Thursday, December 30, 2010

Happy Holidays

My first Christmas in Iquitos was my second Christmas ever away from my family.  While of course I miss everyone back home, luckily I have made some great friends here to spend the holidays with!   The 23rd I had a relaxing day, getting another fabulous pedicure with my friend Mary.  This time I went with a more Christmassy design, and I got a manicure!  There were lots of women getting their nails done for Christmas, but there were also a few getting other beauty treatments for the holiday weekend, like false eyelashes- the place was packed! 

Christmas Toes

In Iquitos the 24th is the big day for celebrating Christmas.  Families get together and stay up late, eating dinner at midnight and then lighting fireworks in the streets.  I think the official Christmas food here is the panetón, which means big bread.  And that’s just what it is, a big round loaf of bread with little bits of fruit in it.  I wasn’t a big fan, the bread itself is ok, plus the raisins, but the “fruit” is a little gross.  It’s just little green and red cubes of something- I have no idea what kind of fruit it is supposed to be!  People in Iquitos like to decorate a lot for Christmas, the more flashing lights, the better!  The fanciest Christmas trees had the most blinking lights and played music.  No real Christmas trees here of course, some people didn’t really believe me when I told them that we actually cut down real trees to put in the house!  The biggest, brightest, flashiest Christmas display that I saw was the nativity scene at a big church near my house.  It was a very lovely nativity scene during the day, with life size statues of indigenous people, like nothing I have ever seen.  At night, however, it was so covered in flashing lights that it made it look like Jesus was born in a discoteca!   The nativity scene downtown Iquitos was pretty unique too.  

Oh Little Disco of Bethlehem

Nativity Downtown Iquitos

At our house the boys actually opened their presents the 23rd, as soon as Marcos came home with them!  I made them wait until the 25th for their presents from me.  On Christmas Eve I went to the Explorama office to Skype with my family back home because their internet connection is better.  Explorama was having a staff Christmas party, I wasn’t really invited but since I was there they all made me feel very welcomed, even finding a little gift for me.  I then got to talk with almost everyone in my family, plus some friends including Hillary and her beautiful new baby girl!  Back at the house the three boys were all dressed and ready to go out!  We went to visit various relatives and ate chicken and french fries at midnight at Ruth’s mom’s house.  The two oldest boys spent the rest of the evening lighting fireworks, sort of supervised!  We ended the night at Marcos’s sister’s house, heading home at 4:30 am, the boys were exhausted!  

Ramsés, Nicholas, and Jordan
On Christmas day I went to Pam’s house for Christmas dinner.  (Pam is one of Explorama’s managers, she is also from the states).  Cynthia basically made a Thanksgiving feast for all of us; Pam said that in her 25 years here in Iquitos, this was the first Christmas that she had an American Christmas dinner! Cynthia’s daughter Samantha was here visiting, and she filled her suitcase with all of the foods we can’t get here, like cans of pumpkin for pie!  Pam is married to a Peruvian, so we got to share our gringo Christmas food with her Peruvian family, I think they liked it.  It’s very strange to be in a warm climate at Christmas – wearing a summer dress instead of a sweater, looking out on the Amazon River instead of a snow covered back yard, and sweating profusely throughout Christmas dinner!  

Sam and I at Pam's

My Christmas continued the 26th, when I went with Cynthia and her daughter to Ceiba Tops for a little mini vacation.  We stayed two nights, just relaxing by the pool, enjoying the scenery and each others company.  I also took some time to write out some Christmas cards that Samantha is bringing back to the states with her to send to my mom, who will then send them out.  So, my Christmas cards are going to be a little late!  We did go on one excursion, we went to Monkey Island.  It’s just as great as it sounds!  Monkey Island is really called El Centro de Rescate Neiser, it is home to many rescued animals, not just monkeys.  The animals there are very tame since most of them were pets at one point.  It was a lot of fun, the monkeys love visitors!  

With a Woolly Monkey
Man's Best Friend and Monkey's Best Friend (capuchin monkey)

3-Toed Sloth
Monkey Fingers

Right now I am not sure of my New Years Eve plans, I’m guessing they’ll involve going out!  I have another little trip planed for Sunday, I have to leave the country to renew my tourist visa, so I am taking a boat to Colombia!  I have to be out of the country for 24 hours, then I can come back to Peru with a visa for hopefully 6 months this time instead of just 3.  More to come…

Friday, December 24, 2010

Community Evaluations, Week 2

Our second week of community evaluations was pretty similar to the first.  We encountered many of the same problems the second week as we did the first, this time along the Amazon River instead of the Napo River.  Of course there were some communities that were incredibly organized, taking full advantage of the support that CONAPAC offers. 

