I arrived in Bogota in the afternoon on the 9th of November. I was excited to finally be in South America – this would be my first time! I was going for the 20th Annual Amazon Conservation Team Board meeting in Bogota. I was equally excited to see Andrew Loog Oldham and his wife Esther (who was a former Miss Colombia).
In the morning I was complaining about my fingers cramping up until one of the other advisory members said – ‘oh drink lots of water we are 8000 ft above sea level, you’re probably dehydrated’. Started off with breakfast at the hotel (the Lugano Suites) and it so happened that it was steps from Andrew and Esther’s apartment so we had breakfast together. I decided to go clothes shopping with Gabrielle and Annie Plotkin (they are the girls of ACT’s co-founders Dr. Mark Plotkin and Liliana Madrigal.) I came back to the hotel after for nap before the big presentation that evening. The evening’s special event was also celebrating 20 years of ACT’s existence after which we went for a delicious dinner at Tabulá.
Spent this day exploring Bogota and had a lovely lunch with Andrew and Esther just doing a lot of catchup. I had a restful day because I knew my excursion was coming and that it was going to be intense. My trip would be led by Liliana, Mark took another group to Santa Marta to meet the Kogi Indians. Julian Lennon, who is also an advisory member, met the Kogis some months back, as did I. I wanted to go see the Amazon and the Andes Mountains and see the land of the other tribal people.
We checked out of the hotel at 4am and we headed to the airport. We were taking the plane from Bogota to Puerto Asis in the Putumayo region, We were picked up by Taita Luciano and two drivers (Taita means Shaman). We were now on a journey to go to ASOMI, a meeting place for the indigenous peoples and the female healers, that ACT was instrumental in setting up and building. The journey was unusual! It was over 4 hours long over on unpaved roads through the Amazon. The few times that we got out of the car to stretch our legs the Jimi Hendrix song lyric kept going through my head ‘Excuse me whilst I kiss the sky’ because we were not in fog but actually in the clouds! When we arrived we were greeted by several representatives from different tribes. They were happy that Liliana had brought people from the organisation to discuss their plight in the area. They laid on a lovey meal which consisted of chicken, rice and beans. Chicken, in chinese culture is served to symbolise good luck, and I wonder if it meant the same in their culture. It made me feel very welcome! In the evening I was lucky enough to witness some very special indigenous ceremonies.
We were now heading off to the Alto Sibundoy. It is the land that Richard Evans Schultes discusses at length in his seminal works on the Amazon. When we got there we ate with the governor and other shamans of the indigenous people to celebrate the recent legalized land in the indigenous reserves. We spent the evening at the Chalet de Guamuez before heading back to Bogota the next day.
We travelled to Pasto, which is the capital of the department of Narino to catch the return flight to Bogata, But as the best laid plans go wrong – in Pasto everything was closed for a local holiday!!! So we decided to head straight to Airport and grab a bite there. We then checked in and were waiting for our flight which was supposed to be at 3.15pm – 3.15 came and went and we were still sitting in the lounge. Then about 20mins later they announced the cancellation our flight – citing strong winds – which was strange as there didn’t seem to be any wind out there!!! In a split decision, Liliana along with her two staff members, decided to go to the next big city of Cali to catch a flight back to Bogota. We had to call the two drivers back to take us to Cali which she said would be only 6 hours away but it turned out to be ten!! It was one of the most beautiful and treacherous drives I have ever been on – we drove through through the night in the rain and also encountered a rock slide!! The military had gotten there to direct the traffic. We got to Cali at 3am and our flight out was at 5.15am. In between I had to try to get American Airlines to change my flight as my flight was leaving at 7.30am from Bogata and there was no way I was going to make it!
After landing in Bogata and managing to change my flight I was leaving at 2.30 in the afternoon, which gave me three hours to repack my bag and “get out of dodge”. The flight was lovely and I caught a connecting flight in Miami. Again – nothing is simple! My connecting flight was supposed to be at 9.45pm but it was delayed to 10.30pm… and I found out that the crew that was supposed to be flying us back to NYC was stuck in Orlando and couldn’t get to Miami and they couldn’t find a back up flight crew. Then they finally announced that our flight would be taking off at 7am the next day!!! We all got hotel vouchers ad I checked in for the night.
I needed to get up very early. I asked the hotel for an alarm at 4am but I woke up at 4.21 and no had called! I shouldn’t have trusted them. I hustled out of there to catch the shuttle to airport and I found to my surprise by 5am that Miami airport is buzzing! As I was going through security check I noticed a little commotion to my right, a few feet away, they were wheeling an old man, slumped over in a chair, the airport assistants and TSA person were surrounding him and talking to him but he was not responding… I didn’t want to hang around to see the result as I don’t think it was a pleasant one. I ran to my gate to be sure that the flight was going to take off on time and I was delighted when we finally got in the air!!! When I landed back in JFK the ordeal of waiting for luggage was on the agenda. I was quite happy to be back in NYC but the experience I had just had was incredible despite the mad travel arrangements and I wouldn’t trade it in for anything in the world and would go again in a heartbeat.