The Amazon. Whether referring to the river or the rainforest, it is a one of those places that stirs the imagination in everyone, especially those of us who grew up in temperate climates, far away from jungles. It is a land of a diversity of cultures and countries, a land of thousands of types of animals, and even more of plants. It is a land of rain, and many many mosquitos.
In a week in the Amazon region of both Peru and Colombia (and a stone’s throw away from Brazil), I have been lucky enough to experience a lot of this magnitude (and unlucky to experience a lot of the mosquitoes…).
Iquitos, in Peru, had its heyday during the rubber boom. While the local population and forest was being exploited, the city built giant homes and other buildings, which are now in various states of disrepair. It is still a bustling city however, especially for a city in the middle of a rainforest.
Next up was the lesser-known Peruvian city of Caballococha, just off the Amazon River, about 8 hours east of Iquitos by speedboat. Not in many guidebooks, it was strange to turn into a bustling town of motorcycles, shops, and paved streets after only passing virgin forest and the occasional grouping of thatched huts. There I spent two days, and met up with a Colombian friend who showed us around a bit. It was also a spot to see the freshwater river dolphins in the region who treated us to a nice evening on the water.
From Caballococha, it was a almost non-existant border crossing (40 minutes and to the other side of the river) to the Colombian town of Puerto Nariño, where my friend was from. We paddled in a canoe from the town to a lake about 4 kilometers away, to a tiny village of 42 people where we spent the night. My feet have never been more bitten up by mosquitoes but enjoyable just the same.
Now I’m in the border town of Leticia, Colombia, where across the way is Peruvian territory, and literally a couple of blocks over is the city of Tabatinga, Brazil.
But here in the Amazon region, country seems to matter less than the fact that living (or passing through) the Amazon define your life. The seasons of low and high water, the motor boats and canoes traveling the rivers for trade, and the oppressive heat and humidity that marks the pace of life.
The Amazon is known as the Lungs of the World, and the Amazon River is the biggest in the world. As my Colombian friend wrote me after we said goodbye “amazonas una parte del mundo conservada para ti.” The Amazon, a part of the world conserved for you, and for everyone.
For a bit more about the Amazon, and a chapter about some of my former adventures there, make sure to plan on buying the book Misspelled Paradise, out in early 2014.