The ex-pat life

The ex-pat life

Living and working abroad and total immersion in the local culture.  Differences in attitude and outlook.  Travelling with attitude and a robbery.

When I was working at the hostel at the beach at Santa Marianita in Ecuador I met some lovely guests while I was working at the hostel but I disliked the attitude of some of the local residents who made up a large ex-pat community.  Mainly hailing from the United States, many of them (but not all of them) spent their time bemoaning the political situation that they had left behind, the taxes that they were trying to avoid paying and they had bought or were thinking of buying up beachfront plots of land so that they could relocate out of the States

Ecuador -who wouldn’t want to live here

Some of these people didn’t want to integrate with the local fishing population that lived in the tiny village further down the beach and they viewed the local Ecuadorians with suspicion – their main priority was a refuge for their money.

A kite-surfers’ paradise

Then I went up into Colombia and while I was staying at a hostel in Cali I met three friends who were on a weekend break.  Erin and Tamsin are English teachers and Erin’s fiance Jaime is Colombian.   Several months later when I was heading back down south towards the border my route took me close by the town of Pereira where they live so I thought that I might check in to a hostel and take them at their word and call in as I was passing.

Pereira at night

Erin and Jaime very kindly offered me a bed on their couch in their apartment so I stopped by for a couple of nights.  Erin was pregnant when I visited with their first child so has left the school where she was working.  She now works from home as a copywriter, she offers private English lessons and she is also a travel blogger – the Open Minded Traveler

Erin – the Open Minded Traveler

Jaime is working hard to establish a new business venture and makes and sells chocolate products sourced from cacao grown on his family farm over on the coast.  Whilst success of the project is important so that it provides a good income for all of the family, it is also important that it succeeds as it will hopefully encourage the remaining farmers in the coastal region who grow coca to swap to a different crop.  And that is important if the drug cartels and the associated crime and lawlessness are to be stopped.  Erin explains the process and procedure beautifully in this blog post – click here to read Erin’s article

the lush rich countryside

I have already told you that Erin works from home but in between her writing and teaching she had time to take me out for a day.  We caught a local bus into the countryside where we went for a leisurely hike alongside a river.  The weather was threateningly thundery but it didn’t spoil our enjoyment.  We reached our destination – a rock painted like a fish in the river before turning back  to the village in a race against the rain.

street art with a twist

Erin is the total opposite to some other ex-pats that you can find – and you can find them all around the world.  You know the ones – they moan because everybody speaks a different language and the food is unfamiliar or they can’t find their favourite beer.  Travel, embrace the culture but keep your wits about you because a tiny minority will perceive you to be rich and therefore ‘fair game’ for a scam.

llama foetus at the Witch’s Market, La Paz. Embrace the difference

When I travelled I had my little rituals which I went through to ensure that I didn’t lose anything critical.  After ten months I had these down to a fine art, but one day I relaxed one of them, and I taught myself a valuable lesson.  I ALWAYS carried my large rucksac on my back and the smaller one which contained my valuables on my front.  When I got to the Colombian/Ecudor border in my little colectivo (shared van) I only had to cross the road to enter the Colombian immigration office and sign out of the country.  So I swung my little bag onto my back and waddled across the road with my large bag in my arms.

The Colombian flag…and Ecuador and Venezuela too

BIG mistake.  Somewhere in those ten minutes I had my purse lifted from the top of my little bag on my back.  I believe that it was actually in the queue for the immigration official.  Luckily it was only my purse with my Colombian Pesos and my US Dollars and luckily I had a twenty dollar bill stuffed in my bra so I could pay for a colectivo and then a bus to my next destination.

 

I cursed my own stupidity – but I learnt a valuable lesson.  Well, several actually.

1.  Don’t vary my safety routines and rituals

2.  Never put my little rucksac on my back

3.  Keep spare money in my bra

4.  If things do go wrong try not to get too stressed.  They happen and are a lesson.  I stayed calm and I know that I could have coped even if I didn’t have had my secret stash of money tucked away

Erin knows about orchids too

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Erin and Jaime

 

grafitti artists take over a derelict cottage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tams

 

Going South

Going South

Manizales – a city in the heart of  Colombia’s ‘coffee region’

After my time in the steamy heat of Cartagena I jumped on a night bus and I headed south to Medellin.

