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Free Range Colombia – Day 15: With a British Accent

Bwop. Ooo-eee-ooh. Errr-whhrrrr-yoooo.

The sounds of melodic birds woke us up around seven. The jungle cacophony is real – and loud. The timing was right for Elise to do some yoga in the cabin loft overlooking the morning river: Downward Facing Dog, Warrior Pose and Man Rowing Down Amazon.

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Afterward, a few turns of the wrist releases a steady trickle of cold water from the showerhead. Rain tanks up the hill power another of many morning, noon and night-time showers.

The Amazonian Ticuna Culture

One of our two journeys this day was a trip to El Vergel, population 300, down the river just 15 minutes by powered canoe. El Vergel was a special village on our trip, being Diego’s focus of numerous indigenous projects and a nearby community where the town continues to maintain their Ticuna tribal heritage that influences a large portion of this part of the Colombian Amazon. There we met some of their people and learned about how they maintain the Ticuna beliefs and traditions.

 

 

Read with a British accent:

Although it’s not near shopping, restaurants, theatres or sporting venues, the Amazonian villagers go about their lives in much the same way we do – albeit with less electricity, more insects and a jungle that can provide basically everything they need to survive. 

Schoolrooms are full of learned children eager to either continue to build their community as an adult, or travel to the city to become nurses, business-folk or other such professionals.

The river provides an ever-present and affordable means of transportation between the town of Puerto Nariño and the city of Leticia, where services such as hospitals, clothing, non-native foods and night-life can be found.

 

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Diego Samper, founder of Calanoa, anthropologist and photographer of numerous indigenous Colombian projects captures a moment with a younger member of the Ticuna village.

 

The people are extremely kind and open to guests who take genuine interest in their experiences. After telling important stories of their history through a series of dances under the roof of the small, community hut, the children present a few authentic handmade gifts such as woven goods and wood carvings. The currency provides school supplies to the village children.

A Return Performance

We were more interested in the musical bamboo instruments, and convinced them to sell a Ticuna flute for a few pesos. They were happy to oblige, presumably because there is a lot more bamboo in the jungle.

Most importantly, Elise was able to meet the children and sing a song for them in preparation for a more substantial music workshop she will soon facilitate.

 

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Because few other river communities have so tightly held onto their cultural heritage, our next trip to the adjacent river village of Macedonia, population 900, was underwhelming in part because most of the communal hut was filled with an audience of fanny-packed tourists from a nearby 100-room jungle hotel. There, the Macdonians performed Ticuna dances similar to those in El Vergel – while being an entirely Evangelical community.

 

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Tourist from the nearby 100 room hotel poses with Macedonian “tribal” performers at a largely promotional gathering while others browse the surrounding souvenir tables.

 

Freshwater Dolphin Spotting

The end of the day put us on the Peruvian side of the river for a few hours looking for freshwater dolphins. We saw those, yes, but we also began to understand the size and scope of the Amazon River. Even with it at its lowest, it is immense – in power and ability to control all life in the jungle.

 

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Elise with married fellow travelers Michael and Iliana (of Germany and Colombia) on the river

 

The Amazon River acts as a road, provider of food and destroyer of land. In the 100’ difference between the high and low crests, it moves mountains of dirt and sand across a continent, creating islands and forming seasons along the tributaries that reach for hundreds of miles into the river basin. When full, the water can be three miles wide with impossible currents. At the end of dry season, it is still a massive sea of calm water that seemingly moves only when an oar pushes it away.

As we looked out from our canoe at the jumping dolphins, they seemed so small in the endless water – only one of millions of living things that depend on the Amazon to survive. We looked forward to sleeping beside it for a few more nights.

 

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River Sunset #2

 

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Having traveled extensively in the past with an artist and educator schedule, I now spend my non-travel, non-working hours trying to sleep between feedings and poopings. 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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