April 5, 2010

Jungle Challenge: Handled It (AKA Longest. Post. Ever.)

Amazon Trip Update #2
I am still loooooooooooving those sunset photos I posted yesterday, but just in case you are still in need of some more jungle love here are more specifics on my spring break!
We flew from Cali to Leticia, Colombia. Leticia is the capital of the Amazonas Department, the southern most department in Colombia.
Some fun facts about this region of Colombia:
  • The Amazon Basin accounts for a THIRD of Colombia's total area at 643,000 square kilometers!
  • Over 50 languages (not counting dialects) are spoken in this region.
  • Leticia is more than 500 miles from the nearest Colombian freeway - hope you like planes and boats :)
  • Leticia is located at the point on the Amazon River where Brazil, Peru and Colombia meet
So we flew into Leticia and spent the afternoon exploring the town before heading to Hotel Delfines (Hotel Dolphins) for the night. I assumed staying at a hotel named for dolphins would bring us luck in capturing the alluring Amazonian pink dolphins on film...but not so much. While Leticia isn't exactly a booming metropolis, it is a city very much adapted to the heat, humidity and tourism well-known in the Amazonian region. We had no trouble finding classic tourist knick-knacks, but some trouble finding delicious food options. (Probably because Lonely Planet lied to me and said there was a restaurant with banana pancakes when in fact no such place exists. BIGGEST. LET. DOWN. EVER.)
Parque Santandar and the main church in Leticia.
Bank in Leticia painted "dolphin pink" with accompanying artwork.

