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On to Iquitos

June 16, 2011


Campbell Plowden in Atlanta airport

Campbell Plowden in Atlanta airport

I spent about five hours in the Atlanta airport before catching my connecting flight to Lima.  I wandered first into a room in search of a spot with free wi-fi that said “Sojourner’s – must be 18 to enter”.  I gasped stepping less than 18 feet into the room because it was saturated with cigarette smoke and there wasn’t an open table where someone wasn’t smoking.  I quickly exited this final refuge for nicotine addicts and found that Sojourner’s also had a normal non-smoking restaurant next door where I wrote my first blog entry.

My seatmate en route to Lima was a Peruvian woman who had been living in Japan for 11 years.  She was now heading “home” for a two month stay where she was going to get married before returning to Japan with her husband who had never been there.   I didn’t follow all of her rapid Lima brand of Spanish, but thought she said she hadn’t seen her fiancée in 3 years.  One movie on the plane was about a new couple where the man in New York City and woman in San Francisco began their time together with idealism they could make this relationship work and then faced the inevitable challenges trying to balance their desire for love, maintain love and trust from afar, and difficulties finding work in the other’s city.   I appreciate my wife Yuri so much for taking on extra burdens on the home front when I spend most of the summer in Peru.

I passed quickly through immigration at the Lima airport thinking that for some people, this encounter with a person who can deny you entry to his country can be stressful.  For me, going through customs often raises my pulse because I need to bring in lots of supplies for our research and community work.  Sometimes I’ve brought in rather exotic things like a 3 piece copper alembique distillation apparatus that have passed without notice; other times I’ve needed to pay duty on seemingly mundane items like vials.  Passengers entering Lima customs need to push a button that randomly activates a red or green light.  I visualized myself pushing the button and getting the green light to proceed, but got the red instead.  After viewing my four bags that passed through the screening machine, one agent asked me to open my largest duffle bag.  She opened one nylon pouch after another containing chords, office supplies and sundry field equipment and only asked with curiosity about the buckles being delivered to our artisan partners to make guitar straps.  Being affable and honest worked well so I passed “Go” into the main airport.

Since many international flights arrive in Lima at night, the quiet spaces around the internet café upstairs becomes a slumber party of bodies huddled around their luggage trolleys and backpacks.  The quietude erupts at 3:45 am when airline ticket counters open to start checking in hundreds of people bound for Cusco and the obligatory trip to Macchu Picchu.  I’ve usually flown to Iquitos on the well- established carrier LAN, but this time I decided to try my luck on the newer budget carrier Peruvian Airlines.  Although the line snaked around multiple pillars, it moved quite fast once the attendants got to work.  While I got to check in two free bags with Delta on my flight down (frequently using my Sky Miles credit card does have its benefits), it seemed likely I would need to pay for one bag on the domestic leg.  Proof of my status as an incoming international passenger, however, erased this extra charge.

The budget aspect of Peruvian Airlines became more evident entering the plane where the sardine seating arrangement left no room for larger than average knees.  My seatmate this time was a nurse coming to Iquitos with one of the very common church-backed medical missions.  This group of nurses and doctors of various specialties were going to spend two weeks going down the Amazon in a boat to deliver doses of care, pills and the gospel to villages along the way.  Interesting way to see the Amazon for the first time.  I realized I was quite happy to be making my sixth trip to the same village in four years.  Outright charity can relieve suffering in remote places with little or no health care, but I believe that building relationships with communities that helps develop their self-sufficiency can create long lasting impact.

I always love the feeling of stepping out of the plane at Iquitos and meeting the heat of the Amazon head on.

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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