I have been trying for days to put a blog post together but it seems like there hasn’t been a second to spare. So here is a brief review of our time so far in Iquitos. Sorry no pics, when you barely have time to finish a blog post it is difficult to get pictures too.
The morning started out in a rush, sometimes it’s like herding cats trying to get 11 kids packed and ready to hit the road. Of course this morning was no different, except once we got everyone on the bus the fire department decided it was a good morning to block off our street to clean the stone wall in Cusco. We had a big fire hose between us and our flight to Lima and time was ticking away.
After some begging and pleading they finally let us through and it was a race to the airport. You never know quite what the Peruvians are going to throw at you but even I was surprised when they decided to take one of Martha’s bungee cords. She had two wrapped around her luggage and one inside and they decided the one inside must be confiscated but the two holding on her sleeping pad were okay. I guess the security guard decided the wanted a bungee cord because it made no sense.
We arrived in Lima and hit the ground running again, visiting the presidential palace where Kierra got pictures with the gun toting guards and we checked out a monastery from the 1600’s that had a catacomb beneath the church where thousands of bodies had been stacked over the years. This was the site of Lima’s first grave yard as bodies were stacked wrapped in cloth and bathed in lime disintegrated over the years leaving only the large bones. We finished our short stay in Iquitos with a quick burger and then back to the airport and off to Iquitos.
The kids introduction to Iquitos was the famous chaufa (chicken and rice) at Kiki Riki, a torrential downpour cleared the boulevard of most of the people so we got a chance to see just a glimmer of the circus that usually goes on the boulevard. After a long day it was in the sack and anticipation for the trip to the jungle.
The next morning started early with everyone loading on the boat and heading out of the port at Pavas. You could feel the excitement in the air as we headed down the Itaya River. In a few short minutes it was obvious the Madre de Amazonas was near, it was like God had drawn a line of color change between the Itaya and the Amazon to signify the queen of rivers was calling us.
Upstream we headed and five hours later we reached our destination, “the tree house”, really a large platform in the jungle with a thatched roof. Everyone pitched their tent and we headed out for the local village. Unfortunately after trudging through the mud we find that the village is almost empty. This happens to be the season where the fish are running and when they can catch fish they do and then head into town to sell them. People know when the going is good and they take advantage. We did find a little squirrel monkey that the kids got to play with but our village stay was very short.
Freebird had decided to take a dugout canoe over to the village with Solo, a ten year old village kid. Unfortunately dugout canoes are made for Peruvians, not 6’2” Americans. It was obvious when they left that there wasn’t much draft on the boat. Each time Freebird paddled the boat dipped a bit and water slipped over the side. It caught up with him on the way back as too much water came over the side and the dugout was swamped. Freebird found himself in the middle of a river with reeds and unknown things all around. Solo thought it was funny, Freebird was terror stricken. Once Solo saw the fear in his eyes he worked to right the boat Peruvian style. Eventually Solo emptied the boat and helped Freebird back in, this time he made Freebird stay on the deck. He didn’t want to take any more chances that the big American sink his boat again.
After dinner a group of us headed out to hunt for caiman (alligators). It’s always kind of eerie floating around in a small boat in the dark Amazon swamps. Our guide, Carlos, spotted one and as we crept up on it he swooped down and caught it. Just a baby but a chance for the kids to all hold their first caiman and get a picture with the 12” monster.
It was really cute as the boat sped up, small fish started jumping and multiple times the kids were pelted with small fish. You could grab them right out of the air. The guys loved it, the girls squealed. I guess that’s the way it is supposed to work.
As we finished the night the gang plank was set for the kids to unload. Ricky stepped off and the guides started yelling. None of us quite knew what the commotion was about as Sarah was about to step off boat. That’s when we saw the snake, a jergon (fer de lance). It was a baby, small but deadly and it gave the kids their first chance to see a snake in the jungle. We ended the night as Carlos pulled out a guitar and sang with the kids, one of those magic moments.
The next morning we headed out to Tamyshcu, on the way we stopped at a sandbar to take a dip in the Amazon. It’s a little scary the first time you go swimming in the Amazon, something about swimming in a river where you can’t see your feet and knowing there are piranhas, caiman, stingrays and other unknown creature that could do you harm. The apprehension dissipated quickly and after cooling off the kids found the mud, and decided to take a mud bath.
