Goodbye to the Amazing Amazon

The people of the Amazon work hard

Today it was time to leave our cabaña and take the 2 hour boat ride back to Leticia, Colombia and  civilization or what passes for it in these neck of the woods.  After 3 days of muddy, sweaty togetherness sharing a small and now thoroughly filthy cabaña with 2 other bunk mates, it’s not a moment too soon (no maid service in our Amazon adventure).

The only thing I could think of was how luxurious the  non air conditioned private room I’d have at the hotel in Leticia that night. This was the same hotel that on the way in just a few days earlier I thought was a dump and the worst of the trip so far.  Nothing like  a few days in the Amazon to change your perspective on the little comforts of life.

Our Mascot - the Baby Owl "Babbah Boohey"

I’d gotten up early to grab breakfast. Eggs and bread.. again. But this time they had coffee so I was in heaven.

We returned back to the cabaña to pack and say good bye to the now very smelly lean place that served as our shower and bathroom and the clammy sheets and mosquito netting on the bunk beds. A little less enthusiastically I bid goodbye to our new animal friends; the guard dog Sasha, the parrot, the duck, the two constantly masturbating monkeys and most fondly, the baby owl, Babbah Boohey.

It's the kids we'll miss the most

Bidding goodbye to our guide, Witman, was equally bitter sweet. Witman was a real trooper, never failing in his duty and always looking out for us without smothering us or pestering us for a tip or to spend money or anything.

In fact, the first thing I noticed about the people of the Amazon is their lack of assertiveness when it comes to money. It just doesn’t seem that important to them. Rarely if ever did they try to sell us anything and if we chose to buy something we had to ask the price and make the first move. After Cartagena that was a refreshing change.

The people of the Amazon were sweet and humble and while some lived hard lives they seemed not the least bit hardened by their experience. Instead, they happily went about their business in a friendly but much understated manner.

Renzo & "Sasha"

The kids are the ones I’m mostly going to miss… the shy but beaming kids. Little guys and girls of various ages, living in paradise and not realizing it. A plastic grocery bag on a string for a kite? Fun for hours. An empty plastic bottle to kick? Just as good as a soccer ball. Kids are simple and these kids were simply happy to be alive it seemed.

I hope that when they grow up they can continue the tradition of their ancestors, but I’d be selfish and hypocritical if I didn’t also wish for them some degree of comforts of the modern age.  Air conditioning, a more diverse diet, a movie every now and then, decent web access, nothing culture killing mind you, just some creature comforts because I’m telling you life in the Amazon can be really hard.

Amazing Amazon Sunset

When we arrived to the port of Leticia I felt like we’d reached Manhattan. Cars and motorcycles! I had forgotten what they looked and sounded like, and of course that wasn’t such a bad thing but I’d be lying if I pretended I wasn’t glad to be back to a decent sized town where I could somewhat choose my food and finally check my email.

It was Monday night and we’d vainly searched for Monday Night Football to see the Giants play anywhere in town. We finally gave up and ventured over to the Brazilian side of the border to Tabatinga. The vibe was decidedly more gritty,  and maybe just a wee less safe. When we crossed the border to Brasil (no passport required) almost as on cue, the lights to the city went out.

As I said it was Monday night and there wasn’t much happening on either the Colombian or Brazilian side of the border so we headed back to the Colombian side and called it an early night. I had no problems sleeping and looked forward to being in a major city (Bogota) tomorrow, to finish up the shoot and look at some dailies with the guys.

And while I was glad to be back in “civilization”, there is a slight pang of regret when I think  that I may never see my friend Babbah Boohey or my other new Amazonian friends again.


The Amazing Amazon

DAY 1:

We arrived by plane to the small Amazon gateway port town of Leticia, Colombia. The airport is really small and was full of mostly tourists heading to the Amazon.

Buildings Along the Amazon

We just missed the boat to Puerto Nariño, which was fine with me because they don’t have ATMs in Puerto Nariño and I was pretty sure we didn’t have enough money on us to last the next 5 days anyway.

