherless chickens, many dogs and a hole in the ground filled with water in which they farm the largest fish in the Amazon. We were shown a small one that was only 80 cm long. Fully grown they are 3 meters long!

The most impressive pet they had however was a young Anaconda that was around 3 metres long (they can grow to be 10 metres!).  As Ramiro held it and explained information, it wound itself very tightly around either his leg or his arm! One of the other people in the group, a retired Norwegian man, grabbed the snake out of Ramiro’s hand without even asking if it was safe or how to hold it! Luckily (or unluckily we later thought hehe) there were no dramas but before we arrived that day before, he had been piranha fishing and decided to pick one up which resulted in the top of his finger being bitten off. Then he had the audacity of accusing the company of not warning him it was dangerous!!! COMMON SENSE PEOPLE! Him and his wife were the only down side on the entire trip.

Let me just have a little rant about these people. These are the kind of people that has made the western world the way it is now – you know the type, taking people to court for the smallest thing resulting in McDonalds having to print “warning this is hot” on their coffee cups, and being given a list of rules of things you can’t do when you have a cast on your arm like “do not stand on your cast” and “do not jump” signs on high bridges. I mean REALLY, all it takes is common sense people! They were constantly running ahead or staying behind in the jungle when common sense would say that may just not be wise, stay with the professional who knows what they’re doing! They didn’t even bring their own first aid kit which EVERY seasoned travel knows to bring, ESPECIALLY when you are in one of the most remote places in the world, regardless of the fact that the company you are with may have their own first aid kit. You should ALWAYS play it safe. Everyone should know that Colombia isn’t America, and you should take precautions. They were rude, inconsiderate, selfish and obnoxious. I seriously felt like at times, I was back at school, and they are many years my senior and supposedly well-travelled people….

Anyway… moving along! We had the option of camping in the jungle that night but it was a bit beyond my comfort zone bug wise. I would’ve grown a pair if Andrew had wanted too, but luckily he wasn’t so keen on being harassed by mosquitos all night either - despite there being mosquito nets on the hammocks. Dinner was being served there also which would’ve made us prime targets for the mosquitos as we were dining. The 4 of us remaining were served a special dinner at the lodge and afterwards, as we were relaxing in the hammocks (where there were plenty of mosquitos as it is but it was not even a quarter of the amount we would’ve been around in the jungle) torrential rain rolled in. We had obviously made the right choice as at 9pm, the others all came back to the lodge absolutely soaking!

The rain was so heavy; part of our room was not spared. Luckily Andrew had left his rain coat over our bag! Our bed was a bit damp, but it was before anyways due to the humidity. There was definitely no cuddling during our stay there as it was so sticky and hot. That night was cooler though due to the rain which was nice. (We saw a bit of lightning in the distance – I have seen more lightning in Colombia in 3 weeks than I’ve ever seen in my life back home!!)

The next morning after breakfast we went on a 2.5 hour walk into a different part of the jungle seeing different plants and trees, one of which had a rubber substance inside it and another had a poisonous liquid. I really liked the ‘walking tree’ which was a mishmash of vines and trunks – parts of it continuously grow outwards into the surrounding ground while the original trunk dies off resulting in the tree ‘walking’ further into the forest! We also got shown giant lily pads – this is where the mud tried to claim Andrews gum boot. He got buried up to his knee resulting in a very muddy and wet sock!

We saw more interesting birds… now, I am a bird lover, but the Norwegian couple puts me to shame. They are proper bird watchers. Every time we saw a new one, out came the binoculars and bird species book and we had to wait until they had discovered which type it was. Surely the considerate thing to do would be to take a picture and read about it later at the lodge?

We also saw a small Tarantula! It was covered in prickly silver hairs which created the illusion of it being superimposed into our photos. Very cool to see one in the jungle instead of a Zoo!

On the way back to the lodge we stopped off at a little beach on the Brazilian side. I didn’t even know that the Amazon had sand! I wasn’t game enough to swim but Andrew leapt right in with a huge grin. The river floor was thick with deep sticky mud so even going up to my knees was enough for me! The water is so brown and dark you wouldn’t be able to see anything creeping up to nibble on you so no thanks!

After lunch more of the group departed leaving only us and the Norwegian couple. Groan…. All they did was complain, they even made a list of things they didn’t like at the lodge. I certainly didn’t have anything to complain about, the lodge was even better than I expected and I was having the most incredible time.

 After a siesta in the hammocks the 4 of us and Ramiro & Al, went canoeing on the lagoon out the back of the lodge. I was rather paranoid that the thing was going to tip, and the Norwegian couple didn’t take this into consideration even after I keep squealing as it swayed when they moved around. They wouldn’t contribute in the rowing and it was aggravating Andrews arm injury so he began to get very frustrated at them, especially when they made us wait for 10 minutes every time they saw a bird. It is very rare for Andrew to get angry at someone or something.

