This page cronicles my blog posts from a three month adventure in Iquitos Peru working with Paul Opp, People of Peru and Peru Voluntours. I can honestly say that is has been one of the most interspective and insightful times in my life. I hope you enjoy.
Iquitos at last
I arrived in Iquitos this morning and was greeted by Paul my friend and the director of People of Peru, www.peopleofperu.org, an incredible organization doing amazing things for the community with a free medical and dental clinic, supporting the children in the community and Poppy’s House an orphanage for neglected and abused girls and their children.
We started the day checking out Paul’s new dental clinic, then off to the new crib, a one room apt overlooking a tributary that leads into the Amazon. I have a nice clean room, a TV full of channels that I don’t understand the language and an air conditioner (Yeah). Bill runs a tour outfit that offers boat tours up the Amazon and a small restaurant. If his boat tours are anything like his breakfast, then I will have to go for a tour one day. The breakfast was wonderful.
The view from my balcony
People of Peru dental clinic
Then Paul took me down to a couple of houses they are building for two families in the slums of Belen. It was amazing to see all the kids flock to Paul like the pied piper. It was also amazing to see the conditions that these kids live in trash and raw sewage where they must be exposed to every disease and danger of getting hurt imaginable. To see the kids of Belen again was sobering. It is the reason I came back to Iquitos, someone must help people like Paul save these kids.
The we headed out to Poppy’s House to see the girls again. We rode motorcycles out to the orphanage. I haven’t driven a motorcycle in 30 years, keeping up with Paul was an adventure in itself and in Iquitos they break all the rules, no helmet, bad roads and crazy traffic. Please don’t tell Lou.
Some of the faces had changed but many were the same girls who where there 3 years ago. A new girl had just joined the crew, she lived up the Amazon with her husband, a Shaman and her 15 month old baby. She got tired of her husband abusing her so she hitched a boat ride with someone coming to Iquitos and showed up on Paul’s doorstep with nothing but her baby. When we ran into her at Poppy’s House she was all smiles. You could see the glow on her face, she was soooo thankful to be out of the abusive relationship, 17 years old with a baby.
Later we had a good dinner and then back to the crib. A tour of all the wonderful things that Paul is doing and a reminder of why I am in Iquitos Peru.
A New Day, Iquitos the city of misfits and the disillusioned
There is a guy here who writes a blog about Iquitos. I haven’t met him yet but I’m sure I will. He writes beautifully, here is a snippit from a recent post where he captured the circus that I get to watch every night from my balcony theater of the sublime.
From Caleb – (you can read the rest of his post at http://calebwhitaker.com/)
Not too much to report on this rainy Saturday. Drove downtown in the rain to try to catch the Duke basketball game, but that was a big fail. I have still yet to see a Duke game in Iquitos. So sitting here at the local café, watching a mentally impaired man pace back and forth, clutching his pants up with one hand while he uses the other to make his central points to the universe. He only has one flip flop. It is starting to rain again. He can’t sit still—he sits on the curb, nods to himself, stands again. He paces in the rain. He whispers into the void. He’s like an animal, caged for so long that he behaves as though still contained within it, even though he is free, or at least he appears to be.
And while I muse on freedom and madness and watch the clouds roll by, I’m also on guard for the snatch and grab thieves who pass in plain sight, ruthless pickpocket piranhas they are, always alert to the parade of eccentrics, hookers and seekers, healers, tokers and dealers. The dirty laundry list of transients, hippies, jewelry hawkers, pasta heads and bread bakers, butterflies and rain makers, and all the pobrecitos, holy fools and heretics that make up this crazy quilt down on the Malecon.
I love this place, I feel like a Martian who has landed on a new planet, a foreign language a foreign culture.
My morning started with another wonderful breakfast from the Dawn on the Amazon restaurant. It was time to start setting up house, time to nest. Paul and I headed out on the motorcycle, Paul kidded saying we probably looked like the new gay couple in town. Lou would love to hear that.
