Feb. 23, 2012
Today has really been almost two consecutive days of traveling to mark my return to Peru. It began yesterday morning around 4 am when I got up with my wife Yuri. She walked our dogs while I completed backing up all of the documents, pics and videos from my computer to an external hard drive that will be left at home just in case. After one last bowl of my regular cereal for a while and final hugs to Juno (dog), Joy (dog), Xander (cat), and son Luke, Yuri and I hit the road around 7 am. It was a wonderful four hour drive to Washington, D.C. because the weather was clear, and taking turns during the drive gave us time to have an uninterrupted conversation that flowed from family affairs, to politics, relationship insights sparked by reality TV, tensions between leading a totally spirit centered life and desires to change the world, and sharing memories of my grandfather kindled while attending a Zen Buddhist ceremony in a tiny village in Japan. Coming into DC brought up strong memories for Yuri because she grew up around there and spent so much time driving to various spots on the Potomac River where she kayaked every day for years. That was another life time ago for her. I was setting out for my first trip to the Amazon when we first met. We’ve been together since now for more than 25 years. I couldn’t do any of these Amazon journeys without her full support in so many ways. Saying farewell to her at the airport truly marked the beginning of another journey because it meant that I was once again setting off on my own without my best friend to talk to every day.
I pulled out my laptop for hour long slots before, during and after my flight from DC to Atlanta and finally finished putting together a summary of CACE’s income and expenses since the group began in 2006. We’re still a small group, but I was glad to see that we’ve grown from a $12,000 per group in the first year to almost $50,000 last year. This growth has been made possible by the steady support of two families who believe in me and our mission, two foundations that have given us a pair of grants, and steadily increasing sales of handicrafts made by our partner artisans in Peru and Brazil.
I started to feel the excitement of my travel juices stirring waiting at the gate in Atlanta as I was surrounded by people speaking Spanish (presumably Peruvians heading home) and Japanese (probably a tour group heading to Macchu Picchu). Scattered through the waiters were Americans wearing t-shirts indicating they were heading to Peru for a mission trip. The economy section was apparently full (including many on the wait list) so I was pleasantly surprised that the Delta gate clerk gave me an upgrade to “business elite” – not the fancy first class seats, but they were in a section that had a good bit more room to stretch my legs. I read through a bit of the New York Times, pleased that I’d actually already digested the essence of the news listening to NPR Morning Edition. One new story was about a group of folks who help escort hundreds of salamanders across a busy road during their annual mating time. I knew I should have slept more, but I’m a sucker for free movies so I watched about two and a half (the plane landed before the third one finished) even though I had to keep upward pressure on the little prongs on the piece that fit into the seat jack in order to hear the narration allowing me to get good practice opening the various plastic wrappers surrounding even item on the dinner tray.
Arrival in Lima was blessedly easy as well. Slow but steady plodding through the immigration line, and chance favored me when I pushed the button at customs that allowed me to pass through without inspection. If one gets a red light, you have to open all your bags to be looked at. One nice feature of the Lima airport not found any more in U.S. airports is a place to stow one’s luggage. I always have two big duffle bags that I can’t lug around for the day. I then camped out at the airport Starbucks for a while since it’s the only place to get “free” internet access in the airport. Since I’ve been having troublesome pains in my tummy for the past week, I had some soothing mint tea. I was glad that a trip to the doctor and hospital for blood and other tests the day before I left showed that I didn’t have anything that would be dire enough to postpone my trip. I started taking Prilosec to see if that would calm my tummy in the interim. I then got a few hours of sleep on the tile floor of any upper lounge with my backpack as pillow and jacket as blanket along with other weary travelers who arrived on flights at midnight and were waiting for connections to various parts of Peru at daylight.
I got up around 6:30 am and got a good breakfast of eggs, toast, coffee and papaya juice at one of the nicer airport cafes (I couldn’t quite bring myself to have a breakfast sandwich at McDonald’s) and edited some photos of artisans with their kids and crafts. The restaurant also had a closed off section called Lucky Strike – an area for hard core smokers. I don’t like to see anyone harming themselves this way but it was disturbing seeing that there was one large family group in there – about ten people that included four kids who seemed to be less than eight years old. The dad was apparently oblivious to the sign right below the place’s name that said “Fumar produce infarto cerebral” – Smoking causes stroke.
As the normal business hour approached, I took a cab into downtown Lima to go to the office of the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAG) that deals with Wildlife and Forestry affairs. Driving through the morass of endlessly crowded highways and streets of this city of 9 million is never an experience of joy for me, but I do like to chat with the cab drivers. Ronald gave me his opinions about the new president, where he’s been and where he’d like to go in Peru, and enjoyed hearing my stories about the size and diet of whales.
