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

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Día de Todos Santos

Monday was All Saints Day, celebrated here in Peru with a day off and a trip to the cemetery to visit loved ones!  I went with the family and we visited the graves of various family members.  The cemetery was immense!  (I guess most are compared to the cemeteries in Fremont!)  Outside the cemetery people were selling food and beautiful flowers, little bouquets started at just one sol, about 30¢! 

The place was packed, we basically had to push our way in through the crowds at the gate.  The atmosphere was light-hearted overall, (otherwise I probably wouldn’t have taken so many pictures!).  Here are Marcos and his boys knocking on his father's grave! 

Some people were praying or holding small religious services, but most were just stopping by to place flowers by graves.  I have never seen anything quite like it.  There were boys all over with ladders so people could place flowers at the highest graves in the mausoleums. 

Most of the graves markers were painted with bright colors, it looked like a giant, colorful, outdoor locker-room!  There was even a small section of the cemetery for the few Jewish residents of Iquitos.  And I have been assured that the graves on the ground are actually deep in the ground, even though they look like they were buried half-way!


Tuesday, November 2, 2010


I have decided to start this blog as an alternative to update e-mails in order to keep in touch with friends and family.  The name of my blog comes from the Talking Heads song “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)”. (Click here to listen) It is one of my favorite songs and always makes me think of the Amazon.  My brother Tim swiped my dad’s Talking Heads cd and brought it with him on our first trip to  Peru back in 1998.  Now whenever I hear that album it reminds me of my first experiences here.  (Another song that often makes me think of Peru is David Bowie’s “Dead Man Walking”, but that’s more related to feelings along the Inca Trail!) 

I have been in Peru for about 3 weeks now, I am hoping to stay for about a year.  I am working as a volunteer for a non-profit organization that is just starting out.  The organization is called AVIDA and it is dedicated to improving the quality of life in rural Amazonian communities.  AVIDA’s primary projects in these communities will be building mini water treatment plants to provide clean drinking water to all residents.  AVIDA has completed water projects in two communities, and we are hoping to start more projects in January.  Ideally, once the organization becomes more established, I will be a paid employee.  Currently we are working on setting up our website and looking for donors!  Since there is not a lot of work for me right now, I am also looking for other volunteer opportunities in Iquitos.  

I live with a great family here in Iquitos- Marcos and Ruth and their 3 sons, Ramsés (7), Nicholas (5). and Jordan (1 ½).   Marcos is one of the founders of AVIDA, he works for another non-profit in Iquitos and has a purified water business.  Ruth is a stay at home mom, but also sells jello and ice from the house. Also, Ruth’s father Gilberto spends Monday though Saturday at the house, helping out.  If you check out my flickr photos you will also see Liz, she used to work here, but has since been replaced by a girl named Rosa.  Overall they are a wonderful family and made me feel at home here right away.  I’m very excited to be here in Iquitos, I have wanted to live here since I was 17!  I’m loving it so far, despite the heat, humidity, and mosquitoes!