May 27, 2011
Source: Washington Times
There’s something about the jungle that both thrills and scares me. The first time I saw a rainforest in Honduras, I was awestruck at the sounds and smells. The ability to spot animals that I’ve only previously seen on TV or in zoos is an experience so amazing to me that I feel like a child every time I venture into the jungle.
But being enveloped by its wildness means getting closer to animals that, frankly, freak me out—like snakes.
Luckily for me, I haven’t yet had a bad experience with jungle-dwelling serpents.
Colombia’s Amacayacu National Natural Park is in the extreme southern corner of the country. Capital city Leticia gave me a beach town vibe, until I showed up on the malecon and got a look at the Amazon River. The chocolate-colored water stretched out in front of me—all the way to Peru.
“See? The bank over there is in Peru. And if you go just a short distance in the other direction, you’re in Brazil,” said my guide, Elvis Cueva from Colombian Amazon Expedition.
A local legend says that the Amazon River was created from the broad branch of a ceiba tree when it fell to the ground. The ceiba, a colossal tree with huge buttress roots and a spreading canopy, is one of the largest trees in the rain forest. As we traveled by boat along the river, I could tell which trees were ceibas. The wide, umbrella-like canopies stretched above all the other trees.
Just focusing on a small piece of this region is difficult to do in only a couple of days, especially since seeing wildlife doesn’t happen on a schedule. If you plan a trip here, make sure you spend the time to truly relax and disappear into the forest.
My first morning, after waking to a chorus of birds far different than those I hear at home, I paddled in a dugout canoe with Elvis among the flooded rain forest that surrounded my lodge, the Yewae Visitor Center. It was the rainy season, so the trails around the center were under nearly 10 feet of water. Our leaf-shaped paddles quietly dipped in the water as we moved silently through the trees.
The excursion allowed us to get close to the trees and animals—especially the broad buttress roots of the gigantic ceibas and a slender green vine snake that hung motionless from a small branch. Flocks of parrots chattered overhead as we moved past flotillas of water hyacinths and bushes that would have been over our heads in the dry season.
Later on, in a different kind of boat (one we didn’t have to paddle), we explored more of the Amazon River and its tributaries. While it’s possible to go deeper into the jungle and get away from the convenient towns of Leticia and Puerto Nariño, it’s also easy to feel lost with less effort by venturing up the Rio Amacayacu (which translates to “River of Hammocks”) and visiting the Ticuna community of San Martín.
Victor Angel Pereira, head of the village of 496 residents, sat with me in the malocca (a community house) and taught me the word for good morning in the Ticuna language: numai. Afterward, I viewed some of the community’s crafts—from arm bands made of chambira (fibers from a palm tree) to beautiful carved wood statues of dolphins.
As we left the community to get a glimpse of some of the living versions of those statues, village children played in the water—jumping off the dock to make kid-size splashes that irritated nearby mothers who were washing clothes.
A short distance from San Martín is Lago Tarapoto—home to Amazon river dolphins. I’d hoped that one of the highlights of my trip would be seeing a pink river dolphin, but instead, I was greeted by a small group of gray river dolphins. It was impossible to be disappointed, however, when the dolphins leaped and twisted in the air all around the boat. It was hard to know which way to turn to spy them, when—splash—there they’d be behind me.
The search for pink wasn’t lost. On the way back to the lodge that night, we stopped the boat in the middle of the river—within view of a stunning pink and red sunset. The only sounds were a breeze on the water and the calls from thousands of birds finding treetop homes for the night.
Want to take an Amazon expedition in Colombia? Contact Colombian Amazon Expedition in Leticia and let Elvis (firstname.lastname@example.org) be your guide.