COLOMBIA, Caquetá

Overland Expedition to the Amazon Rainforest

A 2022 solo overland expedition to record the sounds of the Colombian Amazon rainforest

by Jan Brelih

PUBLISHED JUNE. 18, 2022 | CAQUETÁ, COLOMBIA

Caquetá is a remote region in Colombia that marks the very start of a vast Amazon Rainforest. The same name holds a 2,820 km long river, Rio Caquetá which begins its journey in the Andes mountains and flows through the remote rainforests, continuing its way to Brazil joining the Amazon river. This region also holds one of the least explored and most unique areas called Serranía de Chiribiquete. The region’s West has been mostly deforested and turned into cattle ranches, while the East has remained largely intact holding an isolated virgin jungle. The only viable choices to travel here are on a river or by airplane.

Table of Contents

Intro / 18. December 2021

This was my first visit to the Amazon Rainforest with the idea to reach it overland, without flying. This seemed particularly challenging here in Colombia since there is hardly any official information to be found. I’m doing it the hard way. After studying the maps, I made a plan and found the area where this might be possible. My starting point was Florencia city. Keep in mind that I was all by myself while not even speaking the language. Once there, it appeared undoable at first and I almost gave up, but after a few days there, I was able to gather the right information and find a way. All this time, I’m traveling by bicycle fully loaded with all the equipment.

Caqueta region in Colombia. On the West, you can see light green color which is a deforested area and on the East, the dark green is still intact rainforest. The vertical belt on the east is the tabletop mountain range Serranía de Chiribiquete. one of the least explored places in the Amazon.

Rec 01/ Afternoon in the Amazon Rainforest

Get the full “Colombian Amazon Rainforest” sound album here.

Taking a boat on Rio Caquetá

Treating myself to a dinner in one of the more expensive restaurants in Florencia was pretty productive. There, I have meet a girl who was speaking English and told me about her friend being a local bird guide. He provided me with the information about a boat, its schedule, price and embarking location (which I already found out). They even called the captain and made a booking for me. The next day, I cycled 15km from Florencia to a small port on the Orteguaza River. A little express boat was waiting on the riverbank. My bicycle along with other luggage has been placed on it. I got aboard the fully packed, barely floating boat and joined the other local people inside.

5-hour race with the express boat. The boat transports local passengers and their luggage. This was the nice and easy part. (video may take longer to load with a slower connection)

We’ve started, and it didn’t take long for me to realize what I had gotten myself into. Soon after leaving the port, we were racing down the river, with the captain making sharp left and right turns to locate the deepest Caquetá river channel and avoid the obstacles. I was honestly scared for my life, but after about an hour, I had simply accepted whatever may happen. After 5 hours of adrenaline rush and one village stop, we safely reached our destination, the secluded town of Solano.

Solano is a remote town along the Caqueta River that can only be reached by boat or small dirt roads through the deforested rainforest. Because of a military base nearby, the area is supposed to be pretty safe(r).

Arrival to Solano town

After getting out the boat, I cycled through the town looking for a room. It was almost dark and I did not want to be out on the street in this unknown town. The “hotel” I found was certainly not a 5 star one but it was a place to stay. I remained here for two days to get a feel for the area and continue preparing my plan. You can imagine that with my bicycle fully packed of tactical military gear, I was quite the attraction here where no foreigners are seen. The locals though were mostly very friendly, welcoming and I felt pretty safe here, actually far more than in the city.

Port of Solano town along the Caquetá river.

Cycling 20 km to the Amazon Rainforest

The third day is the day of total commitment. I tactically packed my bicycle and left some stuff at the hotel. Then I began cycling outside of town, finding and following dirt roads for 20 kilometers that should eventually lead to the beginning of the vast Amazon Rainforest. Tropical heat was intense and it was hard cycling under the hot. Pretty soon I was approaching an ever more remote and isolated territory. There was a true realization that this is it. I’m going there and I’m actually gonna do this!

On my way, I was getting passing farmers on motorbikes, some of whom were kind and smiling, while others merely looked at me in confusion. Nevertheless, by now, I was somehow pretty confident and had a good intuition. I also know when people see you on a bicycle, you are more likely to be accepted and left in peace. Finding a path to the rainforest was more challenging and complicated than I thought.

After 2 hours, I'm almost hallucinating from the heat and full tropical sun.

The unknown dirt road I was following had begun to turn in a different direction. I needed to find and follow some hidden walking/horse trails to get towards the beginning of the undisturbed forest. I arrived at the last finca and went there to see if anyone was home. This whole area was originally a pristine jungle, but it is now completely destroyed, with only a few forest patches and water channels remaining.

A woman had offered me aqua panela at the last finca before the jungle.

There were two women to which I asked if would be possible to leave my bicycle here. They were surprised and looked at me strangely telling me the owner (husband) had left and she couldn’t say yes. Still, they were friendly and handed me the sugary water they were preparing on a fire (aqua panela). I thanked them and continued further inside following cow trails. I found a spot where it appeared safe to hide and left my bicycle behind. After unpacking all the equipment, which I then repurposed into a backpack, I locked my bicycle and began walking the rest of the “way.”