We pulled into Tamyshcu just after lunch and met up with my friend David. He had a whole little jungle tour planned for us which concluded with a sample of fresh squeezed sugar cane juice, purple potatoes and masato (yucca root that has been boiled, chewen up and spit into a bowl and then fermented) ummm good.
We headed back into town on a chain of motorcars, slipping and sliding through the mud, the rain coming down in a torrential downpour. Most of the motocars had a helper hanging off the back ready to jump off and push, some of the kids found themselves jumping out to slog their taxi up the hill.
We were planning on the kids doing their performance but as we ate dinner on the boat it became apparent that the rain was not going to let up. It is amazing how the cooks from People of Peru have been able to cook in the hull of the boat as we are under route. The buffet of food was set up underneath as the rain came down we all ate and soaked up the experience.
There was some question whether we were going to be able to even get back to Chris’s farm, our “hotel” for the night. A miloca where we could pitch out tents and get some rest, the rain continued, sometimes so hard couldn’t even hear each other talk. There is something special about going to sleep in a hard rain under a tin roof.
The next morning, Chris told us that there was a good chance the taxistas would not be able to make it out to the farm through the mud but right on time the line of motorcars and their helpers showed up. We took a few minutes in town to visit my friend David’s preschool and farm and then it was off to Iquitos.
Our new hotel put smiles on the kid’s face with a nice little garden, a pool and a cement soccer court, the kids were in heaven. We started our next day with community service as we headed out to Poppy’s House (the orphanage). Our morning was spent tearing down an old tin shack, painting the new computer center and chopping down weeds with machetes. We worked hard all morning and then the kids headed off for their first performance with and audience, about 100 kids at the local school. I think it was a wake up call.
We finished up our work early afternoon and decided to head towards the manatee refuge and the snake farm. For some it was the first time seeing a manatee so feeding a baby manatee a baby bottle. From there we went to a snake farm where they collect the two deadly snakes found in the area, the bushmaster and the fer de lance. The snake farm is not a tourist attraction, it is a laboratory for milking the snakes to harvest venom for making antivenin. Rarely do they allow anyone into see the snakes but the guy knew me from my previous visit and allowed us in. There is nothing like seeing a deadly beast six feet away and knowing you are a step or two away from death.
When we got back to the bus we found that we had a flat tire so the bus driver headed out to get the tire fixed leaving 10 kids and 7 leaders on the side of the road. We were 23 kilometers from town so it looked like it was going to be a long wait. After a few minutes we were able to flag down a motorcar and loaded up most of the girls to head back to town and then we started walking. After about 10 minute a city bus came by and we flagged it down and the rest of us jumped on. It was great to see that within minutes what looked like a long afternoon turned into a cultural event and we were quickly back into Iquitos and moving on.
Thursday morning we teamed up with a group of aspiring physician’s assistants from Union College in Nebraska. We headed out to a small town and started setting up a medical clinic in what was basically a warehouse. Five medical stations, a dental station and a pharmacy were set up within minutes and we started accepting our first patients.
Victoria and Kierra were our receptionist translators and you could tell that they were in their element, screening patient ailments and gathering information. Some of the kids were fascinated at the process and the ailments. The dental area was particularly fascinating as no preventive dental care here, just pulling teeth. I was really interested in talking to Richard, the leader of the dental group, who is really a Chaplin but took a crash course on extracting teeth. By the end of the day the kids had a new appreciation for the desperate situation many people in Peru find themselves.
Our medical team moved on to Belen the next day. It was immediately obvious that this was going to be a different day. The people quickly lined up outside to get the free medical care. Our students were pros now, they knew what to do and where to go. Some of the kids interest grew and found themselves working closely with the doctors. OG even pulled his first tooth.
Mid afternoon we pulled out our sound system and the kids did their performance in the heart of Belen. We started with a little dance contest with some of the local kids and then they burst into their performance. I don’t think Belen has ever experienced anything like it.
The day ended on a down note as one of the people from Union was taking pictures of the kids as someone came by and snatched her camera. The strap was attached to her wrist as the crook ran away the strap caught her finger and shattered it. She had to go to the local hospital and have surgery to put pins in her finger. Paul pursued her camera through the Belen underground network but to no avail.