The screen in the airplane shows 10:30. We have been flying over nothing but jungle for 1.5 hours. It reaches as far as the horizon. Here and there a river breaks through the green infinity. There is nothing but green trees, shrubs, no signs of indigenous villages. The airplane descents, the green infinity starts to show its details. Gigantic trees start showing their form. We go down quicker and quicker and with a smooth bounce, the airplane lands on Amazonian ground. The doors of the aircraft open and the fresh, humid air of tropical rainforest greets our noses. It reminds me of my time in the tropical greenhouses in the zoo, causing lovely memories to pop up in my mind again. We wait for our luggage at the improvised luggage carousal, which needs a firm kick from one of the attendants every few minutes to keep it going. The large amount of artificial Christmas trees which glide past on the conveyor keep the surprised tourists entertained. One has got to admit, this is a bit of a strange sight, given we are in the largest and greenest heart of the world. We change our long Bogota-proof jeans to khaki-green shorts and a t-shirt. We are enthusiastically greeted by a man who introduces himself as “George, George of the Jungle.” I have a flash back to my childhood where my good friend Marleen and I would watch George of the Jungle on TV. I think to myself, my god, if Marleen had been here, she would have peed in her pants with laughter. He says that he organizes several tours in the jungle and gives us his business card.
Leticia appears to be far from a charming settlement in the Amazon. At first glance of this `pueblo` I wonder if the word `bin` exists in their vocabulary. The buildings have to live under considerable lack of maintenance. We walk a few laps in search of a hostel, but they are either too expensive or too dirty for words. Luckily, there as a true Tarzan, our friend from the airport, George, turns around the corner. He had his 'office' in a hostel which turned out to be a pretty place. Both the price and the room were appealing to us and we decided to stay. Obviously, as a sign of gratitude we were obligated to listen to George`s sales pitch about a 4 day tour through the jungle which would leave tomorrow. Without too many expectations we stepped into his office, to leave it, after 10 minutes with an empty wallet and receipt as approval of the jungle tour we just booked. After all, the sooner we could get out of Leticia, the better. We would go into the jungle with four other people. Staying two night in a basic lodge (read basic in the most extend way possible) and one night camping amongst the animals and trees in the middle of the jungle. We would go dolphin watching, piranha fishing and much more. I was excited. Since I was a little girl I had dreamed to sail down the Amazon river and since I had received a videotape of `Horses and Dolphins`, I added `seeing the pink river dolphin onto my Amazon shopping list.
We leave at dawn by boat from Leticia. It is very busy in the harbor. Small motor boats fill the gaps between the larger boats, which fill in the gaps with the cargo ships. All kinds of things are being loaded and unloaded. A human corpse (yes, human!), is clumsily covered with tarpaulin, is brought in by two men onto the mainland. A goat shrieks loudly when it is transferred from hand to hand, from one boat to the other. Filled with amazement I gaze around to find more astonishing activities. It's already an adventure, even before we set foot in the jungle.
It appears that it`s a one hour boat ride to the start off point of our jungle hike. Armed with bags of water, snacks and George with his machete, we set off. The days pass quickly, enjoying fresh caught piranha which is delicately grilled over the fire. The nights entertain us with the symphonies of the jungle and of course the stories and myths of the locals are proudly pass on to us. Various gray and pink river dolphins cross our path and the last day we walk towards our last stop, the jungle campsite. Andre, a Peruvian local, joins us for the journey. His family has lived for generations in the jungle and he shows us the magic of Mother Nature. At the campfire we talk about `Pachamama` the mother of the jungle. Andre and his family still believe firmly in her existence, or let me say, know of her existence. “With everything we do, we thank Pachamama” We ask her for blessing. It is very important to treat her with respect. If you make her angry, she takes revenge on you.“ He tells a story of a Chinese company that was lumbering the Amazon forest. Over time, there were reports of employees going `missing`. There were reports of noises, whispers and disturbance coming from the dense forest. Slowly but surely, the Chinese company withdrew their employees and with it, the project. Pachamama is said to `eat` the remaining machines. She lets vines grow around them, making the old machines rust away with her rain, so that the jungle can thrive once more. You can never get away with taking too much from Pachamama and if you do, you have to give back as much as you got to offer.
Along the way we learn all about the trees and plants in the area. It's incredible how many medicines have been here since thousands of years. There are even natural contraception medicines. A plant to stimulate broken bones to heal naturally. Poisonous plants which, given a drop or two in your enemies tea, would cause certain death within 5 minutes. For the women who give birth a couple of times too often, there is even a bark, which, when prepared as a tea will turn the `the little missy` into virgin-like once more . “Is there a natural medicine that helps headaches caused by Dutch ladies?” Grant asks whilst directing a cheeky wink to George. “No, that’s not here. If you have a headache, the pain is only in your mind. You should instead sit down at the river and ask yourself why you are unhappy.” A chuckle rumbles around the group.
Although I have not ticked all the boxes of the animals I wanted to see, I learned much more than I could ever have hoped for.
After a burn-out it was time for a change. I quit my job, sold my stuff and bought a one-way ticket to the Dominican Republic. What was supposed to be a 4 month adventure turned into 2,5 years and counting......
Photo by: Vanessa Marques Barreto