Leticia, Colombia

By Laura Schroeder

Spinning Stories in the Jungle

It was pitch black save for the stars that pierced the night sky and the faint glow of bioluminescent leaves underfoot, but Manuel could see. The hum of cicadas surrounded us as we wove around the thick growth of the jungle, and I tried not to stumble over the vines that snaked up ancient trees. Pointed stick in hand, Manuel spun stories of encounters with jaguars and deceitful ex-lovers as we traipsed to the river in hopes of catching a fish to bring back to our camp, where a caiman already hung from a line alongside our hammocks.

I had just completed a U.S. State Department-sponsored Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Colombia, and two members of my cohort and I had decided to spend some of our saved stipend on a trip to the city of Leticia, which is nestled between Brazil and Peru in Amazonas, a department in the south of the country. Having already taken the obligatory boat trip down the Amazon River to see monkeys, capybaras, and birds of all hues, we tasked ourselves with planning the remainder of the trip. However, when a man stopped by our hostel advertising a jungle trek with a local Huitoto guide, we were skeptical, as we had heard horror stories of cultural tourism gone awry. Luckily for him, he was persuasive and after five minutes, we paid him a small sum to go on the trip. Luckily for us, we spent three informative days conversing with our guide, Manuel, and his grandfather and aunt about their lives in both the city and the jungle, the history of the Huitoto people, and their struggle to keep it alive.