August 20

Tres Paises, Un Dia

Hey remember that time I went to three countries in one day? Yes, in a 24 hour stretch I spent enough time in Peru, Brazil and Colombia to truthfully say I visited all three. Not a bad effort – the benefits of living in the Tri-Frontier region.

I woke up in Colombia for my normal start of the day: a free breakfast of eggs, fruit salad and jugo naturale (it’s a good thing I get breakfast for free. In an effort to save money, I’ve adopted a 2 meal per day policy and often just survive off cheap rolls and water for the rest of the day.)

As part of my Spanish lessons, I get ten hours of cultural activities thrown in. When enrolling, I rolled my eyes and assumed it would be some half arsed, empty promise but they’ve actually been incredibly good value for money. I’ve got to go bicycling around the streets of Brazil, had samba dancing lessons with a very bootylicious Brazilian man and eaten Colombian food prepared in front of me for absolutely no cost. Today’s activity was visiting Santa Rosa, a tiny Peruvian island across the river banks. One of the guys who works at the Spanish College, a middle aged Swedish fellow student and I set off to visit Peru. As we did so, I reflected that my outfit of denim cut-offs, t-shirt and small crossover bag is not my usual outfit for crossing international borders, but that’s the beauty of the Tri-Frontier.

Along the banks of the “international border”

Down to the dock we went, where we commandeered a small boat. Put-putting our way across the river, staring out at the floating houses and boats going up and down the Amazon, I was pretty satisfied with my life. Arriving in Peru within minutes, we squelched through the mud. I hadn’t expected Santa Rosa to feel that different from Leticia, but there was a definite change in vibe. For starters, there are Peruvian flags everywhere and everything seems to be painted in red and white, the colours of Peru. It’s a lot more rural than Leticia – no roads, chickens clucking across the path everywhere and almost all the buildings built on stilts to avoid the pervasive mud everywhere.

Downtown Santa Rosa

We wandered around, people watching and passing by a group of kids play soccer, while I tried to follow the Spanish commentary on flower and fauna and got more and more surprised by how much red and white there was everywhere I looked. Just as I was starting to think Peru was a land of psychotic patriotism, we discovered that the following day was the National Day. We passed a bunch of kids rehearsing their marching drills, and even more red and white decorations being strung up.

We finished up our explorations trying chontaduro, a delicious orange fruit that you dip in salt and onion water and drinking Peruvian beer on a patio. The best was yet to come – our guide led us over to the other side of the restaurant where two gigantic parrots were chilling out. Ever since I dressed up as a parrot at my 22nd Jungle themed birthday party (in my non-biased opinion, the most legendary party of all time) I’ve had a soft spot for parrots. To be inches away, see them in their bright coloured glory and reach out and touch them was AWESOME. I liked Santa Rosa already but my little parrot interlude made me love it.

Delicious chontadurro!

I see no difference between the above and below photo:

Heading out after our beers, we emerged to find that the previously sunny day had transformed into overcast, dark and ominous clouds. My Swedish friend freaked out so we headed back to port. I enjoyed the fact that when Daniel (our guide) asked if it was safe to cross, the captain enthusiastically said yes, then very sternly made his daughter get out of the boat and stay on the shore. As we pushed off, the wind picked up, the waves started crashing and the entire sky turned grey. While the Swede was crouched in the middle of the boat moaning ¨Donde esta Leticia?!¨ I was having the time of my life with wind ripping my face, the swells making the boat tip up and down and waves jumping up to wet us – FANTASTIC. Nothing like a dodgy boat crossing on the AMAZON RIVER to make you feel alive. So that was Peru.

My new Swedish friend VERY unimpressed with the river crossing

Next stop Brazil. It was Bea’s 24th birthday and we were so in love with laughingly saying ¨Let’s go to Brazil for Bea’s birthday¨ we resolved that was the plan of the day. Getting all dressed up for a good girl’s night out, I got my own back after being mocked for bringing my straightener and jewellery on a South American backpacking trip – guess which two girls were desperate for straight hair and accessories?

Girl’s Night Out!

Bea’s two months of cheap South American food meant she was craving something different so we tracked down a pizzeria and headed there in a tuk tuk, much to my delight. I spent four years living in Indonesia between the ages of six to ten, and tuk tuks were the primary form of transport. My parents, worried about namby pamby issues like safety and remaining alive, forbid me from ever riding in one which was one of the crushing disappointments of my early years. The fact that my childhood was rather eccentric can be summed up by the fact that most six year old girls dream of Barbies and pop stars. As a six year old, my biggest desire in the world was to ride in a tuk tuk to school. Thirteen years later, I lived out my childhood rebellion (no hard drugs or teenage pregnancies for me – just a tuk tuk ride) in the Colombian Amazon Basin.

