Amazon,  America,  Colombia,  TDM,  Travel Journal

Visit of the Colombian Amazon Notebook 2/4: Puerto Nariño, the secondary forest, venomous insects and pink dolphins

Today, we continue our series of articles on the Colombian Amazon. If you missed the previous episode, you can read it here

Note: travel books contain a lot of spoilers and photos. If you’re going there soon and you’re only interested in practical information, you should know that we have published this practical guide to the Amazon on the blog (you’ll find our agency’s contact details, advice and detailed budget).

Part 1: Travel Diary Part
2: Practical Tips

Part 1: Travel Diary

DAY 2 : Puerto Nariño

Boat Leticia => Puerto Nariño

Exceptionally, our hotel prepares us a good breakfast, simple but homemade, at 6 am (instead of 7 am) because a cab comes to pick us up this morning at 6:30 am to bring us to the port.

We are in “low water season”, the water level is at its lowest in October (up to 10 meters less than in high season!), there is suddenly a small island that separates us from the river port: the Amazon. Walking time from the port: 10 minutes (when the water is higher, we have to take a small boat to go to the big boat).

Luggage can be stored on the roof of the boat, covered by a tarpaulin in case of rain. We left all our stuff at the hotel luggage office in Bogotá and just came with two small backpacks: 10L and 15L, which we keep on our lap.

Here are the schedules of this boat if you wish to take it by yourself (25 000COP). Normally it leaves on time but due to some latecomers, it does not leave the port until 7:30 am.

Puerto Nariño

We arrive around 9:30 am in Puerto Nariño. This will be our base for the next 3 days. It is a super nice ecological village, 70km from Leticia, in the heart of the forest. The comfort is however with the top, it is super for the beginners like us who do not want a too roots stay.

Apart from small motor boats, there are no other polluting means of transport. The city is small anyway and everyone moves around on foot or more rarely by bike. The tax of 10 000COP per person is to be paid upon arrival, this tax will be used for the common expenses of the village, such as the maintenance of the water filtration system.

Waste is systematically sorted (not a common practice, many throw directly into the Amazon), the streets are super clean and you can see flower pots made from recycled plastic bottles. Everyone is encouraged to save water and electricity. Running water comes from the water table but also from the rain. In the center of the village, there is a free wifi spot where the whole village seems to meet (it only works moderately), free toilets, and a water point where you can get drinking water for free.

Our hotel

The agency booked us a double room at Paraiso Ayahuasca (25€, link Booking), which has ayahuasca in name only. This purgative and hallucinogenic plant is not very present here and the ethnic groups of the area do not integrate it in their ceremonies. The hotel is nestled in the middle of a lush garden designed by an architect-artist. The rooms are as if open on the garden, have only one wall, the rest is made of anti-insect grills and curtains.

Thus, we can hear everything: rain, wind, birds… but also the neighbor’s snoring. The artistic works are scattered a little bit everywhere, it’s super nice.

But I don’t recommend this hotel for all that, not only because of the noise but also because the owner is really super unpleasant, she has an obsession with shoe storage and water 🙂 She came to complain while JB was taking a shower, supposedly because he turned the water on much too loud ahahahaaa (already to know who is taking a shower, you have to want it). If we add the rather unpleasant reception…

Morning: visit of a secondary forest

After dropping off the stuff at the hotel, we leave immediately with our guide Nader and our translator Nadia in the secondary forest just behind the village. Nader speaks only Spanish and grew up in a small indigenous village of the Ticuana ethnic group 10 days by boat from here, and has only lived in Puerto Narino for 6 years, so he knows the forest by heart. Nadia is German and works as a volunteer for the agency, translating everything Nader tells us into English.

Every time we visit something with the guide, he gives us very clear instructions on how to dress. As we are going in the jungle, we have to come with boots + raincoat (in case it rains) + long sleeved t-shirt, pants and water. I add a cap because I don’t want anything to fall on my head, and my hair protects the neck.

First stop: the communal house where the ceremonies take place. As soon as a girl has her first menstruation, she is brought here to learn what a woman should know, it can last a few weeks or months. After her learning takes place a party. Before, during this feast, everyone used to pull out a lock of her hair to make it stronger, but now with “human rights” says the guide, this practice has ceased. Phew.

