June 10 – Iquitos, Peru
Our lancha (ferry) leaves for Pebas in 45 minutes so I have just enough time to write a quick blog with some highlights of the first few days of this summer’s trip to Peru.
My wife Yuri drove our 17 year old son Luke and me from our home in State College to National Airport in Washington, DC on Saturday morning and bid us a safe and productive journey. Our daughter Marissa spent two summers with me during my first two field seasons in Peru (See Marissa’s Amazon Memories).
It was now Luke’s turn to put his many years of studying Spanish in school to use with native speakers and immerse himself in the Amazon again for the first time since he lived with us in a Tembé Indian community in Brazil when he was two years old.
Our flights to Atlanta and on to Lima were pleasantly uneventful. Arriving in Lima, we picked up our four large duffle bags – two of them were our gear, the other two were full of clothes and medical supplies donated by the Nittany Valley Regional Medical Center that we were going to donate to our partner communities with extra help from Baltimore Yearly Meeting Young Friends “Do Good” committee that promised to pay for our extra bag charges to check these. When we got to customs, we hit the button to determine if we could pass straight through or have our bags inspected by an agent. Luke hit the button and we got red so we walked around, put our bags through a scanner and I then discovered that Luke had accidentally picked up someone else’s large black duffle instead of ours! So getting the red light was a good thing, because it helped us correct this mistake quickly enough. The agent was pondering what to do with the sundry surgical supplies he found in one bag, but he passed us along after I explained that they were all going to be given to a government health clinic in Jenaro Herrera.
We then waited for another 7 hours in the Lima airport – wandering between restaurants and slumped on hard chairs until we were able to check into our flight to Iquitos.
I was hoping Luke would get a look at the jungle from the air after crossing over the Andes. We didn’t get to see the green, but he nonetheless enjoyed seeing the beautiful clouds.
We checked into a nice hostal near the Plaza de Armas in Iquitos called Casa La Pascana. It is a favorite way station for biologists, student groups and eco-folks passing through the city on a modest budget. Luke and I showered and went out for some lunch. I was very happy to reintroduce Luke to some favorite Amazon fish and fruits – paiche, don cella, assai and camu camu.
We boarded a motorcar and returned to the airport where we met Amrit Moore. Amrit will be our other Amazon Field Volunteer this summer. She is a fellow Quaker and an artist in a Master’s program in Museum studies at the Southern University of New Orleans who will prepare illustrations of Amazon wildlife and activities related to making crafts.
After dropping off her gear at the hostal, this intrepid duo of young Friends (Quakers) was game for immediately going out to Quistacocha – a regional park with a zoo and a swimming area. Walking around the grounds was both fun and sad. I enjoyed seeing a few of the world’s largest rodents up close, although I did have to wipe water off the front of my camera when a capybara shook her coat when she emerged from her pool in the same way a dog always shakes when coming inside after getting wet.
I was also interesting to see Amazon river dolphin up close since I mostly only had fleeting glimpses of them in the Ampiyacu River, but I couldn’t help feeling this one was suffering from boredom since it kept using its extra-long thin snout to push a floating life-jacket toward a human viewer at the edge of its tank with hopes the person would toss it out again so it could retrieve it.
Some spider monkeys enjoyed some sociality on a little island while “friendly” primates and otters were conscribed to cages where they begged for handouts from visitors who readily gave them bits of junk food with no regard for signs requesting that people not feed the animals. The animals that are always the hardest for me to see in these underfunded zoos are the jungle cats who perpetually pace back and forth in their small barred enclosures. At least the birds had finer meshed cages – we saw some macaws nimbly holding and knoshing on the fruit of the local aguaje palm tree.
The aquarium building displayed a decent sample of the diverse fish and other aquatic species that are captured for the ornamental fish trade and caught for food.I did indulge in the tourist bit of paying a man a few soles for the privilege of draping his young (6 foot long) anaconda snake around the shoulders and arms of Luke and Amrit. We opted out of swimming in the lake, made a quick trip to the public restroom (be sure to have a 50 centavo coin and your own paper for such a mission), and ran to a group of casual restaurants just outside the park entrance to scope out our options for dinner as an afternoon rainstorm gathered force.We passed up the giant “zuri”– the larva of a large palm beetle. It’s a local specialty that some people eat fresh. I was a little tempted to try it grilled, but opted to join Luke in sharing a very tasty grilled gamitana (called tambaqui in Brazil) while Amrit who is a vegetarian sampled a regional favorite called a “juane.” It’s a large pyramidal mound of mildly spiced rice steamed in a bihaw leaf. It often includes bits of chicken, but Amrit opted for one with hard-boiled egg and black olives.
It was a pretty pricey motorcar ride to the park from downtown, so we opted for the budget bus on the way back to the city. It felt a bit like a flash of the past that I really only knew from TV shows based on the 1950’s since the frame of this bus was made almost entirely of wood. A helpful ticket taker let us know when we needed to weave our way from the crowded back to our stop a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas.
Luke and Amrit caught up on some sleep on Monday while I caught up with Yully about CACE affairs, shopping for our upcoming trip and meeting with two groups we may start working with – the Field Museum of Chicago and PROCREL – the regional government agency responsible for administering the regional protected areas including the Ampiyacu-Apayacu one where we work. It felt good to have these two large entities seeking to cooperate with us.
Time is short so I’ll end now. Will write next in a few weeks when we return.
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.