We began our trip up river at 8:30 am. We traveled about 50km up river and across to Peru. The three governments here have an agreement that customs and immigration is not necessary as long as you stay within 50 miles of the river. Therefore our transition to a different country was without hassle. We stopped at a small ecotourism lodge where Sergio explained how locals are trying to earn a living showing off the Amazon rather than consuming its resources. It is a great idea that needs a little more support from everyone to actually be profitable. There have been significant investments made by the governments and the locals to this end, however now they just need the customers. We were happy to be those customers and the staff at the resort showed their appreciation with their warm greetings and kindness. Sergio showed us many of the birds and plant species and described the effect of the water rising and lowering throughout the year. The lodge was beautiful and Ashley and I agreed that if we come again we would stay at this lodge. Well we thought that way until we arrived to our lodge. We continued up river for another hour when we finally slowed down and pulled up to a tiny break in the vegetation that lines both side of the river. Here, we came ashore and hiked a short distance to another boat. This boat was long and narrow and Sergio asked if we wanted to use a motor or paddle the 3km to our lodge. Those of you who know us know the answer. Alexander hopped in front, grabbed a paddle and we all began paddling through the rainforest. We paddled along a very narrow path through the trees. It was absolutely amazing. Here we were paddling a nativeish style canoe through a flooded forest as thick as I have ever seen. You cannot see 5 feet into the brush. I cannot possibly describe the number of shades of green we saw. And the sounds of the dozens of different species of birds flying overhead and in the trees were straight out of the movies.
After a slow paddle through the jungle we came out into a small lake. Half way up the lake we came to our lodge. The lodge is built on stilts to accommodate the high water season. There are about 15 different cabins some of which can sleep 10 people. There is a large dining area, two different relaxing areas and a small netted swimming pool. The net is to keep out the electric eels and caimans. The lodge is the only building around for 5kms and is the only building on the small lake. It is right in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest and a short walk to the end of the dock confirms that. There was only one other couple at the lodge so we had the place pretty much to ourselves. The staff at the lodge was very friendly and welcoming. When we arrived Sergio told Alexander that he would find someone to take him fishing. Edwin showed up at our cabin after we settled in with two “fishing poles” and led Alexander to the back of the lodge near the kitchen to see what they could catch. The fishing poles were just sticks with fishing line and a hook, no reeling in or casting. That did not matter because in no time Alexander was pulling in a fish. Edwin showed Alexander how to remove the fish and bait the hook again. Edwin spoke zero English but was so patient and kind with both kids. He was really great with the kids and seems to enjoy Alexander’s enthusiasm. Later on in the day we paddled a dugout canoe up river to see the largest tree in the Amazon Rainforest. It was beautiful and majestic. We also stopped at a few different places trying to catch a piranha for the kids. I felt bad, because both Sergio and Edwin could see how much the kids wanted to see a piranha but we just could not seem to catch one. And it was not because Edwin and Sergio were not trying. You could see the disappointment in the eyes when they concluded that they were not going to be able to show Alexander and Victoria a piranha. I told them not to worry and our amazing kids both (without prompting from dad) patted Edwin on the shoulder and said it was no problem and that that is how it goes with nature sometimes. We could see the relief in their eyes that they did not disappoint their guests.
Later that night we planned to go searching for caiman. The caiman is basically a crocodile however in the Amazon they do not grow quite as big as in other parts of the world. A 10ft long caiman would be considered a large caiman and that would be considered an average crocodile. I knew that this was on the agenda and quite honestly I was not looking forward to it. I figured we would go out into the lake at night and paddle around until we saw the red eyes in the water. Their eyes glow red when you shine a flashlight on them at night. (I have a good story from my army days about that fact) I figured the kids would get a kick out of being on the water in a small boat surrounded by big predators, but we would not be able to get too close before they swam away. The kids were excited and anxious to see the red glowing eyes as we loaded in the boat as the last bit of light disappeared from the sky. Edwin was on the bow of the boat with a paddle and Sergio sat in the back with a paddle. For this trip they did not offer us paddles and I thought that that was strange. The kids sat right behind Edwin who was searching the shoreline with his light as he silently paddled us around the lake. We could not see anything and could only follow Edwin’s light as it panned back and forth along the shoreline. Eventually he paddled us right up to the edge of the large mass of floating grass. Earlier in the day Sergio told us that that is where the caiman hide. The grass float on the surface and the caiman hide underneath it. So I was a little nervous as we came right up next to this area of possibly hiding caiman. Edwin’s light had stopped moving and seemed to focus on just one spot. I was confused because I could not see any glowing eyes but we all trusted him and we all remain completely silent. Then all of a sudden Edwin reaches his arm over the side of the boat and into the water. There was a splash and a small struggle and he pulls his arm out of the water holding a baby caiman! What the h#%k? That is not what I was expecting. And then he turns around and nonchalantly hands it to Alexander. What the double h%#k? The kids cannot believe what just happened and that Alexander is not holding a live, wild baby caiman. Victoria got her turn to hold the little guy and we all gave it a little pet and let him (Victoria informed us how to tell if they are male or female) be on his way. We, Edwin, caught two more for us that night. We arrived back at the lodge bouncing off the walls with excitement and amazement. Discussing that night even now brings large smiles to the kids’ faces.
The next day we left the lodge and continued up river. We stopped at a native Tikuna village where again an initiative to encourage natives to participate in the ecotourism industry as a supplement and hopefully eventually a replacement to some of their consumption of the Amazon’s resources is trying to take hold. We met members of the Tikuna community in their traditional building where they preformed a coming of age ritual dance. We had the chance to participate in the dance as well. They offered us lots of trinkets to buy that were made in their village. We are always trying to participate in the economies of the places we visit so we tried to buy something from each vendor. The Tikuna chief let Alexander and Victoria use a blowgun and then offered them different fruits. As most of you know there is not a fruit or vegetable Alexander or Victoria will turn down. So the chief was really happy to keep offering them new things to try when he saw their enthusiasm for each of the new fruits. Sergio basically had to pull me away from buying gifts from the vendors and Alexander and Victoria away from all the new fruits in order to make our next stop. Alexander and Victoria got back in our water taxi with their hands full of fruits none of us had seen before.
We spent our final night in a small town called Puerto Narino. This town is another town along the Amazon with no roads attached to it. The only way in is via the river. There are no cars or trucks in the entire town. Red brick walking paths go throughout the town and down to the river. It is simply breathtaking. There is a vibrant community living here. They live off the resources of the Amazon but are slowing transitioning to a ecotourism model. We saw very few gringos but plenty of tourists from South America. Hopefully more people we become aware of this amazing place and plan a visit. From here we spent the next day heading down river all the way back to Leticia. Along the way we got the chance to see the Pink Dolphins of the Amazon. They were tough to see and even more tough to get a picture of so you will just have to google them. After a long ride back to Leticia we said goodbye to Sergio, caught a cab to the airport and flew back to Samadhi. We had an amazing trip and one that we all are sure will stay with us.