Saturday, January 22, 2011

Movin On Up!

For the past 3 months or so I have been living in the district of San Juan, in Iquitos.  As I explained in my first blog post, originally I was volunteering for AVIDA and living at Marcos’s house since he is one of the founders of AVIDA.  Well, if you have been reading my blog you have seen that in reality I have been volunteering for CONAPAC, I don’t think I have even mentioned AVIDA again since that first post!  AVIDA has been slow to get off the ground and they simply don’t have anything for me to do. CONAPAC on the other hand has plenty of things for me to work on!  I don’t think I wrote too much about CONAPAC before, I think I just included a link to their website.  Well, CONAPAC is the non-profit branch of Explorama Lodges, the lodges we’ve been traveling to since 1998.  “CONAPAC is a Peruvian non-profit organization whose mission is to promote conservation of the rainforest through education of its stewards, the people who live along the Amazon and Napo Rivers. Our centerpiece project is the Adopt-A-School program, which is strengthened by workshops and complemented by service and sustainable projects in river communities.”  I have really enjoyed volunteering for CONAPAC, it is a pretty amazing organization.  CONAPAC has also enjoyed having me volunteer for them, and they have asked me to stay on as a volunteer for at least the next six months!  While I was excited to see where things would go with AVIDA, I am very excited to be working with an established organization, with 20 years of experience. And not just any organization- CONAPAC, the organization that has been a part of all of the wonderful experiences I have had here traveling with Explorama, experiences that have driven me to where I am today. 

So what about the big move?  Well, while CONAPAC cannot pay me to work for them at the moment, they wanted to support me in some way.  Explorama owns a house downtown Iquitos and they have offered to let me stay there rent free. It is the house of Explorama’s founder, Peter Jenson, who passed away in June. I never had the chance to meet Peter personally, although I think he spoke to our first group in ’98. Even though I didn’t know him I feel very grateful to him, the experiences I have had at Explorama have really shaped my life. And now I get to live in his house!  He hasn’t lived there for a a while, he lived at Ceiba Tops lodge before he passed away.  

My New House!

I will miss Marcos’s family, however I am looking forward to being a little more independent, and a lot closer to everything!  This map isn’t exactly to scale, but you can see where I lived  etc.  I tried to find a regular street map that shows downtown and the San Juan district where I lived, but none of them show streets that far from the center of town!
(My old house is further away than it looks here!)

I am now close enough to walk to the office, and pretty much any other place I need to go!  Before I had to take moto-taxis everywhere- which adds up!  I have a beautiful, spacious bedroom and private bathroom.  I share the house with Enrique who also works at Explorama.  Enrique’s two nephews, Mad-19 and Jordi- 17, also live there, they are studying for university entrance exams. I guess sometimes their dad is there too!  Luckily it is a big place!  They have a new puppy named Luna and Peter’s cat Tony lives there.  

My Bedroom

The Kitchen
The Kitchen/Courtyard

My New Street

Saturday, January 15, 2011

¿Dónde está la biblioteca?

I spent this past week helping out at the Amazon Library Project, better know as the CCC, Centro de Conocimiento Compartido.  “The main objective of the CCC Library Project is to provide literature and information for the surrounding communities and to foster the enjoyment of reading and its benefits. Library resources include books, magazines, information pamphlets, videos, films, tapes, workshops and field trips. We strive to enrich the daily life and economic situation of the local population.”

CCC Library

Unfortunately the library was closed for inventory while I was there; however, that is why I was there, to help with inventory!  While helping at the library I stayed at Explorama Lodge.  For those of you familiar with the area, the library is on the same side of the Yanamono River as the clinic, so each day I crossed the river either with Nancy in her canoe or with the lodge staff.  (Dr. Nancy Dunn is the founder and director of the Amazon Library Project). Once across the river it is about a 15 minute walk to the library, or when the staff brought me in boats with motors they’d drop me off right in front of the library, on the Amazon River. 

"Stairs" Up to the Library
The View from the Top

The library has a very impressive collection of books for all ages on all subjects.  It was great to see so many children’s classics translated into Spanish, as well as many books by Peruvian authors as well.  I was happy to see two volumes of the Wizard of Oz series, those were my favorite!  The inventory took us four days to complete- it is a large collection!  I had to get familiar with the Dewey Decimal System again, fortunately I like organizing and putting things in order. 

Inside the Library

The library has custom made shelves.  They are made out of cedar to keep insect damage down and they have screens that roll down and latch at the bottom, and doors with padlocks.  The screens are to keep out cockroaches and frogs!  I guess they used to have a problem with frogs getting into the cabinets, but not being able to get out, and they wouldn’t know they were in there until they could smell them.  

Shelf with the Screen Down
With the Screen Up

Each day we were accompanied by Bombona and Maraca, Nancy’s fearless dogs!  I thought working in a library would be a relatively clean activity for the jungle, but Bombona and Maraca are very affectionate, attention-loving dogs and each time they’d return from some adventure in the jungle, they’d want some lap time! 

Bombona and Maraca

One morning I arrived before Nancy so I spent some time taking pictures.  I ran into a little girl who told me her family has an anaconda and she invited me to come see it.  It was actually a red tailed boa.  It was a little sad to see this massive snake that has to spend his life in a little wooden box.  The family uses the boa as a source of income, people pay to see it.  Of course this family has almost nothing, having an attraction like a boa is a pretty sweet deal for them.  It was impressive though, the little girl’s father tapped it on the head with a stick to upset it and it started “hissing”, if you can even call it that, it was more like a roar!  They offered to let me hold it around my neck, I declined, it was pretty pissed off!

Red Tailed Boa

I also had a close encounter with some bats.  All week I thought I felt them swooping under my bed in the early morning, but I told myself they were probably big moths.  The last morning I was there I checked, and sure enough there were bats living under my bed.  I was protected by my mosquito net and rabies vaccine, so it was ok! 


It sounds like I will be spending more time at the library in April, maybe a month or two!  The library has a great volunteer house, however right now I am thinking I’d rather stay at the lodge, to be around people and the internet. 

Volunteer House

Friday, January 7, 2011

Colombia & Brazil

When I arrived in Peru in October my passport was stamped with a 3 month tourist visa.  Before leaving for Peru I investigated my visa options and found out there weren’t many since I am not studying here and I do not have a paying job.  However, after arriving in Iquitos I learned that when entering the country, all I have to do is ask for a 6 month tourist visa instead of 3 months.  If only I had known!  With the 3 month mark quickly approaching I had to decide what to do.  I considered going home for Christmas, and I was invited to Ecuador to spend Christmas with my host family in Quito, but both trips would be expensive, especially traveling back to Michigan.  I could also go to the immigration office here in Iquitos, but I would only be able to get 3 months and maybe only one month at a time.  The best option was to travel to the Colombia-Peru-Brazil border by river, leaving Peru for 24 hours and asking for a 6 month visa when I return.  
Even though it is a safe trip, I didn’t want to go alone, so my good friend Cliver came with me.  Cliver is from Iquitos and works as a guide with Explorama and does speaking tours each year in schools throughout Las Vegas, Nevada.  Our boat left at 6:00 am from Iquitos, and arrived in Santa Rosa, Peru around 5:00 pm.   The boat is supposed to be the fastest available, with a jet engine that doesn’t break down like propeller engines do due to all the floating debris in the river.  However, the jets would get blocked so we’d have to stop every so often to flush them out (or at least that is my understanding!).  I think Explorama’s boats are actually a little faster.  Breakfast and lunch were served onboard; overall it was good trip, just really hot and really long!  The views didn’t change too much from the window, lots of jungle!  We did make stops in the towns of Pevas, Caballococha, and Chimbote, although we didn’t have a chance to get off the boat to look around.  Mostly we slept and listened to music, and Cliver bought us coconuts to drink when we stopped in Chimbote! 

Our Boat
The boat took us as far as the Peruvian border town of Santa Rosa.  In Santa Rosa we had to head to the immigrations office to have my passport stamped.  There was no strict passport control, if I didn’t need my passport stamped for my visa, we could have traveled between Colombia, Peru, and Brazil without ever entering an immigrations office!  Cliver actually forgot his passport, he had his Peruvian ID card, but I don’t think he ever had to show it to anyone!   

Arriving in Santa Rosa, Peru

After getting my exit stamp we took a small boat, first dropping off people in Tabatinga, Brazil and then stopping in Leticia, Colombia.   

Tabatinga, Brazil
It was Sunday evening, so things were pretty quiet in Leticia.  We needed to go to the immigrations office at the airport to get my passport stamped, but it was closed, so we had to wait until Monday. 

The Channel Leading into Colombia
We walked around for a while looking for a hotel, then we dropped off our things and got some dinner.  We made our own little “brew tour”, trying a variety of Colombian and Brazilian beers on our trip.  

Cliver and I happy to be in Colombia after a long trip!
Leticia is a beautiful city, much more modern and organized than I expected.  I figured it would be a lot like Iquitos, a bustling port city, but smaller.  One huge difference is that in Leticia, everyone wears helmets on their motorcycles!  Leticia has a beautiful central park with a large mural and a pond full of Victorian Lilies. Unfortunately we were only there at night, so my pictures aren’t so great!  

Lilies in Leticia's Park

The next day we walked around Leticia and then headed to the airport to get my passport stamped.  We had decided to stay in Peru that night to make catching our boat easier early the next morning.  So, we asked the immigrations agent to stamp my passport with the entry stamp and exit stamp at the same time, to save a trip to the airport.  He told us that he usually wouldn’t do that, but made an exception for us!  

Leticia's Airport
Colombian Passport Stamps

We then took a taxi to Tabatinga, Brazil.  There was a welcome to Brazil sign, but nothing else to mark the border, no passport check, nothing.  I guess Americans are required to have a formal visa to enter Brazil, not just a passport stamp like Peru and Colombia, but in Tabatinga there isn’t anyone checking, so there is nothing in my passport that shows I was ever in Brazil! 

Welcome to Brazil!

We had a great lunch in Tabatinga, listening to Brazilian music, drinking Brazilian beer and listening to the other customers speak Portuguese.  Cliver speaks a little Portuguese, but not really the most useful phrases, (maybe if we got into a bar fight or something)!  We spent most of the afternoon walking around Tabatinga, it reminded me of Iquitos’s market area.  It is a busy port city; noisy, dirty, and full of people.  In Tabatinga everyone uses motorcycle helmets too.  They also have motorcycle taxis, the drivers carry an extra helmet for their passenger.  

Lunch in Tabatinga

We headed back to Colombia to look around a little more and then took a small boat back to Santa Rosa, Peru.   

The Boat Ride Back to Peru

Santa Rosa is a very small town, not a lot of hotel options!  We stayed in the best place in town, it cost about $10, it had a tv and a fan, but no water at the moment, and the power went out at around 9:30!  We decided to stop at the immigrations office that night to see if we could get my passport stamped then, instead of waiting until 2:30 in the morning when we needed to catch our boat to Iquitos.  We were in luck!  The immigrations agent agreed to stamp my passport, however she was only going to give me 3 more months, not 6!  Thankfully Cliver was there, and he explained that I am a volunteer etc, and she agreed to 6 months!  I could have told her the same thing in Spanish, but not as eloquently as Cliver, he is kind of a smooth talker and continued to schmooze her after she had given me the 180 days, even inviting her to dinner with us!  She declined at first but then saw us eating and joined us with another friend of hers.  I’m sure she was eager to talk to some new people; I think she is originally from Iquitos so living in such a small town must be a bit of a challenge.  I was so relieved to have my visa renewed! Mission accomplished!  We got up the next day at 2:30 am to be at the dock by 3:00 am.  Since the trip home is against the current, it took 12 hours instead of 11, we slept most of the way back.  

Santa Rosa Immigration Office

6 More Months!