The CONAPAC Evaluation Team at Ceiba Tops

This time we stayed for 3 nights at Explorama Lodge, and 2 nights at Ceiba Tops Lodge.  It was great to be back at Explorama, I hadn't been there since July, and Ceiba Tops is always a treat, we even had a little free time to enjoy the pool.

With Martha, James, and Tito
We also went to the city of Indiana to celebrate one of the team member's birthdays.  Here in Iquitos everyone likes to drink their beer with a little Coca-cola in it!  I tried it, lets just say it's not for me.  It's really sweet, I don't know why anyone would do that to their beer! 

Celebrating in Indiana
I had a wonderful time working with the CONAPAC team, I got to meet a lot of new people and visit a lot of new places!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Community Evaluations

Last week I was invited to help out with CONAPAC’s annual community evaluations.  CONAPAC serves over 70 communities and every year in December they visit each one to see how they are doing and if they are taking advantage of the support that CONAPAC has provided. Last week we visited 40 communities along the Napo River.   In order to visit so many communities in so little time, CONAPAC puts together a team of volunteers to help out.  All of the volunteers work in the education field in various agencies, (except me of course).  We broke off into 8 teams each day, and each team visited a different community.  We stayed at Explornapo Lodge which is always a treat! Tomorrow we leave to evaluate the rest of the communities along the Amazon River.  We will be staying at Explorama Lodge for 3 nights and Ceiba Tops Lodge for 2 nights, one of the many benefits of volunteering! 
Students from Llachapa welcoming the evaluation team!
During the community visits we go to all of the schools in the community, observing the students in a typical class, as well as asking them a few questions ourselves.  We talk to the teachers and school administrators to see how they are doing, if they are receiving support from their students’ parents, and to hear what they have done to promote environmental education in the school and community.  We also take a look at their school supplies to see how they have used the supplies donated by the Adopt A School program.  
Students from San Pedro
High School students in Isla Tamanco
After checking out the schools we have a meeting with parents and other members of the community to see if they are happy with their teacher(s) and to hear what they have done to support CONAPAC’s goals.  CONAPAC encourages the communities to elaborate projects for the benefit of the entire community, in the areas of environment, production, and service.  Some communities had beautiful medicinal plant gardens, school vegetable gardens, and reforestation projects. A few were growing plantains and corn as a community, and others were working on projects like building bridges.  CONAPAC has also built water treatment plants in some communities so we followed up with community members to make sure there are no problems with the system and to find out if everyone in the community is actually using the treated water. 
The Community of Isla Tamanco
Finally we gathered information about the community as a whole, writing down the names of all of the authorities of the community and collecting census forms that were passed out earlier.  We also asked some questions for the organization Amazon Cares to see if the communities would be interested in a clinic to sterilize their cats and dogs.  In one community when explaining that this would help control the cat and dog population, everyone got a sort of horrified look on their faces- they thought I was talking about killing their pets!!
Esther, a baby agouti pet in the community Primero de Enero
I had a wonderful time visiting all of the communities.  Of the five I visited, I had only been to one of them before.  It was a very different experience from visiting communities with school groups, very eye opening.  Some communities were outstanding, while others were struggling for various reasons.  Many communities have problems with their teachers.  Most teachers are from Iquitos and are assigned to these communities.  Some love working in the rural villages, others don’t so they just don’t come.  The community members might file complaints in Iquitos, but they don’t have the resources to keep coming back to the city to follow up on their complaint, so nothing happens.  We filled out paperwork to report all of these cases when we return to Iquitos, but it sounds like little will change.  It was pretty heartbreaking to meet children who couldn’t even write their own names, their teachers had abandoned them.  On the other hand we visited a high school where students were writing beautiful poetry!  All of the communities that I visited were very clean and very happy that CONAPAC is working there, although some communities had done absolutely zero community projects!  I’m excited to continue the evaluations next week; I learned a lot this week!  The evaluation team was great, they were a lot of fun and very dedicated to education.   
The CONAPAC Evaluation Team
When we got back to Iquitos yesterday I headed home, anxious to take a shower after a long day visiting a community and traveling back to the city.  When I got to the house I quickly learned that there was no water.  We only have water until about 6:30 at my house, but for whatever reason it went out early yesterday.  I thought I might cry!  Instead I called Cynthia, and took a shower at her house! It was wonderful- she has HOT WATER!  I've been here two months now, that was my first hot shower!   Speaking of water, check out the river!  It's on the rise again, it's risen quite a bit since I was there in November (see earlier post)!
Napo dock in December

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Twinkle Toes

I just had to post briefly about the fanciest pedicure I have ever received!  I spent the day with my friend Mary, at the end of the day she treated me to this fabulous pedicure.  

