Oliver,First, let me say that we enjoyed our... - Jan 2 - Jan 12, 2020
First, let me say that we enjoyed our trip and have no regrets. Kimkim and you generally did an excellent job. The hotels were generally a pleasure, with a great deal of character. There were odds and ends they could do better, but we were quite happy with them. The pace we had worked out gradually before the trip was just about right. We had enough time to simply wander on our own, which we value. I think there is a tendency to try to pack in too much, and we were glad we had pushed back a little to ensure a more relaxing pace.
In terms of the tours, the fishing tour at Cartagena was the highlight, because it was so participatory, but the tour of Cartagena town was extremely well done too. The guide was really knowledgeable and enjoyed sharing his knowledge of Cartagena with us. The tour in Tayrona Park was fine, but I only managed two hours of the four-hour activity. The guide did a good job of substituting a route I could manage. On the tours, our one general comment is that it would be helpful to have a more detailed idea of what is involved ahead of time. I wonder if it would be possible for the tour provider to get on the phone with the customer the day before the tour to go over what is planned and answer any questions.
The only significant problems were on the Amazon part of the trip. We arrived in mid-afternoon and were met, though by people from a different organization than you had mentioned. There was an excellent translator, someone hired just for our visit. She provided the continuity for our trip but because she had not worked with the organization before, she was learning how they worked as we went along. We asked for an itinerary for the four days in the Amazon, but no one seemed to know the program beyond the broadest terms. We should have had the time to sit down with someone from the agency to discuss a detailed itinerary and should have spent that night in Leticia, repacking for the field. Instead, right off the plane, we were taken to their office and asked to repack for the trek, to don rubber boots to go to meet an indigenous leader that afternoon. We walked for an hour or two on muddy roads to a large traditional home to listen to a community leader hold forth on the traditional devotion to the environment and brotherly love. To be honest, it wasn’t worth the trek. We stayed that night in a local hotel that was basic but very well managed. We were told that the next day we would walk a half hour to an indigenous facility called Merisha on a lagoon near the Amazon, in Peru. From our earlier communications I gather you had been told it was not too ambitious a trek for me. I was told the same thing, that it would be a half-hour walk through the jungle.
I can only say that that assessment wildly off base. Much to the trip was wading through flooded jungle, through thick growth, water up to our knees, negotiating brambles and poor footing and tangled roots underwater. There were swarms of mosquitos and other biting insects. It was a very challenging trek even for my wife and because her boots were not high enough, the guide had to carry her on his back at several deeper places. He provided interesting insights as we went but it took us nearly three hours to complete the walk, without a stop. We arrived at Merisha absolutely exhausted.
Facilities in Merisha were rudimentary but of course we expected that. The lagoon and river there were magical and the guide was very competent, and inspired confidence. We never felt insecure, just exhausted tired and frustrated. Frustrated because on arrival at Merisha we found tourists arriving on day trips, having come by boat on a flooded road a stone’s throw from where we had embarked on our trek. We demanded to return from Merisha by boat and at first this was resisted. Later, it was agreed to if we paid extra (not much). It was an easy trip and took twenty to thirty minutes.
There seem to have been failures in communications between Kimkim and the local agency and between the local agency and the contractors they used. I think I made my condition clear before the trip and cannot imagine how anyone imagined I wanted to deal with an ordeal like the trip to Merisha.
In our earlier discussion you had stressed that it anything seemed to much, we could simply not to it. That seemed reasonable at the time. But it assumes an informed decision, and we were not always given enough information and sometimes given incorrect information. Plus, once you are a couple of miles into the jungle and you realize what you have gotten into, and the guide tells you it is just as far to go back as to go ahead, just dropping out is not an option.
The next day, back on the Amazon, we embarked on a mototboat trip involving several stops, interesting and not too tiring. Again, the translator was very helpful. The only downer was at a monkey island park where we were swarmed by tiny monkeys. One snatched my hat and another scratched (bit?) the top of my head badly enough for it to bleed. Fortunately, we and the translator had first aid supplies. I believe it was a scratch and not a bite but I will see my doctor tomorrow and get a rabies shot, just to be on the safe side.
When after the boat ride we returned to Leticia, we were taken to the office of the local agency to retrieve our suitcases and go to our hotel. The hotel was an older place, and at first seemed ok. But our room was an ugly share of green, and bare except for a couple of metal frame beds with matresses made up with sheets and pillows. It felt like a hostel room, just with fewer beds. There was a small unattractive bathroom and no hot water, indeed to water was icy. After three days in the jungle, dirty, our hair matted with sunscreen and insecticide, and bone tired, the hotel was an extremely disappointment. After I googled other hotels in Leticia, and found there were much better options, we asked to be moved. You declined to do so, saying that the local agent had made the arrangement and was the one who had to deal with it. After one quite unpleasant interview with a woman who had arranged the trip and was remarkably rude, the local agency’s logistics chief turned up and moved us to a better hotel, at their cost. We appreciated it very much. I did not appreciate your washing your hands of the situation.
I think you can see that the Amazon portion fell short of expectations. We would do it again but mistakes were made that should have been avoided, largely through failures to communicate expectations clearly, I suspect. I think all concerned had good intentions but I do hope that future travelers to the Amazon with KimKim can arrive with clearer expectations and find fewer surprises.
Best, John Bruce