I had a couple of reasons for calling back into Medellin.  I had to collect my replacement bank card which I had previously  lost and which had been couriered over from the UK and I wanted to revisit my friends in and around the city.

gateway to the book festival

I spent a happy couple of weeks in the region living with my friends in my favourite mountain town of Amagá.  Whilst I was there the government implemented a scheme to neuter some of the street dogs and cats and my ever generous friends and hosts opened their home for a few days to care for some of the animals after their operations as well as opening their home to me.  We went along to the largest book fair in Colombia one day in the Botanical Gardens and I went along to an extremely fast and complicated fitness dance class one evening.

But sadly,  my visa was coming to the end of its time and I eventually had to continue my journey south.  The penalties for overstaying your visa are a hefty fine so I needed to get out of the country.

contemplating leaving Amaga

Setting off again I took another long bus journey over the cool coffee clad mountains to Manizales.  This was a strange little city, but quaintly endearing.  Large cumbersome mountains rear up between the city districts which have conveniently been joined up by a state of the art public transport cable car system.

The grand cathedral in Manizales

The central main road of the city runs along the top of a mountain ridge and steep streets drop down on either side of it.  There is the usual large cathedral with some very strange street art outside and in all of the town squares men can be found in little clusters playing chess or illicit games of poker.

chess and poker games

I met another traveller from the UK at my hostel and together we set off  on a bus to the Recinto del Pensamiento –  the Ecologocial Parque.  We wanted to see everything that the place had to offer and so we were obliged to sign up to a guided tour.  It turned out to be Andy and I…..and twenty or so kids and their teachers on a school trip.

learning about the medicinal qualities of plants

The whole park was really interesting but for a lot of the time me and Andy were fielding questions from the inquisitve children much to the annoyance of the teachers and the guide, although we loved the chance to practise our Spanish with everybody.  In the park we were given a talk on the medicinal properties of plants and shrubs, we saw the bonsai and Japanese garden, the humming birds and the butterfly house.

some humming birds have incredibly long tails

We posed for photos with the children who were not at all shy and wanted to know all about our travels and what we thought of Colombia.  Andy was a huge hit with the boys who supported the same football team and the girls simply couldn’t believe that I was travelling alone.

posing with some fantastic school children

After a while the school children went their own way and Andy and I were joined by  a Swede who was wandering around and looking a little bit lost as he tried to find his/our guide.  The three of us then spent more than a fascinating hour walking in the forest and being shown and told all about the many varieties of orchids.

this flower is the size of my little finger nail

I never thought that we would be so excited to find and learn about some of the tiniest flowers that I have ever seen, as our knowledable and enthusiastic guide Margarita led us around.

a cascade of orchid blooms

After the tour ended we shared our picnic lunch with our new found Swedish friend now named Juan and then, with no further plans, the three of us decided to get a cab and visit the hot springs.  After we had been dropped off and the cab disappeared back down the lane we realised that the springs were closed for refurbishment, but not wanting to waste our afternoon we bought some beers and sat in the sun  And then we bought more beers.  And some more beers.  And then in a very tiddly state we organised a cab back to our hostel in town where we joined forces with the lovliest German couple ever and we all shopped, cooked and ate a meal together.  And I don’t remember very much more about that evening!

the rather unusual sculpture outside the cathedral in Manizales

SadlyI was now up against the clock as my visa was ticking.  I was taking this to the wire but there was so much more that I wanted to see and do in Colombia.  I really wanted to get south and visit the San Augustin area with its myriad of mini Easter Island-like statues but in the end I opted to return to Popayan – the town where I had initially fallen in love with Colombia (click here to read about my previous visit)

beautiful buildings in Popayan

This time around I stayed with a journalist friend who has built and runs a local website (AlbumPopayan.com).  It was a little chaotic as his cat had just given birth to kittens and his dog to a puppy and all were clamouring for food and attention.  Drinking water was hauled up from the well in the garden by bucket (although there was running water in the house) and luckily I missed the bus falling down into the garden from the lane above by a couple of days.

