Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Favorite Peru Movies

“Why do you go to Peru?” I am often asked.

It is difficult to give a short answer. The more times I have been to Peru (12 so far) the more difficult it is to answer why. Each time I go to Peru the experiences change. Even the most routine and planned tours always have life changing situations I couldn’t anticipate.

I am not a big movie watcher. I can sit through two or three per year. I have seen a few that have inspired me and changed the way I look at Peru.

If you get a chance to rent these movies on DVD you will have some idea of my favorite landscapes of Peru. During our next tour we will be traveling through many of these type areas.

“Fritzcarraldo” 1982
Based on the exploitation of the Amazon region rubber plantations in the early 1900s. This film shows the contrast of cultures and values as one man seeks his fortune so he can bring the Italian Opera to the jungle. Most of the film follows the struggle of trying to transport a 100 foot boat up river through the land of head hunting Indian tribes. Filmed on location in Iquitos, Peru there are still many of the landmarks visible in the city. Great scenery and story but this three hour movie could have told the story in two hours. Enjoy the extra hour of footage as way to see some interesting jungle scenes.

“The Emerald Forest” 1985
This movie is ctually based near Brazil but the jungle theme is similar to Peru. The young son of a white construction developer is kidnapped and raised by a remote tribe of Indians. After ten years the father and son are reunited. The son shows his father the ways of the Indians and why their way of life is worth preserving in the jungle. Today these tribes no longer live in Peru but the film is a good documentation of Indian life that was common 50-100 years ago.

“Motorcycle Dairies” 2004
Based on the true dairies of Ernesto “Che” Guevaro in 1952 before he became Fidal Castro’s buddy. This is not a political film but is what changed young Ernesto to lead a revolution to help the poor people of South America. One of the best road trip movies of all time as Ernesto and his friend make an 8,000 mile loop around the tip of South America on a broken motorcycle. The plight of Peruvian miners in the arid Andes and the leper colonies on the Amazon River can still be seen today.

If you need to reach me in Peru be sure to write me at my YAHOO address not at the PAC Tour office.

Use this one....


If I have time I will try to update this blog with some updates from Peru. If not I will be posting a series of stories when I return.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Peru Update #12

The following are some random updates that have been sent to riders going on the Amazon Cycling Tour next week. I hope they give you some insight into the conditions and people we will meet along the way.

Update #12
Hotels on the Route

Our accommodations in Lima will be similar to a nice American Holiday Inn with bathtubs and plenty of hot water. We are staying in the Mira Flores district of Lima which is the upper class area. The outdoor restaurants are similar to the type you might see in Paris, France. The neighborhood is safe and it is interesting to walk in the big Kennedy Plaza near our hotel.

The hotels at Tarapoto, Yurimaguas and Iquitos will not have bathtubs, but they will have air conditioning and hot water showers. These towns are not as fancy as Mira Flores but they do have several nice churches and interesting sites to see. Iquitos was considered the Paris of the jungle in the year 1890 as the wealth oozed from the pockets of the rubber barons as freely as the rubber sap did from the trees.

At the end of our first cycling day we stay at the hotel at Caymarachi in the middle of the jungle . It is the most basic hotel of our tour with the bathrooms and showers down the hall. Most of the walls are concrete and the accommodations are crude. It will be hot there so cold water showers will feel good. The only thing good about this hotel is that it is the only place to stay for 40 miles in either direction.

When we arrive in Yurimaguas we will go shopping for a boat that is ready to depart. The Edwardo Boat Company has hot showers and fans in the cabins. We will try to travel on an Edwardo Boat if one is departing on our time schedule. We might need to buy electric fans if the cabins do not have fans. You have the option to buy a hammock or foam pad in Yurimaguas for sleeping on the deck. The boat cabins are made of sheet metal and too hot to stay in during the day. Our support crew member Nayda will be our cook on the boat. She can prepare custom meals for our group. We will all go shopping before we get on the boat and plan a menu of what we want to eat for two days.

Our hotel in Iquitos is owned by a cyclist who wants to be a good host for us. The rooms are clean with good air conditioners and we are within two blocks of downtown. We are in Iquitos for four nights so we will have a chance to try many restaurants in the area. A family I know has invited us for dinner at their home located in the dirt streets of a shanty neighborhood. I have eaten at their house often and the mother is a great cook. It will be a memorable dinner with plenty of food.