It was really hot and humid and almost everyone was on a motorcycle or moped. There were very few cars. Internet was painfully slow and the food choices not that diverse. But we made the best of it, checking into a cheap hotel (the Hotel Anaconda was full with a professor’s convention) and hunting down the ATM to garner more cash. No credit cards in Puerto Nariño either!

We try to sample the nightlife of Leticia but either we’re too early or there is just not much going on. Just as well, we have another early day tomorrow to catch the boat to Puerto Nariño.

Amazon River

DAY 2 –

Up really early, too early!

We piled into the rapido (speed boat) in the port at Leticia to take the 2 hour boat ride up the Amazon River to Puerto Nariño.  The muddy bank leading to the boat launch is set at 45 degree angle and is a slippery mess after all the rain. I see one lady with stilettos digging into the mud. She’s not some unprepared Gringa, she’s a native.

Heading to our Cabana

My first impression of the Amazon river was that it was huge, muddy, amazing and powerful. There are occasional houses hugging the river and I got the sense that it is everything to the economy in the Amazon.

After about an hour the boat started to make stops along the way dropping off people and supplies or picking something up to take a little further upriver. The river is the Amazon’s interstate highway and where goods and people can most efficiently move.

Our Roommate.. Babah Boohey

We took a right fork to Puerto Nariño and I instantly fell in love with the town. It’s a peaceful, beautiful little hamlet built on the banks of a small gulf of the Amazon river. Kids were swimming to stave off the heat and fisherman were casting their nets . There are no cars or motorized vehicles in Puerto Nariño, and other than the motorized canoes, the only sounds were the buzz of insects and the hum of daily life as the villagers went about their normal routines.

Shooting in Puerto Narino

The crew and I were met by representatives of our Cabañas, the Alto Aguila (High Eagle), and we piled into a small canoe with an outboard engine to take the 5 minute trip upstream to our cabaña.

The walk up the muddy, grassy steep hill to our cabaña is hell with our gear. It’s a slippery mess though they’ve done all they can to make it not so, building natural wooden stairs and walkways but for me, this is already challenging. I’m a runner and work out almost daily, but I was huffing and puffing and a big sweaty mess when we finally arrived up the hill at our cabaña backpacks and gear in tow.

The cabaña consisted of four bunk beds and not much else. Oh and a baby owl screeching at us menacingly that instantly popped on my backpack (while it was still on my back I might add!).

Our guide, Witman, assured us in Spanish the owl was harmless and we find out as he gently removed him from my back and the owl perched on his hand.

I put my hand out and the owl gently nibbled it. Perhaps when he’s older these bites will hurt but  for now, they just tickled and this bird, cute as hell, was our instant mascot.

Piranha Fisherman

We proceeded to think of names for our new friend and Moses settled on BabaBoohey which stuck. BabaBoohey would be our companion the next few days and keep our cabaña free of nasty little critters in the wild, amazing Amazon.

We unpacked and quickly got ready to hit the lake just upriver for some Piranha fishing. On the way, we spotted some freshwater pink dolphins surfacing. These dolphins are nearly blind but are extremely intelligent.

Getting ready for my Amazon swim

I took a swim in the Amazon, being assured by Witman,that it was completely safe and that the Piranha wouldn’t attack unless I was bleeding or wounded. To my knowledge, I was not, so I dove in, heartened by the sight of all the young kids swimming in the river I had witnessed on the way up.

After a swim, we fished for Piranha but the closest we came to catching anything was watching Witman pull them in one after another. Still, watching them attack the meat on the end of my hook was pretty cool.

The View from Alto Aquila

Later that night, we went to town for dinner and witnessed a local soccer game.  On the way back, a sardine jumped into the boat, so we ended up catching a fish after all.   I’ve done a lot of fishing in my life, but never had a fish actually jump in the boat with me.

Local Kids

That night, as we crawled underneath our mosquito netting and the fan stopped running (the electricity cuts off every night at 11PM until 5 AM the next morning) all I could hear were the wild sounds of the amazon mixing in with my roommates’ snores and pretty soon, exhausted, I was joining in.