The Amazon Challenge is a new trip concept from the creators Large Minority.
The organisers run adventure challenges around the world from rickshaw rallies in Sri Lanka to sail boat journeys in the Philippines.
You name it, they want to challenge it!
I was first approached with the concept from Large Minority to enter a team for Travel Dudes along with Scott Tisson.
The idea was to try a new type of adventure they were launching, and they wanted a team to try out the first run of the Amazon Challenge which would take us through the Amazon rainforest.
I was sold the moment that I was told that the journey would take me through Colombia, Peru and Brazil over the duration of a week.
I'd yet to explore South America and this challenge came across like the perfect opportunity to fulfil a lifelong dream to visit the Amazon rainforest.
Taking on the Amazon Challenge
The Amazon Challenge wasn't like a typical packaged holiday. For starters, you didn't get a day-to-day itinerary.
In fact, you were challenging other teams head to head and your daily program would be kept anonymous until breakfast each day.
This made the Amazon Challenge both entertaining and refreshing at the same time.
All the careful planning was taken care of and all you had to do was focus on preparing yourself for the day ahead.
This left an element of surprise waiting for you each morning. All the teams made an effort to step up to the challenge, making it competitive. At no point was the challenge ever a race though, it was a personal challenge that you and your team buddy had to take on.
In fact, it was nice to see all the teams getting along at night once the challenges had been completed and joking about what had happened that day. It's for sure an eventful challenge to take part in.
Arriving into the Amazon rainforest
Leticia is the gateway to the Amazon rainforest. It's at the furthest southernmost point of Colombia and borders with Brazil.
You won't find any passport controls here either; Colombia, Peru and Brazil all have an Amazon rainforest alliance agreement. You can freely hover around these areas as long as you return to your arrival point.
This is handy as you only need a passport stamp for Colombia and you're good to go.
As we flew into Leticia airport, we could see the vast scale of the Amazon rainforest from above. It's a wonderful introduction to the rainforest as you can see the large scale of the Amazon from above.
As we approached the airport, I could see a rainbow appear above the Amazon rainforest from my window seat. For the next week we would be entering the unknown.
The only way to reach the city of Leticia is by air or by grabbing a boat along the Amazon river. No major roads lead to Leticia making flying one of the only options for travellers to enter this unique part of Colombia.
Gearing up for the unknown of the Amazon rainforest
Leticia was used as a base to prepare for the start of the Amazon Challenge. We would spend our night in Leticia at the Utuane hotel.
This was our last chance to use a working toilet, a running shower and a spring matress bed. After all, isn't this how an adventure should be spent?
I was excited to get started and it was nice to sleep off the jetlag from the long flight from London to get ready for the week ahead.
Funny enough, it rained that night in the Amazon rainforest, pretty heavily too. Lucky for me, I managed to sleep through the whole night as I needed to catch up on lost sleep.
In the morning, we had to line up our bags for inspection. This was the last moment to sort out our gear for the Amazon rainforest. It was time to say goodbye to my trusty laptop as I was going offline for a week. You won't find any WiFi in the Amazon rainforest.
After splitting up my gear, we were ready to rock and roll. Like a scene in an action movie, team by team, we loaded our gear into the tuk tuks and off to the starting point we went.
Navigating your way through a Colombian market
At first I thought we were heading to the start of the trekking path, but instead we made a detour to Leticia town square where we were handed an envelope.
Let the Amazon Challenge begin.
The aim was to use our limited Spanish to communicate with the locals to gather ingredients that we would use for dinner that evening.
Some teams were already fluent in Spanish, whilst others were not so good. It was important to get to the market first in order to earn extra points for your team.
What first felt like a challenge ended up turning into a fun encounter with the locals. Our ingredients on the list were not easy to find, but we managed the best we could with our limited Spanish.
Mostly we were greeted by laughs and smiles as we navigated our way around the market. Once we had everything, we rushed back to the starting point in time to gather some bonus points.
The Amazon Challenge was already off to a good start and this was only day one.
Once all the teams had gathered up again, we jumped back into our tuk tuks.
Trekking into the Amazon rainforest
For the next three days and two nights, we would be trekking and sleeping in the Amazon rainforest.
