Week 67: The Amazon Jungle

Mud bath anyone?
Camera: TG-5 Aperture: 2 Focal Length: 4.5 Shutter Speed: 60 ISO: 160
Mud bath anyone?

Week 67: The Amazon Jungle

Travel to the Amazon

The day has come to tackle one of the destinations very high on everyone’s list: The Amazon! The journey there is an extensive one, as it should be, and for us it means first catching a plane to Leticia in the south of Colombia. It is a 2 hour flight and as we get off the humidity and heat hits us hard… we have truly landed in the tropical part of Colombia! And not only Colombia, as at a stone’s throw there is the border of Brasil, and across the Amazon river lies Peru. Amazingly the borders were closed here as well for Covid, while the civilization here is really cut off from everything and the borders are not physically enforced normally.

And so we first drive to the office of our lodge to make the final payment, and then for the next ride Bo and mom get to ride the motor of our host. The ride is short and crosses the Brasilian border to the boat ramp where a bustling mass of people is coming and going. The Amazon river is an impressive sight and knowing you are at the corner of 3 South American countries makes it all the more special. But while this was all very quick and efficient, we now get to the slow part of the journey – taking the boat on the river. With its seasonal low water levels the ride is long with at least 4 hours to go.

After one hour or so we take a right turn into a tributary of the river, and follow it for a few hours more while the river becomes slightly less wide, and the twists and turns make us wonder if we will be able to avoid those big rain clouds we see ahead of us? With approximately half an hour to go unfortunately the answer is NO, and we get hit in the face by our first rainforest rain! It is a short but heavy one, and with another small one 10 minutes later we arrive at the lodge in the dark and slightly wet… Welcome to the biggest rainforest in the world!!

Day 1: Exploring the Amazon rainforest

The great part of the lodge we have chosen is the fact that it includes a long list of activities, which you can chose to do whenever you like. You get assigned a guide and volunteer with whom you can put together an itinerary for the time you are there. We have Ka (guide) and Sofia (volunteer) to help us out, who turn out to be the best in finding fun things to do and organizing our requests. With 2 kids in tow they know they will have little downtime, so we get cracking to find the best activities for us. We also meet Toukie, the house toucan that was rescued from a village nearby, and Laura the blue macaw that seems to have decided this is the place she comes back to (and has figured out how to open the tap to have a drink!).

Next morning we first take a boat ride to an enormous ceiba tree, a holy tree for the natives of the area and a challenge to climb. Another reason for us to go there is that the boys would love to get a traditional tattoo and the fruits to make the dye can only found around this part of the forest. Thankfully our guide Ka is a great climber and he manages to find the necessary fruit for us to do this activity later on. We get an explanation of the cultural significance of the area and the natural resources around it, before heading back to our lodge for lunch.

After lunch we have some time to relax, which the boys use to practice their bow and arrow skills in the field below the lodge. Once relaxed, we head out to the jungle for a jungle hike with our guide Ka. The walk is challenging with the jungle overgrowing paths and everything of course being very slippery and wet, but with the rubber boots from our accommodation we manage to make it to the stream. The stream is a surprisingly cool water place coming from a source a 6hr hike upstream and making its way towards the Amazon river.

Another draw is the natural mud that is found in the corner of the stream, filled with minerals and nutrients – or so we are told :-). Most important is of course it is a lot of fun to cover ourselves with mud and play around in the pool of water! We feel rejuvenated and refreshed as we slide into our muddy boots again for the shorter hike back. For the night we have opted into a trip to find little caiman who are fishing on the shores in the dark. Ka has an incredible eye for them and before we know it the boat is steered to the shore and he plucks a small caiman out of the water! They take a long time to grow a decent size, the one we get to hold is probably 1-2 years old but will more than double in size. Very cool experience and makes us think twice about skinny dipping after dark…

Day 2: Traditional fishing & Tattooing

The next day it is time to put our fishing skills to the test which we have started to grow in the Pantanal, as we go out again to try and catch piranhas! This time we do not have beef but chicken, but according to Ka and Sofia that should not make a difference to the piranhas… they are not picky. So we sit in our boat in a corner of the river and throw out our rods, this time without caimans watching our every move. They bite a bit, but certainly not as frequent as the Pantanal piranhas, and as time passes we start to wonder if we will catch anything at all? Then finally Sven catches a beautiful bright colored piranha, but it is deemed too small to keep for lunch :-(. Kim then fishes out a few small catfish of which finally Ka agrees one is big enough to eat for lunch!

Back at the lodge we have lunch again and then get ready for our tattooing session. It looks like some rain is rolling in, so a perfect moment to stay busy under the roof. The dye is made of a local traditional fruit, and as you put it on with a small wooden stick/toothpick, you hardly see anything which of course really disappoints the boys. But we soldier on, Bo gets tattoos all over his body, Luc sticks to a ship on his belly and then turns his dad into a walking coloring book. Thankfully the ladies – especially Valentina – have a lot of patience and are happy to help us get all tatted up.

