Two Hours, Three Countries

Trip Start Sep 07, 2011
Trip End Dec 22, 2011

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Flag of Colombia  ,
Saturday, October 22, 2011

Realizing over breakfast for the first time that Leticia is below the equator was a neat novelty, and we ran to the bathroom to flush the toilet in celebration of our discovery.  Sure enough the porcelain god swirls everything away opposite of back home.  Well, at least we want to believe it does.  None of us could come to any sort of agreement as we analyzed the intricacies of plumbing in the various hemispheres.

Since flushing a toilet a few times only occupies so much of a day, we decided to venture out again but with a route closer to home.    Leticiaīs geographic position next to Tabatinga, Brazil and just across the Amazon from Santa Rosa, Peru provides travelers a unique opportunity beyond just flushing a commode...No passport or customs hassles are needed to pass between any of these three cities except for travel beyond the city limits. 

At the city docks we hired a young guy and his small wooden boat for a dodgy passage across the river to Santa Rosa and then from there back across to Tabatinga.   This excursion served no real purpose other than being able to do a flash tour of three countries in a few hours and hopefully see more than water swirling the wrong way into the sewer system.   The island of Santa Rosa is nothing more than a concrete street lined by some shacks and actually smells like a sewer system.   I leave tomorrow at 4am by fast boat from Santa Rosa for Iquitos, Peru and I could have handled my Peruvian (but not Colombian) immigration formalities just prior to leaving on the Peruvian side.  But rather than fighting the crowds at 3am and probably having the wrong tīs crossed and iīs dotted, I decided to just enter Peru officially today.  

Land entry into Peru from Leticia is a tedious multistep process requiring thorough knowledge of negotiating local red tape in Spanish.  This morning I took a $2 roundtrip motorbike taxi to the Leticia airport immigration post to stamp out of Colombia.   Without that stamp, Peru will deny entry.  Nothing is simple here as you can see but that passport exit stamp is the holy grail the next country seeks on any passportīs pages in order to grant entry.  How would the average person know to head to an airport a day prior to a boat journey?  Well for me, the owners of La Jangada where I am staying have bent over backwards to make anything and everything happen for us here and for their help with matters such as getting to Peru, I am so grateful.

With my passport now up to bureaucratic snuff for tomorrowīs twelve hour boatride, we headed back across the river in our leaky lancha to enter Brazil.  Everything we had heard about this border town full on smacked us in the face as we climbed up the muddy hill from the riverfront.   Not even two minutes in country and a topless indigenous woman emerged from some stilt shanties and walked down the hill right past us.  This Amazon version of a blue hair back home jumped straight from the pages of National Geographic and didnīt seem to have any particular modesty issues showing off her torpedo titties.  I do hope the beaches of Rio hold more pleasant looking surprises than women with cleavage ending below their waistlines when I return to Brazil in a month.

Besides naked women on the riverbanks, the rundown city center held no special appeal and we wandered up the road towards Leticia.   Tabatinga sizzles and bakes under that equatorial sun and we were fast approaching our limits walking on trashfilled unshaded sidewalks.   As luck would have it, a fast moving Leticia shuttle shot out of a side street and we waved our arms at the driver in a wild attempt to slow him down.  For just a buck I got my first ride in a vintage 1970s VW Bus and enjoyed every fume filled minute as we bumped back into much nicer downtown Leticia in the metal oven.

Colombia-Peru-Brazil by wooden boat and VW Bus back to Leticia to round out the journey all in just over an hour...Where else but the Amazon can someone get this far off the grid?  We had worked up some hunger and decided to wait until back in Colombia to eat.   Of course pessimism resigned my expectations to more bad food as we sat down in plastic chairs out on the sidewalk at some randomly chosen food joint.

And I am pleased to report that the Great All-Colombian Food Quest 2011 has concluded today with a very tasty meal.  Yes, you read correctly.  A measly $3.50 bought a huge selection from the menu del dia at Viejo Tolima and I couldnīt have been more pleased even had I cooked it myself.   The rice was boiled properly, the chicken nice and tender and spiced just right, the beans firm, and the soup was tasty as well.   A perfect homemade hot sauce left my lips burning up much like the hot cities we passed through today on the Great Three Country Subequatorial Trek.

Just after lunch I witnessed another uniquely Colombian experience like nowhere else.   Regional elections are coming soon to Leticia with dozens of candidates hoping for their big chance at governor.  Every day loud music and advertisements blare from cars circling the streets, but to say the festivities hit the next level today would be a massive understatemet.  The roast pig I spied at 7am for a campaign ralley should have tipped me off to things to come.  This afternoon a huge parade wound its way through town with music, honking motorbike horns, shouting people and huge signs.   This mass of chaos was indeed the ultimate in poltical parties.  Actually it was about as noisy as any ole day back in Hanoi but enough here to stir something other than the mosquitos in this sleepy jungle town.

I am glad to leave Colombia on a high note with some culinary success and a few local experiences unlike anything in the US.   And to think right here in the middle of the Amazon my patient hunt for that elusive meal paid off.  Colombia has been a great stop on this journey and for anyone who is curious about it, yes, come on down and see for yourself.   You wonīt regret it.

How I Got Here:

Leticia to Santa Rosa, Peru - Hired a boat - 10,000 pesos ($5) a person for four - 10 minutes
Santa Rosa to Tabatinga, Brazil - Same boat - 10 minutes
Tabatinga to Leticia - Beat Up VW Bus - 2,000 pesos ($1) a person - 5 minutes
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