The advice we get is: don’t touch anything, and watch your step. The guide always passes in front of us and we just follow him. It’s very tempting at times to hang on to a tree because the ground is super slippery, I always ask the guide if I can hang on to this or that tree because he knows better than me if it’s safe or not.

The guide shows us the roots to recover what they call the “salt of the mountain”. By recovering the ash from this root and filtering it and then heating the filtered water, they easily obtain white salt and even more salty than the salt we are used to eating.

During ceremonies, or sessions where they communicate with nature, they use a tobacco preparation + this salt; and another coca preparation (containing cocaine). This allows them to be awake but also to open their capacities and communicate with the spirits of nature. Normally, everyone has the ability to do this, but it is necessary to follow a rather strict diet, to have a healthy lifestyle and learning takes time.

A few years ago, the government tried to encourage the cultivation of cocoa to replace the coca cultivation that the indigenous people have. In exchange, they receive financial aid and can sell their cocoa fruit without any problem, but this attempt has completely failed because coca is so deeply rooted in their culture that no one wants to trade coca for cocoa 😀

A question? Yes I see you coming, what aboutayahuasca? It doesn’t seem to grow here, well even if it does, it’s not rooted in their culture so don’t expect to come to Colombia to participate in ceremonies withtheayahuasca . At best you can try the preparation based on coca, tobacco etc. but as they say, communication with nature isn’t possible like that in one session.

Just in front, there are some fruit trees and the tour turns into a “food tour”, we picked up this avocado, on the ground, which is unfortunately full of worms, the taste is great but be very careful 😉 and next to it, it is an acidic fruit that is eaten with salt.

This area is full of fruit trees because before, the inhabitants used them for their personal use, but since it became a natural and protected reserve, you need permission to cut down a tree… the inhabitants always go there to eat fruit, like we do today.

My favorite is guama, it’s often high up but our guide always manages to take some for us. It is necessary to look if there are worms or ants inside, before consuming some. The taste is a little bit sweet but super fresh; we eat only the white part, of course. We throw away the seeds and it will grow and become another guama tree.

We will see a lot of huge termites like this one, the ants are quite small, can be black or yellow…

We are walking quietly when the guide shows us a poisonous frog. Only its legs are venomous, so we have to avoid touching the trees, touching badly a poisonous frog which jumps on us and… Note: we are surrounded by medicinal trees and there is a hospital in the village, but we can never be too careful 😉

In the middle of the explanation, the guide sees something else: a poisonous snake, which melts into the landscape because it has the same color as the earth. He knows that the snake is venomous because usually snakes flee when there is noise, but the snake stays there. He blocks it with a branch and grabs its neck so that it does not bite. While we expect the guide to cut his head off with a machete, he releases him in the nature, very very far from us. I really like this nature-friendly approach: our guide cuts the leaves to clear the way, but he doesn’t mistreat the animals in any way.

sorry for the quality but this is a screenshot of a video

We are then shown hallucinogenic mushrooms… growing on cow dung (yuck).

…and little monkeys, and orchids. The guide tells us that there are a lot of different orchids, scientists have specific names for each of the orchids but they call them “orchids” simply. Orchids are parasitic plants that live only on other trees, so when tourists buy the orchids and take them home, these orchids die because they can’t live alone.

We then enter a private property, which has a beautiful lake. On our arrival, the owner hastens to show us a scorpion that he has just captured – from which he has removed the venomous part (the tip of the tail). He has a little girl of 2-3 years old so a bite from the scorpion could have killed the little girl. Unfortunately for this scorpion, without its venomous part, it will not be able to hunt anymore and will die in a few days.

We are then shown a fruit that is used to make red paint. That’s good, I forgot my lipstick at home so I got it back and I used RAL ahahha the color is super trendy too, but it’s natural so it goes pretty fast.

It’s hard to see on a photo, but these leaves are at least 1m wide, I can’t walk on them, but a bird can do it without any problem. In this lake, are hiding 2 dragon fishes which are 1.5m wide while they are only about 2 years old. This fish is endangered because it takes them 5 years to reproduce… and they are so big that nobody waits until they are 5 years old to fish and sell them.

Our morning walk ends here. We have lunch with our translator (our guide prefers to have lunch at home) and have 1 hour of rest to change before the next visit. On the menu: fried piranha, there isn’t much meat, it is better to bite the bones too.