a local chiva bus in Popayan

Staying with a local meant that I visited the places that I maybe would not normally have ventured on my own.  We went to a large local market as well as to the modern shopping mall.  We sat and watched street buskers and as Milton doubles up as a tailor as well as a journalist, I got some of my clothes altered

just a couple of weeks old

Colombia is a trillion times safer than it was until just recently but there are still some no-go areas and the road from Popayan to the border with Ecuador is one of them. Despite my preferences for night buses for longer journeys I listened to local advice and travelled to the border in the daytime.  I am glad that I did choose to do this as I later learnt that one of the convoy of buses that night had in fact been pulled over and the passengers robbed at gunpoint.  The staff in the bus station will inform you that the night buses are safe and that they have police outriders as they roll in convoy along the six hour mountain roads to the border but that is not quite true.  They set out with the police but then the convoy stretches out, the police and soldiers leave and then the robbers can pick off the buses.

Popayan has a myriad of buidlings like this

Visit Popayan – it has the most beautiful buildings – but just make sure that you travel to and from the south and the border during the daylight

I moved on from Popayan to Ecuador accompanied by a host of parasites from the well water and some marvellous memories of a magical country.

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La Pura Vida; Cartagena the Caribbean Jewel

La Pura Vida; Cartagena the Caribbean Jewel

 

OK – let’s backtrack in my story.

After Emy, Lio and I finally ran out of time cavorting on the Caribbean coast of Colombia and I survived my attempted mugging unscathed, I returned to Cartagena.  Originally I intended to just stay a couple of nights as I had already spent almost a week there previously.

The old town, Cartagena

The old town, Cartagena

My hostel of choice (the Mamallena) was full so we found another in the same street.  This one had a totally different vibe to the Mamallena – it was small and charming and run by a lovely family.  I opted for the cheapest dorm without air con, but it comprised just one set (or should that be pile) of bunk beds and I ended up having it all to myself for the majority of my stay.

It seemed that the French were in town that week andwhilst it was very sad to finally say goodbye to Lio after some big adventures I was still surrounded by those wicked French accents and gallic humour.

Backstreets of Cartagena

Backstreets of Cartagena

So why did I linger so long in Cartagena?

For the same reason that I lingered in Medellin and Amaga, Cuenca and Santa Marianita.  The people that I met.  And in Cartagena I got my mojo back.

The place has a laid back Caribbean vibe and it was too hot to go charging about.  The food is a bit different, the rum flows freely and the architecture is stunning.  The buildings and the people and the lifestyle reminded me very much of Cuba – hot steamy nights and life lived to thumping beats of salsa and rum.

A local fiesta

A local fiesta

As I was working at my laptop in the tiny little common area of the hostel a traveller from Poland (Luna) arrived one morning following her five day sail boat from Panama.  I greeted her and as I told her that the hostel was like a little family home there was one of those moments when you just know that you will click with someone.  And in Cartagena we all just kept clicking.

A couple from South Africa were travelling and were one reason that I didn’t move on – Dirk was an inspiration as he worked away on his laptop and I would often emulate him and work on mine.  Many times I wanted to give up and get out in the sunshine but it is a lot easier to work in an ‘office’ environment with others – even if that office constitutes a bean bag or the local coffee shop.  Sune, Dirk’s wife also worked too – she was volunteering in the hostel and when she wasn’t cleaning or cooking she was sketching or writing a book.

There was Don Pedro and his wife Celis, Quitto who had hidden talents as a tailor and a frazzled Fin who was sick and was holed up in one of the rooms.  There were the guys from Mexico and  Argentina and as I have already mentioned, a steady stream of French men, some amazing local dancers and the dashing Danny.  I met up again with another incredible Dani – we had originally been friends in Medellin.  She and her partner were Argentinian and were heading steadily north, he playing his drums and she making and selling beautiful sandals and bracelets.  Another beautiful couple, full of strength, love and generosity I was so happy sat on the street just being with them, doing my best to chat as they plied their wares or jammed with other musicians on a street corner or in a square.

Artisan selling Argentinians

Artisan selling Argentinians

Myself, Luna and Canela from the States hit it off and we formed our little gang of three in which we inspired, encouraged and supported each other.  We perched high up on the ancient city walls overlooking the sea and chatted long into the night as the warm breeze swept off the sea or we sat in a line on the doorstep of the hostel, emulating the prostitutes who sat on the doorsteps all along the road opposite.  We went into the clubs and pubs and danced until four am, taking lessons in reggaeton from local women – grinding and swirling sandwiched between them and then champeta lessons from the men.  We felt the rhythm of life swaying and moving with Danny on the roof terrace and another night we went along to Don Pedro’s birthday party where we salsa’d and shook our stuff in his home with his neighbours and family.