My toes have been bedazzled! This is what’s in here in Iquitos.  Mary’s friends worked on my feet while her husband (my good friend Roger) brought us a few beers and some snacks.  It was quite relaxing, I could get used to this!  Mary’s friends insist that I come once a week for a pedicure, I’m thinking every 2 weeks, but at just 10 soles ($3.67) how can I refuse?! They want me to let them “fix” my eyebrows too, but coming from two women who paint their eyebrows on each day, I think I’ll stick with my tweezers at home!!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


 Sunday I had the opportunity to visit the Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm and Animal Orphanage. We rented a small boat to take us there, wait for us to finish our tour, and then take us back to Iquitos for just 30 soles.
Our boat is the little one squeezing in to pick us up!
Pilpintuwasi is home to more than 40 species of butterflies and many rescued animals.  Many of the animals brought to Pilpintuwasi were bought illegally on the streets of Iquitos by people who were trying to rescue them, but who ultimately did not have the resources to care for a wild animal. 
A species of Morpho butterfly
A moth with transparent wings
Gudrun, the founder of Pilpintuwasi, with a juvenile ocelot
A Red Uakari Monkey, they roam free at Pilpintuwasi
Pedro Bello, their jaguar

 I have many more photos from Pilpintuwasi on Flickr if you want to check them out!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Las Malvinas

Las Malvinas School
Last week I started working at Las Malvinas school.  As I mentioned before, I am working with the students to develop a tour, in English, of their beautiful school garden for tourists and donors who sometimes visit.  The students who I work with are in the Ecology and Tourism Club.  There are 30 students, between the ages of 12 and 17.  I am also working with two teachers, Pricila who teaches English, and Julisa who teaches Science. 
My Students
My first day at the school I had the students take me on a tour of the garden while I took some notes.  It was a little tricky having 30 students leading one person on a tour, but we managed!  The garden is pretty expansive; there are many plants I have never heard of.  One of the more interesting plants is the cashew tree.  I had seen cashew trees in Honduras but I didn’t know anything about them. 
The fruit above the nut is referred to as a cashew apple in English, however here in Peru it is called casho.  The students began to tell me about cashos and how they use them to make juice.  So I asked about the nuts- they all looked at me like I was crazy!  Even the teachers insisted the nuts are not edible.  Finally Gilbert the gardener came to my defense and explained that the nuts can be toasted etc, but they’re not commonly eaten in Peru.  I tried the cashew apple; it was ok, sweet but with a sort of a bitter flavor.  I can see how it would be good in juice, with lots of sugar!   By pure dumb luck I found salted cashew nuts at a grocery store here in Iquitos, so I bought some and brought them in for the kids to try this week.  They loved them.  Gilbert and I are talking about the possibility of selling the nuts.  I looked into it a little, cashews go through quite a complicated process before they make it into grocery stores, I’m sure that’s why they are so expensive.  So maybe we could sell the nuts unprocessed, the cashews I bought were Peruvian so maybe we could find a market here in Peru. 
My second day at Las Malvinas we divided the students into groups and had them research all of the plants in the garden.  The students already know a lot about most of the plants in the garden, however when they did need to look up some information it was tough because the school only has two books about plants!  We’re looking into getting more books for the school so teachers can really take advantage of their amazing garden.  Since there was some down time while waiting to use the books, some of the students began to get over their shyness and ask me lots of questions!  They wanted to know about me, my family, the US, and if I know where Justin Bieber lives!   I decided to spend our next meeting talking to them about Michigan, what plants and wildlife are found there, and also a little about my life since I know they are curious!  So yesterday the students turned in their research for me to translate and I talked about Michigan.  I even let them taste some real Michigan maple syrup that I brought from Fremont for Ruth and Marcos.  It was a big hit!  Of the pictures I shared with them, I think they enjoyed my pictures of my pets the most. 
What's not to love?!
Next on our agenda is learning to talk about the garden in English.  The students only know some very basic English, so this is going to be a challenge!  I also am trying to set up a workshop for the students with another non-profit,  Amazon Cares.  They teach students about animal welfare, conservation, and responsible pet ownership.  We are also talking about setting up a field trip with Amazon Cares to visit the Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm and Animal Orphanage, but the end of the school year is getting close so there may not be time!  The school year starts again in March, I’m not sure if I will be working with the school still but I have been talking with the English teacher and my mom about setting up pen pals between their two classes.  My mom’s next Rainforest group could potentially write back and forth with students here for an entire year and then meet them when they come to Peru!  
Royal Purple Brunfelsia, or Kiss-Me-Quick
Torch Ginger

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Other Opportunities and Turtle Liberation

I mentioned in my first post that I am looking for other work/volunteer opportunities while AVIDA gets going.  Well, starting Tuesday I am going to work at a school called Las Malvinas.  They have a fabulous garden with medicinal plants, decorative plants, produce, a turtle pond, a fish pond and it’s all organic!  I went to the school Wednesday to check it out.  They would like me to work with the students to develop a tour of the garden in English for tourists and donors who visit.  My plan right now is to go to the school every Tuesday and Thursday for a couple of hours until the end of the school year which is in mid-December.  The garden is funded by International Expeditions, but it is managed by CONAPAC, the other organization Marcos works with.  

Sintia from CONAPAC is the person who initiated all of this for me, so thanks Sintia!  I have to mention how great it has been getting to know Sinita.  She has been living here in Iquitos for a few years now, but is originally from Brighton, Michigan (and has the same birthday as me)!  Not only is she a lot of fun to be with, but she has been so helpful, spending time with her has been like an extremely useful class -“Intro to Gringa Life in Iquitos - 101”!  Thanks again Sintia! (Check out her blog!) 

After checking out the school, I was invited to tag along with Sintia, Alberto, and James from CONAPAC while they visited a community located near Explornapo Lodge! Finally, after nearly a month here in Peru, I had the chance to get out of the city!  We took off Thursday morning along with some Explorama tourists headed to Ceiba Tops lodge on the Amazon River.  We had lunch at Ceiba Tops, which was delicious, and I had a chance to say hi to some old friends I hadn’t seen since this summer.  We then started out on our journey.  We took an Explorama boat to the town of Indiana, which is just a short trip down river from Ceiba Tops.   
From there we took a short cut on land to the Napo River, riding in moto-taxis from Indiana to the town of Mazan.  I had never been to Indiana or Mazan, so this was very exciting for me!  In Mazan, James was waiting for us in CONAPAC’s little boat.  We then headed to Explornapo Lodge which is located just off the Napo River on the Sucusari River.  If you look at my pictures, you’ll notice there are a lot of pictures of the rivers and of the Explornapo dock.  I love seeing the changes in the water level!  The water is at it’s lowest point right now, it looks much different from when I was here in June and July (when it was already relatively low); I can’t imagine how it will look in May when it is at it’s highest.  I realize this may not be that interesting to everyone else, but I thought those of you who have been here would appreciate seeing the changes too!
Napo dock in June
Napo dock in July
Napo dock in November
We dropped off our things at the lodge and then headed to the community of Sucusari, which is past the lodge on the Sucusari River.  There were butterflies everywhere, it was a beautiful day!  The reason for our visit was that the community was having a gathering to celebrate the release of a bunch of baby Taricaya turtles they had hatched as a community project to help repopulate the species. As we headed along the Sucusari, it became more and more difficult to pass; the river is so low that it is full of tree trunks and branches.  We eventually had to stop.  Alberto and James got out to look for help.  Alberto followed a trail through the jungle to the community, luckily we were getting close!  He sent someone back in a peque-peque, a large dugout canoe with a motor, to get the rest of us! 
The CONAPAC boat
Sintia and I in the Peque-Peque
When we finally arrived the community held a small presentation and then everyone headed to a pond to release the turtles.   
"Welcome to the Taricaya Liberation Party"
 They were so cute! All of the children in the community got to set a turtle free, and they named Sintia and I the madrinas, or godmothers of all of the turtles! (I am also the madrina of a llama in Ecuador, but that’s another story!) 
Sintia and I releasing some Taricayas
 We couldn’t stay very long because it was getting late and we needed to get back to our boat, then back to the lodge all before dark because the boat has no lights, and the river is a mess! We headed back to the boat in the peque-peque and made it to the lodge safe and sound.  We were the only ones at the lodge besides staff!  (For those of you wondering, no, I didn’t see Charlie the capybara, but I did see his dog friend and the trumpeter bird!)  We also had a bucket of turtles from the Malvinas school in Iquitos to release at the lodge, so we headed to the botanical gardens after dinner to release the turtles in the pond there.  It was a clear, moonless night, the stars were amazing!  

The next day I woke to the beautiful sounds of my favorite Amazonian birds, oropendolas, as well as the harsh shrieks of my other favorite- macaws! After breakfast I went to visit another community with James and Alberto.  It was just a quick visit to check up on some things. It was another gorgeous day!  We all headed back to Mazan later in the morning, and then back to Indiana in moto-taxis.   
The road from Mazan to Indiana
This time there were no Explorama boats heading back to Iquitos so we took a colectivo, which is basically like taking the bus back, except it’s a boat.  This was also a first for me, as was the peque-peque!  We were the first ones to arrive at the colectivo so we had to wait until it filled up before we could go.   
In the Colectivo
It was a pretty quick ride back to Iquitos, the port was full of people traveling like us or bringing products to the market.   
The Port
Every time we arrived somewhere there was always a steep hike up, the water is so low! At the port there is a sort of stairway/bridge that rises with the water, so when the water is high, it floats up and has a gentle slope.  Right now, it is pretty steep, I was glad to only have my backpack to carry! 
The Port