A couple of weeks ago I set off on an adventure to the Amazon with a group of 26 Rotary International Exchange Students ranging from 15-19 years old from over 15 different countries. These 26 students have been studying at high schools here in Colombia since August of last year, and since they are young lads it’s relatively difficult and dangerous for them to travel to remote places, such as the Amazon, on their own. So Rotary organizes trips for all of the students to be able to visit places such as the coastal regions, the coffee growing regions, the Amazon, and more. As a Rotary scholar I don’t get any such trips planned for me, but luckily, they were more than happy to allow me tag along as the relatively old lady of the group. I had the fortune in 2010 to visit the Bolivian Amazon near Rurrenabaque where I encountered monkeys, alligators, anacondas, pink dolphins, and so much more, which was an unforgettable and, I thought at the time, once in a lifetime opportunity to visit the incredible and vast Amazon region. So when this trip presented itself with the opportunity to get to know another region of the Amazon, I jumped on it.
On the boat we called home for 3 days.
With 26 Rotary Exchange Students (ranging between 15-19 years old) from over 15 different countries!
It was a 5 day excursion that started off in Leticia, Colombia and took us through regions and villages of the Colombian, Peruvian, and Brazilian Amazon. In short, it was an absolutely incredible trip, filled with wildlife encounters, absolute serenity among some of the world’s most pristine nature, and unforgettable opportunities to meet, interact with, and learn from various indigenous tribes throughout the jungle region.
We spent the first couple of nights at the Reserva Natural Marasha, which is a little lodge of sorts built in the middle of a nature reserve about 2.5 miles deep into the jungle. We slept in bunks with very good mosquito netting, which is beyond essential. I had myself BATHED in bug repellent that is specifically made for the Amazon, (read: I was COVERED in some serious chemicals) and I was absolutely eaten alive by some of the most aggressive mosquitoes on earth during the evening hours before retreating to the safety of my net protected bed. These mosquitoes bite THROUGH your clothing. Only thick blue jeans are really enough to prevent them from getting at you. Cotton, polyester, spandex, etc…forget it.
This “wild” parrot has become a regular at the reserve I stayed at.
There were toucans all over the place at our lodge, trying to steal food, cameras, clothes, you name it.
Relaxing on the hammock dock at the Reserve we stayed at the first two nights.
Getting friendly with a baby Caiman. They grow to be 6 or 7 meters long!!
Our guide steering us through the flooded mangrove jungle.
Day 1: Preparing to paddle 2.5 miles into the jungle to the Reserve we’d sleep at.
A family of Capybaras, the world’s largest rodent! They’re so ugly they’re cute!
A beautiful couple of macaws that hung out at the Reserve we stayed at.
The male macaw defending his mate from the pesky toucan
So mean and pesky, but so beautiful!
Our parrot friend eating an Arepa (local form of tortilla).
Our bunks and mosquito netting at the Reserve in the middle of the jungle.
Our guides and leaders of the “tribal games”
To my surprise and amusement, I found out the first night that the 5 day excursion was to include “tribal competitions” (think Survivor reality TV show). The 27 of us were broken up into 3 teams of 9 and would spend the next 5 days competing against one another in challenges that would be revealed at unknown times throughout the week. My first thought, “REALLY?…Cuz, I kinda thought I was going to just be enjoying the peace and relaxation of the Amazon, not unknowingly be thrown into a team survivor competition”. The next morning we were awoken with whistles, shouts, and other irritating LOUD noises around 5am, while it was still pitch dark (in the middle of the Amazon mind you) and told that each team had 10 minutes to report to the dock for the first challenge. Over the course of the 4 days our challenges consisted of kayak speed races, a 4 mile team canoe race down a river AT NIGHT (again…in the AMAZON), and a hard to describe team “ants walking” challenge where one team member had to walk across log/sticks the other team members were holding (people holding the stick in the back would have to run to the front of the line to provide the next stepping log, etc) in a long and fast race to the finish line. Aside from the super early morning wake-up call (teenagers are not the happiest bunch at 5am, especially when they’re getting shouted and whistled at, haha) the “tribal challenges” were actually a lot of fun in the end.