One big ass birthday pizza

One massive pizza later, giggly and semi nervous after everyone warning us just how dodgy and dangerous Tabatinga (the Brazilian border town) was, we headed to Brazil. The ´border´cuts through a street, guarded by heaps of Brazilian guards with extremely large guns. No passport control, no lines – just walk right through and bam, fast forward an hour and say hello to a new country. Very aware that three gringas wandering the outskirts of Tabatinga after dark stood out, we lasted about ten minutes before the whistling, constant sensation of being watched and the fact that we were walking through vast stretches of empty lots made us head back. We finished our extensive time in Brazil by making friends with a border guard. We’d planned to dance the night away in Brazil and I was disappointed we’d spent such a short time there, mentally crossing it off as unworthy of declaring I’d been in Brazil. Little was I to know that Brazil wasn’t done with us just yet.

Enjoying scenic Tabatinga

Hanging out with our new Brazilian soldier friend and HIS best friend

We hailed another tuk tuk (suck on that Mom and Dad!) and headed to a Colombian bar. Abysmal service meant we couldn’t get a good buzz and we were close to calling it a night when things started to get interesting. The server came over, insistent we understand what she was saying. All three of us had no idea what she was saying and authoritatively started saying ´No quiero. No no no, no entiendo, pero no quiero.´It took an embarrassingly long time to understand that the table of guys behind us were sending over drinks. When Helen finally clicked, our ‘No quiero!’s turned to ‘Oooooh si!’.  Before we had a chance to go introduce ourselves, another guy asked to join us. Mario from Medellin spoke excellent English and we ended up chatting for ages. Eventually, the other guys got up to leave and one came over. It became evident he had fallen in love with Bea and wanted to get to know her better – how about bonding in a Brazilian nightclub?

Bea and her new amour

We brought Mario along, who was hilarious. Medellin is Colombia´s second largest city in the North, much more developed and sophisticated than Leticia and Mario was terrified of going to Brazil. Constantly asking if it was dangerous and repeating that Leticia was not real Colombia…¨this dusty little town, I feel like I’m in a foreign country!¨, I enjoyed the fact that three young Kiwi girls were reassuring a Colombian native about Brazil holding no danger whatsoever. Back to Brazil we went (via tuk tuk of course) and several hours of dancing, drinking and fun followed. At a certain point in the evening, Mario cornered me and spent a good half hour expounding on his thoughts on the difference between Western males’ attempts at lovemaking and Latin men’s great skill at the task in truly explicit detail. I was tempted to ask Mario why he knew so much about the sexual behaviour of Western boys, but decided not to be a shit stirrer.

Just chilling out in La Fronteria in the early hours of the morning.

Eventually the nightclub closed and we three foreign girls enjoyed the display of Colombian men attempting to score. Explanations such as ¨You’re in Colombia, you need to embrace local culture¨and other piss poor attempts caused great hilarity. No no we said, we’re heading home alone. Helen and Bea had moved hostels that day in preparation for leaving Leticia the following day, so they took off in the back seats of two of our new friend’s motorbikes. That’s how I came to find myself sitting in the deserted La Fronteria at 4.30 in the morning with several Colombians I’d only just met. Travel – you definitely get put in situations you never would have dreamed of. Helen and Bea, both utterly useless, couldn’t remember the name, address or location of their hostel so spent thirty minutes zooming around Leticia while I hung out in La Fronteria, avoiding eye contact with the soldiers who were staring at us from across the street and explaining to Mario that the fact that I’d seen a photo of his girlfriend earlier that night was in fact an excellent reason for him not being allowed to come back to my room (amongst other reasons)

Bea and Helen zooming off on their motorbikes, with Bea’s face aptly capturing their collective cluelessness about where they were heading.

While I don’t want to smear the name of all Colombian men based on my experiences with two of them, my experience so far is that fidelity is not their strong suit. Juan, my teacher, spent an entire three hour lesson expounding on the value of the affair and its importance in Colombian culture. When I said that was the stereotype of Latin men and surely it wasn’t true, he enthusiastically insisted the stereotypes were true and called me a prude. Resigned to spending the night in La Fronteria, falling asleep to the sounds of Mario plaintively asking what having a girlfriend had to do with anything, Helen and Bea FINALLY gave up and got off their motorbikes, meaning one came back to pick me up. Zooming home on the back of a motorbike, I spotted Helen and Bea desperately still seeking their hostel.

Deposited home, apparently my arrival back at the College on a stranger’s motorbike at 5 in the morning caused quite the stir. Juan told me the next morning I’d scandalised everyone and had acquired a party girl reputation, one which I proudly accepted – the party girl of Leticia, Colombia, just what I’d always hoped to be one day.

All in all, it was a good 24 hours.