During our tour we will participate in many activities not usually open to gringo tourists. We will get to meet and hangout with many local people and see their lives outside of the usual tourist areas.

I am working out a schedule of who and where we will visit. Our group is very popular and we have more invitations to visit people than we have time. I think our days will be very full but I don’t want to overbook our time. I want to allow you enough flex time for you to spend more time at the areas that interest you.

More updates later.....

Peru Update #13

The following are some random updates that have been sent to riders going on the Amazon Cycling Tour next week. I hope they give you some insight into the conditions and people we will meet along the way.

Update #13
Weird Things to Bring to Peru and Why

As you are getting your clothes and supplies packed for our Peru Tour, here are a few more items to consider bringing. Some of these items were suggested on your previous packing list.

_____ Ten feet of lightweight clothes line. Washing and drying clothes in Peru will need to be done whenever you can find a good water supply. Bring clothes that can be washed with shampoo in the shower and will dry quickly.

_____ Two plastic clothes hangers

_____ Six clothes pins

_____ Rubber sandals like TEVAS or flip flops for walking in dirty showers or bathrooms on the boat.

_____ Small flashlight when the electricity goes out in your room.

_____ Small 3 inch scrub brush for muddy shoes...brushes can be bought in the Peru market

_____ Light weight bike cable lock. You might need to lock your bike at roadside restaurants. I made good traveling cable lock from a 5 foot piece of plastic covered brake cable wire. To lock my bike I use a small luggage lock . Let me know if you need a cable lock and I can make you one and bring it to Peru for you. You should bring your own luggage type lock.

_____ Small favorite pillow. The pillows in Peru are similar to bags of flour and very firm and hurt your ears. Pack your pillow in a compression bag in your gearbag.

_____Small umbrella similar to the “Totes” style double folding kind. They cost about $9.00 at Walmart and are good for walking downtown in the rain when it is too hot to wear a rain coat.

_____ Should you bring water bottles, a Camelbak or neither? We will be buying bottles of water as our water source. Ice is scarce but we will buy enough to keep our drinks cool in the ice chests. We will also buy some bottles of soda and Gatorade. These bottles fit well in bicycle water bottle cages so you could carry these plastic bottles on your bike.

_____ Seat bag for your bicycle with enough room to carry a raincoat, inner tubes, simple bike tools and some room for packaged snacks.

Other optional things to buy in Peru. You can get by without them, but they are good souvenirs.

_____ Hammock for on the boat deck. They are nice place to sit during the day. Costs about $12.

_____ Colorful lightweight blanket for your hammock. Costs about $10

_____ Wool or Alpaca sweaters and blankets are available for sale when we return to Lima. It is better to buy these before your return flight home so you don’t need to carry them on the tour.


Peru Update #14

The following are some random updates that have been sent to riders going on the Amazon Cycling Tour next week. I hope they give you some insight into the conditions and people we will meet along the way.

Update #14

We have about two weeks to go before our tour in Peru. There are a few more updates you will receive concerning specific arrival plans in Peru.

I received some bittersweet news from Berny Menendez who lives in Tarapoto. He will be one of our van drivers when we travel from Tarapoto to Yurimaguas through the jungle. Berny said the government has almost completed paving this 90 miles except for 3 miles near the mountain summit. This is good news for us since 87 miles is now fast and smooth pavement suitable for road tires. You should still bring tires suitable for the rough 3 miles of dirt or gravel. The sad news is that this desolate jungle route will now be open to big buses bringing people nonstop 600 miles from the coastal city of Piura. Maybe next year this 600 mile route would be a good road bike tour.

Our main crew will be made of three people. One of them is Vioricka Rodriequez who lives in the jungle city of Iquitos. She is studying to be an air traffic controller at the airport. She had to learn Portuguese to speak to Brazilian pilots. During the tour Vioricka is responsible for making hotel and airline reservations.

Another crew member is Nayda Carhuamarca. I met Nayda 3 years ago when she owned a restaurant in the jungle. Her restaurant is where the following story took place.

In 2005 when our bike tour stopped at Nayda’s restaurant for lunch our group had ordered chicken. The grandfather 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. He 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. Nayda cleaned and cooked the fish for us on her 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.