The very last patches of deforestation (for time being). From here on, theres a start of the vast, undistrubed Amazon rainforest.

Rec 02/ Late Afternoon in the Amazon Rainforest

Inside the Amazon Rainforest

 After 5 hours of searching for and following several hidden trails, I have finally reached the true start of the Amazon. I’ve courageously made my first step into the forest. From here on out, it’s just raw and desolate wilderness for thousands of kilometers. There was a strong sense of adventure as well as the presence of powerful, ancient energy. I pointed my compass straight into the jungle, slowly approaching the true remoteness of the pristine rainforest.

The fear of dangerous people has passed; I may have been concerned about getting lost or being alone here, but the adrenaline and excitement surpassed that. After about an hour of walking through the dense jungle, I reached the area where I have decided to make the base camp.

Wild camping in the Amazon Rainforest

I have set up my tarp and hammock between two trees. In these pristine habitats, my aim is to leave as little trace as possible. Here, for example, when setting camp, I have rather bent out the way of the plants than simply cut them off with a machete. I have set one paracord rope between two trees and put the tarp over it. An elastic rubber cord was used to secure all four sides of a tarp to nearby vegetation.

Wild camping solo in the Amazon Rainforest.

I also had another rope for hanging some gear to keep it off the ground from any crawling creatures. Later on, I discovered that the ants would invade my camp and there is no way out. Once everything was in place, there was a strong sense of comfort and safety in this distant, unknown place far from any civilization. After spending all afternoon and evening capturing the sound and setting up all the recording equipment, it was now about 10 a.m. and time for sleep.

Although I do a lot of wild camping and feel confident enough to sleep alone in such a secluded location, I thought it will be pretty fearful to do it here. Being in such a remote place, so unknown and distant from any civilization with all kind of animals. In the end, I was pretty surprised that I didn’t have too many fears about sleeping here and didn’t need to calm myself down about it.

The only nightmare was actually the ants invading my camp. They were all over the place and biting ferociously. They were marching on my rope lines, all over the hanging equipment and also on my recording equipment! I’ve lost a big part of a great night recording because of the ants crawling on the microphones.

Rec 03/ Night in the amazon rainforest

Night coming inside the Amazon rainforest.

I was awakened early in the morning by the sound of snapping branches with something walking on the ground. The whole thing lasted about a half hour coming closer and closer before passing incredibly near and disappearing. Only later did I realize what that could have been.

Untouched Amazon Rainforest stretching for hundreds of kilometers

Rec 04/ Morning in the Amazon Rainforest

Recording the sounds / Afternoon, night, morning

After setting up my camp, I unpacked all the sound recording equipment from my backpack and build it together. I use a DIY mic holder mounted on a tripod which can be then adjusted with height or direction for the most suitable recording position.

I choose a location enough away from my camp to avoid self-made noises but also not too far as you can quickly lose direction and your equipment. I pushed the record button in the late afternoon, just when the rainforest sounds were becoming more rich, after a mid-day of more silence.

The recording has been going on while I was doing other things. After an hour, I came to check on the recorder if everything was still ok. It was now getting dark and I was feeling pretty tired. I went into my hammock while leaving the rig to continue recording through the night.

Equipment used:

Recorder / Sound Devices MixPre-3
Microphones / AT4022 Omnidirectional Condenser

On the way back over the path of destrucion

After making my way back through the jungle, with a compass in my hands, I returned to the frontier of deforestation. Here, the trees were all fallen and there is destruction seen as far as the eye can see which that is still happening daily, progressing deeper into the Amazon Rainforest. The virgin jungle I reached and recorded sounds of, might not be there anymore a year from now.

There was a certain feeling of relief to come safely back from the depths of the rainforest but also the shock of being surrounded by this destruction. I was returning to the bush where I hid my bicycle luckily It was still there! I packed all my gear back to it and return again to the last finca. I have passed it and continued going the back but have missed a direction.

On the way back cycling over cow pastures and deforested Amazon.

While initiating my orientation and checking the maps on my phone, that woman from finca has come to show me the right way. She was kind, but I could sense some tension and shock at my presence. She then mentioned that this is guerrilla territory, and they may be around.  She also asked me if a meet any Jaguar because they see footprints around their finca regularly. Was this the animal making that noise in the morning near my camp?

Virgin rainforest holds a number of yet undiscovered species of plants and animals

Stuff learned

  • You can access the depths of Colombian Amazon without flying
  • It can be pretty safe
  • You find friendly people even in the most remote and offically dangerous regions
  • Choose a wiser location regarding ants
  • Make a better protection tricks against ants
  • Have a small mosquito net for sheltering recording equipment from insects
  • Is not wise to go alone

Useful links

Get the full “Colombian Amazon Rainforest” sound album here.

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Carol
Carol
3 months ago

Wow!! Gracias por compartir. El Amazonas es una de las cosas más bellas en S.A.

Pilar
Pilar
3 months ago

Day by day, we are losing our precious rainforest. Count yourself lucky to have been able to feel it, live it, enjoy it.
Thank you for sharing your interesting account of your trip. You are one brave soul. 😊🤗

Darinka
Darinka
3 months ago

This is a great expedition! A real hidden gem! 😁

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