Last year I was able to fulfill one of my deepest wishes. I travelled to Latin America and spent 12 months on the continent. Besides major cities, I had the luck to travel also to remote areas, far away from civilization. Let me take you on a journey to two interesting encounters which I had during my stay in Latin America.
Freedom (Who remembers the movie "Free Willy" :-) )
The department Choco in Colombia has bad reputation. Many guerilla fighters used to hide there, and drug trafficking is still an issue. But I do not want to focus on these topics.
More interesting is the geography of Choco. It has access to the Caribbean coast as well as to the Pacific Ocean. But that is not the only special feature of this region. Choco is one of the most humid regions of our planet. On average, it is raining about 9,000mm of rain per year in Quibdo, the capital of this area. Choco is also characterized by its huge biodiversity. Many species are endemic, this means that you can only find them here and not anywhere else on this planet. My personal highlight are the whales! Every year, from June to November, humpback whales migrate over thousands of kilometers to the west coast of Colombia in order to give birth to their offspring.
While I was visiting this area, I was spending some days on a remote ex-bio-research station. Located on a hill within the jungle, but close to the shore, I could observe whales playing around almost the whole day. Even without binoculars it was possible to see them. On my second day, full of excitement I took a kayak and went alone on the ocean. The water was calm, there was no wind and no noise. I was thinking about my situation and how I managed to travel to such a remote (for some people dangerous) place. I did not realize, that I was already far away from the coast, which was probably one kilometer away from my position.
Suddenly, close behind me, I heard a noise, like steam pushing through a leakage. I turned my head and could only see how two huge tails disappeared in the black ocean, only a couple of meters away from my tiny boat. I was paralyzed for a couple of seconds, my heart was pumping heavily and deep within, I felt happiness. In this moment another whale appeared in front of me, only 15-20 meters away. For a moment, I felt like “this guy” was checking on me with his dark eyes. Then, besides of the giant body, the humpback whale dived down without making any sound. I did not move for a couple of minutes. I turned my head left and right and tried not to make any sudden movement. For another 15 minutes or so I could not spot anything close to me. But far away, it seemed like almost on the horizon, I could see them breathe. Even hundred of meters away, I could see the water spray which the whales pushed through their blowhole.
The sky turned darker and I decided to move back to coast, which I probably should have done earlier. I started to paddle into the direction of the coast. After a few meters I looked back. Just in this moment, around 50-80 meters away (it is so hard to define distances on the ocean) I was allowed to see how one of these giants moved his complete body out of the water, stayed in the air for a second and fell back with a massive splash...
Don’t mess with Anacondas
A couple of months after the encounter with the whales in the Pacific Ocean in Colombia, I was travelling in the Amazon in Brazil. Everybody knows Manaus the megacity in the heart of the Amazon. What every traveler will notice spending the first hours within the city, is that the unique nature of this region can be hardly found within this city. Actually, in the north west part of the city I was able to see some Toucans, but that’s it. So I decided to leave the city and explore the area of the Rio Negro, the river which is meeting with the Amazonas River at Manaus.
I was really lucky and I am still very grateful to have met a local guide named Jairo. Jairo is working for the army and teaches special forces how to survive in the jungle. In his leisure time, Jairo likes to show tourist the wonders of nature and takes them deep inside the green mystery. I had immediately a good connection with him and so he offered to take me to the national park Jaú, which is located around 200 kilometers up-stream of the meeting point of the Rio Negro and the Rio Amazonas. We organized food, water, hammocks and other equipment and headed into the north with the small motor boat of Jairo.
An abandoned city and
evidence of an ancient culture
A few kilometers south of the park Jaú, there is ghost town named Velho Airão. Here, Jairo and I made a brief stop. The city was founded in the 17th century, today only ruins, overgrown with trees and other plants are left. According to a myth, the city was attacked by giant ants, whereupon the inhabitants left rashly. However, my guide explained that the decline of the city had something to do with the collapse of the rubber industry. Not far from the village we made another stop. On several rocks, which were lying on the shore of the river, Jairo showed me ancient rock paintings. These petroglyphs are believed to be several thousand years old and have been created by the first indigenous people.
Biodiversity in the Jaú
Since the rainy season was just beginning, some sections of the national park were already flooded. Therefore, we could penetrate deeper into the jungle using our motorboat. In general, we were lucky, because we did not only see countless different species of birds and river dolphins, we could also observe several giant otter families swimming and eating on the shore of a river channel. At night, we successfully searched for caimans. In the dark it is easier to find caimans, because the eyes of these reptiles, which can have a size up to six meters, reflect the light of flashlights.
We set up our camp at a spot in the forest close to the shore. A plastic cover attached to some trees served as rain protection. Underneath, we attached our hammocks. Here deep in the nature, Jairo made a fire and prepared a dish with rice, plantains and fish. For dessert there was papaya, mango and biscuits. Sleeping in the Amazon was a unique experience. Although there was no city hundreds of miles away, there was no silence. All night long I did listen to an exotic concert. All sorts of animals and insects sang, whistled, chirped and yelled. The concert was only interrupted in the early morning because of heavy rain which forced us to stay in our hammocks longer than we actually had planned.
Encounter with one of the
The next morning, after a breakfast with fruits like mango, papaya and guava, we hiked through a dense jungle to a waterfall. Because of the rain, the foliage was slippery, and I had to be careful with every step to avoid slipping. Close to a small stream, Jairo got excited because he identified noise made by otters. We tried to spot them and sneaked slowly into the direction of the noise. Then surprised and with huge excitement, we found out why the otters had been so upset. On the other side of the stream was lying a huge anaconda. The snake seemed to be sleeping. We were happy and thankful for being so lucky to encounter such a beauty. But of course, we also had enormous respect for this wild animal. It was a special moment for me. It seemed, that also Jairo, my experienced guide did not see such animals regularly, because he took a lot of pictures – only until the snake suddenly woke up and turned its head into our direction. Anacondas do not see very well, but with their tongues they can sense prey easily. Therefore, we cautiously stepped back and disappeared into the dense forest of the Amazon.