The Amazon Times#2: Leticia
My prior Amazon post was about the Peruvian city Iquitos. Now I am going to share my impressions on my next stop, the Colombian city Leticia and its surroundings:
– The main way of transport from the city Iquitos that has no land access to the city Leticia, which has limited land access is by the river. There are two alternatives here. You can either travel on the deck of one of the cargo ships with the locals while sleeping on your own hammock and enjoying the slow cruise on the Amazon, or you can pay three times the amount of money and drive the swift motorboats in 10 hours. From the very beginning my choice was the former till…
– Till I gathered more detailed information. This trip was going to be an experience altogether. However, at the same time it would be highly risky. The main problem was that there was no place for me to leave my belongings on the deck while traveling alone. The bags are left in the open. This means that whenever I would leave my bag for, say, a trip to the bathroom, my bag would be under risk. There are numerous tales of theft on the ship.
– On the other hand, I kept hearing stories about pirates in the Amazon and how frequently they raid and rob the ships. These are definitely not myths; I have heard them firsthand. For instance, this apperently happened twice to a Peruvian fellow who worked as a chef in one of these carriers. I also heard from other travellers in this region that the staff on the ships frequently fire open into the air to scare the pirates off.
– Considering all these and the fact that I have become tired of dealing with safety issues for months, I chose the motorboat for the sake of a comfortable trip.
– My trip began with the first light of the day at 6 in the morning. The first hour was especially joyful. Watching the Amazon river, sighting motorboats of various sizes, looking at the ships, and seeing small settlements were quite enjoyable. Afterwards, these all dissappeared and there was nothing left save for the river surrounded by the infinite forest and the sky. These were also spectacular.
– Our trip ended around evening time. We reached a very interesting location: the point where the borders of three countires –Peru, Colombia and Brazil- intersect. The motorboat docked on the island on the Peruvian side. I immediately approached one of the young fellows with a small motorboat. First, we walked towards the customs office in the middle of this tiny island in order to process my official exit from Peru. Once my passport was stamped, we moved to the other side, the Colombian land. I walked together with a Colombian man that I met on the motorboat till we reached downtown.
– As I found out that the Colombian customs office was actually closed at the time, I spent the night outside the borders of any country. The following day I was lazy, and I did not go to the airport till the evening. Ridiculous enough, the only way to obtain the official entrance stamp on the passport was through the airport. Even though, like me, you set your foot on the Colombian soil through the river, you need to stop by the airport to make it official. By the time I went, the airport was close. I remained a “fugative” for one more night.
– Normally, they let people be like this for up to 24 hours. You get penalized if this drags on. I have already exceeded this limit. I went to the airport worried the next day, but the customs officer did not utter a word, and stamped my passport.
– Traveling within these three counries is completely free. You may enter and leave as you wish. For example, I crossed the border to go to the Brazilian city Tabatinga just to smell the air. I sat down in the seaport and listened to the streets with banging Portuguese music. Afterwards, I jumped on a moto-taxi and returned to Colombia. Moto-taxis are the main way of transport here. Without that much thinking, you simply jump behind the youngster that is driving the vehicle and move your way through the crazy traffic. If you put enough thought, you should not be jumping on these vehicles.
– The sister cities Leticia and Tabatinga are completely interwoven. Spanish and Portuguese are widely spoken on the streets of both cities. You may pay for something with one currency, and get the change in the currency of the other country. As the ratio of the currencies is about 1000, it is also easy to calculate the change.
– It is very advantageous to buy currencies in these cities with US dollars. The rate of exchange is much higher than normal. As I had received this tip earlier from a friend who was here two months ago, I came here prepared and I purchased a lot of Colombian pesos with US dollars. I hope they do not turn out to be fake.
– During the first three days I spent in Leticia there were quite a few showers. For about 15-20 minutes, it would pour a great deal, followed by the reappearance of the sun.
– As I had arrived Colombia, I felt the presence of Latin culture. The colorful lives, the constantly reverberating Latin music on the streets, people always ready to dance. My first impressions are very positive.
– As I had arrived the city in the evening dark, I had felt unsafe until I found a place to stay. However, after spending three days, I later decided that the city way quite safe
– I travelled to a zoo situated in the middle of the forest that is 11 km away from the city. I had the opportunity to see allegators, giant snakes, pre-historic turtles, tarantula and other animals alike that are native to these lands.
– Afterwards, I strolled around in the forest, a distance of 7-8 kilometers. I passed through small communities.
– I had to sell the hammock and the mosquito net that I had purchased in Iquitos to the hotel owner in Leticia without ever using them once. Not deliberately, I even profited from this transaction because of the price difference between Peru and Colombia.
– My original plan was to embark on one of the cargo ships departing from Leticia and travel to the largest and the capital city of the Amazon Manaus in 4 days. Afterwards I was going to travel to Venezuella by taking a 40 –hour bus trip. However, I had already been receiving information regarding the frequent attacks by the guerillas on the buses that travel between Brazil and Venezuella. In addition, one Colombian man also told me that his partner was attacked this way and that Veneuella was in general very unsafe. I decided to alter my route.
– I could have still travelled to Manaus by ship, as these ships are safer relative to the ones in Peru. However, as it would have been very difficult and expensive to travel to Venezuella by means other than land, I completely cancelled my plan.
– I decided to fly to the capital of Colombia Bogota from Leticia. While I was checking the prices of flights, I realized that it was possible to pay a little extra money and fly to even another city. So I purchased a plane ticket to the city on the Carabbian sea, Barranquila with a minimal difference in price.
– As I am writing these lines, I am flying from Bogota to Barranquila. If I don’t change my mind I will take the bus from Barranquila to Cartagena. I will enjoy the sun and sand on the Carabbian beaches.
– With this flight, I will also re-enter the northern hemisphere for the first time after nine-and-half months.
October 30th 2010 – Santa Marta