Thank you to Colonel Blashford-Snell for sharing this evocative summary of his latest expedition to the Amazon. We hope you will enjoy reading it. We have split the report into four posts and will upload them every few days, so watch this space!
(A summary of the Colombian Amazonas Expedition 2017)
Colonel John Blashford-Snell OBE FRSGS
In my dream I was back in the Congo Jungle with the thunder of tribal drums reverberating through the heavy night air. However, coming slowly awake, I realised the drumming was real, indeed the floor of the hut on which I lay was shaking. The electronic beat and the excited cries of the dancers made sleep impossible, so pushing aside the mosquito net I flicked the three-inch cockroach off my leg and staggered out to protest. Driven on by a flashing keyboard and bellies full of home-brewed chicha, the Ticucna Amerindians were gyrating in a wild frenzy around their football pitch.
“What on earth are you doing?” I yelled at the Curaca (headman). “Celebrating Mother’s Day,” he roared back. “Where are the mothers?” I questioned. “Gone home to bed,” he retorted, gulping down more chicha. The frenzied dancing with its ear-splitting accompaniment continued until dawn broke at five o’clock. No-one slept that night and here, 1,000 kilometres south of Bogota, there are no roads, airstrips nor indeed any way to escape this audio torture. Around us the dense Amazon rainforest crowding in on the river banks seemed to reflect the sound onto us.
“If you want doctors and dentists to help you, books for your schools and reading glasses for your older folk,” I explained to my semi-inebriated hosts, “we have to sleep”.
Our team of 17 volunteers had come together to aid the Ticuna and carry out a range of scientific studies along the winding Loreto Yaku river that branches off the great Amazon, where southern Colombia joins Brazil and Peru. This was in response to a request by Rusbel Torres, the President of Aticoya (The Association of Indian Communities) whom I had met in 2016.
Most of the Amerindians in the Colombian Amazonas region are Ticuna and some 8,000 live here, although many more are found in Brazil and Peru. The province was created in 1934, when the League of Nations interceded in a long-running border dispute between Colombia and Peru. Surrounded by almost impenetrable jungle, its capital Leticia has a population of 40,000 and is linked to the outside world by an airport and the Amazon.
As we were to discover, the Ticuna villages enjoy some government support, but lack many basic essentials, such as clean drinking water and medical aid. To advise and assist these people living along the remote river, our expedition included doctors, dentists, an economist, a builder, a professor of environmental management, an agriculturist and others with special experience and skills.
We were especially grateful to Zenith Watches and kind friends who helped us to fund the community aid for the Ticuna.
Flying into Leticia one gets a good perspective of the scale of the Amazon, the endless rainforest and the many tributaries running into the world’s longest river. Indeed, this vast forest, pumping oxygen into the atmosphere, is of fundamental importance to life on our planet.
Colombian economist Yolima Cipagauta, or Yoli as we call her, the Scientific Exploration Society’s Latin American representative, and naturalist Sergio Leon of the Eco-Destinos Company had spent a year working with Rusbel Torres to organise the expedition. They were greatly assisted by Medical Mission International (MMI), a Canadian-based medical charity that provides spiritual and compassionate health care world wide.
Waiting for us at Leticia on 14th May was an eight-metre ambulance boat, especially built by Distrimotors of Leticia with funds generously provided by Clinique La Prairie, the famous clinic at Montreux, Switzerland. Fitted with a 40 HP outboard, this blue and white, aluminium craft was to accompany us throughout the project and prove of real value to the Ticuna.
We had also chartered a 30-metre river boat with a 70 HP outboard to carry the team and equipment. This was to be our flagship and proved invaluable to the venture. Rusbel also helped out by providing a ten-metre craft as a stores boat for our boxes of medical equipment and a couple of collapsible dental chairs loaned by MMI.
After a comfortable night in the Hotel Zuruma, and a good steak with a very passable bottle of Sauvignon, we embarked from the bustling port. At the chaotic dockside we carried our cargo over swaying planks onto a wobbling pontoon and lowered it into our boats. By noon all was aboard and we set sail for Puerto Narin҃o, the second town of Amazonas. Sailors on the grey Colombian Navy gunboat guarding the port gave us a friendly wave as we headed up river on the two-hour voyage in the blistering sun. Canoes and peke peke boats carrying ladies sheltered by colourful umbrellas passed by on their way to market.
At Puerto Narino dolphins swam out to greet the flotilla and Rusbel welcomed us at a simple reception in his Aticoya hall. A dance troop in traditional costume gave a lively performance and the President made a speech of welcome.
Join us on Monday for part 2 of the report!