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Anacondas, Piranhas And Pink Dolphins, Oh My!: Exploring The Amazon Jungle From Colombia

Ever since the late 90’s, the Amazon jungle has inspired the image of a massive anaconda wrapping its slithering girth around my body from head to toe. In my vivid imagination, it drags me under water before biting my head off with a mouth opening the size of a microwave oven. Cruising down the Amazon River, off the shores of Leticia, Colombia. Thanks for that, J. Lo.

So when the time came to leave the sweltering streets of Leticia, Colombia and explore the Amazon River on a boat much smaller than my imagined anacondas, I was a bit nervous, to say the least.

As soon as our group of six was crammed onto the narrow benches of our vessel and our driver revved the sputtering engine, I began firing off questions about the dangers that lurked beneath the water’s surface, and above our heads, hiding in the thick branches. Both must be teeming with aggressive creatures, just waiting for the rare sampling of white meat to please their palettes. My questions were all answered with patient amusement by our translator, Jose. Yes, there are anacondas. Yes, there are tarantulas. Yes, there are many other poisonous animals and insects that you’ve never heard of. But they probably won’t bother you. Probably? Oh, good. Lucky for Jose, my concerns quickly gave way to intrigue as we made our way down the Amazon River, passing pink dolphins that broke the surface every few minutes, teasing us with nearly impossible photo opportunities. We continued on for three hours and with each passing moment, the jungle sucking me in, delighting my senses and squelching my fears. The sounds of bizarre birds, frogs and insects, the smell of deep, muddy river water, the sight of thick forest, and the mystery of the millions of species it contains is truly overwhelming. Our floating quarters for our time on the Amazon. Eventually we arrived at our cabin on stilts, perched just above the river. We bombarded the house like the cast of the The Real World: Amazon. A room full of hammocks? A kitchen surrounded by water? “I call the bedroom with the toad hiding in the corner!” I screamed in delight. Then along with the season premiere of our Amazon digs came new concerns as well. As should be expected, the excitement of the new house fades and you realize your cast mates are completely nuts. The reality of our living arrangements, however, had less to do with each other and more to do with the narrow plank we’d have to walk down to reach the outhouse… in the middle of the night. All alone. Eek. … and the tarantula that curled up in the folds of someone’s towel, minutes after unpacking — it was hairy and the size of my hand. … and the bat, swooping across our beds and bumping our mosquito nets. …and the anaconda in the toilet! This is the true story… of six strangers… picked to live in a house… sleep with tarantulas and urinate near anacondas…. find out what happens when gringos face the Amazon. That’s right, S#!t gets REAL. Our host who had apparently dragged it out of the porcelain bowl it was hiding beneath, held the snake out for us to photograph, with a firm grip that said he had done this before. My heart was racing with fear and excitement. The giant snake was soon taken away and disappeared — but to where? The question was lost on our Spanish speaking anaconda wrangler, so I tried to put it out of mind and continue concentrating on the amazing environment I was stuck in blessed to be a part of for the next three days.

Our first activity was piranha fishing.

Jose was quick to dispel the myth that piranhas will tear your skin off if you fall into a school of them. Our poles were long sticks with a line and hook tied at the end, and they were surprisingly effective. I showed up the boys with the winning catch of nine fish that we’d later feast on for dinner. Piranhas for dinner. Not a lot of meat on those little guys but what’s there is super tasty! After fishing the surprisingly harmless piranhas, it was easier to convince us to jump into the river for a swim — something I never thought I’d do. It didn’t take long for me to start obsessing over the unknown, just waiting for it to bite my feet. But for a few minutes, the cool water was an amazing relief from the thick, humid air. Swimming in the Amazon River and desperately trying to not think about what may have just touched my foot. The next two days were chock full of jungle activities — most of them slightly terrifying but ultimately awesome. We caught black caiman at night. We spotted tarantulas, snakes and rubber trees as we bumped and slid through the flooded sections of thick forest. We played with a local family’s pet monkey. His name is Chico and he loves coconuts. We fished pirarucu in the pirarucu farm. A pirarucu, also known as an arapaima, are one of the largest fresh water fish in the world. They can grow up to six feet in length and you feel the weight of every inch as you tug on the fishing pole while they snap off the line and flail their weight around. Apparently, they never bother humans; however, the deep sucking and snapping sound of their toothless jaw, obliterating the bait would lead you to believe otherwise.

