Stories That Cross Boundaries: From the Amazon to the Atlantic

Photographs of my second boat trip in Brazil, from Manaus, in the Amazon, to Belém, on the mouth of the Tapajós River near the Atlantic coast. Read the story of this journey here.
Fotografías de mi segundo viaje en barco en Brasil, de Manaus, en el estado de Amazonas, a Belém, en la desembocadura del río Tapajós cerca la costa Atlántica. Lee la crónica del viaje aquí.

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My Nomadic Life: Travelling to Manaus, Gateway to the Amazon


Day 1


From the deck of the Itaberaba I, the boat that will take us from Tabatinga to Manaus, we watch the sun set behind the river in a scandalous show of red lights that break through the few clouds that dare cross it. The sunlight shines on the colourful hammocks that adorn the decks and sway with the breeze and the movements of the boat. The moon smiles at the river as the Brazilian flag waves proudly, displaying its motto—Order and Progress—and we say goodbye to the Colombian border.

By now we’ve eaten a pork rib and pasta stew and, exhausted from waiting in the afternoon heat, we enjoy the view of the low embankments of the Amazon from our hammocks, a view that is somehow monotonous but never boring. It seems impossible that we’re finally here, eating a cupuaçu popsicle, which might not be in harvest in Colombia but seems to be in harvest in Brazil; as we savour the sweet taste of this Amazonian fruit, we sail away from the Brazilian port.

Our departure from Tabatinga was delayed, which isn’t surprising in such a hot, humid place. We finally left after being searched by Brazil’s Federal Police, who look for all types of contraband that can be smuggled over the borders. Shortly after setting sail, they stop us again, forcing us to wait nearly an hour while they thoroughly search the boat.


We prepare ourselves for the night with flashlights and sleeping bags, long pants and playing cards; in our hammocks, with the lights out, we anxiously wait for morning and what our first full day on board the Itaberaba will bring; I close my eyes thinking about the ports we will see on the way. But despite being so tired, it’s hard to fall asleep knowing we’re sailing along this great river of dark waters, watching the jungle fade into a silhouette that disappears as it melds into the blackness of the sky.

Day 2

Our sleep was interrupted by the ship’s horn which noisily announced our first stop at port. After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, we finally continue our journey to the south-east. The night is cold but the locals sleep with bare arms and legs while we shiver, wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags.


Dawn quickly reveals the grey silhouette of the jungle as it appears beneath the heavy mist that covers the river and the sky at sunrise; in the early morning, only the trees are visible while the rest of the universe is covered by a thick white blanket. The day begins with loud bells and bright lights, and the sun, just as red and strong as it was at sunset, shines on the river from 6am. We have breakfast—a very sweet milk coffee and small ham and cheese sliders—and get ready for the next 24 hours on board.

At 10 in the morning, when the temperature has risen drastically and we’ve had time to wash some clothes and organise our luggage, which we strap in a mound between our hammocks, we get another visit from the Federal Police. They check our passports and react with surprise and admiration when they learn we’re in Brazil as temporary residents, with a permit to stay in the country for two years.


We stop by several ports on the way, like São Francisco de Assis, a community built on the banks of the river, dotted with colourful little houses made of concrete and wood, topped off with tin roofs that must get very hot in the dry season and cause thunderous noise during the rainy season’s storms. The horn finally blows and we continue on our way.

The day passes without much incidence. We sleep, we eat, we stare at the landscape that begs for the heavy rains to come; the horizon is strewn with dry, white treetops and is coloured by dusty orange beaches. We play UNO, talk to other passengers, and look after the mosquito bites we brought from Leticia.

The bells that announce lunch and dinner—served approximately between 10:30am-12:30pm and 5-7pm, respectively—make the passengers rejoice; they line up to be the first ones into the dining room, though most of them don’t even bother to look out when the river dolphins swim past or the macaws fly over the jungle. When the sun sets, the water is dyed with pastel blues and pinks; the lights come on and we prepare for another cold night sailing the Amazon.