Afternoon: observation of pink dolphins

After all the morning sweating in the overwhelming heat, it’s refreshing to be able to take the boat, wear sandals and shorts… in quiet mode, to go see the pink dolphins hihihi

You just have to go 25 meters because very close to the port, there is a very strong current and dolphins like this kind of places, which are full of fish.

Then why are they pink? Nobody knows exactly, but apparently it’s a bit like us, we blush when we do sports, well, it’s the same for them. When they are super excited, they become super pink. Adults are pinker than juniors. There are also grey dolphins in the surroundings, but the roses are more “respected” by the natives because there is a legend according to which they transform into humans in the evening to flirt with the girls.

Pink dolphins don’t jump around like the grays, and their wings are more rounded than the grays. Enjoy the screenshot I’m making below because they are the pinkest dolphins we could capture. Now that I know where they hang out most of the time, as soon as we have a little moment between two visits, I land on the pier and watch them from afar. They love to follow the small fishing boats, which do not make much noise, they deflect the fish and the dolphins enjoy it. It’s the same principle with the surfers, the surfers deflect the fish and the dolphins take advantage of it to eat, they don’t follow us because they like us, it’s a very selfish approach:D

The two you see in the video below are more junior, hence the gray color.

I know thatin Brazil the tours also include swimming with pink dolphins, they feed them and tourists can swim with and touch them. I advise against this kind of tours, because the dolphins’ skin is very very sensitive. Here, we observe them from very far away with a very small boat (the noise makes them unbearable). The guide calls them with a whistle because they like high-pitched noises very much.

Unfortunately, this moment of grace does not last long because it is already starting to rain. It is the flood that is coming down on us. But it only lasts 30 minutes. We wait another 15 minutes until the waves calm down to go to the beach.

But which beach? A paradisiacal black sand bank, half of which belongs to Peru and half to Colombia, in the middle of the Amazon. Yes yes ! Who would have believed it !

The water has the perfect temperature for bathing, the sand is super fine and pleasant. The current isn’t too strong, we are super quiet!

On this, we come back to the hotel to change and one hour later, appointment for a night stroll

Evening : Night walk in the jungle

Let’s just say it’s a big surprise for me. As it was JB who planned and contacted the agency for the Amazon, I am absolutely unaware of the program. I’m a bit reluctant to the idea of walking in total darkness in the jungle, but considering how the guide handled the poisonous snake this morning, I find myself strangely zen.

Moreover, we understood that we were not being attacked for free, if we don’t step on the snakes, there is no reason for them to attack us. And we are all equipped with boots, which limits a little bit the risks in case of bite

We take the same path as this morning, but at night, insects and poisonous animals come out and we have more chance to see them. We all take out a flashlight (or the lamp of the phone). The guide has a much more powerful lamp, he leads the way and we go into the jungle. I’m not sure how he can find his way but we trust him, eh? eh? D Let’s trust, in Nature we trust

The guide has an extraordinary ability to spot the smallest thing. Between scorpion, poisonous frogs, millipedes, spiders, poisonous or not, crickets, cockroaches… we are served. Fortunately, none of us has arachnophobia.

The most disgusting thing we’ve seen is that horrible leech. Having been attacked by leeches jumping around Nepal (and getting super fat by sucking my blood), I immediately ask if this leech can jump on me (absolute horror). The answer is negative (phew) but in case of attack, it must be burned, not pulled out because its teeth may remain on the skin, hello infection!

Here is the top 3 of the evening :

  • venomous frog – very small but too beautiful : it’s the same species as the one we saw in the morning
  • huge tarantula (same size as my hand): so that it does not run away, the guide planted his machete in front of his “house”, it is rather the type to run away than to attack. But she can send the hairs on her back to defend herself
  • a scorpion – which flees as soon as you get close to it, going even higher into the trees

I think animals and insects are more stressed to see us than the other way around. They stay completely motionless, or run away. We are the danger, not them.

Hearty dinner (again): catfish à la plancha, my favorite! and then sleep.

To be continued… Read more about our adventure in the Amazon

Part 2: Practical Tips

We left with the agency Amazonas Jungle Tours, all inclusive tour of 3 days 3 nights. More practical info on the budget & program here

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