Written by Mia:
“Feliz Navidad!” is what we said when we got to the Amazonas, the district of Colombia through which the mighty river flows. We were tempted by the crew of Kattami who showed us pictures and gave us recommendations of a great place to stay with wild monkeys and parrots. The flights were expensive and we sat in our cockpit and debated. Santa Marta is not far away and we thought it would be crazy to miss the opportunity. Plus, my brother Mark reminded me that our Grandpa travelled to the Amazon as a senior and he would want me to see it, so we booked tickets as our Christmas gift to ourselves.
We flew from Santa Marta to Bogata and from there to Leticia. We arrived just in time to slather on the bug spray and dash to the town park for the massive return of thousands of green parrots. They come to roost in the park every night and seem to have a LOT to discuss as it was very loud! We ascended the church tower to watch the sun set over the Amazon, it was unforgettable! The Amazon is 6937 km long, passes through eight countries and is the the home to 3000 species of animal. It starts in Peru and ends in the Atlantic Ocean where the estuary is 330 km wide. It moves more water than the next eight rivers combined and the indigenous people who live there number 20 million. It accounts for 25% of the fresh water in the world. This is a truly awe inspiring place.
We were eager to get up the river and the next morning Jon got up early to see if we could get spaces on the “bus” up the river. The bus is really a boat, of course and the only spaces were on the first one which gave us less than an hour to rent wellies, get more cash out, grab breakfast and dash to the ferry. We made it, hooray and we’re speeding 85km up the Amazon to the cute village of Puerto Narino. The two hour journey was amazing to us as you see whole families traveling up and down the river with babes in arms and often umbrellas to keep the sun or rain off. Rowing a boat is the equivalent of riding a bike and of course there is a lot of fishing as well. There is also a lot of erosion and the boats have to be careful to avoid entire trees floating in the water.
There are no cars in Puerto Narino and they are proud of their recycling, they have even used plastic bottles as planters. Felix, our guide, who is born and bred here told us that the town has grown extensively in the last decade and now there is culinary competition as there are two restaurants as well as street food as the intersection of pedestrian paths. He also told us he remembers when the hospital was one room, and now it has patient rooms with beds for overnight stays.
We stayed at a place called Cabanas del Friar and they came to fetch us with another smaller “peque peque” boat to travel another 10 minutes up the river. Teo was much impressed with the length of the prop and was tempted to have a go at steering. Manuel and Naddi from Monado were sitting waiting for us and they introduced us to the parrots Red and Blue&Gold macaws) and monkeys (squirrel monkeys). Teo named them “Red”, “Fluff” and “Never Leaves our Room”. These parrots have the intelligence of a three to eight year old child and live up to fifty years.
Once we were settled we jumped into our wellies and Felix took us for a walk through the jungle to a nature reserve. The walk through the jungle was full of sights and sounds that were awe inspiring. He pointed out grasshoppers and spiders and trees and the different frog and bird calls and some extremely loud crickets along the way. We stopped for a rest at a clearing with what resembled an Amish barn raising. Felix told us it was a community center for indigenous tribes. At the reserve we visited a beautiful pond full of Victoria Regia water lillies, which look like they could hold a child’s weight on their giant lily pads. We watched turtles and two giant types of fish, but the caymans stayed out of sight. One of the huge fish we saw we the eerie Pirarucu which can grow up to three meters long and legend has it that it was once a human warrior who was changed into a fish for being vain. A couple of Howler Monkeys made an appearance just as we were leaving, they were amazingly playful and we loved just watching them play in the trees. On our way back through town we stopped for street food, grilled chicken, grilled plantains and corn and well deserved cold drinks to wash it all down. When we got back to the hostel, the Squirrel monkeys were sleeping in the eaves on one side of the door to clubhouse and the parrots roosting were on the other.
We awoke to monkeys jumping on the tin roofs of the cabanas and they were hungry! If you stand still holding a bit of food they come running across the roof and jump on you and help themselves. They are very gentle and have very soft hands. There were even a couple of mamma monkeys with a baby each on her back. The mammas were the most chilled out and gentle ones, with a tiny, adorable monkey clinging to her back. They were a definite highlight of our stay. Down by the river, next to a shed they have built a little bridge into the trees for the sole purpose of feeding the Pygmy Marmoset monkeys. These little cuties are the smallest true monkey, weighing in at only 100 grams. They are dwarfed by the bananas they love so much.
We wandered through town and went to the corner store for ice cream and later walked around the pedestrianized walkways to explore the town. It is colorful and full of planters made of plastic bottles. We followed the raised wooden walkways to the Natutama museum. We watched videos about the pink dolphins of the Amazon and the plight of the manatee who have been hunted to near extinction. Afterwards we were guided through the museum, we went through the mouth of the anaconda to see beneath the water level, there were hundreds of carved wooden figurines of the animals that live in the Amazon including the pink and grey dolphins, the manatees, the piranhas and all the other fish. We moved on to another room showcasing the indigenous people, especially the Ticuna people and how important it is to take care of the river.
There are 80 000 species of plant, and of them 16 000 species of tree grow along the Amazon including rubber trees and walking palms, but by far the most amazing of the was the Ceiba tree. They grow up to 60 meters high and our guide said they can grow to be 3000 years old, and even if this seems far fetched, they are majestic. They star in a creation legend of the Ticuna. “In the beginning of time, the universe was dark because the light was hidden behind the gigantic cup of a huge ceiba tree. To take the world out of darkness, according to the creation myth of the Ticunas of the Colombian Amazon, Yoi and Ipi, the twin heroes, brought down the tree with the help of the animals of the jungle. When it fell, the thick trunk became the Amazon River and the long branches its tributaries, the leaves became the fish and the roots the estuary into the sea.”
On our last day, it started raining and it was amazing to experience the rain 8n the rain forest. This did not stop us from visiting Lago Tarapoto with our guide Felix in a peque peque boat. We were lucky and saw both the grey and the famous pink dolphins of the Amazon. Felix said it was safe to swim, even though you can fish for piranha nearby. We even jumped in quickly jumped back in the boat but we can say we swam in the Amazon! This amazing place will fill our memories and feed our imaginations for a long time to come.