Off to Altum Angelfish and Cardinal Tetras in Blackwater
Clear jungle rivers, lots of interesting fish species, indigenous villages and aquatic research are the highlights of this exciting JBL expedition January - February 2021 for about € 1900 (incl. flights). For ten days three boats with 12 people each will stagger their visits to various habitats around Inirida.
Before we take a smaller plane to the east of Colombia to the Venezuelan border, we will spend the night in Bogota, the capital of Colombia. The next morning we’ll all fly to Puerto Inirida in the lowland rainforest.
We’ll be going in boats to regions 30 minutes to 3 hours away in the middle of the rain forest. Rivers such as the Rio Inirida or the Rio Atabapo flow towards Orinoco, forwarding very clear blackwater and forming the habitat of huge numbers of ornamental fish species familiar to us from our aquariums.
The three 12-person teams will take turns to visit the various habitats, so that more than 12 people are never gathered at one biotope. On site, everyone is free to pursue their specific interests once the general research tasks such as water analyses, light measurements etc. have been completed.
We’ll be staying the night with indigenous people, who’ll also be preparing our meals. The food is sure to be tasty and inanimate! There won’t be a McDonalds anywhere! We will be fully integrated into the village life of the locals and we’ll receive an intimate knowledge of their lifestyles.
A very special habitat will be the large boulders in the Rio Atabapo. Dr. Wolfgang Staeck found very beautiful L number catfish species during his trip there. Catching sucker catfish is always a real challenge because the animals don’t let go of the subsoil so easily!
In the other places we’re visiting we’ll be able to snorkel in the clear blackwater and observe fish. Above the sandy substrate we’ll see eartheaters, armored catfish and even freshwater stingrays.
In other biotopes we’ll find banded cichlids (Heros species), dwarf cichlids (Apistogramma species), altum angelfish (Pterophyllum altum), cardinal tetras (Paracheirodon axelrodi), flag cichlids (Mesonauta insignis), Crenicichla species and many more. Dr. Wolfgang Staeck will be present on site and help us determine them.
If you’ve ever wanted to experience Piranhas live and under water, this is your chance! Unfortunately we can’t guarantee any shark bites because they are not the bloodthirsty monsters they are often taken for.
Terrarium animal lovers will also get their heart’s desire. The rainforests along the riverbank are home to countless interesting terrarium animals, from tarantulas to lizards and snakes. In the waters live caimans and turtles. One of our expedition tasks will be to determine the biotope data.
The details of the JBL Expedition Colombia 2021 are now ready
We’re ready: we trialed the route in mid-January, clarified any queries and sorted out the expedition schedule:
We’ll arrive in the capital Bogota in the afternoon, drive to the hotel, find restaurants for dinner on our own, stay overnight and fly 1.5 h eastwards the next morning into the lowland rainforest of Colombia, not far from the Venezuelan border. The small town of Puerto Inirida has a small, cosy hotel (Toninas), where the whole group (36 participants) can stay for the start.
In the afternoon we can explore the town or visit interesting biotopes nearby. We’re going to split up into three teams of twelve, so as to avoid any crowding behaviour. After all we want to observe animals and not scare them away. There’s also a fish exporter on our agenda, and there we’ll view the most sought-after fish of the region in keeping facilities. We’ll make sure to catch the spectacular harbour sunset at 17:25!
The hotel will provide WLAN and the last chance to charge our batteries. We’ll need reserve batteries and power banks in the jungle.
The following morning we’ll get ready for the different sections of the expedition. This involves packing what we need for one or two nights with the indigenous people and leaving the rest of our things at Hotel Toninas. If you have forgotten your diving goggles or swimming trunks, you can buy everything in the town. The town has everything except tourists. If you do meet any, they’ll be anglers from the USA or other regions of South America, hoping to catch big cichla and armorhead catfish.
In the morning two of the teams will load up their boats, while the third one stays another night in Puerto Inirida.
Since we can’t guarantee there’ll be no splashing or rain, your luggage needs to be water resistant. A “dry bag” is ideal. The teams then will drive to three different regions:
Team 1 will go on the Rio Inirida towards Venezuela (take your passports with you!), where it meets the second largest river in South America, the Orinoco, and then go south on the Atabapo.