Day 3


The cold we were expecting during the night only came with the morning fog. But before it was cold, before we saw the stars, the half moon shone bright red, its reflection twinkling on the river; I’m still thinking of the moon when I wake up. The morning smells of rain; the sky is grey, the wind is cold, and the sand on the beaches rolls around in furious whirlwinds. A few raindrops drive the passengers to their hammocks, but the rain soon stops and the temperature rises. It hasn’t been raining enough and the river is dry, making our passage difficult at times.

When the Navy visits us again, armed and photographing everyone on board, we find out they’re mostly searching for illegal trade of wild animals rather than drugs, as we assumed; it’s the breeding season for most of the exotic species of the region, so there’s a higher incidence of trafficking right now. The engines start up again as soon as they’re off board. Boredom and cabin fever start affecting people, with every game, magazine and book finished, just like our patience. We spend the day sleeping, eating, and playing UNO.

Day 4


The sun penetrates through the heavy fog while the incessant bells ring, announcing breakfast. Again, it’s sweet milk coffee and small ham and cheese sliders. Routine is starting to weigh on me, and the boat’s passengers are becoming all too familiar, each one with his or her own particularities, so I spend my time observing them, wondering if they’re watching me, too.

There’s a woman in her 50s, for example, who sleeps in a yellow knitted hammock and wears a flower-print gown to bed. She has trouble sleeping, so she spends the nights walking up and down the deck while her husband struggles to stay awake, waiting for her to join him by his side.

There’s the eight-year-old boy who either stumbles by half asleep, forced by his mother to bathe and eat, or runs by yanking the strings of every hammock, unworried whether there is someone sleeping in them or not. He finally got smacked behind the head today by his mom, who realised he woke up a man who was taking a nap.

There’s a 30-something year-old woman, her hair dyed platinum blonde, who wears very tight and feminine dresses, and has a prominent varicose vein on her left leg, shaped like a half-moon that  travels down from her thigh to her calf. Delirious from the heat and movement of the water, I imagine it’s a scar left by one of the many sharks that visit the beaches of Brazil’s Atlantic coast.

And of course, there are our neighbours. Right next to us, there are two very young mothers with their babies. One of them is thick and has big hips, with very straight hair and almond-shaped eyes; she sways her calm, skinny baby in the hammock all day long. The other is very thin and dark-skinned, and looks absolutely exhausted from chasing around her son, a huge, loud kid, strong and stubborn, so big he has his own hammock hanging above his mother’s. He crawls around the deck with his tear-stricken face, in diapers held up by underwear made for a 4-year-old.


And there’s the old lady with the long, grey hair, who seems to never get up from her hammock, not even to go to the bathroom. She silently watches everyone around her as she eats saltines and drinks coffee. She’s always worried because we’re the last to eat and she’s sure the food will run out, although there’s always enough for seconds.

The confirmation that we will arrive at Manaus at 6 in the afternoon and not midday as was rumoured among the passengers—probably because during the rainy season the boat comes in earlier—has dampened last night’s excitement, and we all settle in for the last leg of the journey, which will finally take us to Brazil’s Amazonian capital after 96 hours of travel. The lunch bells ring, calling us for our last meal in the cool dining room—the only space onboard with air conditioning. We have grilled chicken, rice, beans, spaghetti, and farinha, a thick, crunchy yucca flour. Despite the strict and early schedule of our meals, I’ll miss the food on the Itaberaba I.

The closer we get to Manaus, the more frequently we see small communities along the river, each with an imposing church, and some with electric posts and even cars and motorbikes, which is surprising considering they’re completely surrounded by the thick Amazon rainforest. Fishermen work in wooden canoes, casting their nets into the river and covering themselves from the harsh sun with colourful umbrellas. We take another nap, the third of the day, just to pass the time.


We see the silhouettes of big factories glowering amidst the smoke caused by forest fires; seeing the industrial mammoths that puff dark clouds into the hazy sun is a sure sign we’re getting close to the city. The captain tells me we’re nearing the meeting of the waters, the place where the Amazon River and Negro River meet without mixing, their waters visibly separated, as if dancing to an exotic and playful rhythm, where neither river gives in to the other, refusing to relinquish their territory. The chocolate waters of the Amazon and the black waters of the Negro create a clear line we can see from afar, signalling our arrival in Manaus.