Afro Colombian fruit seller

Afro Colombian fruit seller

We shared our dreams and worries and told each other that we were beautiful.  None of us wanted our time here to end and we would have deep and meaningful conversations or just sit in contented silence happy to just be.  We jumped on the local bus and went to a local beach where we were the only non- Colombians around.  We sat in Plaza de la Trinidad at two in the morning drinking rum and coke out of the plastic cups so thoughtfully supplied at the corner shop and one day we sat fully clothed in a rainstorm on the roof terrace for an hour not wanting to interrupt our conversation.

Putting the world to rights on the historic city walls

Putting the world to rights on the historic city walls

One night we had a cocktail party at the hostel and Dirk spent a couple of hours making coconut milk for the pina coladas from real coconuts which proved to be a lot harder than the recipes on the internet stated and another night we pulled mattresses onto the roof terrace and opened every door and window when the power cut out and the fans and aircon went off whislt the thermometer climbed above thirty four degrees.

Sweltering Cartagena

Sweltering Cartagena

Thanks to these incredible people that I met in Cartagena I FINALLY began to believe in myself.  After ten months on the road I knew that I had been right to give up my apartment and my posessions, my job and my car.  I was comfortable living in hostels and sharing dorms and food with strangers.  I was no longer afraid of the dark or crowds or twisty mountain roads.  I would get up and dance in a restaurant when invited and I could find my way back to my hostel all by myself at four in the morning through streets lined with prostitutes and sleeping drug addicts.  I could handle a conversation with a stranger or a bus driver in Spanish, I was more than happy visiting a museum or a restaurant alone and I was finally managing to live with events from my past life that I was unable to change.

Drowsy Cartagena in the midday sun

Drowsy Cartagena at siesta time

Cartagena the second time around was like living in a surreal bubble.  Friendships and conversations had an intensity and an urgency yet life was slow in the heat and humidity.  None of us felt any desire to move onwards and out of Cartagena but we knew that our visas wouldn’t last for ever.  We vowed to keep in touch and to be there for each other.

 

Feel life.  Understand life through feelings, through touching, biting, smelling, seeing.  Freedom and energy, limitless joy.  Through dance and the heartbeat.  The rhythm of life

Our teacher – he understands life through feelings , through touching, biting, smelling, seeing. He explains the world, the life through the original basic instinct to live…. to survive, to go forward and yet dance.

He cannot be the teacher of words.  But he was definitely our teacher of life, of dance, of liberty and acceptance:- Luna

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Amazonian Jungle – Part 2

The Amazonian Jungle – Part 2

On my second day in the jungle I woke early as the sun streamed in through my mosquito net.  The windows were just open wooden frames and from my bed I could hear strange noises.  Getting up to investigate I was enthralled to see a troop of capuchin monkeys playing in the trees outside my window, grooming each other and daring each other to go near the dining area, when there were yells from the kitchen as one of the braver monkeys dashed over the low wall and stole a banana off the table.

early morning visitors at our camp

After a massive cooked breakfast I set off with Javier into the jungle on foot.  I had been given welly boots as it was muddy in places and we wandered for miles and for hours.  It was everything that I hoped and expected with the sunlight filtering down through the canopy high above and Javier stopping very frequently to explain the medicinal plants and trees.  He pointed out insects and birds and then we found some more monkeys just getting on with their lives high above us.  We heard howler monkeys and exotic birds and Javier showed me some MASSIVE spiders and creepy crawlies, I licked milk of magnesium from a tree where he had made a small nick in the bark and watched as he found and burnt natural incense and a twig which smelt just like tobacco.

monster spider webs

I shut my eyes and stuck my tongue out as instructed,expecting Javier to sprinkle some sap or water onto it as he had been fiddling about with a leaf and a tree trunk.  Umm – lemon flavour water.  Umm fizzy lemon flavour water.  Quite tasty.  Ummmmmm – something crawling up my nose!  Fizzy lemon flavoured ants!!!!!!!!!!!!!  While I spat and blew my noise Javier was bend over with laughter, but I do have to confess – until I realised that they were ants they were actually quite tasty.