Here you’ll be able to take your fill of dramatic shots. The landscape with snow-white sandbanks, the crystal clear blackwater and rocks in and around the water are guaranteed to wow you!
At noon we’ll have a break on a sandbank, where the 32-34 °C hot river water will make your diving suits superfluous. You’ll find altum angelfish and other cichlids right next to the bank between flooded plants.
The journey will continue to a wonderful biotope in a small tributary, carrying a mixture of clearwater and blackwater. You’ll see turtles here too! And lots of cichlids, catfish and characins. If we’re lucky we’ll observe freshwater stingrays in the lagoon.
We’ll continue upriver to the indigenous village for an overnight stay. Hammocks or tents (let us know your requirements beforehand) will be set up ready with mosquito nets attached, and the sunset over the Rio Atabapo will round off the daylight. Then we’ll have dinner in the village. Don't worry: everything on your plate will be edible and inanimate.
There’ll still be time to sit together, but experience tells us people get tired early, especially with the sun waking us in our hammocks at 5:30 the next morning. We’ll then have a whole day to explore the different biotopes at Rio Atabapo. Again there’ll be a simple lunch and dinner in the same indigenous village. We should be well used to our hammocks by then. After breakfast (buy jam in Puerto Inirida because the corn flour tortillas are rather dry) we’ll dismantle the hammocks and load our luggage into the boat.
Half the day will be put aside for further biotopes, including a rock biotope in Rio Atabapo, where large altum angelfish live. There are some very beautiful L-number catfish to be found at the rocks! Take care when turning over the rocks and marvel at the catfish species that live there!
In the evening we are returning to Puerto Inirida for another night at Hotel Toninas.
Team 2 will stay in Puerto Inirida for another day and visit an ornamental fish exporter and two very beautiful blackwater biotopes. Both biotopes are very shallow, but densely populated with beautiful fish species. One bridge in the river is even home to altum angelfish (mostly found amongst tree branches), countless armoured catfish and cardinal tetras (only in shallow water)!
The following day, team 2 will also head west on the Rio Inirida. Two hours later we’ll turn right into the Caño Bocon towards Santa Rosa, a nice little indigenous village in the rainforest, but directly at the river. On the way there we’ll view some biotopes left and right of the main river Caño Bocon.
It’s still blackwater, but it’s not as warm as Rio Atabapo. A thin 3 mm suit can be helpful - depending on how cold you feel. In these "dead" arms of the river it’s easy to feel like the first human ever to penetrate the area. We’ll make our way deeper and deeper into the jungle by boat, but at walking speed.
A measuring stick will tell us the the depth of visibility from the boat. If it is at least one meter, it’s worth going into the water. If not, we’ll have to head back and explore a new branch of the river. After all this is an expedition, not a trip to the zoo :-).
In the evening team 2 will go to the indigenous village Santa Rosa for more hammocks under a solid roof. The Christian service of the indigenous people is worth seeing and we are welcome to participate quietly. Dinner after dusk. A generator will provide electricity for a few hours. If you have no more batteries or have forgotten your powerbank, you can still charge. A torch is a must if you hope to find the toilets (simple but functional with toilet paper).
The morning means breakfast, dismantling the hammocks, loading the boat and driving to the mountains of Mavicure, which team 3 is just leaving.
Team 3, like team 1, sets off on the first day westwards along the Rio Inirida (military checks: take your passports), but instead of turning into the Caño Bocon, continues until the three Mavicure table mountains appear on the horizon. The mountains look more like cones than table mountains.
One of the mountains can also be climbed, but at the foot of it lies our small indigenous village, where once again an open hut awaits our hammocks. We unload, enjoy the view of the magnificent surroundings with the mountains and the rapids, and have lunch.
Afterwards we’ll go on a little further to a very beautiful biotope to observe cichlids, false rummy-nose tetras and catfish. Terrarium lovers can always stroll around on land and look for crawling animals. This applies to every place we visit.
