By Joshua Rapp Learn, Contributing Reporter
AMAZONAS, COLOMBIA – Haphazard houses made from wooden slats and corrugated metal rooftops rise out of the surrounding jungle as flocks of mopeds cruise by. Several-dozen paved roads quickly deteriorate to pothole-filled gravel before being swallowed entirely by foliage. Isolated by road from all three of the countries at the shared border, Leticia offers a rare kind of energy as a lost jungle city.
With a shortage of roads to connect it with the outside world, Leticia’s attention is focused on the swirling brown waters of the Amazon. As the town’s primary connection to surrounding areas, the river is a major source of trade for Leticia. Colorful Amazonian fruits line the market stalls that descend to the river banks, while dozens of hammocks hang suspended from hooks.
Closer to the river banks, many of Leticia’s structures actually float on wooden docks built to handle the seasonal rise and fall in water level. A walk along the buoyant pathways is a great place to watch the islands of seaweed float past, sometimes complete with tanning turtles.
If you are courageous, you can even go for a swim in the dark waters of the Amazon. Be careful to go to the bathroom before you swim though; there is a long, narrow fish called the candiru inhabiting the water that has been known to swim up the human urethra during urination.
Various tour operators run boat trips and treks of varying lengths into the jungle. For the adventurous, some operators can set up a rendezvous with a local shaman, who can offer a psycho-therapeutic session with “ayahuasca”. The shaman will be there to guide you through a long series of hallucinogenic visions but be careful, as ayahuasca is an extremely powerful psychological experience that can produce lasting mental effects on individuals.
The local cuisine is based on fresh water fish. Ramshackle restaurants offering anything from the huge tambaqui to the smaller surubim. A couple of the restaurants have descriptive drawings of the various fish available on the walls. Otherwise, indulge in sancocho, the staple stew made of large chunks of meat, potatoes and yucca.
Leticia is actually the name of the Colombian part of town that exists in an area referred to as “Três Fronteras”, or Three Borders. Even though there is nothing more than a speed bump and a tollbooth separating the town, the Brazilian side is called Tabatinga. A collection of shacks that make up the Peruvian village of Santa Rosa sits on an island in the river.
Of the three sections, Leticia is probably the most pleasant, although most of the river ferries going upstream towards Iquitos or downstream to Manaus stop in Tabatinga. If you don’t have the patience for an adventurous boat trip down the Amazon, there are airports both on the Colombian and Brazilian side of the border that fly to domestic destinations in each corresponding country.