Market produce in Leticia.
After one lovely night and part of a day in Leticia, we headed to Tabatinga, Brazil - a little town just over the Colombian border with Brazil about 5 minutes from Leticia for lunch the next day. As a result of a delay in our departure for our stay at Palmari Natural Reserve, the owner, Axel....or as call him Axel Rose...offered to buy us lunch. This was after I yelled at him on the phone about telling us we could leave at 8 am when really the boat came at 3 pm. He responded by saying, "oh yes, I remember you, the North American girl who lives in Colombia with the German last name" (Axel is German) To summarize, he bought us a delicious lunch with drinks. I clearly have my mother's way with customer service/retail industry type people.
At the Blue Moon in Tabatinga, Brazil.
Thanks for lunch Axel Rose!
Overly absorbed in some chic lit while waiting for lunch :)
***Note: I read like crazy over break, so book update to come soon!
After the delay we made our way to Palmari Natural Reserve on a boat that picked us up in Tabatinga and brought us 4 hours upstream into the heart of the Amazon. To our surprise, we did not arrive at Palmari until about an hour after sunset so our introduction to the Amazons was at night....on a boat...listening to the not-so-comforting sounds of the jungle. At one point I leaned over to Kelsi and said "This is the stuff you tell your parents after you get home." HI MOM :)
Finally on the boat and headed to head into the jungle!
We thought it was a 2 hour boat ride...turns out it was 4. Get comfy Tara!
Despite our initial transportation discrepancy, the rest of our time at Palmari was amazing! The place is in the middle of the jungle with nothing else around besides small Amazonian villages so you really feel like you are IN the jungle. There is a main lodge with communal areas to hang out and eat, surrounded by several little lodges and cabins. We had a cabin and bathroom to ourselves, which was basically essential since showering in the Amazons is necessary to life. The price for our 4 night and 5 day stay was about $650 USD per person for meals, activities, sleeping, snacks and drinks (aka Brazilian beer and Brazilian rum drinks - caipirinhas).
Main lodge at Palmari.
Hang out area next to the main lodge. Please note the swings in. the. jungle. What up.
Me plus jungle swings. Plus random American guy we met who works in Cali but went to college in Chicago...the world gets smaller and smaller everyday!
Keeping in classy in the jungle with bunk beds and mosquito nets (essential).
Night time activity? BANANAGRAMS! Best game ever. Enjoying the nightly game with new friends, Benjamin and Alexander, the coolest kids I've ever met.
At the reserve, groups are typically assigned one guide for the duration of their time. This guide goes with you to all activities and such. We actually ended up being traded amongst many different guides throughout the week, and I am so glad because they were all super fun and knowledgeable, so this gave us the chance to get to know many of them. By the end of the week we all had different favorites for different reasons, but in all reality, they all helped us have a great, safe, jungle experience.
Romalo! One of my favorite guides if only because he rocked this photo with zero direction from us. Just 5 gringa girls on a boat - Amazonian style.
Palmari offers a wide range of different activities and we experienced almost all of them. Some of the things we did included:
  • Canoe ride across the river to Peru
  • Kayak ride through side tributaries
  • Canopy (zip line)
  • Fishing for piranhas
  • Bow and arrow
  • Caiman (mini crocodile) searching
  • Dolphin (grey & pink!) observation
  • Swimming in natural pools
  • Visit to a small village of Santa Rita in Peru
  • Temporary tattoos
Here are some photos from my favorite activities:
Getting ready to go at the reserve.
Tara & Hana waiting to carry their kayak from this small tributary stream back out onto the main river. Kayaking through this small tributary was difficult to navigate at points, but so cool for the views and serenity provided (when one of us wasn't screaming about almost flipping over...)
Steph & I out on the main river (Rio Yavari).
Jungle Hike
Starting out our guide talked to us about the various types of palm in the Amazons and how people use different palms for different things. Little did we know we would later use palm to create fans in the middle of mosquito land...
Trekking through the jungle.
Tara sporting one of the palm fans we made...at the suggestion of our guide halfway into our hike being attacked by mosquitos. Brilliant. Making this was the definite low point of the trip...well, that and the Leticia Pancake Incident.
Enjoying our impromptu spa and mud bath on a small tributary of the Amazons. No piranhas here!
Kelsi & I washing off our from our mud spa.
Before this canopy adventure, I had only been on a zip line once before, on our field trip last month to San Vicente. The zip line there was pretty long, but nothing like the experience in the Amazons! Basically you were harnessed in to a rope, where you then climbed up 40 m to the top of the Amazonian canopy - witnessing stunning views while you attempted to catch your breath. Then you walked across a plank bridge at the top of the trees (terrifying!) to a second platform. From there you rode a zip line over to the third platform before rappeling back down to firm ground! A challenging, but fascinating experience, this was definitely one of my favorite parts of the trip!
Harnessed in and ready to climb 40 m to the top!
Kelsi and I about a third of the way up...approximately near death and sweating...and being attacked by mosquitos. Oh the Amazons - so glamorous.
Steph in action!Looking up at other climbers as they approach Platform #1.
Platform #2: Across the plank bridge thing, before the zip line. Views at the top? SO. WORTH. IT.
Kelsi walks the plank from Platform #1 to Platform #2!

Zip line across to Platform #3! Nothing like being harnessed in and then flying above the trees while you overlook the Amazon at sunset. :)
Handling the jungle challenge. Our whole group - Kelsi, Tara, me, Steph & Hana!
The rest of the time at Palmari included a temporary tattoo session...of course I got 'Imagine' on my foot because its something I have always wanted. I loved it, even if the jungle heat did cause it to smear by the time I got a photo of it the next morning. I may have to seriously consider this as a permanent option...
Getting my tattoo drawn!
Up close and personal with my foot. LOVED it.
After 5 days in the Amazons we were ready for a bit of civilization, so in what seemed to be a never-ending clip from Planes, Trains and Automobiles we headed backed to Leticia. A 45 minute boat ride, an hour long van ride, a 30 minute speedboat taxi ride later and a 5 minute cab ride (with beers) later and we were back at Hotel Delfines for two final days in Leticia...details to come.
Back to civilization...kind of. Antarctica beer from a random dock in Brazil? Sure. Cheers to a fabulous vacation ladies!
Wheeeeeeeew! If you made it this far in reading - thanks :) Happy Tuesday to all!

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