Three Days at The Edge of The Amazon and My Sanity

The Amazon might be one of the last blank spaces on the map. Its jungle so dense it can swallow entire cities and there are still, supposedly, uncontacted civilizations. That idea amazes me, that there are people living in the jungle like they have been for thousands of years that have no idea that the outside world exists. Makes me wonder if we are missing anything. Despite delusions of being a writer, I am aware that I am no explorer, but Erin and I decided to go to the town of Mocoa, which is referred to as “The Gateway To The Amazon.” From there…things got a little strange. If I am not mistaken, Mocoa is one of the last towns in Colombia that has easy access to the amazon jungle. Any deeper into the Amazon and its boats, plains, and muddy roads. Mocoa is located in a region that used to be quite dangerous due to rebel activity, but they are currently in peace talks so we didn’t think security would be an issue.

The journey to Mocoa was done in a very full, very smelly mini-van down a winding road that nearly made me lose my lunch. Erin and I checked into our hostel located on the side of the road a few kilometres out of town. We caught a “camioneta” truck into town for some lunch, and then walked back to relax at the hostel for a few hours. After dinner, we started to watch a movie with a British couple. It was a low budget Nicolas Cage film, and it was thoroughly awful. I cannot even describe how awful. So we gave up on the film. We left the common area and walked down the stone path to our four bed dorm that we shared with a  French couple. We were laying in our beds reading for about ten minutes when we heard an alarm go off in the distance. We didn’t think much of it, in Colombia there are always car alarms and building alarms and false alarms going off. This alarm wasn’t stopping though, it had been a few minutes and it was still roaring. We pulled back the curtains and looked outside and all of the sudden the hostel staff came running past our building screaming in terror. All I could think was, “Here we go again.”

I jumped off the top bunk and told the French couple to shut off the lamp and I dead bolted the door. I quickly got dressed. In my mind I was thinking, “If I’m going to get shot, kidnapped, or in some kind of fight, I want to be fully clothed.”

We then took to hiding our valuables as fast and as quietly as possible. Phones went under mattresses, and computers went behind shower curtains. Erin went into the bathroom at the back of our little cabin, and the french couple huddled together on the creaky bunk bed beside the window, which didn’t strike me as a good place to hide, but I didn’t feel like correcting them.

I knelt behind the big steel door and pulled my metal pen out of my pocket. My logic was, the steel door is a barrier, if they get through it, they mean business, and I have to become the second barrier. I wasn’t sure if it was robbers looking for money, in which case its smarter to cooperate, or possibly rebels looking to kill people to upset peace talks or kidnap someone for ransom. Granted the last two are unlikely, but still ran through my mind.

After a few tense minutes, we thought we heard the police outside, we cautiously peered through the curtains and confirmed. The French man and I went to see what happened and instructed the girls to lock to door behind us, just in case it wasn’t all over.

It turns out that shortly after Erin and I left for our room, two gunmen came into the common area and took wallets and phones from the British couple and a computer from the reception. Had Erin and I still been sitting with them, we would have lost 2 phones, and iPad, and a computer to the thieves. We just missed being hit by a second armed robbery because we couldn’t tolerate another minute of the Nicolas Cage film. Maybe I should write him a thank you letter?

The next day, over breakfast, the British couple informed us they were checking out and moving to a hotel in town, closer to the police station I assume. That day Erin and I did a hike to a waterfall called “Fin Del Mundo” or “end of the world”. It was a muddy, hot and humid hike over big roots and slippery logs. There were several swimming holes and a cafe placed under an outcropping on a cliff. It was amazing to see. The hike ended abruptly when the trail dead ended at a waterfall that was eighty meters tall.

Swimming Hole

Swimming Hole

Erin And Me

Erin And Me

About The Size Of My Entire Hand

About The Size Of My Entire Hand

As Close As I Would Get To The Edge

As Close As I Would Get To The Edge

Erin On The Edge

Erin On The Edge

That night, a few hostel guests decided to partake in an Amazonian ayahuasca ceremony. Its a drug commonly used by shaman in the amazon to help take people to the spirit world. It is supposedly famous for helping people find enlightenment and have epiphanies. I know some people who have tried it and all speak highly of it. That said, one of the side effects is vomiting, which from what I understand, is seen as a sigh of cleansing and your body purging stress and tension. Ayahuasca does have a few instances of people being killed by it, and on rare occasion, killing while on it. For me, no thanks.

That night,I lied awake in by bed beside the window, listening to ten people vomiting in unison. A chorus of people vomiting is a hard thing to hear without joining them. I didn’t get sick, but I didn’t sleep much either. Between armed gunmen and drug use, I was starting to wonder if I was in Apocalypse Now. A few more days in the jungle and I might have had to adopt a dog or start surfing.

I was not looking forward to the next morning. We were set to take a bus to the town of Pasto. The road we were taking is colloquially known as “The Trampoline of Death“. I can’t make this stuff up. It called that because it has wild altitude changes along a narrow winding mountain road. It is the most dangerous road in Colombia. A friend of mine who had taken the trip a few days earlier posted pictures of a bus that had gotten hung up on a guard rail along the road, which did not decrease my sense of foreboding.

Erin and I arrived at the ticket window and bartered the seller down to a price we were happy with. When the driver looked at our tickets he was pretty upset and told us we had to pay more. We refused, and told him this was the price we agreed upon, and the deal was already done. No worries, he sat us at the back where it was the bumpiest. I guess his plan was to take that money out of my spine. In the three back seats was myself by the window, Erin in the middle, and an absolutely unconscious young man who smelled like a night of hard drinking leaning on Erin. She shoved him off, and he slumped back over. She grabbed his head and repositioned him and he never batted a lash.

After a few good bumps and hairpin turns he fell on her again. She devised a plan, she leaned over him and leaned his seat way back and hers way forward so he couldn’t fall on her shoulder again. I was glad he didn’t wake up for that, there might have been some explaining to do. The rest of the trip wasn’t too bad, a few nerve racking passes on a road about 1.5 cars wide. Towards the end of our trip the big van stopped hard and Erin’s seat neighbour neighbour slid straight out of his seat like it was a water slide. With a bang he landed on his back on the floor, and just kept sleeping. I was likely a nice shade of red trying to hold in my hysterical laughter. The whole van was laughing with me though.

After we checked into our hostel in Pasto, we went to the grocery store to grab food for breakfast. On the way back we passed a square with some live music and a lot of people dancing and all around enjoying themselves. We walked up to the back of the crowd and enjoyed some music. We then noticed two older men in front of us, one was drinking beer from a tall can and the other had clearly already had his share. He was short man with white pants, a white shirt, a fedora, a lime green jacket, and matching lime green shoes. The well dressed man was dancing up a storm, and I knew exactly what was coming. He spotted the two tall gringos and felt the need to do his civic duty and give us some dance lessons. He was friendly, polite, and didn’t speak a word of english, and man, could he dance.

I did my best to mimic his moves, and he was supportive but I just wasn’t getting it. He then showed Erin and they did some spins and had a grand time. Her dancing is much better than mine. We decided to leave before I got too jealous of such a good dancer spending time with my wife. As we left he shook our hands, smiled and waved. Then his friend came and shook our hands and handed Erin a warm, tall, beer can from his pocket, and wished us Felíz Navidad. It was a local Colombian brand, and hey, free beer is free beer I say. We went to our hostel and went to bed, we had to cross the border to Ecuador the next day and I was hoping our excitement would give us a day off.


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