Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Amazing Amazonas 4

We flew from Bucaramanga to Leticia via Bogotá. The flights were good value and only cost around 100 GBP each return taking about 2 hours from Bogotá. Leticia airport has at least 2 major flights a day and is only a few km from the town centre. You can get there by river as well from Iquitos (Perú) or even Manaus (Brazil) but the trip is long.

Leticia itself is a bustling town of about 40,000 people. We found the roads busy at peak hours, especially with motorbikes. It's a safe town - there are many Colombian military and police based there. You can walk across the border to the Brazilian town of Tabatinga, and there was no-one checking passports at the time we crossed (though they might). It didn't seem much different on the other side though of course the shop signs changed to Portuguese. Across the Amazon river from Leticia is Perú, where a few things like petrol seem to be cheaper.

We found Leticia untidy with limited tourist facilities, but it does make a good base or stopover for the rest of the Colombian "trapezium" on the Amazon.  The town does have some reasonable places to stay - we stayed in the Hotel Amazon B & B which proved a good choice. There are a few decent places to eat, but they take a little finding.  The local docks are far from picturesque, with lots of rubbish strewn around but you can find a variety of boats to take you where you want to go for the right price!

Leticia river dock -  not pretty

Fast Amazon river launch - cramped but quick
In contrast the small town of Puerto Nariño 70km or so upstream  has a much more pleasant feel, perhaps because its not choked with vehicles (since it has no road in or out!). There's a tall water tower on the hill that has been converted into a watchpoint for tourists and gives good views of the town and the River Amazon behind.
View of the Amazon river from Puerto Nariño water tower

We went in August but it is worth understanding a little about the state of the Amazon River at different times of year. June through November is low water, with the main river well below the banks and exposed muddy areas in many places. Although a vast distance from the sea, even at low water the river is impressively wide at this part - perhaps 2km across in places. There are many islands and generally a smooth but fast current. The water was a muddy brown colour with snags, floating logs and small floating islands of vegetation. No doubt it can be a tricky place to navigate a large boat at times. The levels in the smaller rivers can fall very low at this time of year and this can cause problems getting around even in smaller launches. Between December and May the river floods over the banks inundating many areas including into lower lying forest (called Varzea). Many of the river islands are totally inundated and I imagine the place looks very different.

Amazon sunset
There were many small boats chugging along the main channel, but at this time we saw no big ships. I learned in school that the river is navigable upstream for ocean going vessels as far as Iquitos in Peru so I was disappointed not to see any. Although you can often hear the small boat engines and sometimes very loud music being "broadcast" by the scattered riverside communities, the river was often peaceful and it was a magical place at sunset.

Surprisingly, the climate when we visited was not unpleasant (for us at least). The daytime maximum was around 28-30C and many nights I was actually cold and needed a cover on the bed. The mosquitoes were not bad in most places but no doubt you need to use plenty of repellent and a mosquito net on the bed too. We saw several large spiders, including at least one that will give a very unpleasant bite so check your boots before you put them on! There are other hazards such as mites and ticks. Long sleeves/trousers and Wellington (rubber) boots are not a bad idea if you are going walking in the forest. We were warned by many Colombians about the huge numbers of venomous snakes in the Amazon, but we saw none. However, I know there are plenty of dangerous snakes in many parts of Colombia (I even saw a young but deadly Coral Snake in the park in Bucaramanga recently) so caution is wise wherever you are.

Tropical diseases are certainly present and are a very real threat. Near Amacayacu, a recent outbreak of malaria affected many locals.  Make sure you take your anti-malarial tablets.  Get a vaccination for Yellow Fever at least (they might ask for your certificate of vaccination as it's a legal requirement). Hep A and Typhoid jabs might also be advisable. We didn't drink any tap-water and were careful not to eat salads or uncooked vegetables. We had no health problems at all.

Here's a few of our other photos. Hope you like them.

My first Piranha - we threw it back of course
Green frog in our cabin roof
Whip spider - harmless but scary
Buttress root of an enormous forest Ceiba tree 
Cashapona or Walking Palm roots (its a myth that they can walk)
Many caterpillars have irritating protective hairs.
Blue Doctor (Rhetus periander) - one of many stunning butterflies

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