While we are waiting and eating at the restaurant we we entertained by a cheerful seven year old girl named Aracely. She was picking us oranges from the nearby trees and showing us all her jungle pets of cats, toads and baby chickens. Even though she didn’t speak English we had a good visit and she had her photo taken standing with our bicycles.

After our group had eaten and was ready to go, the grandfather and Nayda pulled me aside and asked if I could take Aracely with me to the United States. I was a little confused by their request, but they said they wanted a better life for Aracely. I told them I could not take Aracely with me but we should keep in touch and write letters in the future. Later I learned that Nayda needed to move to Lima to clean house for the cost of room and board. Aracely lived in a girls home nearby with 20 other girls who’s mothers worked cleaning houses too. During the next two years we stayed in contact and Nayda and Aracely traveled with me last year across Peru.

During our tour Nayda and Aracely will be traveling with us again. Nayda is a strong durable person who always wants to help. Don’t be surprised if she grabs your handbag or backpack so you don’t have to carry anything. She only wants to help and she wants to feel that she is carrying her weight during the tour.

Aracely is a hoot with a quick sense of humor. She is very outgoing with a spunky personality. Don’t be surprised if she want to hold your hand while you are walking or wants to sit on your lap and read you a story in Spanish. I think she will be very entertaining during our tour.

At times we will have some other helpers joining us along the way. We will usually eat together with the taxi drivers and other people who are with us for each day. I know an assortment of characters who we will meet. For example: Walter works at the boat docks in Yurimaguas. He doesn’t know we are coming but I bet he finds us and wants to be our personal escort for loading our bags and gear bags in our cabins. Then he will want us to come over to his house and see his family. He lives in a shanty house similar to a two car garage with three other families. The conditions are very basic by American standards but he is extremely proud of his house and will want us to visit.

I am sure we will be meeting more charactors and future friends on this tour.

I will be sending more updates next week.


#18 Peru Updates

These are a series of updates sent to riders on the Peru Tours

#18 Peru Updates

Arriving at Lima Airport Customs
On the plane the flight attendant will give you a Declaration of Import Form asking what extra items you are bringing into the country. It is easy to answer the questions on this form. When you leave the airplane you will need to have your passport with you because your first stop is the customs check-in line.

Be sure to keep the little white piece of paper with the inspection form. Clip this white piece of paper inside your passport. You need it for the return trip. It will cost you $4 to get a new one if you lose it.

After you go through the line at customs you will wait for your baggage near the baggage claim carousel. Sometime this wait can be 30 to 45 minutes because they are checking bags coming off the plane with drug dogs. Your bike case will probably come through the back wall doorway and not be on the baggage carousel.

While you are waiting...this is a good time to exchange some money at the Money Exchange Booth near baggage claim. More details later.

Baggage Claim and Search
Get a rolling luggage cart at baggage claim and put our bike case and gear bag on the cart then go toward the crowds of people waiting outside.

Depart through an inspection gate. You will be asked to push a button to activate a random search alert. About 25% of passengers are stopped and asked to step over to the search area. If you are not stopped you will proceed out to the airport lobby area. If you are stopped and searched you will be asked to open your bags and bike case as the officials search your bag.

The officials are looking for drugs and new items not declared at customs. I was stopped and questioned once because I had several boxes of new inner tubes and bike tires. Package your cycling equipment in clear zip-lock bags. Your bicycle should look old with dusty tires, so the officials know you are not importing a new bike.

Meeting at the Airport
When you arrive at the Lima airport terminal lobby area there will be hundreds of local people waiting for their family members getting off the plane. You will feel like a Rock Star at the music awards. There will be a big fenced area and there will be crowds of people behind the fence.

Go toward the glass doors to go outside. Lon and Vioricka will be waiting for you near the glass doors outside on the sidewalk. There will be hundreds of taxi drivers pulling you toward their cars. Don’t go with them! We will find you since you will be hauling a bike case. We will meet you and walk outside the length of the terminal to the LEFT LUGGAGE area. You will leave your bike case there and take your gear bag to your hotel.

EMERGENCY PLAN.....print and carry this page with you

If you cannot find Lon or Vioricka or they can’t find you, we will meet at the INTERNET Cafe upstairs near the food court. The INTERNET area is at the far end of the terminal above the Domestic Flight Arrival area. At the INTERNET Cafe you can write Lon a message that you are at the airport. Lon will be sending you a similar message about where he is.