The sun looks like it’s been drawn on the sky as it sets between the jungle and concrete, showing itself as it truly is: a live, incandescent ball of red fire. A few dolphins play around the ships, welcoming us to the city. After a long wait, Manaus appears in the darkness in an impressive show of lights. Despite preparing myself for the unexpected, this big, bright city of 2.5 million people surrounded by the Amazonian night surprises me.


Anxious and excited, we disembark the Itaberaba with our luggage and cross a tiny bridge that towers above the black waters, and shakes with each passenger’s urgent steps, every one of us impatient to step on dry land.

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My Nomadic Life: Back in the Jungle

Coming back to the jungle is like coming home; it’s returning to a place so natural to me that I feel like I was never far away. Arriving in Leticia has marked the beginning of a new adventure, of fulfilling an eternal dream that has consumed my imagination since I’ve had use of it.
And it really consumes me: the sound of the cicadas, agitated by the heat; of the frogs, announcing the rain is coming; of the jungle itself, so alive between the canopy of the trees and the mud on the ground, its vibrant colours flooding the senses.

Leticia - Omshanty 2

For months, our arrival in the jungle was like a ghost that promised forgotten emotions; a spirit embodied in the form of a plane ticket, counting down the days and the hours, sometimes too quickly, sometimes unbearably slow; a spectrum that sometimes loved us and at other times scared us with its proximity.

Leticia - Omshanty 15

Until finally it showed itself and there was no stopping it: the time had come to board the flight that would take us from the hypnotising Caribbean coast to the entrails of the Amazon, and to the unknown and promising Brazil—so far and so close, so similar and so different to what we know.

So here we are, in the deepest darkness imaginable; a gripping darkness as if from a dream, interrupted only by the occasional thunderclaps that break up the night with their bursts of light. Here we are, listening to the incessant raindrops change intensity, harmonising with the nocturnal animals who sing to the night, as if thankful for the water. Here we are, with only one certainty: that from now on, everything will be new. From today, every day will bring us new teachings, and new moments that we must find or let ourselves be found by them; a path to discover, hidden between rivers and deserts, between the jungle and the sea, which will lead us somewhere magical, beyond anything we could expect; of everyday life lacking routine and return.

Leticia - Omshanty 16

Daylight pulled me from my dreams—already permeated by the jungle, by flowers and water—with strange new sounds and smells: the bubbling songs of the golden orioles, fish grilling over a fire, the steam that the Earth exudes. In search of food, we went to the marketplace in Leticia, where we witnessed human life in the jungle; we saw exotic fruits like the açai, and tubers like the local saffron; shiny-eyed fish with reddish skins, their scales covering the concrete floor; entranced by the promise of a cupuaçu popsicle—but only a promise since we were told its not in season.

Leticia - Omshanty 5

And so the days pass by in the jungle: between the water that falls as rain and rises with the river; between the humidity of the morning and the not-so-cold nights; between heavy rainclouds and the smiling moon. And every moment brings us closer to the great Amazon River, a beating artery of the South American continent, bringing waters that are born in the Andes to its mouth in the Atlantic. We will follow its route until we reach the sea, that blue coastline that highlights Africa’s curves, that has kept its roots and songs and flavours.

Leticia - Omshanty 17

Carrying all of our belongings on our shoulders—a notebook, a collection of spices and wooden spoons, and a couple of other things—we will go downriver on the dark waters of the river to continue discovering our path, and everything that comes once you let yourself be guided by your heart and your imagination.

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Rana Kokoi / Kokoi Frog (Dendrobates histrionicus), Chocó

Cópia de ranas carrizalito proofsheet

Walking through the dense, virgin jungles of Colombia’s Pacific coast is no easy task, but it’s entirely worth entering the jungle to see the colourful and poisonous Kokoi Frogs (Dendrobates histrionicus) in their natural habitat. /
Caminar por la espesa selva virgen de la costa Pacífica de Colombia no es tarea fácil, pero vale la pena entrar en la jungla para ver las coloridas y venenosas Ranas Kokoi (Dendrobates histrionicus) en su hábitat natural.

