Oh mighty river (oh bloody mosquitoes).

Trip Start Oct 06, 2004
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Flag of Colombia  ,
Friday, February 18, 2005

I talked to a Colombian girl the other day, and when I told her that I was going to Leticia, she just laughed and said they would slit my throat before I got to the arrival hall. At least, surely before the taxi stand. I didn't think more about it before I got to the check-in desk at Bogota airport. "Hey guys, this gentleman is going to Leticia" said the woman behind the counter. Everyone stopped what they were doing, the luggage handlers, the security staff, the other women behind the counters and all the passengers waiting in line to check-in. They all started laughing. "Good luck" I heard someone say. "Loco" someone else shouted. I felt tiny. Still lacking dearly in my Spanish skills, I was the odd one out. I couldn't respond and ask all the questions spinning around in my brain. What's up? Do they have condor sized mosquitoes down there? Have local guerillas just invaded the town? Are the indigenous Indians with cannibal genes preparing the frying pan right now? Slightly embarrassed, I grabbed my ticket and left in a hurry. I desperately looked for an Internet Cafe, to search for the latest news from the area, but couldn't find one. Later on while waiting at the departure gate, I looked around for other Gringos, but only spotted locals. Well this is just great!

According to my Lonely Planet guide book, Leticia is an easygoing Colombian border town along the Rio Amazonas on the tri-border with Brazil and Peru. But you know what I think about guide books and their reliability. I guess I'll just have to wait and see for myself what the place is like.

Arriving in Leticia a couple of hours later, it turns out that the town is as peaceful and easygoing as it gets. Kind of what I expected to be honest, as I spoke to Richard (from the Colon to Cartagena boat) on e-mail, and as he have just been to Leticia, he told me that the place is "muy tranquilo." But then I like some drama in my stories, and the above story is actually true. At the Leticia airport I am met by "Mowgli" who is trying to sell me a jungle trip. And instead of shopping around, I break rule number one for any seasoned traveler. I swallow the bait immediately. "Mowgli" arrange a three day trip for me, starting the next day. We go by boat down the Amazon river and into Brazil, before going up the Rio Yavari (a tributary to the Amazon river) and into the Peruvian Amazon. A few hours later we arrive at our "hotel" for the night. It's set in a black stagnant swamp in the middle of nowhere. A local family is living here, earning a few bucks sharing their place with tourists like me. And man is the place basic. Of course there's no electricity or water, that I expected. But I hoped for a toilet, a table or maybe a chair to sit on. But no, I have to dissapoint you there. The place got nothing except a leaking roof and something resembling four walls. When the sun sets, the place gets infested with mosquitoes. I have never seen anything like it, and get about thousand bites in three nanoseconds. I am sure you could swing an empty bucket in the air and you would have food to serve a family for weeks. Deep fried mosquitoes. A la plancha with "moshed" potatoes. Or maybe a plain and simple McMossie, no combo thanks. You just have to retreat to your mosquito net, and hope that the Amazon mossies are stupid enough not to find the 50 or so Penny sized holes in your sleeping quarter. One sleepless night is enough for me at the hellhole. I have no idea how the husband and wife and their 70 kids or so manage to survive there. They got nothing. They get their food from the swamp. They take their baths there, they wash their clothes, rinse the fish and get their drinks, all from the same spot in the stagnant black water.

We go a bit downriver for our next accommodation, and this place is like Marriott in comparison. It even got a "toilet." Or as the Italian, who is also staying there, called it one morning in his heavily accented English "Hey Steve, do you know where the "badroom" is?" "Yes Marco, it's at the back of the house." And it sure is a "badroom" with all it's spiders, cockroaches, mosquitoes, wasps and ants crawling around. Hey Mister Cockroach, please stay away, you got no business up there!

The days go by, but three days is enough for me. We go piranha fishing and caiman hunting, but we catch none (so I go home without trying a caiman steak, maybe just as well.) We watch pink and grey dolphins swimming around without a care in their lives, and on our jungle walks we spot toucans, macaws, monkeys, sloths, iguanas, jesus lizards walking on water, beautiful blue morphos, tarantulas and very deadly snakes.

Back in Leticia I am craving a beer or two. So I join up with Martin from Canada for a few drinks at a local bar. Martin is in his forties, and although he first seems shy and a bit strange, he ends up being a great guy. For four or five hours straight, I listen to all his crazy stories from traveling around Sudan and other parts of Africa during the Eightees. I haven't laughed so much in years and realize that my adventures pale in comparison. From Martin's stories I also realize that I have probably never been really thirsty in my whole life. He know's all about being thirsty after being lost in the African desert in the blazing sun without water.

Tomorrow I am heading east and down the mighty river for four days before I'll reach my next destination, Manaus, Brazil.
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