We had all the best intentions; get to know the Amazon, explore nature, live within an indigenous community, maybe even create a successful community garden. We even hoped to get passing travellers to donate money to locals for building materials and community needs.
We had planned on staying a minimum of six months, running and developing the Hostel we worked at. But recently our boss in England had called us paranoid “Living by yourselves in a remote place can make you too sensitive about your safety”, “I’ve checked and there haven’t even been any kidnapping’s in Leticia lately”. Needless to say, not well respected responses to our concerns.
Over the past couple of weeks things went from warm and fuzzy to worrying about every little noise in the dark. Locals were hungry for our garden bounty and without wanting to harm us, sneaking into our garden all night and picking food. Making noises, creating uneasy guests and generally scaring the shit out of us (me mostly).
Ironically we had imagined sharing a permaculture space with some of our friends in the village. Ironic because it ended up being villagers that where sneaking in to our farm at night, cutting down trees to grab the recently prolific caimo fruit. Our exotic garden that so appealed to us when we took the job, suddenly made us the richest plot in the village and everyone wanted a piece of it.
We didn’t want trouble. As much as Andres is from Colombia, the politics and history of the Amazon community operates under some of it’s own laws. Namely that people kind of sort each other out when something is considered wrong or bad behaviour for the community as a whole. We were smart enough to realise that even though we weere never personally threatened, that people were watching us, getting closer every day, and we assume, without much respect for our different backgrounds. We chose not to wait and see.
The jungle really does have a visually sinister side. When you live alone, (sometimes we wouldn’t have tourists for a week to ten days or Andres would be taking tourists on overnight camp outs and I was there completely alone), the noises and shadows of night can run away with your imagination. Bird calls can become a subtle communication between locals, chickens scratching can become the sound of a large snake. The thing is you can never really know whether you are acutely aware or starting to diffuse reality. All we know is that over time we became scared enough to sit up all night, looking out in to the darkness with torches in hand and watching each others back. We only did that for a few nights before our decision to leave was easy.
We’ve tried to make a business in to something it’s never going to be, without some major cash injection and a boss that shares our vision, our basic enthusiasm would have always felt thwarted. Our boss had the nerve to terminate our contract before we got to, sighting the fact that we where unable to deal with the fear of intruders, and consequently staying overnight somewhere else where we felt safe (even though we had no guests) as a breach of responsibility. Somehow he thought we might have slipped away in the night and stolen his piece of shit motorbike.
It’s funny how people that lay that on you only create a worse situation. All we wanted to hear was that he was worried about our safety, intervene with the locals he has known for several years, maybe even hire a security guard. We would have appreciated it. Instead the comments that we were paranoid, a little pathetic, and that we had run away with his crappy property put us on the back foot. We hadn’t even packed up our stuff, we needed a night’s sleep away from the Hostel and suddenly we had done everything wrong.
But there have been a lot of highlights during our Amazon stay, we definitely feel like we got to know a unique environment and get a sense of how different the community of people living there values things in life, things that some of us have forgotten to appreciate. We managed to live basically with nature, be resourceful with what we had, experience the fun of showing other travellers places we were excited about, and ultimately live in both a natural and party atmosphere.
We are also very aware of local talk, apparently the jungle expels those that don’t feel completely comfortable within it’s personality. You start to listen to nature more as it becomes 90% of your vision, aware of the power to influence your daily mood, even your resilience. Consequently, we left all natural Amazon tokens behind, from the smallest seed to the largest colourful plume (discarded from our friend Paco’s tail), cautious that the energy of the place should be maintained in situ. Also in a way not wanting to mess with the power of Mother nature.
Sitting in Bogota now, the sounds of the city filling our space, the memory of living in a wild environment will always be easy to recall, and fondly. Sometimes keeping the positive memory is as much about knowing when to back out as it is forgetting the hard and uncomfortable bits. For us the Amazon will always be an untamed and crazy beast, something you want to look at intimately because of it’s unique beauty, but very sure that if you get too close it’s going to bite you.
To destroy is still the strongest instinct in nature. Max Beerbohm