These shiny little gems excrete poison from their skin which can be lethal to humans, and although they are usually shy and reclusive, you can get pretty close to them when you find them, as long as you’re respectful toward the fact that we are intruding on their homes. It’s advisable to not try to touch them or poke at them or their nests with sticks and to abstain from using flash photography.
Estas pequeñas joyas brillantes excretan su veneno por la piel. Éste puede ser letal para los humanos, y aunque normalmente son tímidas y reclusas, te puedes acercar mucho a ellas si las encuentras, recordando de ser respetuoso hacia ellas ya que somos nosotros quienes estamos en su hogar. Es recomendado no tocarlas ni molestarlas o sus nidos con palos, y no usar fotografía con flash.

The most common near the town of Nuqui in the department of Choco are the red and black frogs which are about one or two centimetres long. They build their nests at the bases of mossy trees where there is dry brush and moist dirt. With luck and patience, you can also see black and yellow, and black and green ones.
Las que más comunmente se ven cerca al pueblo de Nuquí en el departamento del Chocó son las rojas y negras que miden uno o dos centímetros. Forman sus nidos en las bases de árboles musgosos donde hay hojas secas y tierra húmeda. Con suerte y paciencia, también puedes ver negras y amarillas, y negras y verdes.

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Mompox: Viaje a la Isla que el Tiempo Olvidó

Nuestro recorrido de seis horas de Santa Marta a Santa Cruz de Mompox nos llevó desde las bahías de la costa Caribe hasta las sabanas del río Magdalena, oscilando entre los departamentos del Magdalena, el Cesar y nuestro destino en el sur del Bolívar.

A Mompox 1 Es interesante bajar desde la costa hasta los ríos de la sabana, ver cómo cambian los paisajes, la vegetación, la humedad y la velocidad de la vida cotidiana. Pero un constante es el vallenato, que se escucha Mapas mompoxdesde las montañas áridas que rodean las bahías de Santa Marta hasta las ciénagas y pantanos que rodean la isla de Mompox.

A Mompox 5

Cruce del río en Santa Ana, Magdalena

Viajamos de la zona bananera a la ganadera por carreteras curvas y planas, pasando al lado de bicicletas y burros, usualmente cargados con más de un pasajero y mercancías de toda índole, esquivando vacas que cruzan de un potrero a otro arreadas por vaqueros–niños y hombres–que van tranquilamente a caballo luciendo sus sombreros vueltiaos.

Atravesamos un pueblo tras otro, sintiendo el cambio en el aire, de la brisa salada del litoral al aire húmedo de las planicies, parando primero en Bosconia y luego en Santa Ana, donde cruzamos un pequeño brazo del río para llegar a la isla de Mompox.

Santa Cruz de Mompox

Mompox 21-2

Calle Real del Medio

Este antiguo pueblo fundado en 1537, nombrado Patrimonio de la Humanidad en 1995 por la UNESCO, resuena en la memoria de Colombia como una isla cargada de historia, que ha presenciado todo desde la Inquisición hasta batallas lideradas por el mismo Bolívar, y que fue olvidada por generaciones y gobiernos.

Llegamos después del medio día y empezamos nuestro recorrido por la Calle Real del Medio, vía principal que atraviesa el centro histórico donde, caminando entre los talleres de filigrana y oro, nos asombramos ante las viejas casonas coloniales, tan bien preservadas como se puede esperar de un pueblo atrapado en la humedad y el olvido. Por años, Mompox pareció estar estancado en el aire quieto de la Depresión Momposina, que evita que la brisa refreseque sus largas calles de aceras altas y tejados cerámicos.

Mompox 12Mompox 23Hoy, Mompox está recuperando algo de su vieja gloria gracias a sus atractivos para turistas tanto nacionales como extranjeros, quienes se ven recorriendo las calles lentamente, sudando abudantemente, admirando las viejísimas iglesias, paredes despintadas, y ventanas y puertas coloridas que adornan el centro y evocan imágenes del realismo mágico de García Márquez y las historias de amor que nacieron en el Magdalena.

En el centro histórico se respira la tranquilidad que inevitablemente resulta del calor y la humedad de la región. Sus habitantes pasean en bicicletas o motos, evitando caminar las largas cuadras en las horas del día. Los moto-taxis pasan recogiendo y dejando pasajeros en las diferentes plazas y parques del centro, todas rodeadas por edificaciones cargadas con capas de pintura centenaria. Los pocos transeúntes que se atreven a caminar buscan la escasa sombra que dan los techos, siempre a la expectativa de la próxima limonada o bolis de corozo para refrescarse.