The Belen market is like a swarm of bees gathering pollen and now back at the hive. I’ts also a place to hold onto everything but your underwear, because the grab and snatch is in full force here, so is everything from gator heads to worms. It is like no other market in the world. I picked up a hammock for my balcony, a fan and some cleaning supplies. Now for the real challenge, getting my phone hooked up, time for an interested cultural lesson.
The cell phone store was packed and of course when two Gringos walk in it’s like EF Huttton has spoken, everything gets quiet and heads turn. You take a number and sit down in the cheap plastic orange chairs. Of course they can’t just give you a number, each number is prefaced with some letters, at this point I’m not quite sure why? Thirty minutes pass and our code gets called.
After examining my two phones the chicita informs us none of them will work on the Peruvian system. Time to buy a new phone, this will be the forth phone in my possession, a Droid, a SIM card phone a GSM phone and now a Peruvian SM phone. I feel like I could start my own cell phone company. I’m not sure if I’m getting the straight story but I need a phone and disagreeing is going to cause a major delay so I agreed to speed up the process. I figured she would hand over a new phone, I would pay for it and off we would go. Noooo.
It was time to go back to the end of the line get another number and wait turn again. Now I am getting the picture of what the code is for, it represents the phase of the phone process you are currently in, kind of like the phases of the moon and it takes about the same amount of time.
Round two takes another 40 minutes until we are called up again. Time to get a new phone? Nooo, it’s time to pay for the SIM card then it’s off to a new window to pick the SIM card up, then back to get another number and the end of the line again. After another thirty minutes we are up to bat again, it’s back to the same window to pay for the phone then back to the same pickup window to get the phone. Two hours later and a full lunar cycle and I had my new phone.
Paul told me that he has realized if he accomplishes two significant tasks in a day then he feels like it was a successful day. It is very much like Africa, a system is rife with corruption and graft. Anyone from above who tries to clean it up is thrown out because everybody downstream is profiting and they certainly aren’t going to allow anyone to kill the goose who laid the golden egg. The losers are the people at the bottom of the chain.
What an interesting culture. Paul told me last night that when he first came to Iquitos his neighbors caught someone stealing something from his office. The people started exacting some vigilante justice on the thief and started beating him up, each taking their turn to beat the pinata.
Paul started to step in and stop the beating when a bystander stopped him. He was summarily informed that if he stopped the beating he would become part of the problem. The community would look at him as a criminal sympathizer. Nobody would lift a hand to help him in the future and he could expect to be a target for all the criminals in the neighborhood.
Restraining himself as the man took his licks was totally against Paul’s nature. It took all the self restraint he could muster to stand back and watch the beating. Finally they told the criminal to get up and run. Like a frightened hare he took off with the neighborhood in chase, each time the caught him he got a few more whacks and released the quarry again. Eventually the hunters got tired and the hunted escaped never to be seen again. Hey maybe this is the way to reduce crime and prison crowding.
Paul told me that the beating was all to his body and in Peruvian culture you never hit someone in the face, a punch to the face is totally taboo. No matter what the offense if you get into a fight and hit someone in the face, you are considered in the wrong. I guess they want to keep their criminals looking nice. Wow, I have a lot to learn.
Moving in MotoKars
Never have I been in a city that depended so much on motorcycles and motokars. Eigthty percent of the vechicles in Iquitos are some sort of motorcycle.
The whine of engines grows at each stop light, like the go-cart track at the beach when the green light shines, until like a swarm of bees around the hive the street is buzzing.
Who knew you could drive a motorcycle and carry a bunch of pipe 10′ long in a motokar or that a family of four could fit on a motorcycle. No one here has has heard of wearing a helmet. Paul told me he saw a person the other day wearing a helmet but had not fastened the chin strap. What good is that? It’s nothing to see a family flying down the street holding a baby and a toddler.
No tanning booths here, the people don’t like to get dark, light skin is more attractive so it is common to see someone driving a motorcycle with a long sleeve shirt on backwards, with thier arms up the sleeves to cover their arms but also creating a restraint should they try to recover during an accident. I’m not real comfortable riding a motorcycle without a helmet but I certainly don’t want cloth handcuffs on my arms if I start to go down. If a woman is wearing a skirt she just jumps on side saddle and off they go.
