Free Range Colombia – Day 14: The Great Boat Caper

Today we woke up in a room cooled to a comfortable 68 degrees. It would have been even more notable at the time if we’d had prior experience to the perma-sweat about to come.

After a now typical morning breakfast of two fried eggs, a home-baked roll, a solid coffee and smile upon payment, we headed back to the hotel.

JOHN: I packed the backpacks, keeping the most necessary items accessible – in priority:

  1. Money
  2. Camera
  3. Sunscreen
  4. Three bottles of filtered water
  5. 40% DEET bug spray
  6. Extra camera batteries
  7. Passports
  8. Spanish dictionary
  9. Rain jackets
  10. Clothes

After constantly sniffing clothing piece by piece and prioritizing them in the same way from “freshly laundered” to “a-dog-wouldn’t-sleep-on-it,” repacking those that are high on the list away from those low on the list makes the chore take a while…

Grandma’s Hostel

ELISE: I snagged our passports and my cash, and went to see about checking in/out (because they never even bothered to check our names, more or less our passports), paying, and calling a cab to take us to the port. This hotel, by the way, was really just a Motel-6-style row of rooms with outside access located behind a house. The grandma and grandpa ran the joint, and though their daughter told me to ask them about the taxi in the morning, they hardly seemed to be the people to ask. I had to tell them where we were going at least 3 times. I also had to ask to pay at least 3 times. You’d think I’d stop asking to pay after the first go around, but you should see Leticia. It needs every tourism dollar it can get.

Our taxi arrived in front of the house. As we walked by the family’s backyard viewing of the soccer game, we waved as if to say “hello – goodbye!”

 Relying on Trust and Kindness

We were let out at the riverbank, most of which was a muddy maze of shacks with corrugated metal and colored planks of wood advertising travel, snacks, fruits and who knows what else.

We were deftly and quickly lead to the right dock by a small, young man who met us at the taxi. He was very earnest, friendly and knew that a couple of gringos needed his help.




The dry season and low river made walking on long, springy 2×12 bridges necessary to avoid a dangerous game of old-school Frogger through weedy mud. At the dock, we laid down our bags…

JOHN: I took a seat on a bench and watched a few boats pick up and let off people with bags of everything one might need to stock a jungle Menard’s. I watched a thin, clean Jack Russell-type dog meet these people, make a few sniffs and sit back down in the same spot. He did this with each passenger, but after 30 minutes, he still hadn’t found who or what he was looking for – and no one was looking for him.


leticia docks colombia

Riverbank homes prepared for high river season


ELISE: While John stayed with our bags, I hustled BACK UP THE MESS of 2x12s with our fellow. Though I had told him multiple times that we needed the rapid boat office on our way down, and though he assured me that we were headed there, we were not actually headed there. Just headed to the boat, where there was not and is never a ticket office.

I ended up following him back to the spot from which we started to get said tickets. He was friendly enough and said he knew our final destination well. I was about to ask him his name when told me he expected a “propina.” I said “no intiendo” because I really didn’t know what the word met. He motioned with his hands, “cash.” Ah yes, a tip. Sure. But get me to the office first, and make sure the seats are not sold out because I’m told they actually do sell out, and wouldn’t that be hilarious if we had to wait for the next boat in 4 hours?

All worked out fine. Tickets remained in the teeny tiny “office.” Buddy snagged his tip and headed to work with the colleagues who were hollering at him during our hike. I rushed alone back to my husband, who was relieved to see his Amazon woman over the hazy, muddy hill.

Onto the River to Calanoa

50km east on the Amazon River, the boatsman called out, “Calanoa!” and we jumped off the front of the boat with two others, Mick and Iliana. We had arrived at our jungle home of five days, and it was spectacular.



The appreciation of old and new culture



On the river to Calanoa


Handmade, open-air cabins with wake-up views of the river and daily sunset were connected by raised wooden walkways to a beautiful pavilion where lemonade awaited us. Diego, the owner, showed us around the grounds and explained how everything was to go: trips, guides, chefs, boats, hikes, drinks, meals, siestas, stars, sun and mosquitoes.


Colombia Calanoa Amazonas Ecolodge 1

Left: Diego Samper, owner of the Calanoa Jungle Lodge, photographer and anthropologist. Right, Michael, a visitor to Calanoa


calanoa amazon jungle lodge-2

Inside Calanoa – Bed, river view and mosquito net. Courtesy of Diego Samper


calanoa amazon jungle lodge 3

Calanoa cabin – Courtesy of Diego Samper


calanoa amazon jungle lodge 1

Calanoa Kitchen and Dining Area – Courtesy of Diego Samper


Colombia Calanoa Amazonas Ecolodge 2

Storms over the Amazon



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Having traveled extensively in the past with an artist and educator schedule, I now spend my non-working hours calming a tired infant, searching for the best sazerac and getting the most out of our urban garden. As we inevitably write more about traveling with children, we'd love to read your comments about how you create the perfect comfort/adventure balancing act. Thanks for reading!

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