and monster spiders

At times our walk resembled something out of a Disney film or Avatar with massive orchids bending under their own weight suspended from tree trunks, and clouds – and I do mean clouds of butterflies swooping and hovering around everywhere, some of them as big as my two hands held with fingers outstretched.  There were bees, ants and wasps, and a warm humidity muffled the sounds.  It felt like we were walking inside a grand hall of tree trunks and leaves.

a clearing in the jungle canopy

Eventually we came out to a little beach on the edge of the lagoon and we sat in complete peace until the canoe with the others came and collected us and took us back to the lodge.  After an excellent and huge lunch I dozed off in a hammock for the afternoon, lulled gently to sleep by buzzing insects.  After our siesta we went out in the smaller canoe and paddled gently around the lake.  We stopped and listened to the cayman gulping and grunting somewhere in the the thick undergrowth and then as the sun launched itself over the horizon of trees we again swam in the warm lagoon.

no need to steal – bananas are left out for the monkeys

After dinner Javier led me deep into the dark of the jungle and with torches flashing on the trees and the ground we discovered a whole different world of insects, frogs and birds.  When we had walked for ages we put the torches off and sat in total darkness.  The starlight couldn’t penetrate the canopy and we sat like this for about twenty minutes in silence.  It was comforting and the dark wrapped around us like a security blanket yet a little disconcerting as I wondered what was out there in the dark watching us.  I believed I could see orange and red eyes staring out at us from between the tree trunks.

La Hormiga Lodge

Time was flashing by and on the third day after breakfast with the sun shining and turning the surface of the lake to mercury Javier and I set off on another big adventure.  We paddled and we paddled and we paddled.  Across the Laguna Cuyabena up the creeks and past the  sunken forests, around Cayman Cocha (lake) and then we struggled against a faster current in a a muddy brown river, finally bringing the canoe to rest in a shady spot among some reeds.  Looking nervously around for those pesky caymans we got down to fishing with a cane, some twine and a hunk of meat.

patiently fishing in the shade

We didn’t have to wait for long before the cane bent and up came – and an empty hook.  Several times we reloaded until eventually Javier hooked a snapping , growling piranha.  Yes, it really did snap and clatter its teeth and despite being hauled out of the water it was totally focused on trying to devour the meat and yes it did growl too.  It was the rojo (red) variety and it was really quite stunning although we were careful not to get our fingers too close as we posed for photos and then gently released it back into the water.

a red piranha

After a rest and a recovery from our frantic paddling we continued up the river until it opened out into the Laguna Grande.  What struck me on this trip was the total peace.  Yes there was noise but it was natural.  There was total unadulterated by man type of silence.  Like at Wadi Rum in Jordan and at the top of Machu Picchu I felt linked to this planet of ours, a spiritual, primeval connection.  Connected and a part of the larger global picture; feeling compelled to make my time here in this world count in any small way possible.

simply magical

We ‘parked’ our canoe under another shady tree and after another spot of piranha fishing (we caught a white piranha this time) we just sprawled in the bottom of the boat and rested for a while, Javier listening to his music through his earphones and  I counting my blessings for fate/opportunity/my guardian angel which had led me to this little bit of paradise.

breathtaking

We evenually paddled back in silence, back through the eerie trees growing out of the lagoon, parrots in the trees and the endless fluttering butterflies.  As we drifted down the muddy brown waters escorted by smudges of insects and with the plops of fish jumping around us I felt my energy levels recharge and my love for life given a new surge.

possibly my most favourite place on the planet

For my last evening at La Hormiga I had a special treat.  After dinner, three of us went out in the motor canoe and armed with torches went looking for cayman.  I had heard these creatures as we had paddled along the rivers but now was my chance to see them.  the lagoon took on a whole new personality in the dark, with shadows and intrigue.  I very quickly lost my bearings as we went up and down the channels but Javier skillfully navigated his way.  Every so often he would cut the engine and I would hold my breath as the beam of the torches picked out the bright orangey/ yellowy eyes of the stealthy cayman.

paradise

I saw the prehistoric snouts floating around us and once spotted one creature ‘take a ploof’ and with very little noise, push itself off the muddy bank and disappear into a swirl of water in the lagoon.  I felt priviledged and humbled to see these ancient creatures and quite a little bit scared to be so close to them.