Use both these e-mail addresses for Lon

pactourlon@hotmail.com and pactourlon@yahoo.om

We have had problems in the past when riders flights were canceled and they changed planes to different airlines. Send Lon an e-mail about your change of plans if you can find a computer at your departing airport. Otherwise go to the INTERNET Cafe in Lima and we will find you.

You can use the Airport INTERNET Cafe for about $1.00 for 20 minutes. If you want to send a message home there will be a free computer to use at the hotel. Lima has lots of public Internet Cafes which cost about $1.00 per hour.

Peru Computer Hint
In Peru the keyboards are different. There in no @ symbol. You need to press

ALT key plus 64 to make the @ sign. Press ALT64

Changing Money
At the airport you can change American dollars for Peruvian Soles. The exchange rate is about 3.20 Soles per dollar. (3.40 is good, 3.10 is worse) There is a money changer booth near baggage claim or at the other end of the terminal near Domestic Departures. You should exchange about $100 to start the tour. There will be other exchange banks in Tarapoto and Yurimaguas and Iquitos. You can use American dollars in Lima if you want to buy large items and get a better exchange rate from the store.

Make sure you get small bills of 10 or 20 Soles. Most taxies and vendors do not have change for 100 soles bills. Also get at least 20 soles in coins for making change from street venders.

How Much Money to Bring
During the day if you want to buy soda or bottled water from street venders the cost is about 75 cents USA or 2.5 Peruvian soles per bottle. Lon normally spends $15 per day while cycling and buying bottled water and snacks in the hot jungle. During a week you could spend $100 on extra snacks. In the bigger towns there are many craft shops selling interesting souvenirs. Be sure to bring some extra money for gifts. You will have time to going shopping in the local markets.

Traveler’s Checks and Extra Cash
You can use Traveler’s Checks in the bigger cities but they are useless in the rural areas. Most rural venders keep a few coins in a cigar box as their personal bank and they have no use for Traveler’s Checks. I usually carry extra cash in a money belt or pill bottles stashed in various places in my luggage, backpack and with my bike tools.

Donations for Special Causes
If you have never traveled in Third World Countries before, be ready for a surprise when you tour Peru. You will see and meet many people that live in basic conditions that will break your heart. Although you might want to help everyone, you need to be careful to pick and choose who you help. During our tours I try to keep focused on the projects we came to Peru to support. We always find some new projects that need help and we try to see what we can do. You will probably find several projects of your own you want to support. Just be careful to pick and choose your special causes because you might give all your money away before you depart Lima.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Peru Update #17

These are a few of the updates that have been sent to PAC Tour riders getting ready for the tour in Peru next week.

Update #17

Our Arrival Schedule
Originally I thought most people were going to arrive Sunday night, October 21. As is worked out everyone was able to arrive Saturday, October 20 or before sunrise Sunday, October 31. We will be able to start the tour earlier and have a chance to spend more time seeing Lima.

Arrival in Lima Hotel
When we arrive in Lima we will be staying at the Carmel Hotel in the Mira Flores District of Lima. It is about a 40-45 minute taxi drive from the airport. The address is:

Hotel Carmel
Atahualpa Street 152 - Miraflores
Lima 18 - Perú
Telephone (51-1) 241-8672
Fax (51-1) 241-8632

They have a slide show on the INTERNET at:


The Hotel Carmel is our best hotel of the tour. Don’t be fooled that all Peru hotels are this nice. Our jungle hotels are much more basic.

Here is a rough schedule of our first 48 hours.

Vioricka and Cristhain arrive from Iquitos and Piura, Peru Saturday morning October 20.

Lothar and Terry arrive Saturday night, October 20

Susan, Peggy and Veronica arrive early Sunday, October 21 before sunrise.

Aracely and Nayda will arrive at our hotel at 1:00 PM Sunday, October 21

When you arrive at the airport your bicycle will be stored in “Left Luggage” until we retrieve it Monday before our flight to Tarapoto. Do not put anything in your bike case you will need at the hotel in Lima.

We all stay at the Carmel Hotel and can sleep late after a long night of travel. Breakfast is served at the hotel if you get up early. There are several good restaurants near the hotel if you want to get lunch in downtown Mira Flores.

