Exploring the Colombian Amazon

“Let me tell you the story about the Amazonian fisherman,” said our guide as we shuffled our bums on the hard wooden bench of our little boat that was paddling down a tributary off the Colombian Amazon.

“The fishermen had an easy, happy and content life,” explained Sergio .

“One day he was approached by a business man who was holidaying in the Amazon. The man had watched the fisherman with interest before suggesting, ‘Why don’t you fish a little longer?’ The fisherman was baffled, ‘Why would I do that’, he asked.

‘Because then you would catch more fish,’ the man responded.

‘But I don’t need more fish,’ explained the fisherman. ‘I have plenty for my family plus a little extra to sell to help them buy anything else they should need. Then in the afternoons I play with my children, relax with my wife and enjoy a few beers with my friends in the village. I don’t want to fish for any longer.’

‘But if you caught more fish you could sell them and make money and buy a second rod,’ explained the man.

I caught a piranha... don't be fooled by the small size... It has teeth and will rip flesh off the bone.

I caught a piranha… don’t be fooled by the small size… It has teeth and will rip flesh off the bone.

‘But why would I want a second rod?’ asked the fisherman.

‘Because then you could catch even more fish,’ explained the man patiently.

‘Why would I want to do that?’ asked the confused fisherman.

‘Because then you could sell even more fish and use the money to employ someone to fish for you. With that money you could employ more and more people and set up a small fishing emporium,’ said the man.

‘Why would I want to do that?’ asked the fisherman.

‘You could export your fish to the United States and make a fortune,’ said the man. ‘But you might have to move away for a few years to make it work,’ he added.

‘But why would I want to do that?’ asked the man again.

‘Because after about 10 years you would probably be a millionaire,’ he explained patiently.

‘And why do I want that,’ asked the fisherman.

‘Because,’ said the man, ‘then you can retire as a rich millionaire, return here to the village. You could fish a little in the morning and spend your afternoons playing with your children, relax with your wife and enjoying a few beers with your friends in the village.’

But the fisherman just smiled, caught his final fish for the day and headed home.”

It was a wonderfully fitting fable for us to ponder as we enjoyed our stay in a small Amazonian community in Colombia. Young and old men from different families in the community took us out each day… piranha fishing, jungle hunting, midnight spear fishing. All worked for a few hours a day on different projects, whether they were being paid by our guide who leads this community based tourism project, or catching their fish for their family. One man even carved artisanal wooden animals to make his ends meet.




And after a few hours of working, they all came back home, spent hours with their families and friends and watched the sun fall over the Amazon each night. It was a refreshing reminder of what life should really be about. The age old phrase ‘work to live don’t live to work’ came to the forefront of my mind.


But is it changing I couldn’t help but fear. The village now has electricity in the evenings and small groups of families and friends would gather at the homes with TVs, while the teenagers walked around with big headphones round their necks and mobile phones in their hands. It’s only a matter of time until wi-fi reaches them.

“That’s the danger and the lure of the coke fields,” explained our guide. “For a lot of kids that are distracted by emerging gadgets and technology, the coke fields over the border in Peru are attractive.

“They promise big bucks,” said Sergio. “But the conditions are terrible and sometimes they don’t even get paid. If they complain enough to could even cost them their life.”

“We lose lots of children in the coke fields every year,” he sad sadly. “If the boss doesn’t want to pay sometimes it’s easier to just shoot the kid instead.” 

It’s just one of the many devastating impacts cocaine has had on this beautiful country. Sergio believes that the fable of the Amazonian fisherman remains true to most people growing up in this area today but as I watched some of the younger kids, clutching their phones with glee, I just hoped he was right.



Fables aside, the Amazon remains a truly magical experience. As we paddled down the Amazon, got stuck in a green lake of leaves, flowers and anacondas, hugged one of the biggest trees in the world, and camped in a treehouse surrounded by fireflies; it more than lived up to my childhood dreams of visiting the vast, impressive river way of South America.


But it wasn’t just catching a piranha the size of my head (ok, that might be a slight exaggeration) or sleeping to the sounds of the jungle, or even tucking into the freshest river fish that made this trip so memorable. It was getting to know Pablo and his family (who was particularly patient with our attempts at conversation in Spanish), playing with the village children in the afternoon, having a lazy beer with the men of the village as the sun set and coming to understand a world and a community that has everything the rest of us are constantly trying to strive for; happiness and love and a healthy work-life balance. And that’s something no picture can capture.


Travel Tips

After lots of research we decided to book a small Amazon tour in Colombia with local guide Sergio Rojas, who is from Leticia (the beginning point of the Colombian Amazon). Sergio runs Amazonas Jungle Tours with his father and sister and they only take a limited number of people on the tours – I think his maximum was 8 but no one else had signed up for our dates so it ended up just being Matty, I and Sergio. It was everything we had hoped for – Sergio has built up an incredible relationship with an entire community that live on the banks of a tributary off the Amazon. It is community sustainability at its best. Every day different people from the community took us to different areas (with Sergio as our English translator) we went spear fishing with the best fisherman of the village (his precision was a sight to behold!), we went jungle trekking with some of the younger teenagers who could hack at trees and branches relentlessly to carve new paths, went dolphin watching with the best ‘spotters’ of the village and we stayed with a wonderful family with small children. As the Colombian Amazon is so off the beaten track still, everybody was happy to see us (we didn’t feel like ‘another tourist’ invading their village) and they were patient with our bad Spanish for hours after dinner while we conversed. It was wonderful to see where the money goes in employing the locals support Sergio’s work and we honestly felt like we became honorary residents for a few short days and were sad to leave.

