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Off to Peru

June 14, 2011

Every day for the past few weeks seemed to be a battle between advancing and retreating white space on my dry erase board of things to do before leaving for Peru for six weeks on June 14.  The day before I left yesterday that melded into today was a memorable one.   I began the day by saying goodbye to my wife Yuri as she left for a work trip.  Shortly after I had a breakfast meeting with Jim Finley – a Penn State Forestry professor and CACE board member.  A few of the topics we covered over one last great breakfast at the Waffle Shop included ideas for fundraising for the Center and discussing possible ways to approach training a dog to find trees with aromatic copal resin.  Later in the morning I had one final appointment with my chiropractor Roy Love to crack my creaky neck and back before subjecting myself to weeks of sleeping in hammocks and cramped bunks on boats.  I had a wonderful final lunch with my daughter Marissa – just returned from five months studying abroad in Scotland.  We’re now enjoying a new phase of dad-young adult daughter talks about relationships and possible life paths for the future.  Other tasks accomplished during the day: wrote a thank you letter to a good friend who sent the Center a nice donation, mailed a wedding present to another board member Michael Gilmore who works with Maijuna native communities in Peru, talked by phone with an entomologist at U.C. Davis about specimens of wasps we collected in Peru that we documented harvesting copal resin (apparently the first time this kind of behavior has been observed), talked by phone with evolutionary biologist and fellow copal enthusiast Paul Fine about approaches to getting permits for collecting and exporting plant and insect specimens in Peru, closed a deal by phone with the partner of a website design company in Spokane, WA to make a mockup for our online Amazon Forest Store, did a phone interview of a prospective Center volunteer moving from California to State College and discussed ways she can build on her interest in geography to help us present cool facts about the Amazon on our social media platforms, ordered new eye medicine for our adopted 13 year Pekinese, emailed a woman near Pittsburgh, PA  about ways she could establish a local chapter of the Alternatives to Violence Project and do AVP conflict resolution workshops in the prison where she works near Pittsburgh, PA, backed up my computer on a new external hard drive (took about 15 hours), picked up some money from the State Theatre from Peru artisan baskets they had sold from their box office window and put some new ones out for the summer, took my black lab Juno for one last walk down the path by Penn State corn fields, and microwaved some tasty leftovers for dinner that I ate watching the first episode of Stargate: SG1 with Luke and Marissa.  I finally had to call it quits to do anything else on the white board other the one remaining obligatory task – pack.  I started packing the sundry gear to bring with me at 9 pm.  This is always a challenging task.  I threw together the few clothes I would bring in under a minute because I now have a good collection of old t-shirts, pants, boots, etc. in a bag in Iquitos.  The time consuming task is taking things out of their plastic packaging to save space and weight.  We go through lots of pens, tags, and labels.  This time I’m bringing lots of buckles and leather for the next batch of Amazon guitar straps as well as hardware to make three sizes of dog leashes and collars with the same colorful patterns of woven chambira palm fiber.  I’m bringing down a new separatory flask for the next round of distilling copal resin.  I’ve got nice used clothing and other little gifts to bring field assistants.  There’s always more I want to bring than I have room or weight allowance so it takes a lot of time to prioritize these things and wrap the fragile items in what clothing I do bring.


I had hoped to get a full night’s sleep before getting up at 3 am to drive to Washington,D.C. for my flight, but as the pile of things to be packed slowly ended up in a bag or the other side of my office, the time crept forward until both kids had gone to sleep and it was 3 am.  I kissed the dogs, hugged the cat Xander, and hit the road in our old Toyota Camry wagon – recently equipped with a new battery because the old one had died while the car lingered in our garage unused for six months since its Prius cousin had replaced it as the other primary family vehicle.

Driving in the dark on no sleep is of course not to be recommended.  An hour into the trip I felt drowsiness winning out over the need to keep going.  Fueled and refreshed by several cups of French Vanilla capuchino and Chai latte, a few short naps in the parking lots of these gas/food stops, blasts of cold air from an open window, and channel surfing on the radio, I made it to the edge of Washington,D.C. by dawn and hit rush hour and ground to a snail’s pace on Interstate 270.  Two hours later I got to my friend Richard’s house in Bethesda where my veteran black beauty will rest amidst the twining plants until my return.  We left for the airport almost immediately.  It was great to catch up on the recent high school class reunion Richard had attended that I had missed, but our engrossment unfortunately led us way past the turnoff for Dulles Airport until we were 10 exits past a slow-moving beltway.  We eventually got back roads heading west.  While it was stressful seeing the time to my flight get closer and closer, the airport was a bizarre contrast of calm.  Checking in my bags was totally relaxing.

As I waited in line to go through security I felt a moment of superiority when the elderly gentleman in front of me had several of his toiletry items confiscated because they were larger than the requisite 3 oz size. I got a slap of instant karma, though, when the TSA agent went through the contents of one of my black nylon bags twice until she discovered what had triggered attention of the agent at the scanner.  I had packed 7 flip knives intended as presents for field helpers in my carry on.  Woops……

I finally got to sleep on the flight to Atlanta where I am writing this tome.  Now on to Peru.


Also in News

Amazon Ecology partners with Penn State Social Entrepreneur class
Amazon Ecology partners with Penn State Social Entrepreneur class

July 13, 2021

The student teams have given us a lot of valuable information and recommendations for ways to improve our website, work with influencers and social media, better frame our goals and achievements for the public and funders, and begin to understand the level of staffing and financial resources we will need to become a sustainable organization.  - Campbell Plowden, Executive Director, Amazon Ecology

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February 28, 2018


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.

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February 27, 2018

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 ( focused on a stingless bee project developed with Maijuna native communities by OnePlanet.Org and its director (and CACE board member) Michael Gilmore.

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