Everything in this city moves by motokar. It costs 3-4 soles ($1-$1.30) to go out to the POP headquarters about 5 miles. Each ride is an adventure as they buzz in and out of traffic. I recorded a video the other day of my trip to work, I’ll have to post it the next day or two. You have to see it to believe it.
The Dark Side
Iquitos is the largest city in the world with no road to it, you can only get here by boat or by plane. This contributes to the dark side of this city of 600,000, a refuge for sexual deviants and pedophiles.
On the boulevard less than 100 yards from my front door is a big sign letting men know that having sex with a child is against the law but the dark side is alive and flourishing in this city.
The poverty of the masses contributes to this problem. Some parents utilize their children as props or fodder for the sexual deviants or as a source of income. The value of a child in Iquitos is a few hundred soles ($100) or less. Paul explained to me that any man, if you want to call them that, could come into this city reap some gifts and compliments on a child’s parents and walk away with their 14 or 15 year old daughter with their blessing.
I didn’t understand the full gravity of the situation until it smacked me in the face over the last couple of days. I was talking to a retired expat, Bill (he is one of the good guys), he told me he had adopted two girls from a family of twelve children, five of which had died. He wasn’t sure what happened to the first four but he was here when the last one died from diarrhea. Mainly because the parents were too lazy to go and purchase the simple remedy that would have saved their child’s life. She finished her few short years on this earth on a slab of wood in the slums of Belen. He convinced the parents to let him adopt the two smallest girls who were still alive and he has raised them as his father since then, today they are thriving at 11 and 15 years of age.
Just after telling me that story a young girl in her twenties plopped down beside me. I thought she was a friend of Bill’s one of the other locals I was talking with until she grabbed my hand and started rubbing it. It became abundantly clear that she was a hooker looking for her next trick. In my garbled Spanglish I explained that I was married and not interested.
She was persistent and continued to try to make me her new mark even after repeated attempts to convince her I was not interested. When she finally got the message and left Bill explained that she was one of five daughters who was being pimped out by her FATHER.
I have repeatedly seen mother’s on the boulevard begging for money and using their small children as props. One in particular has two girls, one looks to be about four years old and the other around nine. Paul knows this family and had to threaten to take the girls away from the mother if she did not put the older child in school. She relented and Adrianna is now in school and making spectacular grades. In fact she has done so well in school Paul promised to get her a new bed, to reward her for the high marks.
We delivered that bed yesterday. It was a lesson in humility as we walked towards the one room tenement apartment. They got their drinking water from a hole in the floor with a bucket attached to a rope that was dropped into the hole and pulled up. The hall smelt like a urinal, the walls and room were filthy with one bed stuffed with straw for the mom and two kids to sleep on.
There was one louvered window with only two glass slats remaining and a dirty piece of cloth covering the opening. No ability to lock out anyone or mosquitoes carrying Dengue fever wanting to do the family harm.
The bathroom reminded me of the mop room from a two bit diner, just a tile floor with a drain and a pipe protruding from the wall, shampoo and toothbrushes just sitting on the dirty wall. When we moved the disgusting mattress roaches scattered like a box of brown balls dropped on the floor. No air flow in the room in a subtropical climate.
The new bunk bed took about 45 minutes to assemble but it was worth the sweat and the grime and the overpowering feeling to jump in a shower and scrub down your body as we left and Adrianna and her sister were sitting on their new bed. The results of her good school work showed on her little face, the glow lit up the room.
Dear God please help these children, as they are just the product of a conception and an environment where nobody cares, in many case where their own parents sell them out. Thank you for people like Paul and the People of Peru Project. Another day in Iquitos, another lesson, another confirmation why I am here.