I understand that when you are on holiday, you want to be able to do the things you enjoy, and if bird watching is their thing, then good on them. But it also comes to a point that when you are sharing an experience with others, you have to consider them too, and they were clearly not interested in doing that. Whilst on the canoe, despite frustrations, we saw some more monkeys playing in the tree tops and we saw a swimming lizard which was really neat. We really wanted to see a sloth, but unfortunately it was not meant to be.

After canoeing we read in the hammocks with the bats flying around above us, had dinner, and called it an early night as we were due to wake up at 4.45am. Before bed, I spotted a small snake curling itself around the balcony and when we pointed it out to the staff, we discovered it was poisonous despite it looking so harmless. (Also found out the snake and frog we saw in Tayrona was poisonous!)

When we were up bright and early we went out on the boat to see the sun rise, although unfortunately due to heavy clouds, we didn’t see anything spectacular. Instead we spent an hour bird watching… which was NOT what we woke up so early for! Afterwards we went to an area where dolphins play and we were rewarded with seeing gray and pink dolphins being relatively active.

It’s a shame that a lot of the amazing creatures we got to see, we couldn’t catch in photos as they are always on the move, under water, or too high up in the trees, but we still got to see them playing in their natural habitats and have captured those images in our minds.

After going back to the lodge for breakfast the Norwegian couple went off to do more bird watching and finally, we got to do something without them. Bliss! Ramiro and Al took us Piranha fishing.

I feel terrible for poor defenseless fish that get caught and then slowly die from lack of water and then get cut to pieces. I really should be a vegetarian but I stick to ignorance is bliss which is very mean of me. If it doesn’t resemble something that was once living, then I can eat it! However, it was difficult to feel sorry for the Piranhas as they are so evil!!!

The sun came out by this point and the bugs, dragonflies, hornets, massive flies and bees were very curious as to what we were up to and continuously buzzed around.

We were fishing with basic sticks with a fishing line and hook tied onto it. Ramiro and Al are such pros that within no time they had caught 18 piranhas and many little fish as well. I somehow managed to catch one piranha and two little fish. Andrew caught one but it managed to get back off the boat before Ramiro could grab it off the hook. He also caught one little fish. When anyone caught a fish, you have to flick it up back into the boat so piranhas were flying everywhere which got a lot of squeals out of me! But the boys were very good at making me feel safe; they had it all under control. I had a lot of fun!

On the way back we saw an ant eater (so cool! Ramiro & Al were so excited too, it was really neat to see that they love everything that lives around them) and more baby dolphins.

We went back to the lodge for our last meal, packed our bags and sadly had to depart. The 4 of us and 4 of the staff piled onto the motorized canoe and slowly headed back to Leticia which took 2.5 hours. The damn Norwegian couple kept moving from side to side on the boat which resulted in it constantly tipping and the staff having to move seats to counteract the weight. They didn’t even consider how their movements affected others. Also, Andrew and I had sat in the front of the covered part of the boat (there were 2 rows in the very front that was uncovered with no railings) and before you know it, the others sat right in front of us practically pushing me back further into the boat! If they had wanted to enjoy the best view for half of the trip, they could have just asked if we could share the seats. There was no need to be so childish and rude! I know I shouldn’t have played their game, but to prove a point, I went and sat in front of them to take some photos and they moved to sit on the final front seat so I got a perfect view of their backs!

They also took photos of every single native person fishing, working or floating by on a little boat as if they were at the Zoo!

Finally we arrived back in Leticia and we could be rid of them. We were taken to collect our bags and driven to the hotel that had kindly been booked for us in advance. We walked to the park where thousands of parakeets return to at the same time every night to sleep in the trees. It was awesome having them flock together above us and their chattering was deafening! Quite an experience.

Later we learnt that the Norwegian couple had spent hours complaining about everything and they managed to extort almost all their money back! They complained about the noise, the food, the staff, the organisation of the activities, that they weren’t safe, that they had been cheated and lied too – they even complained about us! They threatened to take them to court about them not having warned them about the piranhas biting and not having sufficient first aid supplies and they said they were going to ruin the name of the company publicly. Andrew and I told the company that if any action was taken against them by the Norwegians that we would be happy to support them in any way necessary.

After a nice night in a comfy bed and air conditioned room, we were picked up and taken to the airport. This was not expected and Amazon Jungle Trips had gone over and above our expectations.

We would love to come back in winter when the water level is higher. All jungle walks would then be done by canoe instead of by foot and there are more animals as there is more fruit in the trees.

I am glad I didn’t let my fear of spiders being on me to stop me from going to this magical and very special place. (Only one spider managed to get onto my shoulder but Andrew saved the day before I even got to see how big it was thank god!).

The memories of our experience here will be very much treasured and relived forever…





We really liked your post and decided to feature it on the WorldNomads Adventures homepage so that other travellers can enjoy it too.

Happy Travels!

  Kate Hoffman Dec 5, 2011 10:40 AM

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