After our return there’ll still be time to swim, rest or explore the area. In the evening another simple dinner, more setting up of hammocks, then sleep or a night track. The whole of the next day is free for us to do whatever we wish. We can revisit the biotope we observed on our arrival day, go walking, go swimming away from the rapids at the foot of the table mountains, or just relax.
The next morning we’ll take down our hammocks, have breakfast and we can climb the table mountain if we feel like it. Afterwards we’ll load up the boat again and go about 4 hours to Puerto Inirida.
All the teams will swap locations until everyone has been everywhere. The Indio hammocks are more comfortable than Majorca or garden hammocks, because they are wider when you lie a little diagonally. You don't end up shaped like a banana and wake up with back pain! Food includes eggs, chicken, fruit, manioc, beef and fish. If you need more, take along some energy bars.
Drinking water is always available and in the morning coffee or/and cocoa. Every village has one or more toilets, though you may find a frog living next to the toilet paper. A bucket of water serves as flush. If you expect whirlpool and room service, you might want to reconsider coming.
In return, I promise magnificent nature and plenty of fish to observe, photograph or film in their natural habitats. We’ll even be accompanied by river dolphins from time to time!
During the evening meet-ups there will be enough opportunities to talk to the specialists who’ve come along, like Daniel Konn-Vetterlein, Dr. Wolfgang Staeck or me (Heiko Blessin). A lot of the expedition participants have highly specialised knowledge and at the end of the expedition these evening conversations often prove to be amongst our most beautiful memories!
Friends of astrophotography will hardly get any sleep: The starry sky is absolutely fantastic!
Optional extension to Rio Claro
After the end of the official expedition in Bogotá, each participant has the opportunity to extend the trip and travel on with us to Rio Claro for an additional charge (approx. €300-350,-, the exact price can’t be given before the middle of the year). This price includes the trips, accommodation and meals (without drinks).
Unfortunately, access to Caño Cristales, the original extension option, has been closed by the government for conservation reasons. So we looked for alternatives and found a really exciting and worthwhile destination in Rio Claro. The Rio Claro National Park is located 265 km north-northwest of Bogota.
We’ll fly from Puerto Inirida, and go straight from the airport by bus to Rio Claro. We expect a journey time of about 4-5 hours. That’s not really short, but at the same time a nice opportunity to see a bit more of the country.
The option by plane to Medellin and then by bus to the south costs much more (2 flights) and still includes a bus ride of about 3 h. With the "bus only" option we can check in at the lodge in the evening and then have 2.5 days on site.
The Rio Claro is rightly named: it has very clear water with a water temperature of about 26 °C. A long diving suit with 3-5 mm thickness really helps here to enable you to spend longer in the water. But everyone has a different sensitivity to cold.
Within the nature reserve, the Rio Claro always flows along a path, so that you can choose your entry freely. There are some rapids, and the stronger ones should be avoided. Swimming there also carries a danger of injury from stones.
Our rooms are located about 20 min walk upstream from the reception/restaurant in the middle of the jungle.
We’ll have this walk every mealtime, but it is very beautiful, as snakes, lizards, spiders and interesting bird species (e.g. toucan) can be seen along the way. In the dark, it is definitely worth taking along a torch and camera with a flash!
At first glance under water, the difference to blackwater becomes immediately clear. There’s no colour cast, and instead swimming pool-like clear water welcomes us! It is wonderful to snorkel in river bends or bays with low currents and we can extensively observe cichlids (sometimes with fry), catfish and characins. As soon as the current increases, the fish community changes. Catfish are not bothered by the current, ground tetras join in and even big tetra species appear. A real dream for fish enthusiasts!
If you’re getting chilly, you just have to walk the path upstream a little. An air temperature of around 30 °C will quickly warm you up! Then get back in the river and let yourself drift downstream and see where you land. There’s no better way you could observe nature!
As our long distance flight starts late, we can spend the last half day at Rio Claro, check out after noon and drive back to Bogota. There we can have a look at the city, walk through the lively old town centre (absolutely great!) and drive to the airport, just in time for departure.