Mompox 28Mompox 9

Mompox 116Mompox 66 

Aún con muchas de sus antiguas estructuras bajo mantenimiento, especialmente aquellas a lo largo del río, la belleza de los balcones y terrazas, de las cúpulas y los arcos en las iglesias, sobresale tras la lona verde que intenta esconder estos secretos arquitectónicos hasta que estén en condición óptima para enamorar, como lo hicieron alguna vez.

Pero más allá de las casas e iglesias, los parques y sedes gubernamentales e institucionales de Mompox son realmente tesoros históricos, rebosando con relatos de una Colombia que luchaba por su independencia y reconocimiento como República. Sus capillas y patios cuentan de la época de Simón Bolívar quien, después de la Campaña Admirable en 1813, declaró que si “A Caracas debo la vida, a Mompox debo la gloria.”

La Ciudad Valerosa fue la joya del Magdalena hasta los 1800, pero a comienzos del siglo XX se sedimentó y cerro su brazo del río y el comercio fluvial fue desviado hacia Magangué, dejando a Mompox olvidado, abandonado con su arquitectura colonial, un recuerdo imponente y permamente del pasado ilustre de la isla. Mompox 48

Mompox 114Pero su pasado y númerosas iglesias construidas siglos atrás valorizan a Mompox, especialmente para el turismo religioso y cultural. En Semana Santa, miles de creyentes y personas interesadas en la historia y costumbres religiosas del país viajan al pueblo para las elaboradas celebraciones de la Semana Mayor del catolicismo, conmemoradas con procesiones y serenatas a los difuntos, las cuales dicen practicarse en la isla desde mediados del siglo XVI.

Mompox ahora intenta recuperar lo mejor de su pasado e incorporarlo a una ciudad moderna e incluyente para Mompox Cementerio 3los visitantes. Está mejorando el acceso a información para los turistas, al igual que el acceso a la isla como tal, que ya cuenta con un puente por el lado de El Banco, Magdalena, facilitando la entrada terrestre.

Con el desarrollo del turismo, la gastronomía de la isla también ha podido crecer, evolucionar y experimentar. Fue la comida que nos llevó a tomar moto-taxis y caminar más lejos de lo que nos exigían los sitios de interés turístico para disfrutar platos tradicionales como el pato, el bocachico, el galápago (tortuga de agua dulce), el queso momposino (allá conocido simplemente como queso de capas) y el suero, que se puede comprar por Mompox 49cucharadas al lado de la carretera. La curiosidad gastronómica también nos llevó a restaurantes más modernos como El Fuerte, donde un chef austríaco prepara deliciosas pizzas en horno de leña.

Con sus incontables encantos culturales, gastronómicos y arquitectónicos, Mompox Mompox 56se está convirtiendo en un componente esencial de una Colombia abierta al turismo y orgullosa de su legado histórico. Pero la historia religiosa, la amabilidad de la gente y el patrimonio arquitectónico son sólo una parte del atractivo de Mompox y la región sabanera del Magdalena: su entorno natural es tan rico como su historia, e igualmente bien preservado.

Ciénaga del Pijiño

Mapas mompox_2Sabíamos que no nos podíamos perder de un paseo por los pantanos del río, entonces embarcamos en una canoa a las 3:30 de la tarde con rumbo a la Ciénaga del Pijiño, a unos 45 minutos a paso lento del centro. Durante el recorrido vimos numerosas aves acuáticas preparándose para la noche con las últimas horas de luz, pescadores recogiendo sus redes y niños jugando en las tibias aguas pantanosas.

Después de un descanso y unas cervezas frías a las orillas del pantano, regresamos a Mompox acompañados por los colores vibrantes del atardecer, las iguanas silueteadas en las ramas altas de los árboles y la fresca tranqulidad que trae la noche.