My final morning I was supposed to get out of bed at 5am and go into the jungle and listen to the birdsong of the dawn chorus and watch the sunrise, but I lay awake most of the night listening to the rain hammering on the tin roof above me.  It was still tap dancing down at dawn so whilst Javier was more than prepared to lead me, I decided that it would be a soggy damp excursion that I could do without.

muddy waters hiding cayman and piranhas

After breakfast, we all piled back into the canoe which was loaded with trash bound for the town and the empty petrol cans and we began our journey back to civililisation.  We broke down at one point but a fortuitous passing canoe transfered some fuel to us and sadly we had to continue our journey.  Back at the little bridge I was I then offered a lift back into Lago Agrio by another guest where I jumped on a bus and headed back to Quito

The Amazonian jungle covers a massive swathe of the planet in South America and differs from country to country with different flora and fauna, indigenous people and cultures and customs.

it may be muddy but it is clean

If you want a to immerse yourself in a place where tourism is respectful and gentle, then get yourself to Lago Agrio and jump off into Cuyebena.  I stayed at La Hormiga Lodge which is bookable through Marco Polo Tours and who have various offices around Ecuador and I can thoroughly recommend them.

They were recommended to my by Andres the owner of the Mallki Hostel in Cuenca who is a jungle guide in his own right.  I had the option to visit an indigenous community within the jungle as part of my journey but I chose not to do this.  My trip was tailored to my requirements and those of the other guests and nothing was too much trouble.  Lilia worked hard in the kitchen and gave us filling, tasty meals and the guides – especially Javier were the best.  Accomodation was comfortable but built sympathetically with the surroundings.  Windows were generally open spaces, the water for the bathrooms and showers came from the lagoon and the hammocks in the communal area were perfect for resting up after a hard days paddle.

just hangin’ around

If you speak English and you are in Quito and you want to volunteer for a few months with Marco Polo Tours, do contact Ivan as he would like somebody to help out in the office there, selling the tours to English speaking tourists, and if you fancy exploring the jungle in Cuyabena in Ecuador do give them a ring or pop in to one of the offices.

Note:- Whilst I received discounted accommodation at La Hormiga Lodge with Marco Polo Tours this did not influence my opinion or review in any way.  I have portrayed an honest picture of my stay.

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The Amazonian Jungle – Part 1

The Amazonian Jungle – Part 1

I know that I keep on banging on that I have found the most perfect place on earth, but I honestly do think that I am getting close.  Or at least close to the most perfect natural environment on earth.  The Jordanian desert at Wadi Rum and the mountains around Amagá in Colombia have now been pipped to the post by Cuyabena which is in the Amazonian jungle in the north of Ecuador.

trees growing in the laguna

Andres, jungle guide and owner of the Mallki Hostel in Cuenca kindly arranged for me to visit La Hormiga Lodge (The Ant Lodge) and to stay for four days with some of his friends.

Whilst excited, I approached this with some trepidation because I knew that the stay would mean travel by canoe – and I have, or rather had, quite an aversion to water and boats.

My trip didnt get off to a good start when my seven hour bus journey to Lago Agrio turned into ten and a half hours of hell.  It turned out that earlier that day a bullion van had been hijacked on the mountain road and blown up and it had reduced part of the road to rubble.  As well as trying to repair the road the army and police had a heavy presence and basically stopped everything from moving so our bus just sat by the side of the road in the dark with everybody else for ages.

Anyway, I eventually rocked up in the jungle town of Lago Agrio with just half an hour to spare and I found the travel agency of Marco Polo Tours who were organising my adventure and who have the lodge where I was to stay.

I was checked in and all of the necessary paperwork was completed and then I was loaded into the backseat of a truck and we went sourcing fuel, oil, food and water for the trip.  This was followed by a two hour drive into the jungle  – as we bowled along the roads I tried not to dwell too much on the amount of fuel that was strapped in the back of the pick-up in huge plastic drums and which had converted us into a giant moving petrol bomb.

all fuel has to be taken in to the jungle

We safely arrived at the ‘bridge’ – the launching point into the jungle.  From here transport was solely by water, but first I was given lunch while everybody sorted themselves and the cargo out.  EVERYTHING had to be transported into the jungle by the canoes – the food, bedding, building materials and fuel as well as the staff and the guests, and this bridge area was the main jumping off point for all the lodges in this region so it was quite a hive of activity.