The rain turns out to become a heavy tropical rain, so any plans for the beach in the afternoon are cancelled, but with the rainforest being nice and moist they are the perfect condition to go on a night hike and look for bioluminescence! Some of the most amazing creatures actually light up at night when they get wet, same concept as the algae we saw in the lagoon, and so we run into a snail with bright green lighted eyes, and leaves covered in glowing slime. A beautiful frog poses for us as we pass by and some other animals scutter through the woods as we follow Ka on the path. A truly magical experience and a great way to wrap up our second day in the Amazon rainforest!

Day 3: Fishing & Beach BBQ

First surprise of the next day, to the delight of Bo: the traditional tattoos have turned a dark black! We did not see that coming, and hilariously this means that the tattoos on Sven’s back look hideous as Luc had ‘wiped off some things that did not look right’… the wiping did not do much as you can imagine ;-). The rain seems to have passed, but there is still a bit of clouds to keep the heat away, perfect conditions to go sports fishing in a lake nearby. This lake is across our river which means it is technically in Peru, our lodge is in Brasil and we got here from Colombia… 3 countries collide!

We have to take a short hike to get to the lake, which should be teeming with fish as they went to the lake to feed in the high water season, and with the water level lowering basically got ‘trapped’ in the lake. No piranhas this time, but proper big fish and a different technique to catch them that is newer to us – sports fishing. We spend several hours on the lake and truth be told; Luc caught a small barracuda-type fish he had to throw back and Ka caught all the other medium-size catfish… not much to snack on, but right as we are ready to turn it in he catches us a massive fish! HURRAY!!

Heading back it seems the boat pickup has forgotten us, so we wait on the shore while we enjoy the pink dolphins passing by and playing in the water – a very rare sight. Once we do get to the other side of the river the sun sets and we get the BBQ going to feast on that delicious fresh fish. The boys have fun in the sand and fill up their bellies with fish, potatoes and rice before we take the boat back to the lodge for our final night. Our sleeping quarters are mattresses on the floor with mosquito nets under a thatched roof so you hear the sounds of the jungle all night, not bad to fall asleep to only risk is being waken up by Laura the macaw screaming ‘LAURA’ at 5:30…

Day 4: Bracelet making & return to Bogota

With our boat back leaving after breakfast the boys manage to convince Sofia to still have a quick bracelet making session with them. She teaches them how to knot bracelets between two nails and they diligently start working at it while we pack up our stuff and get ready for the journey back. Saying goodbye is always difficult so we give our new friends Sofia and Ka a big hug and set out on the river again. The journey back is slightly faster as we go downstream for most of it, and this time Luc gets to ride the motorcycle back to the airport. With a short 2hr flight back we make it to Bogota again with much cooler temperatures and city traffic jams – it rates nr2 in the world of most congested cities -, what a difference!

Bogota – Highland life and GOLD

As we have been out in nature living very basically we decided to splurge on a fancy hotel for once to wash off all the jungle dirt. The El Dorado hotel did not disappoint with a big jacuzzi in the room and a scrumptious breakfast buffet the next morning that made us go back several times to pile up the plate. We have one full day left on our Colombia itinerary before flying out late at night, so we decide to make the most of it and start that day of sightseeing with another free walking tour of Bogota.

Our guide Angelica is another gem, and takes us to the main sites of the old city center while telling the stories of its history, sometimes violent but also amazing traditions and legends. We have a short stop at a market where we taste local chocolate, new fruit juices and the national ‘Chicha’, an alcoholic beverage made of corn with a controversial history… not our favorite. We continue on to the main governmental square and passed some of the free museums while checking out the stalls of vendors. Funny Colombian element; the Colombians do not know ‘personal space’, so it happens very often that locals stop and stare at us from less than a meter away… Covid-19 must have been difficult here!

With a solid list of recommendations under our belt we first go to a local restaurant for lunch to try the Ajiaco soup, a delicious hearty affair that warms us up again. Then on to the free Botero museum and enormous library to take a look around and hide from the rain that has just started to pour – Bogota is truly a city of 4 seasons in a day. We walk on, slipping into souvenir shops here and there and peering into all the nice coffee places and restaurants the city has to offer.

The biggest highlight of Bogota however, and a must see for all is the GOLD museum in the city center. At 90ct for adults and free for kids it is by far one of the best value museums we have seen on this trip, and the exhibitions are extremely well set up from the handling of metals / forging gold, to its traditional uses and stories across the country. The boys are fascinated by the sheer amount of gold and the intricateness of most of the pieces there – tiny little animals, faces, jewelry all made in an era long long ago. We easily spend a few hours before the museum closes and it is our cue to leave both the city center as well as the country. It has been a fantastic trip where we have seen much of the diversity of Colombia, a great holiday destination!

Next week: The urban jungle – NYC!

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