Mompox Cienaga 67  Mompox Cienaga 64

Con el sol oculto, la humedad es más tolerable y disfrutamos de caminar por el centro en la noche, admirando las estructuras iluminades por la luz tenue en las calles que dan la De Mompox 5impresión de ser faroles de vela o aceite, aumentando el sentimiento de antigüedad que reina en las amplias esquinas.

Regresamos vía Magangué para tomar el ferry que sale de La Bodega y navega por el Magdalena. De allí viajamos a Barranquilla y de nuevo a Santa Marta.

Mompox es un destino único y mágico para no perderse; como un espejo del pasado y un reflejo del futuro, abarca lo mejor de dos mundos que lo atrapan en el medio. Mompox, la Valerosa, se disfruta más cuando se olvidan el reloj y el calendario y se permite empaparse de su misteriosa realidad, tan ajena a la realidad externa, y que parece desvanecerse al salir de esta isla encantada.


Ver Galerías — Mompox: Patrimonio HistóricoLa Ciénaga del Pijiño

Regresa a Galerías de Viajes

Regresa a Escritura de Viajes

Palomino, Guajira

Palomino es un corregimiento del municipio de Dibulla en el departamento de La Guajira en el nororiente colombiano. Palomino disfruta de una biodiversidad única y rica gracias a su ubicación ideal entre el mar Caribe y las montañas y ríos de la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

A continuación, fotografías del eclipse total lunar conocido como Luna de Sangre, el hospedaje La Casa de Guadua, la playa, las montañas de la Sierra y la bajada en neumático por el río, su nivel de agua mucho más bajo de lo esperado para la época del año (abril 2014) debido a la larga sequía que ha vivido la región.


Palomino is a small town in the municipality of Dibulla in the Guajira department of Colombia’s northeastern coast. Palomino’s biodiversity is rich and unique thanks to its ideal location between the Caribbean Sea and the mountains and rivers of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

Below, photographs of the total lunar eclipse known as Blood Moon, La Casa de Guadua lodging, the beach, the mountains of the Sierra, and tubing down the river, whose water level was much lower than expected for the time of year (April 2014) due to a severe drought in the region.

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Cueva del Esplendor / Cave of Splendour

La Cueva del Esplendor, que se encuentra en las afueras de Jardín en el suroccidente antioqueño, es realmente espléndida. El agua, con los años, rompió el techo de la cueva creando una cascada de agua helada que baja con fuerza y estruendo, formando una piscina en la oscura roca. El chorro cae fuertemente, creando una bruma fría y pesada, y el sol se filtra entre el musgo y el agua iluminando la cueva.

Hay que esforzarse un poco para ver semejante espectáculo, pero vale la pena. Después de subir en jeep aproximadamente 40 minutos, hay que caminar montaña arriba más o menos una hora y media (hay 10 portones por cruzar), hasta llegar a la entrada de la propiedad donde se encuentra la cueva. Después de una aguapanela caliente o un tinto en la casa, comienza el descenso por el río y entre la vegetación espesa. Después de unos 15 minutos, se ve la entrada a la Cueva del Esplendor.

El interior de la cueva es húmedo y frío y pocos se atreven a nadar en la piscina. Es un lugar realmente esplendoroso, natural, asombroso, casi espiritual. Se pueden contratar los tours en los hoteles de Jardín.


The Cave of Splendour is located outside the town of Jardin in Antioquia’s southwest (Colombia) and it is truly a splendid place. With time, water broke through the ceiling of the cave, creating an ice-cold waterfall which drops down with a fierce roar, and forms a pool in the dark rock. The powerful gush of water falls hard, creating a cold and heavy mist, and when the sun shines, it filters in through the moss and the water, illuminating the cave.

You have to put in some effort to get there, but it’s completely worth it. After about 40 minutes in a jeep, you must then climb the mountain for about an hour and a half (you need to cross 10 gates), until you reach the entrance to the property where the cave is. After a hot cup of aguapanela (sugar cane water) or tinto (black coffee) at the house, the descent by the river and through the thick vegetation begins. After about 15 minutes, you can see the entrance to the Cave of Splendour.

The interior of the cave is humid and cold and few people dare to swim in in the pool. It’s a really spectacular place, natural, amazing, almost spiritual. You can book tours to the cave from hotels in Jardin.

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