One night we would be sleeping with a local farming community as a homestay, the other night would be spent in a jungle hammock under the stars.
The challenge would be to trek between both points through the Amazon rainforest. What could possibly go wrong?
At the start of the trek, we quickly learned that the rain we had heard from the night before had taken a toll on the trekking route. We were greeted by swamp lands instead of solid trekking routes. Good thing we had packed gum boots the night before as our hiking boots simply wouldn't have cut it.
It might have been a smarter choice to swim to the finish point rather than hike. Onwards we trekked navigating through the harsh terrain.
A few hours into our hike we started to notice the weird and wonderful place that the Amazon rainforest is. Everything in the Amazon rainforest wants to either hurt you, eat you or kill you. You have to be extremely careful and vigilant with every step. At the same time you appreciate the true beauty of the Amazon rainforest and enjoy it for what it is.
The trek was going well and our hiking guide from Peru shared a lot of knowledge with us about the Amazon rainforest. One example was the telephone tree, a hollow tree you can hit with a stick in emergencies that sends an echo like sound around the forest. Another example was the rubber tree where you can cut a V shape into the bark with a machete to gather rubber.
The Amazon rainforest was an unusual place and it was great to have someone guide us through it.
The hike was going well until we got lost, which is never a good thing in the Amazon rainforest. Luckily we still had light and were able to backtrack to where we got lost and find our route again. Once we found our feet again on the route, we had finally made it to our first homestay with local farmers deep into the Amazon rainforest.
We set up our hammocks on the big beams of the local hut for the night and gathered around the fire.
The next challenge was to try our hand at some home cooking by making Colombian style tortillas called casabe. It was great fun to try home cooking and learn the new techniques they had taught us to prepare this local dish which went extremely well with the chicken soup they had prepared for us.
After our meal, the local chief of the Huitoto Tribe invited us to gather around for a chat about local farming life and traditions in the area. They introduced us to Mambe, Rape' and Ambil, which are traditional medicinal concoctions made from coca leaves and tobacco.
This was a unique moment to learn and understand a little more about the tribe we was staying with that night.
This night also gave us a great opportunity to be stargazers. We had no electricity for miles around and you could see the whole night sky so clearly. It was an incredible night to witness the stars above, which is another reason that makes the Amazon rainforest a special place.
Trekking another day through the Amazon rainforest
At the crack of dawn everyone woke up to the sound of the rooster's call.
We were all tired from the day before, but ready to start another day of the Amazon Challenge. We had a much longer trek that day, which would take us to the starting point of the Amazon river. Luckily, the longer route would take us through farmers' fields, avoiding the deep, treacherous swamps from the day before.
This made trekking a lot easier, but we were instead greeted by harsh heats due to the open spaces we trekked through, which was a challenge at times.
The Amazon river was a much welcomed sight after a hard day of trekking. A quick dip in the cooling river was for sure on the cards. This is where we would meet our captain that would take us along the Amazon river for the rest of the week in his speedboat.
What felt like the end of the day was only just the beginning, the Amazon Challenge was not over yet. We were being transported deeper into the rainforest where we would set up camp for the night.
Sleeping in the Amazon rainforest
Imagine hiking through the Amazon rainforest (which was an incredible experience). Now imagine sleeping in it!
Each team would create their own camp with only a tap, hammock and a machete in hand.
Scott and I had been drained of all energy by this point and had no creativity remaining. We just wanted to get our shelter up and fall asleep. After finding a few logs and large leaves we had assembled something that looked like a temporary home for our hammocks for the night. We didn't win the most creative team award that night, but we were ready to sleep, as it had been a long day. After all, it's the taking part that counts.
Little did we know that the Amazon Rainforest comes to life at night. The bugs and insects come out in full force like an orchestra looking for some rehearsal time.
This was a nice opportunity to go on a night walk with our head torches to see what we could find in the jungle that night. We saw amazing glow-in-the-dark fluorescent mushrooms, scorpions, spiders, frogs and nocturnal birds.
OK, I'll admit, I was a little scared by this point. Mostly by all of these weird and wonderful life forms that had come out at night. The hard part was that we had to sleep amongst them out in the open.
It was great fun looking at all the bugs close up, such as the stick insects that couldn't let go of a water bottle (I think one of them was in love with the strap). Armed with only a head torch, it was time to head back to my temporary hammock home.
