Columbia seems to be a dream.
Not necessarily a good or bad one. Definitely hard to describe. Pictures don’t do it justice. I analyzed them closely for quite some time and the heat is just barely visible. Landing in Letizia most closely resembled Nairobi, although Kenya, and Africa are most definitely on another level.
The second thing after the heat is a distinct feeling of separation. I would call it rawness, but somehow the alienation reaches deeper. The most obstructive heat begs even a different name.
Letizia itself is an otherwise lovely town on the shore of the Amazon river. Trade, family life, just life. Lots of military presence, the area has seen an infinity of conflict.
The tribal enclave on an island in the middle of town, separated from the mainland by a narrow channel sparked my imagination. From the looks of it, that’s where the real deal comes down. Houses on struts seemed plainly out of bounds for me. I didn’t even dare ask to visit.
We arrived at Porto Narino the next day after another two hours of travel, this time by speed boat. Out of luck we caught a ride with Sergio, the unsuccessful Miami immigrant turned successful entrepreneur that operates the local tours.
Remove all the environment, and you will be left with a feeling of being oppressed, straight out of the “War of the Worlds”. The feeling of oppression is almost completely unrelated to the heat, heat being the first manifestation of the oppression. Speaking of heat. There’s something to be said about it combined with the humidity. I know, it doesn’t seem to be very exciting. Equatorial rainforest must obviously be hot.
I’ve never felt quite out of my element just because of the sheer energy being delivered by the Sun. After one time I felt like I am about to pass out, I learned to respect myself and take things slow.
Everything slow. That might serve equally well as a description and a mantra for survival in the Amazonas. The tribe folk have an inherent affinity for this philosophy. Slowly, why? I asked our guide.
‘Because, look.’ He points at a bush next to him. ‘You see that frog?’
‘Don’t touch it.’ The guide looks wary. ‘Because it is deadly, it will kill you’
The locals are extremely pragmatic. There are no roads, so any body must be carried. Dead or alive, the local hospital has one physician, zero equipment, and next to no drugs.
A poisoned foreigner is lot of trouble that will not go away quick. Slow is for sure the way to go.
The locals did not develop this thinking as a strategy. The oppressiveness lends itself to the visitor immediately upon arrival. Here Nature reigns. The ways in which its power manifests itself are mostly easy to miss. And yet you feel it. The memory is bliss. To be around such a presence so strong, and yet so peaceful, so well-tuned to us elates the soul in a rush.
The memory I could equate to a dream of being a Native American in a book about times when the western world did not exist.
But being there is different. Forget great tasting water. Water here is treated and usually rather poorly. Get used to the hint of chemicals, even on bottles. Forget cars, or even bicycles. Outside of small villages there is just untamed jungle. An ocean of green that will make or break you, and it is calling the shots. Take a moment to appreciate that. If you so easily become the product of the jungle, imagine the evil ways in which the jungle will joke with your own makings.
You want Apple Maps? You might as well throw out your phone. You either know how to nicely ask for guidance with your own tongue or else watch out for deadly frogs on your own. I get it, I come from a developed country.
Porto Narino is all foot traffic. The jungle is all foot traffic. The jungle primarily wants no traffic at all. Every journey is a chore, an expedition you have to prepare for, even if the slightest.
The stillness of town drains you. Just watching people walk by requires breathing. Your lungs, with each breath flooded by air saturated with humidity to the point you never feel thirst until you get dizzy. And riding on every microscopic droplet is another biome. Mostly neutral, sometimes friendly, rarely all too friendly at which point you are not entirely sure anymore what you are coughing up. Are you dreaming? Is this happening?
Drink some water. Thankfully water flushes this oppressive reality out of your system and for a while you feel roughly sane.
And then, during your rational sane euphoria you meet an Amazonian Peruvian that just sits on a bench in his village, while a woman sits next to him and grooms him. He stares into the distance.
You look at him for a while, questioning. Then, you look around. The village is in Peru. Not the one you’ve seen on the Internet with mountains and ponchos. It’s not really Peru, you begin to realize. For what difference does it make. I mean yes, it is separated from Columbia by the river, but the Amazon is like the main artery of a heart, the jungle that pulsates around it. And when you think of your heart, when you close your eyes and visualize your heart, do you think instinctively of it having a left and a right side? Is that the first thought to cross your mind?
No. It’s just people living on two sides of a river. Far, far away from everyone and everything else. People, like that man who just sits and stares. It astonishes you. ‘Man, go do something!’, you want to say. He does nothing. The village is tidy, but beyond poor. All this while he sits there and stares. By which time if you dared judge him, you realize that the only right you have there, and then, is to leave. Because while he sits there and stares you realize the habitat is so hostile that without generations of adaptation you are at desperate odds with Nature in its kingdom, under its reign.
Good luck finding symmetry, establishing a perspective. Here in the Amazonas, your situation has no optics.