Sunday, October 16, 2011

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bewailing Belen

Upper Belen (The Markets):

A posse of guides are shouting at us, "watch your things… pick-pockets, pick-pockets!" I have even been instructed to remove the small, gold cross that has hung from my neck since the day we left Greensboro. This uber-defensive posture is conflicting... it feels wrong to cling to your material belongings when you are walking alongside children who live on the streets and own little more than the clothes on their backs. 

It's early, but it's already hot and sticky. It's hard to breathe because the stench is so strong – I’m guessing raw meat mixed with leather, sweat, garbage and the unfiltered exhaust of all the moto-cars nearby. Our group is in route to the slums of Iquitos known as Belen. I’m not sure what to expect of an area labeled as “the slums” considering that everything we have already seen of Iquitos has been broken and poor.

Our tour begins in the upper markets where the variety of items puts Walmart to shame. The thinly canopied isles are indescribably crowded, and still the moto-cars find a way to push their way through the throngs of shoppers. The market is organized somewhat like a typical store, by product types. There is a section for shoes and clothing, home goods, toys, meats, medicines, etc. My dad is excited to take us to the meat section, a thought that already has many of us feeling queasy.

More shouts from our guides, “Watch your ‘tings.’ Stay together!”

Meat market… that was an understatement! We are looking at raw turtle, monkey, cow, chicken, pig, fish, alligator... even some animal they call the "deer rat" (think giant rodent from the Princess Bride). Everything is spread out across open tables; it’s a sea of blood and bones! I look up and see a woman eating her breakfast and a small child taking her morning nap right next to a huge stack of animal carcasses. Definitely feeling green now.

We finally make it to medicine row, something I have been looking forward to for several days. One of our guides calls my name and we walk up to one of the many booths lining this section. He grabs my left hand and shows a vendor the red rash/fungus that has been spreading on two of my fingers ever since our stay in the jungle. The woman looks at it, says something to her colleague that I could not understand, and then pulls out a small bottle with a homemade label that reads “aceite de copaiba.” She spins off the cap, grabs my hand and rubs a brown oily liquid all over my two infected fingers. I look at Carlos, our guide, who nods. “Cuanto questo,” I ask. “Dies soles,” she says. Sold! At this point I am willing to try just about anything to get my fingers back to normal.

After my “doctor” visit, we join the others at a booth nearby where two vendors are pulling items from their collection for the members of our group to sample. Some of our samples include:
  • A Peruvian honey (very delish)
  • Sange de grado (translates to “blood of the dragon”)
  • SVSS (a natural aphrodisiac)
  • Camu-Camu (highest vitamin c rich fruit in the world)
  • 21 Vines (a mix of 21 jungle fruits and barks and a cancer preventative)
  • And something our guides call “wake up old bird” (another aphrodisiac)

Lower Belen:

The fun and fascination of Upper Belen has turned to utter despair in just ten, stone steps – the demarcation of where the water rises during the rainy season, leaving half of this community completely under water. Picture New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, only no relief efforts. 

There are children playing next to piles of garbage, malnourished cats and dogs searching for food, drunken men hanging out of dilapidated buildings (at 10:00 in the morning) and piles of trash (10-15 feet high) around every turn.

There are five dugout canoes waiting for us as the end of one street. We break up, hop in and begin touring this part of the neighborhood by boat. The guide on our boat is telling us about the people who live here.

A lot of the people have come from the jungle. They build houses on the river so that they don’t have to pay for land. When the water is low, they farm. When the water is high, they fish.

Tears are streaming down my cheeks. I cannot believe there are so many people who live like this. And for some reason, buried in this brokenness, I keep seeing crosses, bringing one abounding question to front of mind, “Where are you God?”

Monday, June 20, 2011


Day 3 with no shower...

We made it through a very wet night in a small town called Tamyshaku and managed to pack-up camp and trek through the muddy streets back to our boat. Before we boarded, we stopped by a small preschool and took a quick tour of a local farm. Everyone was a little quiet. I think the jungle has worn all of us thin.

We had high hopes when we heard we where staying in a hotel tonight. Oh, it sounded so promising! Unfortunately, my two roomies had cold showers and by the time it was my turn all of the water had completely run out.

The kids are still doing amazingly well. I have not heard one complaint about these challenging living conditions. Quite often, it's their positive attitudes that keep me going strong.

 Where we slept last night (in the pouring rain)

A preschool we visited

A local woman and her banana shop

The town gas station

The friendly attendant who "pumps" gas with a used soda bottle

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Amazon Contd.

Day 2 with no shower... 

We played mosquito bate during our jungle walk this morning, an adventure that started at 5:30 am with one of our guides (almost) singing "bird wa-tching, bird wa-tching" outside of our tents and ended with a wild boar encounter and a creek that was too deep to cross for fear of anacondas (not kidding). 

We spent an hour or so watching the fresh water dolphin frolic and play, and searching for the three toed sloth in the trees along the shoreline. Just before lunch we stopped on a white sandy beach. Everyone jumped in the water to "bathe." The guys turned on the macho-man routine as they tried to turn trees that had fallen into the water upright, and the girls turned on their sweet-sides as they played in the mud and did handstands on the beach. 

Lunch was back on the boat (in hammocks for some and on the roof for others). By 2:00 pm we were on to our next adventure.