There are two social events here in Iquitos that occur on a regular basis, birthdays and funerals, both start late and go long. Even small children’s birthdays can start at 9 or 10pm and go to the wee hours of the morning; funerals are an all night event. If it is an adult party, the participants may partake in some adult beverages but they will open one cerveza pour a glass full then pass the glass around the party with each person taking their sip. When the glass is empty they fill it again and the glass continues. Two observations here, I guess this is a way to make sure no one over indulges and everybody gets their fair share but it’s got to be a really good way to pass any infectious disease that is in the neighborhood. Can you imagine if we had a party in the US and opened one beer, poured it in a glass and started to pass it around. Hmmm might get a really interesting reaction.
Funerals are a similar social extravaganza but not quite as festive. People will go to a funeral when they don’t know the person who died or any of the family members; just another social event. Partially because they know the family will be serving food and partially for a morbid curiosity to see the family mourning and a body in a casket. The wake will start at 10pm and go all night long with hundreds of people showing up to partake in the show.
There seems to be a morbid curiosity about most tragic events, it doesn’t matter if it is a motorcycle accident or a house fire you can expect the spectators to show up in mass. Paul told me he was enjoying an afternoon at the river one day when everyone realized an young man had gone under and not come up. After about 20 minutes they found and dragged his limp lifeless body out of the river. Time for emergency action? CPR? Lifesaving measures? No.
No, it’s time to pull out the cell phone camera and take a picture. Minutes later the widow comes running down with their small child as she learns that her husband has just passed away. She kneels down beside the body wailing; out come the cameras once again to capture the spectacle. Suddenly a reporter shows up and tries to interview the grief stricken widow, who has had just a few short minutes to absorb the gravity of the situation, sticking a microphone in her face and asking stupid questions.
Then there is one event that is celebrated annually, Carnival. Most South American cultures start celebrating the pre-Lent activities beginning or after the Epiphany and ending the day before Ash Wednesday, Carnival and Mardi Gras the most famous examples, not Iquitos. Carnival started today but not in the normal way, nothing is normal in Iquitos. The beginning of the celebration is a city wide water balloon fight.
As you ride through the city the kids pelt you with water balloons. Today we went to see Adrianna and they got us. I guess a little water won’t hurt anybody unless you are going 40 miles an hour on a motorcycle. Fortunately we were going slow when we go doused. I understand later in the festivities not all balloons are filled with water. Great!
What if your street was not only your mode of transportation but also where your washing machine? What if the road to your house was also your source of food, entertainment, your shower and your bathroom? What if your street was the center of your universe?
For people in the Amazon, their street is the river and it is what their world revolves around. It is fascinating to take a boat ride down the river and see the display of life as it plays out in and around the river; people doing their everyday chores and living their lives in full view of anyone who passes.
The Amazon River basin is the largest in the world (2,720,000sq mi), stretching across South America and covering almost 40% of the continent. The river varies in width from a few hundred yards to 150 miles wide in some places during the wet season. The river rises as much as 30 feet during the rainy season (Jan-May). Most dwellings along the river are on stilts to protect homes from flooding. At no point on the river is there a bridge, if you want to cross the Amazon you have to go by boat.
This is truly one of the most fascinating places on Earth!
Each night I sit on boulevard in with the other expats and the sweet Amazon breeze, the harmony of the street players and the come-on from the hookers, when a tap comes on my head. I spin around to see no one there, than I know it is Ruth, hiding.
Ruth walks the boulevard each night selling her Chiclets for the few cents to anyone who notices her and cares to give; most ignore her and send her on her way. Most nights Ruth and her 5 year old brother are on the boulevard until after 12am with no parental supervision.
Her sly little smile has captured my heart. I trade a few soles for a kiss on the cheek. I have been warned by multiple people not to touch or be affectionate towards the street kids. Pedophilia is so bad here that everyone is scared to death to touch a child. I refuse to relent, I love to hug and kisses from the kids.
How are these kids ever going to know what it is like to have an adult male show affection towards them without thinking they are trying to get in their pants? Who is going to teach them about healthy relationships? Do they just wait for puberty and prostitution?
I asked Paul if we could investigate Ruth’s home life and today we did. Ruth is 10 years old and has three younger siblings. She has attended school for one year of her young life, just before the male in the family jumped ship and they moved to Belen but now none of the children are in school. They live in a one room bunk house on stilts that couldn’t be more than 8’x8’, no kitchen no bathroom. The mother and four children sleep on a bed made of wood slats, no mattress, no sheets, no protection from mosquitoes.
As we sat and talked to her mother, her brother walked over and peed between the cracks in the wall, not caring who might be below. Ruth is the bread winner of the family as she sells her gum and collects about 7 soles ($2) per night. There are a hundred more just like her on the boulevard every night. Please help us help them, these are just children! www.peopleofperu.org.
As we raced down the Amazon in a small narrow speed boat packed like sardines with local Peruvians, old worn out wooden seats, a couple chickens on my feet and the spray pluming two feet over the side of the boat, I knew that I was recovering from more then just a cultural hangover. When a middle aged woman in the middle of the boat started climbing over people one at a time to make her way to the stern I realized nature was calling. No bathroom here, she just hung it over the side and let it go, Peruvian style, the wind took care of the rest. What a place.
I had spent the weekend with a new friend, David, in his hometown Tamshiyacu. Tamshiyacu is a small river town with about 5000 people, only two gringos, I was number three.
David used to be a successful lawyer in Los Angeles until he gave it all up to move to this little Amazonian village to start a pre-school. I was intrigued with his story so I decided to come for a weekend.
The weekend didn’t start on a high note as we arrived I started feeling bad. By dinner time I was nauseous, had a headache and things were coming out both ends. David thought I had Dengue so we headed for the local clinic, a little ramshackle building with one table and one chair. I was admitted immediately. The doctor asked a bunch of questions, took my blood pressure and temperature. Then the good news, it was not Dengue but Montezuma or Dysentery had stuck, he prescribed some antibiotics and pain medication and then we walked to the local pharmacy, another shack, and then to bed in my “suite” at the Hospedeje (hotel).
I nicknamed my suite ONE; one bed, one sheet, one table, one ceiling fan, one chair, one pipe coming out of the wall for a shower, one temperature, hot for the room and cold for the shower.
In the morning they woke me up to fumigate the room for mosquitoes; Dengue is a real problem here. Not feeling a whole lot better I headed to David’s farm. He has a small compound with a couple of chickens, a pig, a few dogs and cats and a Macaw named Shakira. He suggested that I try some tea made out of Una de Gato (Cat’s Claw), not really from a cat but a tree that has thorns that look like a cat’s claw.
Later we called in the big guns, the Shaman came to do “ceremony”. Darkness had fallen and we sat in a small circle with a candle burning. As the Shaman, Don Jorge pulled out his potion he blew smoke into the bottle then poured me a small shot glass. I was blessed with a bit of flower water on my head and the candle was blown out. It was pouring down rain and absolutely surreal. The medicine I was given is called “the purge” in English and purge I did. It’s been a long time since I have thrown up and sweated that much. By the time the ceremony was over I could barely stand up, my shirt was soaking wet and I looked like a drunken fool. They helped me back to ONE where I laid awake most of the night; the drum of the rain pounding above me. Just when I thought it couldn’t rain any harder, God would turn up the faucet. The sound was deafening.
By Saturday morning I was starting to feel better, it felt like I had been through 10 rounds with Mike Tyson pounding my stomach. I saw the Don Jorge at breakfast and he declared me healed.
In fact while he was at David’s farm he took a look at David’s night guard who was feeling bad, he diagnosed the guard as having a curse on him put there by a witch doctor and prescribed getting the curse removed immediately.
I found this fascinating until David told me that he was at a friend’s house one day who was suffering from a serious unknown malady when they called a Shaman in who said that a curse had been placed on the woman and he had seen the man in his vision who had placed the curse. The family called the police. David was thinking, “This is going to get really interesting when the police get here and take a report that a witch doctor has placed curse on their relative.”
The police took the matter very seriously. They went and got the culprit and accused him of placing a curse on the woman. Of course like all criminals he had the standard response “I’m innocent”. The police informed him if the woman died they would charge him with murder and if he didn’t remove the curse immediately they were taking him to jail. The heathen witch doctor confessed and said that someone had paid him 10 soles ($3) to kill the woman with a curse. He offered to remove the curse for another 10 soles but the police stood firm and said his choices were, remove the curse or go to jail. He removed the curse, the woman recovered and Tamshiyacu was back to normal. Only in Peru!
The “ONE” suite The spa in the “ONE” suite
David, Yolanda (the shaman’s wife) and Don Jorje. The shaman is the one with the shirt that says “I Have An Attitude – Arrest Me” :)
I try to be punctual and efficient in my day to day activities, two qualities that go out the window here in Peru. David told me recently that he had an appointment the other day with another person at 7pm. He was at the appointed location at the appointed time. He waited and waited, the person finally showed up at 8:58. A bit perturbed he said “Where have you been? I have been here since 7pm!” The person responded, “Oh I thought our meeting was at 8pm.” To which he replied, “Okay but it is 8:58!” The person shot back, “Well it’s still 8 something.”
People in Peru are never on time. Now I just assume that any appointment will start 15 to 30 minutes late. Anybody who is doing a service for you takes forever and does it the least efficient way possible. Food at a restaurant is delivered one plate at a time. “Oh you wanted silverware?” The motokar drivers kill me. Almost every time you are going any distance in a motokar the driver has to get gas. I have never seen a driver purchase more than 2 soles (66 cents) worth of gas. The other day a guy actually pulled into a gas station and bought 5 cents worth of gas. Gas is over $3 per gallon here.
Paul has already been Peruvianized. The other day we were heading to the girls crisis center. He pulled out his motorcycle and started to kick start it. I could tell there was gas leaking and mentioned it. The bike started and he said jump on. I knew that the motorcycle was going to breakdown and it did, 100 yards into the trip. Paul just jumps off and pushes it about 50 yards to a mechanic. Both Paul and the mechanic knew exactly what the problem was, they needed to replace a short piece of tubing. The mechanic sits down and then realizes he needs tools so up he goes to get tools. Then he realizes he needs some tubing so he gets up and gets the tubing. Then he realizes he needs a knife to cut the tubing and its back up again and on and on and on. After 20 minutes of the back and forth the motorcycle was fixed. Sometimes you just want to scream “Dude why not bring everything you need on the first trip!” Eventually you learn “tranquillo”, just relax. If you accomplish two things per day then you have succeeded. Paul tells me he is going to take the country route for a prettier drive; really bumpy but prettier. About half way there we run out of gas. Paul says he knew he was almost out of gas but thought he had enough to get to the gas station. So we get off the bike and he lays it down on it’s side in the middle of the road, a Peruvian trick to get a little more gas in the carburetor. The motorcycle starts right up and off we go, barely making it to the gas station. Now it is happening to me I am becoming Peruvianized, I bought a motorcycle today. God help me.
Not much sleep last night as the anticipation of playing the Augusta in the Amazon is more than I can bear. Looking down the number one fairway of the most beautiful golf course in the Amazon, I realize how long it has been since I touched a golf club. My caddie is beside me and suggesting an 8 iron for the beginning par 3.
It’s a little hard to see exactly where the flag is because it is only three feet tall and no GPS here. In fact there are no carts, no cart paths and my caddie is carrying a machete. Not so much for protection, although many have run across a boa constrictor or an anaconda on the course, more to mow down the rough if you happen to land there. Which is a distinct possibility since the whole course is rough. After all this is the best course in the Amazon primarily because it is the “only course in the Amazon”.
We got out early and caught up with the greens crew mowing number 3 mowing the green with a weed eater. Well we got a half mowed green, what more do you want, just stay on the short side. They have two weed eaters and a couple of machetes to keep the course groomed immaculately; well almost immaculately.
Unique rules for this course, if you lose your ball in the fairway you get a free drop. It’s an automatic two putt if you put it close, no need to run the score up and it is difficult to pull the flag from the water bottle that has been buried to hold it in place.
