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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.

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