The pirarucu population has dwindled in recent years due to overfishing, and farms like this one are one of the few ways in which the native people can continue to consume them.

This guy hopped into the baby farm to catch a few for us to see close up. I don’t care if they don’t have teeth, you couldn’t pay me to get in there. This guy hopped into the baby farm to catch a few for us to see close up. I don’t care if they don’t have teeth, you couldn’t pay me to get in there. The skin of one of those bad boys — gives you a sense of how HUGE they are. Then came our final day and yet another surprise. The anaconda was back, wrapped around our host’s arm as he offered us the snake for more photos. Again, I was fascinated… and terrified… and this time, very confused. “Donde es el anaconda?” (Where is the anaconda?), I asked. “Aqui!” (Here!), Jose replied. I began shouting a bit. “Yes, yes, it’s in your hands. But where did you find it? In the toilet… for real? Seriously, TELL ME WHERE YOU FOUND IT!” Something of this variation came out of my mouth in poorly constructed Spanish but it was mostly just screamed inside my head. Later on I’d corner our translator for an answer. “Level with me, Jose. Was that thing really in our toilet?” He laughed and shook his head, explained that the hosts keep that particular anaconda as a pet. They found it as a baby and take it out to show guests, always insisting that they found it in the toilet. It gives people a good story to take home. I’m sure, it also gives our hosts a good laugh. I was slightly disappointed, but mostly relieved. An anaconda was never lurking just below my bare butt as I hovered over the already frightening toilet seat. But, that doesn’t take away from the fact they are a fascinating and terrifying creature, slithering around the riverbed — just out of sight, but never out of mind. From semi-wild anacondas to very wild fish, spiders, birds, and monkeys, a trip to the Amazon from Leticia, Colombia is a thrilling crash course on the gambit of species that call the rainforest home.The ability to share in that home is an intoxicating illustration of the sheer vastness of one crazy ecosystem. It’s also a sobering reminder of how incredibly small we are as a human race. We owe this place so much more respect than it’s given, and if more people could experience it for themselves, we might have a better overall understanding of how it should be treated. The moral of my time in The Amazon was that despite the dangers you should keep in mind when visiting an untamed jungle, if you show it respect, it will return the favor… and you’ll probably be able to use the toilet in peace. *This article was originally published on Stars on the Ceiling. Story photos courtesy of Britany Robinson; Featured Amazon Jungle image courtesy of Jon Rawlinson via flickr,  photo text added by Jessie on a Journey. britt

About The Author

Britany Robinson is a restless writer, who can’t stay put for long. She writes about lifestyle and travel for Millennials on her blog, Stars on the Ceiling. Britany recently relocated Portland, Oregon where she’s exploring the overwhelming options of craft beer and slowly adjusting to all the rain.

About Jessie Festa

Jessie Festa is an New York-based travel content creator who is passionate about empowering her audience to experience new places and live a life of adventure. She is the founder of the solo female travel blog, Jessie on a Journey, and is editor-in-chief of Epicure & Culture, an online conscious tourism magazine. Along with writing, Jessie is a professional photographer and is the owner of NYC Photo Journeys, which offers New York photo tours, photo shoots, and wedding photography. Her work has appeared in publications like USA Today, CNN, Business Insider, Thrillist, and WestJet Magazine.

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  1. Sky on at 2:10 am

    As amazing as this adventure sounds, there is absolutely no way I would have been able to handle it. I’m terrified of snakes and, like you, I’ve had a re-occuring nightmare of being chased by an anaconda for years. Plus even though I pretend to be adventurous, I still like to pee in places without tarantulas. 😉

    • jess2716 on at 4:20 pm

      @Sky: Ha, agreed! I think I could handle the snakes but giant spiders…eek.

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