Good thing we have a caddie because the fairways can be deep, a foot in some places. Lucky the dog joined us and found a couple of balls, the only problem was that he wouldn’t give them back. We called him Lucky because in many South American countries they eat the dogs but they won’t eat a black dog; therefore a black dog is generally known as “lucky”.
As we walked across Hogan’s Bridge you had to watch your step or you might fall through. Not a place where you want to fall in a water hazard or for that matter even reach your hand in to find a ball, full of piranhas and alligators. One, not so smart, golfer tried it and lost the tip of his finger.
Twenty five dollars for nine holes or for that matter as many holes as you care to play. The greens fee includes club rental, if that is what you want to call them, 12 balls and some broken tees. I can tell you after nine holes you feel like you have gone twenty seven. It has been over a month since I have played golf and Augusta in the Amazon was a unique experience, challenging and thoroughly entertaining. Eat your heart out Sedgefield, thank you John for joining me.
Finishing beautiful No 9 before going into the clubhouse for a cold one.
Augusta in the Amazon, nothing quite like it anywhere in the world. Really!
Al Frio al Fuego
We stepped out of our motorkar and down into a dimly lit path with stones marking the way. Eventually we hit a stairway that ran right into the water. Our chariot waited, into the peque peq we climbed. The familiar pek pek pek of the motor moved us through a sea of water lilies. The lights shimmering off the water told us that Iquitos was not far away but a million miles away right now.
A few short minutes and the boat drifted up to the dock of Frio al Fuego, the floating restaurant. This is a beautiful restaurant floats in the Itaya River and has everything you need to get away from everything for a few short hours, including a swimming pool in the middle of the river.
As our host helped us off our launch we stepped onto our escape for the night Frio al Fuego. The service was impeccable; we started with a hearts of palm salad with fresh avocado and tomato. Lou ordered Patarashca, Doncella fish with fresh onions, tomato, sweet chili with cilantro wrapped in a bijo leaf; I had a grilled smoked jerky with a chimichurri sauce.
The evening was enchanting as we watched our chefs work their magic, like a symphony in action, a cool breeze blowing across the river with the shimmering lights dancing on the water it was a late Valentine dinner to remember. My girl is here.
Tonight I headed for Poppy’s House (the orphanage) to check on our new visitors, Annalise and Mary Vaughn from North Carolina. Everything was going fine until I hit a road block on the main street.
There apparently was an accident and instead of directing traffic around the accident the rocket scientists decided to close the whole road which is the major traffic artery through Iquitos. I headed down the detour and quickly realized that I was in my first Iquitos traffic jam, horns honking and taxi drivers yelling expletives in Spanish.
Normally it is an advantage to have a motorcycle in a traffic jam but not when everybody is on a motorcycle. The traffic was at a dead standstill, nowhere to go forward, nowhere to go back, so what should have been a 30 minute drive ended up taking almost an hour to get out to Santa Teresa.
I figured that the traffic would be cleared up on the way home since I had been out at Poppy’s House for about an hour. Not a chance. On the way back I hit the detour again coming from the other way. This time I was going to be really bright and not follow the rest of the traffic flow and avoid running into another traffic jam. Not my smartest move.
Within minutes I was in places in Iquitos no white man had seen in years; backstreets, potholes big enough to lose a city bus in and to top it all off there had been a major rain earlier in the day so the streets were really muddy. I felt like I was in a maze as I kept hitting dead ends, locals all around with shocked looks on their face that a gringo was driving through their neighborhood.
I slipped around one corner and ended up in a little alleyway. About the time that little voice was telling me to turn around I was on the crest of a hill that was all mud and full of ravines. It was too late, I was committed to going down the hill. It wasn’t until I reached the bottom of the hill that I realized I had just driven into a mud pit where the mud was almost a foot deep.
Everyone was stuck or slipping and sliding. The local kids were out helping push those who were dumb enough to end up on their street out of the mud. The only problem with driving a motorcycle through deep mud is that you have to put your feet down.
Two kids got on the back of my motorcycle and started pushing as I was wading through the mud with the bike spinning and shooting mud everywhere. I’m not quite sure how I got through the mud flats but eventually I found myself on dry ground and two kids with their hands out for a propino (tip).