This time we were heading back into the rainforest with a couple of medicine men. Our translators told us we would be trekking into parts of the jungle where no tourists had ever gone before. Judging by the lack of trails and DENSE vegetation, I truly believe they were right. (Did I mention that jungles are not my thing?)

Along the way, the experts pointed out how to live off the land. From brazil nuts to yucca, milk trees to ayahuasca we followed in amazement. We tasted things, felt things, and ran from things. At one point, several of us were standing next to a large tree. One of the guides grabbed a stick and began poking at a hole near the tree’s roots. Qlyl asked the translator what he was doing, “Searching for the boa constrictor snake,” was the response. Talk about jumping out of our shoes!!!

The rain has been on and off all day. I am beginning to question if we will ever be dry again. :)

Mud baths in the Amazon

Jungle hikes

Freebird in his dug-out canoe (before almost becoming croc bate that night)

More jungle hiking - super stylish as you can tell

DGH heads to the big river...

We headed down to the water today to board what has become our "home-base" for the next three days. It's a large, wood plank boat with the words "People of Peru Project" printed in pseudo-cursive on the side. There is a bathroom with toilet paper aboard (yay) along with 6 cloth  hammocks, which the kids spotted and laid claim to immediately.

Our introduction to the Amazon began with a 6 hour cruise upstream. Along the way, we marveled at the color differences between the river and its tributaries. We searched for monkeys in the trees, and we watched humbly as women and children from the small villages that line the shore came down to wash clothes, bathe and occasionally play in the water. As the time passed, several of us climbed up to the roof of the boat to soak in the sun and talk about life goals. To hear these kids articulate their dreams and to express the academic, social and financial fears they face at home takes me back. They inspire me every day with their maturity and perspective. 

Our boat pulled up to our newest campsite a couple hours before sunset. For the time being, we are calling a 9' platform in the middle of the jungle "home." There is a coatimundi that also calls this place home... our kids both fear and love the little thing. 

At the moment, I am tucked-in tightly under a mosquito net, a little intimidated by the sounds of the jungle, the cadre of insects, and the darkness of the night's sky. At the same time, I am grateful to have the opportunity to play Swiss Family Robinson with a group of incredible teens for the night. 

Dinner should be ready shortly, and we are going alligator hunting after that. Buenos noches for now. Buena suerte for later!

Arrival in Iquitos

Five plane rides, two train rides and far too many hours on a bus have brought us to where we are today, Iquitos, Peru. This is the place where our 2008 GreenHouse Globetrotters worked for two weeks - the city my own father called home for more than three months earlier this year! Still, I am having a hard time grasping the chaos and the poverty. I feel like it's the most broken place on earth. Paul Opp, the Director of the People of Peru Project, told us that aside from Bangkok, Iquitos has the highest volume of sex trafficking and sex vacationing in the world. Just about everywhere you look you see billboards like this one:

There are apx. 600,000 in the city; I think we saw 500,000 of them on our drive in. The infrastructure, the dilapidated buildings, the kids with torn clothing and no shoes, the thirteen and fourteen year-old girls selling themselves in the streets... it has all left me speechless.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Finding the Change and Losing the Balance

(By Ricky Anjorin)

We can't make a difference in the lives of others if we can't make a difference in ourselves. That is the lesson many of us Globetrotters are beginning to realize as we tour the poverty-stricken city of Iquitos, Peru. As leaders and compassionate human beings, when we see the pain and struggle of our fellow brothers and sisters it is only natural that we are eager to inspire change and make a difference.

Unfortunately, what many of us do not realize is that we are this impoverished and isolated city within ourselves. We are isolated by the continuous thoughts of self. We are impoverished by our rejection of correction. We are isolated in the process of battling for independence and self-reliance. We are impoverished by our un-voiced emotions...

So the question is asked: Why can't the city of Iquitos change? Why can't we change? Well the simple answer is balance.

In the city and in ourselves balance is a necessity. In every environment balance is realized in what is known as a carrying capacity. Whenever an environment exceeds its carrying capacity it becomes difficult to sustain a population. The same theory applies to human beings. As we are overloaded and bombarded with the things that life throws at us, it becomes more and more challenging to find that balance.

But what if balance is actually the problem and not the solution? What if the never-ending quest for balance is what keeps us isolated and impoverished? What if the size of our hearts exceeds the size of our pockets? What if hope exceeds greed? What if love exceeds pride? What if changing the world meant changing you?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Quick Update - From the Amazon

In pain and extremely tired. Will add posts and more pictures later, but here is a sneak peak from the Amazon adventures. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Thursday, June 9th

For 10 members of our group, today started something like this:
2:30 am – Wake-up call
3:00 am – Meet in lobby and walk to train station
5:30 am – Board bus and ride to the base of Machu Pichu with the hopes of being 10 of 200 to receive the stamp that would allow us to hike Waynapichu

…all of this just hours after finishing a grueling 2-day trek in the Andean Mountains. The mere fact that so many of our kids were up for the challenge made me smile.

Fortunately, we were 10 of the first 200 who made it to the gate in time. The hike was tough – so steep that you literally had to crawl on all fours most of the way – but, wow, was it glorious! Watching the sunrise over Machu Pichu and having a 360 degree view of the world around you… it was one of those experiences I wish could have lasted for eternity.  

After we got back to our hotel in Aguas Calientes I asked the six kids and the three other leaders who made the trip to describe their experience. I will use their words to narrate some pictures from our journey: