Into the Amazon Wild

Our adventure down the Amazon River began with a beer — a beer in Brazil to be precise. Upon arriving in Leticia Colombia two nights before, we had arranged with a local tour guide (aptly named George of the Jungle) to take us down the Amazon River. He promised a once in a lifetime adventure – piranha fishing, sloth cuddling, alligator hunting and to see the illustrious pink dolphins unique to this part of the world. We were giddy with excitement, knowing full well what a memorable experience it would be. One thing we didn’t take into account was that our thrilling Amazon boat adventure would include a fair amount of beer, a shocking amount of mosquitoes and one very jolly tour guide named Joe.

What can we say about Joe? Physically he’s a pint-sized man (barely five feet tall) with think hands, a round belly and thinning hair. The first thing to notice about Joe is his smile and genuine enthusiasm for the Amazon. At 64 years old, Joe has worked in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil guiding jungle trips for groups of scientists, astrologers, animal activists and humble tourists, much like ourselves. The thing about Joe is it’s hard not to like him.

Joe, our stoic guide for the next two days

And so at 8 am on Tuesday morning after just being introduce to Joe and whisked off to a port in Tabatinga, Brazil (just on the border of Colombia) we decided we were going to get along just fine with our feisty little guide, particularly after he offered us a morning beer.

Having a Brazilian beer in the sun on our Amazon boat

One of the truly amazing things about an Amazon boat ride from Leticia is that you can begin your day in Colombia, boat over to Brazil for lunch and then cross the river to Peru for dinner. Border crossing is as easy as bar hopping and no passports are required.

After finishing our first round of beers, we boarded our wooden canon and set off across the river to Santa Rosa, Peru. We ambled down the main drag of Santa Rosa, admiring the white trumpet lilies and the quiet, relaxed way of life for the town’s people. Joe ushered us up a ramp and into a wooden cottage supported off the ground on stilts. Upon arrival we were welcomed by an ocelot named Angie, Chico, a spider monkey and one very crafty black capuchin named Martine and another beer. Angie, just over a year old, was a huge fan of sucking on our fingers, while Chico tried every trick in the book to stick his little monkey hands down Gill’s top. Just as the beer was almost finished, Martine swung down from his perch in the rafters to swipe Gill’s glass. It was a mad house.

Martine, the black capuchin monkey, with his stolen beer and a big smile

Gill and Leah with Chico, the grabby spider monkey

After bidding farewell to our new friends, we boarded our boat and headed to a nature reserve. A baby monkey immediately took a liking to our shoulders and held on tight while we toured the forest, swung from vines and Joe decorated our faces and lips with natural red dye – we were becoming the absolute epitome of Amazon women.

Leah getting her Amazon make-up done by Joe

The day continued with piranha fishing just off the coast of a river island. Even though those little suckers were smaller than we had expected, their ferocious bite can do some serious damage. A total of 11 piranhas were caught and would be thoroughly enjoyed that night at dinner.

Gill and her bounty.

Women of the Amazon with our indigenous face paint and piranha bounty

By afternoon, both of us Amazon women were covered in a thick coating of sweat, mud, red paint and our hair had gone from curly to just plan crazy. Despite our appearance we were appreciating every minute of the wild display of Amazon life.

Just after three in the afternoon we arrived at a small village on the Peruvian side of the border. By this time our beer buzz was nothing but a distant memory and the heat was becoming a heavy burden. Climbing up the shore from the river’s edge to the village center we were immediately ambushed by women and children carrying every type of jungle animal you could think of. Little girls were cradling sloths in their arms, while others were balancing parrots on thin twigs. One woman proudly displayed her two and a half foot caiman, a fresh water alligator. The animals were thrust into our arms as if we couldn’t take pictures fast enough. At one point I was cradling the large caiman, frantically looking around for its owner who was nowhere to be found. Not my idea of a new best friend.

Baby sloths that were thrust into our hands at the village

Leah taking charge of the caiman she was told to hold

Gillian with some new wild animal-toting friends and a fresh water alligator, the Caiman

When we had taken all the appropriate pictures with all of the appropriate animals, we unveiled a treat we had brought for the local children – lollipops. Chaos ensued for a split second before the children arranged themselves in a very orderly fashion and waited patiently for their candy. It was at this point in the day, Joe brought out some Amazon schnapps as he called it, which was actually moonshine made from bark. We took one shot each and that was enough – it burned all the way down.

The kids were experts at lining up for their treats

The village kids getting their lollipops from Leah while holding their various wild animals

From that village we headed back on the river to watch the sunset at a nearby beach. The sky exploded into a million different colors as the sun sank behind the shoreline. As Gill and I were admiring the black sand beach, Joe had wandered over to a fisherman in his boat and before we could even introduce ourselves, we were ushered in and set out to help haul in the man’s net full of the days catches. The fish looked almost like catfish but with razor sharp spikes jutting out of their sides.

The beautiful black sand beach, the sunset, and our trusty vessel. Paradise

The lovely Amazon locals who were nice enough to "help" them bring in the catch of the day

Women of the Amazon making ourselves useful with a paddle

After the nets had all been hauled into his boat, the fisherman let us have our pick of his catch. We happily accepted and headed to what would be our “Amazon home” for the evening. It was rustic to say the least – for stilts upheld a rickety old cottage made of lumber from the rainforest. We were welcomed by a swarm of mosquitoes and spent much of the evening beating the skeeters off. It wasn’t until we climbed under our mosquito nets into our hammocks that we experienced a moment of relief.

Our cozy cabin and our necessary bug nets so as not to be eaten alive

Joe and our boat captain, Barristo, preparing the fish. It was delicious

Life in the Amazon is just as unique and magical as the animals you find in her jungles, fish you catch in her river and the people you meet living off her land. By the time we made it back to Tabatinga, we were two very dirty, very tired, extremely happy Amazon adventure women.