As I attempted to enter my hammock I discovered a prey mantis having a fight with a tarantula on top of my rain tarp. I would have happily waited for them to settle an equal score, but I was in desperate need for sleep. I shuffled the fight off the top of my tarp using a palm tree leaf. Finally, I could get some much needed sleep after a long busy day.
The next day I was awoken by the cozy smell of Colombian coffee simmering from a pot on an open fire. That perked me up quickly. I also discovered that my rain tarp had collapsed during the night. Luckily it hadn't rained that night.
The trekking was over, but the Amazon Challenge wasn't.
Canoeing along the Amazon river
Five teams, five canoes, one river and one support boat. The challenge was supposed to take four hours.
We were to canoe along the river from where we had spent the night to the next resting point which was with a local community along the river. We had the morning to canoe, but it got competitive with the other teams. As we had been using our lower bodies for trekking over the last few days our upper paddling parts were ready for action.
As the starter horn sounded, all the teams went for it, and I mean really go for it. One team paddled so hard that they sunk their boat from the get go whilst the other teams battled it out to be the first.
Team Travel Dudes took the lead for the whole race. At one point we were far ahead of the other teams. This was an endurance race. After two long trekking days, it was nice to be situated along the river and experience the Amazon rainforest from the water.
Little did we know that all the teams behind us took a shortcut that we overlooked. The other teams cut a bend that we paddled around. As we turned the corner we noticed all the teams go in front of us one by one. As it turned out, the end was just around that bend and we went from first place to third place in a matter of minutes. We were completely gutted as we thought we had the championship in the bag for a moment.
The Amazon Challenge is never as easy as it first seems.
As we paddled over to the finish line with defeat covered over our faces we had to stop and laugh. The other teams who had sneaked past us were celebrating an incredible victory. We all laughed it off as it felt like a scene from a popular Saturday morning cartoon.
The Amazon Challenge was never about the race, it's about the adventure and it was fun to bring the challenge down to the wire.
Time to take on the indigenous games
The destination we arrived to, was a small community called the Ticuna tribe, situated along the Amazon river. The local villagers had invited us to stay with them for the night for a homestay experience and to see what life is like along the river. As we had arrived in a record time we had enough time to chill out and enjoy the village in the evening.
The local community had planned a fun packed schedule for us. We discovered that we would be taking part in the indigenous games. There was a set of five challenges that the local community had set up for us.
All of the challenges were fitting to the area we were staying at and each team would compete head to head.
Before we started with the indigenous games Large Minority had arranged to donate a number of school supplies to the local children to help them with their education. A few of the teams had put together some additional fundraising to help support the project.
This was a great way to give back to the community, we were staying with and to help the local children with their education by supplying them with school stationary. This made a direct impact to the community, we were staying with and it was great to see all the kids reading and learning together whilst we were visiting.
The indigenous games consisted of five challenges:
2. "Diwe" (spear throwing at moving ball shaped plantain tree core)
4. Wood chopping
As we had completed the canoeing already each team had to battle out to gain points across the four other challenges. The swimming would remain as a final challenge in the morning, which left us with diwe, blowpipe and wood chopping.
I'd never heard of diwe before, but the local Ticuna tribe loved to watch this game as a spectator sport. We got a lot of laughter whilst we tried to chuck a spear at a moving ball of plantain core. It rolled down the hill hitting anything it crossed paths with (including a few small children who wanted to act as bowling skittles at the bottom of the hill).
It's funny to think how these types of sports come about into existence. I guess it's like a traditional version of clay pigeon shooting. Funny enough, we were all terrible at it apart from a few of us hitting the moving target only for the spear to fall off. Of course we had a few locals who were happy to show us how it should be done.
Blowpipe was up next and this allowed us the chance to give blow darts a go. The village had prepared a DIY shooting range for us with a point system on it and we had to try and blowpipe a dart onto the target.
We had a funny moment when one member of the team didn't put a dart into the blowpipe and was blowing sweet air into the sky for all of us to enjoy. That was a funny moment for sure.
The best part had to be the demonstration when the chief of the village showed us how it should be done and without any care in the world managed to hit the bullseye on the first attempt. I guess some of us are just born with it.