I was happy to give them a couple of soles and be on my way with about five pounds of mud on my feet. An hour and a half later I made it back to the boulevard and civilization.
Ruth Update – I have continued to work on getting little Ruth into school. The other day her mother, Rita, got her birth certificate and barring anymore roadblocks I think we are finally poised to get here enrolled in school later this week. Next on the list is her little sister Maria.
The Clemson Co-eds
I stood on the dock as they loaded provisions wondering to myself how this adventure would turn out. Ten five gallon jugs of water, a huge cooler full of food, tents and two Clemson co-eds and off we went. I’m wondering why we need 50 gallons of water since we are only going for one night? These guys have vastly overestimated or they are anticipating a longer trip, either way we are off to the jungle.
Annalise and Mary Vaughn were recent additions to the Iquitos landscape and my first attempt at leading a couple of visitors on a trip up the Amazon River. Annalise is the daughter of one of my friends and co-workers, Kathy Watkins. The two girls came down for spring break to experience Iquitos. I had additional stress of making sure these two got back safely or face the repercussions from their moms.
I was a little concerned because Annalise was having a lot of trouble with allergies and Mary Vaughn is petrified of spiders. Hmmm camping out on the Amazon with someone who is afraid of spiders?
We headed up the Amazon to a little village called, Yanaycu, two co-eds, a translator (Brian), our boat driver (Anderson) a cook (Betty) and myself. Four hours later we arrived at our destination still wondering how this was all going to work out.
The village seemed a bit surprised that a small expedition of gringos had just landed on their shore. Brian found the leader in the village, (Roger) and asked if we could pitch a couple of tents for the night. Roger offered for us to stay in his home.
The generosity and kindness found in Amazon villages is unparalleled. Roger already had dinner on the stove, a little alligator and some fish and a couple of geese roosting underneath the kitchen table but within minutes we find ourselves setting up camp with our little entourage in his house, Betty taking over the kitchen and the rest of us making ourselves at home pitching our tents in the “living room”. Roger was pushed right out of his own home but he seemed perfectly content that he was hosting the gringos. We were the talk of the town.
The entertainment for the evening would be alligator spotting. As darkness set in we loaded up in a small canoe and headed out. I don’t think I grasped what was involved in alligator spotting. The water is rising in the Amazon creating a vast swamp and quickly we found ourselves slipping into a dark and spooky jungle. Not the best place for an arachnophobic or allergies.
With the canopy of the rain forest just above our heads we started our search for gators. At times we found ourselves surrounded by reeds so tall it felt like you were floating through a corn field or lily pads so thick proceeding in the boat was impossible.
The boat was leaking so Annalise took of the job of bailing water in between sneezing and shrieks from Mary Vaughn, the mosquitoes were as thick as thieves. The thought entered my mind more than once, “What if this boat sinks?” We were in the middle of an Amazon swamp, alligator and piranha infested water in a boat that is leaking in the pitch dark. Hmmm. It was a surreal experience. I was really proud of my co-eds not a single complaint although I know they were petrified.
We all hoped and prayed that Roger knew his way home. He did. Two hours later we were back, no alligators spotted but quite an experience. I fell asleep listening to the girls laughing and playing in their tent like two little school girls. Really cute.
The next morning started at 5:30am with trekking through the swamp again, this time on foot with boots. After spending some time in the jungle you realize how quickly you can get lost and be in real trouble. More than once during our stay I wondered if Roger knew where he was but each time he led us back to safety.
On the way back to Iquitos we stopped on at an island home where the proprietor ran a small petting zoo. The girls got to play with monkeys, a toucan, sloth, anaconda, alligator and some turtles.
I think Iquitos and the Amazon left an awesome impression on the girls from Clemson and they will have stories about their spring break that will resonate around the Clemson campus. Thank you Annalise and Mary Vaughn, I had a great time showing you guys Iquitos and a little slice of the Amazon rain forest. My first expedition was a success, I think…
Our jungle accommodations
Roger’s house and our boat
Dinner was on the stove
Geese under the kitchen table