The bridge

I was introduced to an Argentinian couple who were to stay at the same hostel for just one night, and then we settled ourselves into our canoe and we were off down the muddy brown tributory on another two hour leg of the journey.  Our powerful motor propelled us along, with the guide Javier pausing every so often and pointing out the birds, trees, flowers and eventually whoop whoop – a monkey in the trees above us.  I had seen wild monkeys in India but out there among the temples and buildings they are just a pest – here  was a real wild monkey in its proper habitat and we were all so excited as we drifted around below it.

the muddy brown tributory of the river system

Eventually the river emptied out into a large lagoon.  This was the bit that I had been dreading, but with submerged forests and trees right down to the water’s edge it was so breathtaking I was not scared.  I didn’t want the journey to end.  It was magical.  The surface of the lake was a mirror reflecting the clouds and the trees and whilst it was certainly not quiet with insects, birds and canoe motors there was no hum of traffic, no drone of distant aeroplanes and no other man-made noise.

blindingly beautiful

The sheer magic of the place brought tears to my eyes and I felt really emotional.  We reached our little jetty and we made our way up to the lodge and our accomodation.  Here again I was pleasantly surprised.  Ivan had built the lodge himself and had opened it just four years previously.  It could accomodate up to thirty two guests in a variety of rooms where pretty mosquito nets draped over comfortable beds and showers were fed by lake water and heated by the sun.

my pretty bedroom

After a short rest following our journey our little group of three split up, and after being told that I should wear swimwear, Javier and I set back out in the canoe to see the most stunning sunset.  There were some of the canoes from the other lodges scattered about the centre of the lagoon and some people swimming in the water.  I had assumed that we would find a nice beach area to swim from, but I tentatively lowered myself into the luke warm water to discover that, even in the centre of the large lagoon I could touch the sludgy muddy bottom in places.  The water level was receding because we were in the dry season but I nervously swam around – after all the laguna was filled with pirhana fish and cayman.

evening bathtime

It was then, after I had struggled very inelegantly back into the canoe that Javier told me that the pirhanas and other fish fed at the perimeter of the lake from  berries and insects that fell in and the caymen in turn, fed on these fish so we were quite safe out in the middle of the lake.  I couldn’t help wondering how long it would take creatures that were crawling about on the planet at the same time as the dinasours were roaming around to work out that most evenings a large banquet gathered in the centre of the laguna at sunset and they should maybe make their way there to feast upon the tourists.

sunset at the most magical place on the planet

As the sun set over the forest, the lagoon turned even more magical and beautiful if that were even possible.  The reds and oranges were reflected in the perfect mirror surface of the lake, the trees which were growing up from the water became silouhettes and the insects got louder.  The large birds and parrots swooped noisily across the lake to roost in the trees on the islands and then suddenly, dark fell and the frog chorus began.  When we paddled silently alongside the edge of the lake we could hear the cayman grunting and rustling eerily in the weeds.

my rustic yet pretty bedroom

After dinner back at La Hormiga we found quite a large snake curled up under the stilts of the building and three giant toads hopped around our feet in the dining room catching some of the insects which were attracted by the lights. A generator powered the electric and I charged my camera (a phone was useless here with no wifi) but it was however ‘lights out’ very early to conserve the generator fuel and then it was just us, the dark and the noises of the jungle.

As I got into my bed and I very carefully made sure that the mosquito nets were pulled completely down around me, I reflected on all of the horror films that I had ever seen, where snakes slither in through open windows and then up and inside something as flimsy as a net.  Despite worrying for all of ten minutes I was soon fast asleep.

Find out how I got on in the jungle next week.  Make sure that you don’t miss out by following this link and ‘liking’ my Facebook page or submitting your email address in the box at the side of this page.

Note:- Whilst I received discounted accommodation at the La Hormiga Lodge this did not influence my opinion or review in any way.  I have portrayed an honest picture of my stay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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