I was glad to meet with one of the biologists at MINAG that had been handling my most recent application for a permit to collect biological samples as part of our research on copal resin. We sent in all of what we thought was the proper paper work last summer, but it had gotten hung up for reasons that were not clear to Yully (our CACE representative in Iquitos) or me. It seems that the requirements to get these permits have been growing every year, particularly for any research that intends to do any genetic analysis of collected samples. My meeting gave me a chance to finally understand all of the questions they had raised in a letter to us about our application. To get the process back on track we will stipulate that we won’t do any genetic work on our samples. In the meantime, we can prepare another ten forms or documents in order to get permission to do the DNA work – very important for us to be able to figure out how many weevil species are forming the resin lumps on the copal trees.
I took a long walk to a mall, edited some more artisan photos, had some lunch and got a taxi back to the airport. My energy for conversation was very low so I mostly slept for the next 45 minutes as my driver weaved his own way back. I woke up with enough time to learn his name was José – a decent fellow of Croatian descent. He dropped me off outside the airport to save the hefty tax they must pay to drop off passengers inside the terminal. There are official airport cabs that cost about twice as much as the ones on the street. They of course say that they are much safer. Safety is good, but I’ve never had a problem with any cab driver. Some of their cars are pretty funky, but I’ve never been ripped off. It is mandatory, however, that you negotiate the price you will pay to get to your destination before you get in the cab to avoid any shocks.
Time to get my big bags back and check in for my flight to Iquitos. Amazon, here I come.
GETTING STUFF DONE IN IQUITOS
While it can be very hard to get certain kinds of things done in Peru in an efficient way (like standing in line for hours to pay a bill at a bank), it’s a fun adventure to get other stuff done in a fun, timely and affordable way. I went out on Sunday to get some basic supplies for our house and got most of them at a modern store called Quispe, but right around the corner I found a fellow named Elmo who is the owner of one of the typical mobile micro-stalls (about 3 x 2 x 5 feet) that is his shop for his business to make copies of keys and help people with other kinds of locks. He first used one of those simple machine to make a rough cut of the key copy from the original. He then used a narrow grinder to fine-tune the copy.
I was really impressed that he used a hand caliper to measure the depth of each notch in the original key and the copy he was making. He eyeballed any minute differences because the calipers had no graduated lines on them. Elmo had been doing this work for 30 years so I felt pretty confident that his keys that cost me $1.25 each to make would work. He gave me his phone number to reach him just in case. His copies got me in my house just fine, but I’d like to see him again just to learn more about his life.
While the lease that we signed to rent our new house for CACE in Iquitos said everything was in good working order, we’ve discovered a few things that needed fixing to make the place more comfortable, safe and functional for our needs. As soon Tulio moved into the house, he met our neighbor Jorge who quickly became our go-to motorcar driver. When we mentioned to Jorge yesterday that we had a few plumbing issues that needed tending to, he said he had a friend who could handle them.
Julio showed up ten minutes later. They quickly determined that the threads in the faucet in the kitchen sink were stripped, the sink in my bathroom was leaking because the pipe under it was totally rusted through, and the sink in Tulio’s bathroom was clogged and just needed cleaning. After several trips to the hardware store to get various new pipes, glue, and tape, Julio donned my headlamp and used his and Jorge’s collection of old saws and wrenches to replace or clean all of the degraded items.
Julio returned this morning and spent the better part of the day doing four more tasks: 1) installing new pipes connecting our elevated water tank in the back patio to faucets in the work sinks so we could distill our rosewood material with an abundant supply of cooling water, 2) installed a new section of mosquito netting in my bedroom, 3) installed a new section of mosquito netting in the space above my bathroom, and 4) fixed up a wire in the back patio that was loosely connected by duct tape that was hanging out of a busted piece of PVC pipe.
We paid a total of about $25 in materials and $50 in labor for all seven jobs and everyone felt good about the tasks that were done. Julio looked around the house as he was leaving and said “please call me if you need anything done. I can fix your roof, put up a wall…….” Tulio told me tonight that Julio is someone who is referred to here as a “mil oficios” – someone who can do a thousand things. I know we have handymen in the US, too, but I’m awfully glad that I met Julio here.
STINGLESS BEES AT CHINO One of the houses I also visit first at Chino belongs to the veteran artisan Romelia and her husband Jorge. Jorge is one of the folks in the village who has maintained several wooden box nests with stingless bees as part of a honey producing project developed under the guidance of German Perilla from George Mason University in Virginia. While these bees don't produce as much honey as their stinging honeybee counterparts, their honey is highly valued for its strong flavor and medicinal properties.
During my last visit, Jorge's nest boxes were in his back yard. This time, he had placed both at opposite ends of his kitchen to keep a closer eye on them. I took several shots of bees coming and going out of the entrance tube as well as the guard which is always on duty to prevent the entrance of unwelcome visitors (other bees, flying ants, etc.) who might wish to invade to prey on their young.
Check out the video Beekeeping in the Amazon (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ca2kYBJN4tI) focused on a stingless bee project developed with Maijuna native communities by OnePlanet.Org and its director (and CACE board member) Michael Gilmore.