Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Peru 2007 - Joining Lon Haldeman in the Amazon

Birthday party for street kids The final leg of our Peru PAC Tour took us to Iquitos, known for its rubber barons as portrayed in Werner Herzog's epic movie "Fitzceraldo". On our last night we organized a "Birthday Party" for street children in a local restaurant. The 30+ kids enjoyed their chicken dinner and a T shirt (some wrapped up the dinner to take it home to their families). Lon organizes such a party every year and by now the kids know the Gringo cyclists.

Manana - let's start from the beginning. My life during the first part of 2007 was dedicated to PBP and then, after 83:31 hours, everything was over, creating a huge void and I was wondering whether life would ever be sweet again. Priscilla, my greatest fan and avid supporter of my passion, told me to get back on the bike; was it an act of self-preservation? She found the Peru Tour on the PAC TOUR web site and thought that Lon Haldeman’s approach to life, combining the passion for cycling and helping to build a better world, was admirable and something to join in.

On TACA bikes fly standby
Lon suggested bringing a bike that could be given to a local rider after the tour and my friend Maile had an old mountain bike and parts that found a good home in Peru. TACA airlines offered the cheapest tickets and the flight was scheduled to leave at 0500 hours from DC. When I showed up at the counter with my bike box I was told that everything in cardboard boxes was flying standby. Well, families returning to their home country had lined up with umpty cardboard boxes containing everything from swing sets to appliances, and as predicted my bike only arrived after our tour was over.

The principal and his new bike. I purchased another mountain bike in Tarapoto and it has now had a good home with the principal and students of the “School of the Dolphins” in Iquitos. Maile's bike finally arrived on our last day in Iquitos, just in time to assemble it and present it to the local cyclists and firemen.

Leaving Tarapoto for our cycling adventure in the Peruvian Amazon Air travel from Lima to TARAPOTO was uneventful but stepping off the plane was a reminder that we were getting closer to our destiny, the Amazon jungle. Heat and a buzzling city were motorcycle taxis reign greeted us. Our hotel, owned and operated by Koreans?? was a step down from Lima but still pleasant. We had an Internet connection, soap, hot water, towels, shampoo and an air conditioning unit that kept my room mate Terry awake for the better part of the night.

Crossing a continent. Our original plan to ride all the way from Tarapoto to Caynarachi and then on to Yurimaguas was doomed. The highway that eventually will link Brazil with the Pacific Ocean was under construction and the stretch from Tarapotyo to Caynarachi was closed every day from 0600 to 2200 hours due to blasting and construction.

Lon-Veronica and Terry. We therefore spent the entire day riding in the Lamas province and the plan was to go by truck at night to Caynarachi. Riding to Lamas was a welcome relief from the heat in Tarapoto. Lamas is located 700 meter above Tarapoto and after a 10 kilometer climb we enjoyed lunch in a refreshing highland breeze.

Upon our return to the hotel we loaded our gear onto three Toyota and Nissan trucks and took off on a dirt road heading to the mountain range, which would lead us into the Amazon basin. The word on the street was that the mountain road would open at 1800 hours. However, this was an overly optimistic assumption and more than 100 trucks lined the road waiting for it to be opened. Street vendors had set up shop and food and beverages were sold. Travel in Peru is different.

Finally, the road opened and cars and trucks took off like insects, passing each other to the left and right. People had been waiting in line for hours and now every second seemed to count. It was dark and the full moon illuminated the dense jungle that encroached the mud road. It had rained the day before and driving in the heavy mud with bald tires seemed like the right thing to do. It is hard to imagine us covering this stretch by bicycle (Lon had cycled on those mud highways in previous years).

Caynarachi We arrived in Caynarachi around 2200 hours and the Gringos were the attraction of the night. Young and old, males and females, dogs and even a street pig congregated around our trucks and offered their help to unload our gear. Caynarachi is a truck stop at the frontiers with only one hotel, small restaurants and street vendors. It is so insignificant that not even Wikipedia cares to covers it. The rooms were basic but the Internet Cafe in this hotel had at least 10 computers - the locals are connected to the world.

Internet Cafe and hotel in Caynarachi It would be possible for me to telecommute from the jungle - what and enticing concept. The restaurant was sort of interesting with big picture of various foods and dishes covering the walls. However, it turned out that the dishes served did not match those on the posters at all and the posters probably came from a yard sale.

As every day of the year, sunrise was at around 0600 and we had our now so mandatory “omlet with vegetables” breakfast at 0700 hours. Eggs seem to be a staple in this part of Peru and I saw crates of them stored at room temperature in every grocery store.

