Saturday, November 25, 2006

Over the Peruvian Andes

Over the Andes to the Orphanage

The shopping in Lima had been frantic and productive. We still had 100 books in our taxi for the orphanage. Besides the boxes of books, we had three huge sacks of clothes for 100 orphans. We had bought a set of new clothes for the kids ages 3 to 17 years old. A complete outfit included: a t-shirt, pants and sandals. Including our personal gear bags we packed the back of a Toyota station wagon taxi pretty tight. All these things would need to be unloaded into a different taxi each time we changed vehicles every 50 to 70 miles. Our trip to the orphanage would take four days and include seven different taxies. This would be a 300 mile adventure from Lima over the 16,000 foot Andes Mountains to the jungle orphanage in Puerto Occopa. Along the way we would buy and accumulated more supplies such as gardening tools in other towns. The orphanage has a small farm garden where they grow vegetables for many of their meals.

My traveling companions would include my friend Vioricka from the jungle city of Iquitos. Vioricka has worked as a translator for our tours the past three years. Her European Spanish ancestors is where she inherited her white skin and red hair. She always contrasted with the majority of dark skinned Indian natives. Also traveling with us was an eight year old girl named Aracely and her mother Neyda. I met them both last year in their jungle restaurant during our bike tour to the orphanage. I had an immediate connection with Aracely and was impressed by her spunky attitude. Her mother asked me if I would take Aracely back to the United States to go to school. It wasn’t possible to bring Aracely home but we kept in touch by mail during the past year. She calls me “Papa Lon” and I consider her my adopted daughter in Peru. This year Neyda moved to Lima to clean houses. Aracely lives in a boarding house for twenty girls whose parents work full time. I was able to track them down and see if they wanted to travel back to their home in the jungle. Neyda and Aracely were thrilled to be able to spend a week together and travel with us back to their home.

The four of us made quite an assortment of demographics. Vioricka was the elegant glamor queen. She always dressed like a fashion model. Neyda was the stern, hardworking mother who liked helping lift and move the packages. Aracely had that Shirley Temple personality and was always charming taxi drivers and waiters. She could meet a stranger and within two minutes be sitting on their lap telling them a story. I was the bumbling gringo who tried to speak Spanish. I am sure the locals wondered why I was traveling by taxi with Vioricka, Neyda and Aracely.

Our second night we arrived at the old home of Neyda and Aracely. Aracely’s grandfather still lives there and he was delighted to see his family again. We were deep in the banana and pineapple jungle now. Their house doubled as a restaurant on stilts overhanging the river. The construction was similar to a backyard tree house. They showed me my bedroom overlooking the 200 foot wide, fast flowing river. The view was exceptional. I could look through the floor boards and see the chickens below pecking in the mud. The outdoor toilet was down another flight of stairs near the edge of the river. To flush the toilet you poured a bucket of river water into the basin and the toilet flushed through a plastic pipe into the river.

Side note:
Last year when our bike tour stopped at Neyda’s restaurant for lunch our group had ordered chicken. The cook took a five foot metal spear and tried to catch and kill a chicken below the restaurant. After 20 minutes of not catching a chicken he returned to report they did not have chicken today. He asked if we wanted fish. We said that would be fine. The cook then went and got his fishing pole and went down to the river. After ten minutes he had caught several twelve inch fish of various types. He cleaned and cooked the fish for us on his open pit wood stove. This was a typical lunch at a roadside restaurant in Peru. The meal was never very quick but it was always entertaining.

This year it was a challenging night staying there. The local dogs barked at every vehicle on the main road just outside my room. The roosters below my bed were on various time zones and would crow on the hour. The outhouse toilet was filled with fast four inch spiders that liked to come out in the dark. I wondered how many spiders would come up though the gaps in my floorboards and find their way into my bed. This is where Neyda grew up as little girl and how 80% of the jungle people live. It was an interesting visit and something I would like to do again.

The next morning we found another taxi and began our third day of driving to Satipo. We only needed to travel 45 miles to arrive at our two star Majestic Hotel before noon. Satipo is a large town of 15,000 people and has a wholesale type food store. We waited to purchase the heaviest food items here. It would take us six hours of grocery shopping to buy and collect everything. Our convoy had now expanded to include an old cattle truck. It was loaded with 3,000 pounds of bagged rice, sugar and beans, pasta, canned milk, salad oil, toilet paper, laundry soap and toys. This was enough packaged food to last about two months. Our budget was about $3,000 for the food and $2,000 for the clothes. The next morning we planned to travel the final miles to the orphanage. After dinner it started to rain. I knew it would be a sloppy ride tomorrow.

The jungle road ahead was 50 miles of mud and rocks. A fast taxi driver could cover the distance in three hours. A loaded truck would take four hours if it didn’t get robbed by bandits or stuck in the mud. Our traveling schedule was intentionally vague of when we would arrive at the orphanage. The road ahead was known to have hijackers waiting for worthwhile loot. We didn’t want anyone to know when we would be on this section of road. Even the nuns at the orphanage didn’t know we were coming.

Aracely and her mom would be riding with the truck driver. Vioricka and I would be traveling behind in our taxi that was still loaded with books and clothing. We had bought an industrial sewing machine in Lima and had it shipped by separate truck to Satipo. The truck was a day late but we had received message the truck should arrive at the shipping docks at any minute. Vioricka and I went to look for the sewing machine and gave Neyda and Aracely a head start in the slow cattle truck. As they left town we tracked down the sewing machine delivery at the docks. Everything was intact including the heavy steel support table and countertop. After thirty minutes of securing the table to the roof of the taxi with coils of rope we were ready to catch Neyda and Aracely in the supply truck.

The gravel road from Satipo to the Puerto Occopa Orphanage is relatively good the first ten miles. The remaining 40 miles vary from bad to terrible as deep ruts and rocks scrape the floor boards of our Toyota taxi. Our driver did his best to straddle potholes and avoid the occasional oncoming car who is trying to miss obstacles in their lane. We barely averaged 15 mph for the next two hours. A good mountain bike racer could easily have kept up with our slow, jarring pace.

The road to the orphanage is like going to the edge of the earth. It is a road to no where. We could have picked an easier place to deliver supplies. There are plenty of orphanages in Lima who could use our help. We had spent a third of our budget just trying to transport our items to the Puerto Occopa Orphanage. Three years ago our bicycle tour group came here to this area to go white water rafting. We didn’t even know there was an orphanage until our guide asked if we could bring some food supplies for the children. Our visit that year turned into a more powerful and enjoyable experience than the boat ride. As Vioricka and I bounce down the road in our taxi, I remembered why are we going to all the way to Puerto Occopa.

After two and a half hours we still hadn’t caught up with Neyda and Aracely in the supply truck. I was expecting the worst and that they have been stopped by robbers in some secluded section of the road. Vioricka and I had arrived at the orphanage with our taxi driver. No supply truck is within sight. Maybe the truck went further down the road to the boat docks. We drove the last mile of road and asked local villagers if they saw our truck. No one has seen a truck today. Another taxi driver arrived behind us and said he had seen our truck parked in a town 25 miles back getting gas. By the time we get back at the orphanage our truck had arrived. Neyda and Aracely said they didn’t have any problems. We must have passed them without seeing the truck. I was very worried about them, but relieved that we all arrived safe.

P.S. These projects have been made possible by the generous donations of PAC Tour riders. If you would like to contribute to the Orphanage or School Builders Fund you can make a tax deductible donation to:

"The Christ Lutheran Church Peru Fund".

Mail your check to:

PAC Tour, P.O. Box 303, Sharon, WI 53585.

A receipt will be sent to you acknowledging your donation.

Thank you for your continuing support with these projects.



Post a Comment

<< Home