Well, time has been flying and i only have three months left. Suddenly my focus is on wrapping everything up instead of constantly starting new projects. My work has boioled down to three primary projects, although I´m still helping out in the schools and health post and doing ancillary activities with the rest of the volunteers in the canyon such as a travelling business workshop and a handwashing play.
The two big projects are the library and an agriculture project with the high school. I´m starting to wonder if the library will every come to pass. I have a government organization ready to donate the books, but I¨m having trouble getting my municipality to meet their requirements, the principal hangup being a special shelf they don´t feel like building. I¨m on the verge of an ultimatum... build the shelf now or I¨ll stop bringing up the library and let hte next person worry about it.
The other project is going much better. The high school has received a grant to set up a plant nursery for tara, a small tree that fights erosion and has medicinal benefits. I¨m trying to get a good start on the project before I leave, and hope to see everything up and running by June. I¨ve always had good relations with my high school, and have high hopes of this being the one tangible benefit I leave behind.
Other than work, I have not much to report besides my last big vacation, which was last month. This one was to the jungle in the north of Peru, and was quite a mixed bag. To start off with, we had planned three nights in bus, over 45 hours, to get to where our boat was leaving. Hoever, the last 15 hour leg turned into a 28 hour ordeal due to landslides, including waiting in the rain for an hour around midnight for our bus to do... nothing. This was only a foretaste of what was to come.
After that, our first destination, Tarapoto, seemed like a paradise. It was hot and sweltering, but we fought the heat by goign to a nearby waterfall and jumping through it to the pool below. Outside of that we lazed about, cut me a mullet- which was spectacularly ugly, and ate jungle cuisine, which involved a lot of plantains and bananas fried in different ways and a type of jerked beef that was a chore to chew, but delicious.
After two nights in Tarapoto we had a day-long boatride up an Amazon tributary to the town of Lagunas, where we would head into the jungle. It was strange how quickly the boatride turned mundane, and I mostly hung out in my hammock and watched the river rush by. After a night in Lagunas we climbed into canoes and headed into the jungle with our guides.
The jungle wasn´t as thick as I had expected, but there was plenty of wildlife to be seen. Over the next three days we saw tons of monkeys, parrots, and macaws, as well as a sloth and her baby, a tortoise, a large lizard kind of like a monitor, river dolphins, a baby crocodile, a river otter (I think- our guides said sea lion, but I found that hard to believe), a baby anaconda, and the nastiest tarantula I had ever seen. We also caught plenty of river fish, which we sampled, and even some pirana, although we didn´t get the chance to eat those. My highlight of the trip was swimming with the piranas, which would snap at the fish guts thrown in the water, but which usually left larger creatures alone. Something took an exploratory nibble of my nipple when I was in there, but didn´t draw blood, so I came out with all limbs intact.
Problems resurfaced when we got back to town. The boat to Iquitos that was supposed to leave that night couldn´t because of high river levels, but we were assured that it would the next day. Of course, the next morning we were told that it wouldn´t be, so we made an interesting decision instead of waiting the river out, which could have taken a week for all we knew. The group, which had swelled to fourteen, rented out a boat to take us upriver on a trip that was supposed to last eight hours.
When we got to port, we saw a fairly dilapidated, although spacious enough boat. The girls asked if it had a bathroom, and a small enclosed area hanging over the stern was pointed out. It appeared that you grabbed the sides of the enclosure and hung out over the river to do your business. This was a topic of much discussion until a canoe pulled up next to the boat and our transporters proceeded to remove the outboard motor form the much bigger boat to the canoe. It turned out we would be going up a pretty sizeable river in a dugout canoe barely big enough to hold us and our backpacks, and sorry girls- no bathroom.
I sat up front to avoid huddling in the middle with the majority and having to cross my too long for that legs for eight hours. This was shown to be a questionable decision pretty quickly when water began to come over the sides into my lap, although not to the same degree as my poor compañera up front. As long as the wind didn´t change and we arrived soon after dark like planned, I¨d be fine.
Unfortunately, as night fell it became obvious that we wouldn´t be arriving in eight hours. And then it began to rain. We had come prepared with a dirty tarp that barely stretched to we denizens of the front, and which would become my only projection against the cold as the night wore on. Travelling at night turned out to be even shadier than originally thought, due to the floating logs we continually ran into. I was pretty convinced that we´d have to swim for it, fight off crocodiles, and start our own Lord of the Flies-like community on the shore, but our canoe proved up to continually running into a few pesky logs.
After it became apparent that our boathandlers had gotten themselves lost in the dark, I resolved to get as much sleep as I could. This proved to be difficult bent over double with both hands clutching the tarp to pull it taught over my head and keep as much wind and spray off me as possible. However, somehow I was able to nod off for a bit.
It turned out that the wind changed in the morning, and I was cheerily woken up by a splash of water ovre the side, which was to continue relentlessly until we thankfully got into port. Eight hours had turned into eighteen, and even the two hour busride into Iquitos with a little girl Exorcist-vomiting periodically a few seats behind me felt like heaven. In the big city of Iquitos I got my mullet cut off, ate at an inexplicably located Texas BBQ joint, and slept in a bed. The next day I was never so happy to be heading back to site.