We are on our bikes heading for Yurimaguas, a city that is literally at the end of the road. The road that eventually will connect the Pacific Ocean with Brazil ends here and the only way to move on is via boat or plane.

Barry and Lon The highway was brand new with a wide shoulder and it snakes through an ancient countryside with basic rural Peruvian villages. Two worlds meet. Modern trucks and Peruvian motocars pass villagers fetching water from ditches. Bernie who drove our support truck manned rest stops every 13 miles. Our empty water bottles, INCA COLA and Gatorade bottles are passed on the villagers who fill them with home made sugar cane and pinapple juice and sell them to those traveling through. It is a micro economy and everybody seems busy. I have not seen people just hanging out and the work ethics seem to be stellar.

Market in Yurimaguas. Wikipedia writes: Yurimaguas is a thriving port-town in the Loreto Region of northeastern Peruvian Amazonia. Historically associated with Maynas(Pais de los Maynas), the culturally diverse town is affectionately known as the "Pearl of the Huallaga" ("Perla del Huallaga"). Yurimaguas is located at the confluence of rachel the majestic Huallaga and Paranapura Rivers in the steamy rainforests of northeastern Peru. It is the capital of both Alto Amazonas Province and Yurimaguas District, and had a population estimated at about 64,000 inhabitants (2002).

The Amazon On Wednesday afternoon we went to the docks in Yurimaguas to find out at what time the Eduardo III would set sails and take us to Nauta. Big white letters stated “manana”, which was quite appropriate since she was supposed to leave on Thursday. The captain narrowed it to 1400 hours and we arrived at the boat at 1300 hours with Lon already predicting a 6 hour delay. Loading of the Eduardo III with rice, bananas, motorcycle parts, chicken and life stock lasted until 2200 and finally we set sail.

On the Eduardo III. We were the only Gringos on board and stayed on the upper deck. Our hammocks had been hung up by Walter, a longtime friend of Lon´s and employee of the Eduardo shipping company. More passengers were on the 2nd deck while the 1st deck was loaded with merchandise. Sailing down the river generated a very pleasant breeze and it chilled down at night. Many of us decided to sleep in the hammocks and enjoy the spectacular nights.

Sunrise on the Amazon is spectacular. The Eduardo III stopped at small and large villages, mainly loading more goods destined for the markets in Nauta and Iquitos. Lon had purchased five sets of books to be dropped off at five different schools on the way.

Delivering books. The schools are plain blue or green concrete buildings. One school had desks for the 24 kids but only 10 chairs. We made a note to purchase and ship 14 chairs to that school. This teacher also asked for a soccer ball for the kids. It appeared to me that the teachers were assigned to these remote communities, with the Amazon as the only access to the world. Some schools were in such emote villages that even the Eduardo did not stop at all or only for a few minutes. In those cases we took the speedboat to the village, while the Eduardo sailed on.

Outside our cabin. Terry Z and I shared a cabin but decided to sleep in hammocks on the open deck. Terry is the RAAM director and he talked me into riding RAAM as part of a four person team - and now I only need to find the $$.

Lon and Cristhan unloading in Nauta. After 36 hours our river journey came to an end and we disbarked in Nauta to continue our cycling quest. 100 km on a wonderfully paved road, and only my fat MTB tires and a flat slowed us down. Roadside stands provided the now so familiar nourishment and Inca Cola.

What the heck is this stuff?

Jack Wolff School- School of the Dolphins. In 2004 PAC Tour in association with the Christ Lutheran Church of Sharon, Wisconsin built a school in the Village of the Dolphins outside Iquitos. It is named “Jack Wolff School” in honor of this PAC Tour rider who had contributed much to the building of the school and died in a cycling accident. This school has grown over the years and during our visit Lon discussed future projects and funding.

Terry, Susan and Peggy with all "their children"

KM 46 School. One purpose of the tour was to scout out a site for a new school. Lon settled for a village 46 km outside Iquitos. This place is in a rather remote area that only can be reached by foot and children in the area had no access to formal education. We went to the village to negotiate with the locals the school project that is now rapidly moving forward (see Lon Haldeman’s blog at http://pactour.com).

Lothar befriending a boa. The boa
While in Iquitos we visited a native Indian village in the jungle. According to the chief, the tribe moved from Equador to Peru about fifty years ago to take full advantage of the tourism – globalization at its best. The boa is still contemplating whether to eat the well-fed Gringo.

Luna hands out invitations to street children in Iquitos. Several hours before the "Birthday party" we walked through Iquitos and handed out a invitations to a wide mix of children, boys and girls, young and teenagers.

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