In a sudden blur, I found myself having left quiet, sedate Chile where I knew the streets and metro stops and had made friends, and crash landing in an Amazonian border town (literally – the budget airplane I took skidded to the side when landing in Leticia)
Despite spending one and a half months in Chile, my first day in Leticia was a constant stream of moments where I thought “Now THIS is stereotypical South America.” From the old man who I’m almost positive was a Hell’s Angel, with his long plaited grey beard and leather jacket, who I saw driving off into the jungle whom I suspect was on his way to do naughty business, to the fact that the beat up taxi that dropped me off at the College had cracked glass for a windshield and especially the fact that soldiers are EVERYWHERE, with very large guns. My biggest regret in Leticia is that I didn’t manage to get a photo of the countless families I’ve seen crammed onto one motorbike. My favourite was the family of five, with a kid at the front, Dad in the middle and Mom at the back with two toddlers on either side of her hip.
Leticia is officially Colombian, having been won off Peru in 1934. While I’m here taking lessons at a Colombian Spanish school, using Colombian money and haven’t got anything in my passport indicating I’ve been to other countries, the area is known as the Tri-Frontier due to the fact that the Amazon River encompasses Brazilian, Peruvian and Colombian territory. Anytime I like, I can wander over to Brazil, strolling down a nondescript street and suddenly jumping one hour forward and into a land where Portuguese is the official language and I need to pay with a different currency.
My constant state of being in Leticia is one of overwhelming sweat. Temperatures average 32 degrees and humidity is an ever present foe. Getting dropped into Leticia, a sea of motorcycles, dead chickens at the market and oppressive heat was a little overwhelming after staid Chile, so it was lovely to have Helen and Bea present on my first day and first week. Having taken the slow boat up from Iquitos, Peru after travelling their way through Bolivia, it was excellent to see familiar faces in such an unfamiliar setting and reunite. Lots of stories and photos were compared, and it was great to have them around for some adventures in Brazil.
Two weeks in a tiny little border town isolated from ‘mainland’ Colombia by acres and acres of forest – infested with FARC and other nasty guerrilla groups – I’ve come to spend two weeks at the Amazon Spanish College, to tackle my Spanish and hopefully learn lots more than I already know. In a very exciting turn of events, the student accommodation isn’t available so I got upgraded to a flash proper room (the College doubles as a bed and breakfast) with a double bed, en suite bathroom, air conditioning and housekeeping each day. It’s a huge step up from the shared room I was expecting and almost too excessive for me to handle after nearly two months on the road. Curious, I checked out the website to see how much the room normally costs and nearly fell off my chair in shock at how much more I should be paying for what I’m getting. After two straight weeks of bunk beds and floors, my life has taken a luxurious turn.
Map of Colombia, to show just how far away Leticia is from civilization: