We left at 5am in a motocar out of Iquitos, and picked up a van. We took the van one and half hours outside the city, till you couldn’t drive any further, you could only take a boat. So we took a 4 hour rapido ride, and at long last we arrive in Jenaro Herrara. A small town known for its production of buffalo milk cheese. As we got into a motocar to ride to the LLAP research center outside of town, it was very odd to look around and see so much farmland in the jungle. For a moment I almost felt like I was home in Virginia. We are staying in a truly gorgeous cabin, and have hired the talents of a local woman down the road to cook our meals for us. On our way out to the research center we stopped at the local health clinic to drop of medical supplies Campbell acquired as a donation from a hospital back home in the states. They gave us a tour, and brought us into the room where they bring mothers in labor. Much to our surprise an hour or so earlier a mother had given birth in this room. The nurse handed Luke and I this tiny new born baby. I was truly shocked. Of course back home you wouldn’t walk into a clinic and pick up a strangers baby without questioning, and inquiry about hygiene. It was really incredible to have such tiny hands grabbing our fingers.
Leaving Luke to rest Angel, Campbell and I set out to see the Copal resin lumps on trees in the forest. Campbell’s purpose in coming to the Amazon is to study the Copal resin lumps, and the weavels that produce them. The hope is that their wonderful fragrance can be marketed to perfume companies across the world. It was so hot, and intense, and wonderful delving so deeply into the forest and climbing among the trees. We also happened upon some bees collecting Copal, and did our best to photograph them. It was surely a difficult shot, as Campbell had to cover himself in our shirts and keep a safe distance to not be stung.
Of course there were artists here too. Two who I am particularly fond of were a lesbian couple who made the most adorable balsa wood earrings. They had many that looked like parrots, but there were also pink river dolphins, toucans, and butterflies. It was wonderful to support them. There is also a larger group of artists who’ve worked hard to fill a large order for Campbell of intricate Chambira tree ornaments that look like butterflies, grasshoppers, and flowers. Their bright colors and tiny size make them quite cute. It’s been amazing to see the difference in crafts amongst the villages.
Wonderful Chambira palm ornaments made in Jenaro Herrera
We took a 5 hour boat ride on a rapido from Iquitos to the village of Chino. Where the women weavers here make gorgeous baskets. They were very kind in welcoming us, and after awhile they set up an artists “fair”, where they all brought out their art and we had our pick. It was amazing, and I wish I had brought more money, because they are beautiful and I want so many for my thesis exhibit. These women also weave the most adorable frog baskets and tree ornaments, and I will be bringing home a family of them. After the “fair” we sat with them while they worked on making jewelry to fill the order of a local upscale eco-lodge. I took an hour or so to draw a sweet older woman named Pillar, as she wove a bright pink basket. Drawing of course brought me a fan club of children, who I then got to spend the day playing with. Campbell and I are quite excited to learn that the artists here can make a naturally sourced green dye, and one woman did us the honor of going through the process with us. She first mashed the dye plant with rocks, then boiled it with water over a fire. Next she put in the Chambira fibers and let them sit in the boilding pot for awhile. Afterwards she laid them out on a table to dry, and we were very impressed to see that they were a beautiful bright shade of green. Until now all the greens we have seen have been artificial.
While visiting here we are very fortunate to stay just outside town in the rainforest conservation fund research home. It’s an amazing lodge which we are happy to find comes with beds and is fully covered in mosquito netting. Most creatively I will be attempting to cook for us. Thus far popcorn has turned out well. I am hopeful for lentil soup. Perhaps one of us will figure out how to cook the Piranha we brought home from our fishing trip. Campbell says the noises we hear at night are howler monkeys. I cannot tell you how comforting being nearly alone in a screened lodge in the jungle hearing howler monkeys is… I guess it is pretty awesome though.
The Artisans Fair
After leaving Puququillo we met with two other communities to either entice them to work with CECAMA, or check on their progress. It was a good opportunity to draw more people, but the excitement of Pebas was weighing heavily on my mind. Long awaited luxuries including salad, running water, electricity dependably from 6-11, and internet cafes, were much enjoyed. We walked up to the highest point of the city, an incredible winding home owned by the famous artist Grippa. His home is now a museum for his work. His wild abstract paintings, and large vivid animals have even been featured on the cover of Time magazine. In one of the top towers were huge bay windows where you could look in to see his studio. The amount of natural light would make him the envy of any artist. It was spectacular. Climbing down from Grippa’s towers Campbell and Yully set out for another village meeting, and Luke and I went walking across all of Pebas. We ventured the markets finding some great floral shorts. At the top of the hill in the center of town we sat in a church, it was a beautiful reflective moment. Once we met back up with Campbell he took us to a Chicken restaurant, and told us there was a fun Discotheque we could check out while there was electricity tonight. Analyzing that my wardrobe was not dance chic, we scoured the markets finding me a bright rainbow sparkly tube top, and leggings with cutout butterflies. Zipping across town in a motocar we found the disco to be closed, but found a loud and strange video bar we chose to make the most of. It was merely us and three other men, one of whom was dancing. After two weeks of restraint Campbell and I could wait no longer to cut loose, apparently Luke could practice restraint. A great end to this chapter of our journey.
We awoke this morning to find we had not reached the end, nowhere close. Our lancha had broken down, and was not coming. We are not sure when the next one will come. We have heard rumors of a rapido coming, but it will be three times the cost to reserve last minute seats, which cannot be guaranteed. It seems to be the only option, so we’re taking our chances, and giving them all our money. When the rapido came it only had one seat available, with Yully’s kidneys acting up we sent her ahead with some of the gear. Campbell, Luke and I are stuck in Pebas for who only knows how long. So we checked back into our hotel, but just as we did a new Lancha arrived! It was towing our first expected and empty Lancha, and so we quickly jumped aboard to spend the next twenty plus hours on a nearly empty Lancha. I am so grateful, but what a whirl-wind experience. We spent the night making friends with the kids on the Lancha, and playing cards, and chess.
View from Grippa’s house
After a bug bitten night in Nueva Esperanza, Luke and I set out to give a basic English lesson to the local children. I don’t know if any of it stuck, but they were happy to be with us and get candy. I did my best to keep up with Luke’s instruction and draw pictures for the kids to understand. Then we thanked Gloria and it was back on the river again. About an hour down we arrived at Puququillo which sits atop towering cliffs. Sadly this is where we had to say goodbye to Javier, as he journeyed back down the river to get home. We are so grateful for he and his families kind hospitality and tolerance these past two weeks. This village is actually two native communities next to each other. Each has its own school which teaches in its native language. The house we are staying in is huge! It has cell service, a small store on the ground level, and an abundance of eggs; which with my dwindling Luna bar supply is a most welcomed. They also have a pet Wholly monkey tied to a small house in the back. Over lunch Luke asked me why I preferred drawing animals over people, and I explained that people are quite boring. Their shapes and colors don’t vary much, sticking to essentially rounded brown shapes. So while we were in the community meeting we challenged each other to draw men sitting across from us. Little did I know the man sitting next to me is a truly incredible painter, and Juingo carver, named Rider. After the meeting we went off with Rider to film his entire process of carving Juingos. I have been so impressed with his quality and form of line in his drawing. I look forward to a Christmas tree full of his elaborate carvings of native animals. I was very lucky in that he let me sit with him and try to carve one, but sadly I had no success in cutting away the tough skin.
When we were done we joined several women and children in walking down the hillside to a stream, where we enjoyed out bucket bath once again. Perhaps the part of this place I am most thankful for is that at night our host families store becomes a small restaurant where they make toast, cooked eggs, and fresh fruit smoothies. I take no shame in admitting I absolutely gorged myself. At first it was difficult to have only a few hours a day of electricity, and I am glad Campbell Luke and I savor them to watch episodes of C.S.I., but when you look up and see stars so clearly it becomes hard to miss the lights.
Rider teaching me to carve a Juingo
This morning departure was not quick, but it was happy. It seemed like artist after artist poured into Javier’s home and pushed the last of their woven goods on us. Before we could leave we went with the village president to the newly finished Pharmacia, and ceremoniously gave him the keys. Using their social rebate money from CECAMA (aka CACE) the citizens of Brillo Nuevo chose to build a pharmacy. It was quite humbling to witness. I of course had many small friends to say good bye too. I probably grew closest to the children here, as we would play often. We most enjoyed making Guinea Pig noises and tickling each other, which seemed a fitting way to say goodbye. Finally we departed in a canoe, and began our journey back to Nueva Esperanza. We spent a quite afternoon gliding along napping under our out of place satin floral umbrellas and snacking. Once we arrived we were welcomed back into Gloria’s home, and after unloading everything, even the generator, off the canoe, we enjoyed the rest of our evening playing volleyball and Frisbee. Before dinner Javier and I paid a guy 5.50 soles to whack 6 coconuts out of a tree. (One soles is roughly .50 cents). It’s incredible to eat a coconut so fresh! My hope is to climb a coconut tree to harvest one before we leave. Before bed we got a nice river bath, and continued our nightly ritual of wiping ourselves in rubbing alcohol and Caladryl. The bugs here are quite ferocious, and the thought of a running shower is quite motivating. Tomorrow back into the canoe for more village meetings.
La Pharmacia of Brillo Nuevo
Today was the last day in Brillo Nuevo, as it was a Sunday we went fishing. (Although I know Campbell would jump at the chance to go fishing any day if we could.) It was nice to escape for a bit. We went up the river through a man made canal surrounded by trees drenched in Bromeliads. When we returned it was time for the much awaited artist ceremony. I spent the previous few days signing each artist’s name to a certificate, to thank them for their work. As the sun started to go down Javier’s house began to fill with artists and their adorable children. Hoping to commemorate each artist, and not cause rivalry, Campbell did not create a hierarchy of gifts. Rather by sales and pieces produced he awarded the top several artists with toothpaste, a toothbrush, batteries, and vapor rub. Everyone was in good spirits and cheered each other on. I made sure to take a picture of Campbell with each artist. At the end of the ceremony we brought out the duffel bags of clothes donated by the Young Friends (of Baltimore Yearly Meeting), and evenly distributed them among all the artists. It was funny to see when some of the artists, most quite petite by American standards, would get clothing that was once Luke’s, who is quite tall. It was a great celebration, and proper closing to our trip. Tomorrow we start back to Iquitos, first we will spend several days in a canoe traveling to various meetings in other villages, and then rest a night, and set off on another grand Lancha adventure.
Gathering of artists
Cambell giving a certificate
Today Campbell and I went out with the women, and their under-school-aged children to remove the Yucca from a Chakra and plant dye pants. I had a lot of fun taking pictures to document the process, and playing with the tiny children. It was incredible to watch these kids, all under five or so, run around identifying which plants were harmful, and which were edible. Their mothers seemed not to be bothered by them running around with Machetes, or climbing trees, or eating the plants around them. It was wonderful to watch them explore uninhibited. Once they saw me pull out my camera they were so fascinated they kept bringing me plants, and showing me different things they wanted pictures of, it was adorable. At one point the Bora village leader came and sat with me, and invited me to come stay at his home. Flattered, but uncomfortable, I told him I was sorry, but I had a boyfriend. He told me I didn’t have a Peruvian boyfriend yet, and kept poking fun at me. (Apparently my efforts to dress like a boy have failed me. ) After we were done Campbell and I had a nice long walk home to have a great conversation about our stance on animal consumption, and he got to play several songs on a guitar, which was really enjoyable. Luke spent the day teaching at the local school!
Kids playing in the Chakra
When through hikers hike the Appalachian Trail they use the term 0 day to talk about a day where they just rested and hiked no miles. Today was mine. I want to tell you that every day and moment here is painless, beautiful, and full of joy, but it wouldn’t be true. It’s difficult to adjust to everything being completely new, food, hygiene, sleep patterns, social interaction, climate. I hate giving up because these people never do, because they can’t. It’s not one sickness overcoming me it’s diet struggles, sleep struggles, a cold, cramps, diarrhea, and the shifting of my wisdom teeth. All of which I’ve ignored and put up with for nine days, trying to seem strong, but the truth is I’m finally overwhelmed. Like when I pull something working out and I just yell and get frustrated and want to power through, I hate giving in here, and feel like others are frustrated at me for doing so. I am so thankful for the friendship I have with Luke, who keeps telling me that it doesn’t matter what other people think, that it’s their problem, and that I should take care of me. He’s 17 but sometimes I think he’s many years wiser than I am. We all have our internal battles, mine is admitting defeat.
Covered in chigger and mosquito bites
Today we went out to see various Chakras (farms). The pure exhaustion from the heat is something that can’t be described. Nylon hiking pants now seem a poor choice, as sweat pools in them unable to escape. I tried to work on various drawings while we were out, but we endlessly surrounded by insects, and we kept moving at too rapid of a pace for me to finish. We hiked deeper into the forest and came upon a Chakra owned by a mother and daughter, who are both weavers. It was incredible to see all they were growing; yucca, pineapples, cashews, and sugarcane. Using their machetes, the multi tool of the jungle, they chopped down and skinned some sugar cane for Luke and I. It was the most incredible taste, and needless to say we gorged ourselves on it. (Later to be regretted of course.) It was so pure and sweet, and completely different from the taste of refined sugar. As rain came we set our sites on home, and were glad to drench ourselves in the river once we got there. After playing with the kids, and sharing pictures from home, Campbell and I went next door to get dye plant samplings for me to draw. After dinner Luke and I stayed talking and laughing up a storm. Our very intelligent conversation eventually deteriorated into pure silliness, much like a sleepovers when your a small child. I am really enjoying not having the distraction of constant technology to interrupt human interaction.
Campbell gets all wrapped up in Father’s day.
Here in Brillo Nuevo father’s day is not like it is for us in the states. Most years i call my father, or send a card that just says thanks, love you. In Brillo Nuevo there are no Hallmark stores, rather the entire village comes together to celebrate their fathers. The ceremony began with various stories, and lectures that encouraged fathers to be good role models to their children, and to be present in their lives. My understanding is that marriage is a bit looser of an understanding here, than back home. (Imagine the financial stress and genuine annoyance it would take to have a legally registered marriage here.) So it sadly comes to pass that not all fathers stick around. I have however, met many wonderful caring fathers, and it was great to see a day for them to have fun with their friends and families. After the stories were various contests with prizes! Campbell competed in many, including outshining the competition in the singing contest! (He was the only competitor.) But truly Luke and I were thrilled to cheer he and other fathers on in contests of doing their wives make-up, braiding their hair, checking their children for lice, playing volley ball, playing soccer, crab walking across a mud soaked field, running across the field to find a grasshopper and running back, eating an onion, a general eating contest with lots of pasta and of course some brand of bright yellow bubblegum flavored soda (a Peruvian favorite). We laughed until we cried, the festivities were great! I certainly wish our fathers day was more about making our fathers do silly things, and playing games with them.
Again we finished the day fishing. I had luck catching two small catfish, which I was glad to give up to Javier’s family.