Other highlights of our excursion included: a) rope climbing utilizing a harness system up to the top of a GIANT tree and then subsequently zip lining from the top of that tree across the river to a huge tree on the other side that we rappelled down–SUPER FUN, b) kayaking to a spot in the river where trees beside the river were filled with little monkeys that jumped from their trees ONTO our kayaks, where we proceeded to feed them bananas–SOOO AWESOME, c) meeting different indigenous tribes and watching and participating in their tribal performances with dance, music, and storytelling–UNFORGETTABLE, d) having the opportunity to hold and/or interact with all kinds of wildlife like parrots, toucans, SLOTHS!, caiman (type of alligator), and even snakes (see picture for proof that a snake touched me—note: I’ve had a phobia of snakes since about age 12 that I’ve been battling for years!)–CRAZY, e) meeting a local shaman (indigenous medicine man) and being selected out of the group to stay behind after his presentation to receive a personal message and blessing wherein I was told I have a special gift “to heal others”–HUMBLING and f) going over to Brazil on our last night and day to enjoy Brazilian cuisine and dance performances–FUN! (note: Brazilian dancing is very erotic and left most of us with our jaws dropped! haha)
So you might be wondering what “the defeat of the iron gut” in this post’s title is all about. For the past 10 years I have had the fortune to travel all over the world and to live in some really remote places in South Africa, Peru, and Bolivia. Along the way I discovered that the “traveler’s illness” or “traveler’s bug” that affects most Americans when they go to these remote places, leaving them terribly ill with vomiting and diarrhea, just never seemed to happen to me. By the time I lived in Peru and Bolivia in 2010, wherein I ate and drank all sorts of questionable foods and beverages in rural and remote areas of the countries, I was given the nickname “Iron Gut” due to my stomach’s ability to endure and defeat all the foreign bacterias I was consuming. The couple I lived with in Peru even joked about how I could make a business selling the miraculous natural stomach bacteria I have that keeps me healthy to toursists who come, and brand it “Iron Gut”. Due to this decade-long history of being able to eat just about whatever wherever I want, I had definitely become slack with many of the precautions that other travelers take. Well, turns out that somewhere in the Peruvian, Colombian, or Brazilian Amazon, there are some badass bacteria that decided they wanted to challenge my “Iron Gut”…and suffice it say, THEY WON. The Iron Gut officially got defeated and days after returning from the Amazon I was hit with the “traveler’s bug” and didn’t leave my house for 5 days. So I will now sadly have to be a little less confident and cocky about my good ol’ Iron Gut and perhaps take some precautions here and there…but not too many. 🙂 I still plan to eat my way through this country. And for the record, the Amazon and everything I ate, drank, and did there was sooo incredible, I’d totally do it all over again, even if I knew I would be sick again afterwards. It’s THAT awesome. 🙂
The group at the top of the giant tree preparing to zip line across the river after using a rope and harness system to get ourselves to the top.
Feeding monkeys on our kayaks!! Too cool!
Using a rope and harness system to pull ourselves to the zip line platform at the top.
The elevated walking paths at our Reserve built during the high water seasons.
A group of indigenous children performing tribal dances and songs for us.
Downright adorable drummer boy.
A new little friend who taught me bracelet making skills!
A hut in one of the Amazon villages we visited.
Our guide posing to show the incredible size of the trees in the Amazon!
Indigenous performers in Macedonia.
Performing tribal dances for and with us in Macedonia.
Typical canoes used for local commuting and transport.
Display of just a fraction of the amazing handmade, hand-carved goods sold by the indigenous communities.
The hammock house (each with mosquito netting) that we stayed at our 3rd night.
Adorable children in a village we visited.
Local indigenous children performing dances and songs
Holding a baby sloth! Such an incredible experience!
Three-toed sloth, such an incredible creature!
Making friends with the Brazilian performers!
Brazilian performers our last night in the Amazon.
They are sooo sleepy and lazy! AND adorable.
THE most UNBELIEVABLE photo that exists. Yes. Me. With snake. It happened.
Soooo happy to meet this little guy! Even if he attaches himself to you by digging each set of his three “toes” (nails) into your skin to latch on.
Aerial view of the immense and dense Amazon rainforest.
I will let the abundance of attached pictures do the rest of the storytelling. If you ever find yourself in South America with even the most remote opportunity to get to the Amazon, do it. The people, the nature, and the wildlife are just sooo wonderful and beautiful.
Brazilian dancers working up a serious sweat!
Just one sample of the jaw dropping erotic dance performances in Brazil (in a family restaurant, mind you)