The mosquitoes are relentless. Take light, baggy clothes and don’t wear blue – I got attacked wearing a blue long sleeved top and they bit me through the clothing!

It cost $1,050 per person (about £300) and that includes all food, activities and accommodation for three nights. You need to fly in and out of Leticia as it is unreachable by land travel.  To contact Sergio email: amazonasdeturismo@gmail.com

Coffee Worshipping in Zona Cafetera, Colombia

Coffee. Oh coffee. You are the first thing I reach for in the morning, the first smell to tickle my nostrils, the first flavour to waken my tastebuds. Oh coffee, mornings without you are distinctively worse off.

I don’t sit on the fence with this one. So, it came as no surprise to me when the guide at a beautiful coffee farm in Colombia announced, “Of course, coffee has a story of its own.” Of course it does, I thought to myself – how could anything smell that good and not have a damed good story too?

And so, ladies and gents, pour yourself a steaming cup of the strong stuff and get ready to ogle at the beautiful bean and its lovely story.

Coffee was not born in Colombia or Italy or any of the countries we today associate with its loveliness. No, no, coffee was in fact discovered in Ethiopia by a group of humble goat shepherds. For anyone who doesn’t know – the coffee bean is found inside a deliciously sweet red cherry that grows on luscious green plants. The fruit of the plant is very sweet and tasty – which apparently is also what a bunch of Ethiopian goats thought after discovering it some 500 years ago. But, after eating the best part of the sweet fruit on a bunch of coffee plantations they began to act a little unusually. It is said they ran much faster that afternoon – as if dancing. Then the night fell and no sleep came. The shepherd looked onto his strange dancing goats in confusion and wondered what could possibly have stopped them from sleeping…

The next day he decided to try the red berry for himself when the goats all trotted back towards the coffee plants. A few berries later and he too started to feel a the effect of the bean – and he decided to take the mystery cherries to the local monastery to seek advice from the monks. Well, the monks had a field day – it was said they would purposefully eat the little red berries late at night and then stay up praying to God all night – they felt it enhanced their connection and made them better monks.

But one day the chief Abbott decided enough was enough. You can just imagine the scene – hundreds of monks praying in a jittery fashion with bad breath – so he took control of the situation and grabbed a whole bag of them and chucked them into an open burning fire. The monks were horrified to see their precious red berries go up in smoke but then they started to notice something – or smell something I should say – as the beans began to roast. Suddenly their sweet tasting berry had turned into the most delicious aroma their nostrils had ever encountered. It is said they then removed the beans from the dying embers of the fire and crushed them before adding hot water. And coffee was born.

Coffee on the tree and in its more recognised roasted form in Zona Cafetera, Colombia...

Coffee on the tree and in its more recognised roasted form in Zona Cafetera, Colombia…

I was already madly in love with this little brown bean but hearing this story sealed the deal for me. Also, I should add that while I was more than aware of how good it tastes and smells – I had no idea how good it looks in real life. Take a trip to the Zona Cafetera in Colombia and you will be greeted with miles upon miles of rolling hills covered in a luscious greenery that on closer inspection you realise is actually coffee.


The view from the back garden at Hacienda Venecia where we stayed in the coffee region…

And so we spent the next four days drinking coffee, smelling coffee and admiring coffee for mile after mile. There were some hammocks and hummingbirds thrown in for good measure and Matty and I swore to find a way to run away and become coffee growers, because really, who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by this kind of beauty?!

PicMonkey Collage1

PicMonkey Collage2

PicMonkey Collage3

The good news, for at least those of you who have no immediate plans to visit Colombia, is that the Colombians export all their best stuff and keep the leftovers for themselves. So great if you’re shopping in Waitrose in London but not such great news for the locals (and travellers) here. We stocked up on the good stuff during our weekend away and are now spending most of our evenings dancing like mad goats. Well, that’s our excuse anyway!

Happy Christmas.






Travel Tips

We stayed at the lovely Hacienda Venecia near Maizales in Zona Cafetera (which is just a 4 hour bus ride away from our present home in Medellin). The Hacienda is picture-perfect setting, surrounded by rolling coffee hills and greenery as far as the eye can see. There are two accommodation options – the main house that still belongs to the coffee-making family today, and the hostel, which is in the same style as the main house. We stayed in the hostel and got a nice double room with breakfast for just £10 per person – not too shabby when you think it has a swimming pool too!

After a couple of nights at the Hacienda, where we took a brilliant coffee tour, we moved to the picturesque town of Salento, where the locals play a game called Tejo – where you throw a metal ball at a selection of gunpowder triangles across the room for points. Beer and gunpowder! What’s not to love? Be sure to visit the Los Amigos Bar for a genuine and unforgettable tejo experience!

From Salento, which has a smashing ‘wild west’ feeling to it we did a wonderful 5-hour trek into Valle del Cocora – also known as the valley of the Palm Trees where hundreds of sky-high palm trees (the tallest I’ve ever seen) tower around you. It is incredible and well worth the journey 🙂