Next we moved onto the wood chopping challenge where we had to split one log into as many pieces as we possible could with an axe. This was super fun as each team seemed to have gone full Hulk smash mode on the poor log and destroyed it into multiple pieces. Some teams created more pieces than others.
I loved the ending when the local Ticuna tribe seemed to have thanked us for preparing all the wood for that season perfectly for them. Why not turn a job into a challenge for guests, hey!
This didn't feel like a usual homestay I had experienced before, it felt more than that. We were made to feel welcome and were invited to be a part of the community for the day.
It was eye-opening to see how a local community lives by the Amazon river.
They had just recently installed electricity due to newly installed solar panels so they could have working lights during the night. They didn't have running water yet, but they all managed to get by with what they had and shared what they could with us to make us feel welcome.
It was an authentic experience and a great way to connect with the locals along the Amazon. Made you appreciate the little things in life and be grateful for what you have back home.
Visting Peru along the Amazon river
The next day after finishing the final stage of the indigenous games (a refreshing swimming in the Amazon river) it was time to enjoy our rest day before kayaking onwards to Peru, our next Amazon Challenge destination.
To say we visited Peru wouldn't make any sense as we never stood on any land. We kayaked to a community who lived amongst floating houses as the land is flooded for half of the year.
To be honest, it would be hard to imagine what it would be like without the water during the dry season, and it was interesting to stay with a family who lived above water for most of the year. I would like to call this area the hammock city as they had a whole area for hammocking around which became popular amongst tired teams.
We all enjoyed chilling out in the hammocks after a hard day of kayaking to Peru, that's for sure.
After an easy day of dolphin spotting (the Amazon river is home to both gray and pink dolphins) and endless attempts to fish out piranhas for dinner, it was nice to relax and kick back for a while.
As the day comes to an end, it almost felt like the Challenge was over, but in fact we had no idea what was in store for us for the final day of the Amazon Challenge.
To the end, but it's not over yet! The final challenge!
Just when you think everything is over and you're about to pack up and go home, you forget to remember that this is the Amazon Challenge and it's not over yet!
We grabbed a boat to a nearby floating city in Peru, where we were given an envelope setting us a list of challenges to complete in the area before grabbing a taxi boat to close by Brazil and making our way to the final checkpoint.
With just a little bit of energy remaining as a team we wanted to win after our disappointing canoe situation.
We was set challenges such as singing the Peruvian national anthem with a group of locals and finding a local barber shop to have a funky shave (Which was much needed after a week in the Amazon rainforest). Within record time we managed to complete all the challenges in Peru and hitch a ride on a taxi boat to Brazil.
As we arrived in Brazil we discovered that our final checkpoint was a restaurant far away so we hailed down a couple of taxi motorbikes. As we cruised away into the distance we spotted a few teams who were catching up so we knew we had to make a move. Scott went ahead and out of sight as my motorbike taxi trailed behind.
Just as we approached our final destination I spotted another team ahead in the back of a pickup truck. We were going to be beaten at the final hurdle by the team ahead. As we turned into the restaurant, Scott was standing there with his head in his hands as the team in the pickup truck went in front and beat us to the finish line by a few seconds.
Not again! This was one dramatic way to end the Amazon Challenge, which is full of surprises at every corner.
What a great way to finish off the whole week right to the wire!
I'm pretty sure I will never forget the Amazon Challenge. What an adventure!
Final thoughts on the Amazon Challenge
I remember at the end of the Amazon Challenge being covered in mosquito bites, mud, sweat and tears with no energy remaining.
Being completely tired I looked around a table at the other team mates thinking, wow, what an adventure we just had, and I loved every moment of it.
It took everything out of me, but I wouldn't change that for a single thing!
It's an experience you have to try for yourself to fully understand the epicness that is the Amazon Challenge.
It's not only about pushing yourself mentally or physically, it's also about having a laugh with the other teams and creating memories with the local communities that you cross.
Large Minority have created something unique and special and I urge you to try it for yourself.
Go. See. Discover and Explore.
Most importantly, have an awesome time!
For another first-hand glimpse of the #AmazonChallenge, you can watch an epic video snippet here.
Travel experience shared by Dave for Travel Dudes.