Our tour will begin at 2:00 PM Sunday afternoon. We will take 2 or 3 taxies and go to the used book market in Lima. This market has several block of venders selling old text books, encyclopedias, novels plus a bunch of new paper back books. There we will buy an assortment of books to deliver to remote schools along the Amazon River during our boat tour. If you have room in your gear bag for a shoe box size stack of books, we can bundle these books for delivery. For example: 20 books the size of Reader’s Digest fit in one shoe box. We will buy as many bundles of books as we have room to carry without going over weight on the airlines. When we arrive in Tarapoto there is an office supply store where we can buy notebooks and pencils for the schools without having to ship them on the airplane.

After our shopping trip we will return to our hotel around 6:00 PM. We can clean up and be ready for dinner at 7:00 PM. There is a nice open air restaurant with great food located about 4 blocks from our hotel. I have several English speaking friends in Lima who will join us for dinner. This will give you a good chance to talk Peruvian politics and customs with the locals.

Lima City Tour
The next morning your Lima City Bus Tour begins from the hotel at 8:00 PM. There will be English and Spanish speaking guides since Nayda, Aracely and Cristhain will be with your group and they do not speak good English. Before you depart you will bring your one gear bag to the hotel lobby. You can take your backpack and camera with on the city tour. While you are on the tour Vioricka and I will transport your gear bag to the airport. Vioricka an I have seen the Lima Tour many times so we will move the luggage to the airport. At about noon your city tour will end and Nayda and Cristhain will arrange for you to take two taxies to the airport.

Lunch at the Airport
After we check our bikes and bags a good place to eat lunch is the food court at the airport. They have an assortment of restaurants that are fast and filling.

Flight to Tarapoto
We will fly to Tarapoto at 2:30 PM. When we arrive our friend Berny will take us to our hotel. We can check into our rooms and begin to assemble our bikes. I suggest we test ride our bikes before it gets dark at 6:30 PM.

Shopping for Snack Food
There is a great grocery store in Tarapoto that sells Gatorade, snacks and other items for our boat dinners. The grocery store in Tarapoto is really bad so we should stock up on items we want for our meals on the boat.

Getting on the Boat
We should get on the boat at sundown Thursday night, October 25. It is a 40 hour trip down river to Nauta so we should be getting off the boat at sunrise on Saturday, October 27. The book could depart earlier and travel faster and arrive at Nauta at 3:00 AM. If we get to Nauta earlier, we will need to wait until sunrise at 6:00 AM to start riding.

Arrival in Iquitos
When we depart the boat in the town of Nauta, we will ride 100 kilometers on pavement to Iquitos. Your gear bag and bike cases will stay on the boat to Iquitos and be delivered to our hotel downtown. The boat takes about 6 hours to reach Iquitos from Nauta. Nayda and Aracely and Vioricka’s brother will unload the gear bags from the boat. It will take us about 8 hours to ride our bikes to Iquitos including a visit to a possible school building project and eating lunch at the zoo. We will arrive at our hotel in late afternoon and have time to take a long shower and wash clothes after the boat trip. I expect we will e ready for dinner by 7:30 PM. The next several days in Iquitos are flexible. We have several different things to consider. We can discuss this schedule when we are on the boat and after we arrive in Iquitos.

Please use both these e-mail for me when I am traveling in Peru starting October 15th.

pactourlon@hotmail.com and pactourlon@yahoo.com

DO NOT use my normal address please.


Peru Update #16

These are a few of the weekly updates that have been sent to PAC Tour riders getting ready for the tours in Peru.

#16 Peru Update

Odometers and Distances
Our laminated route cards will be listed in miles. Peru uses kilometers on their sign posts. On our tour there is usually only one road, so navigation is easy. The route cards are handy to know where our next roadside fruit stands or rest stops are located. If you bike has an odometer it should be set in miles.

Rest Stops and Support
Originally PAC Tour was going to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner and the riders were going to provide their own snacks during during the day. Since our group is fairly small I expect we will be together most of the time. Our support van will be able to provide a place for snacks and beverages. There will still be plenty of locations for riders to buy snacks along the road between rest stops. When we get on the boat we can plan a menu for our meals. If you want more snacks to nibble on in your cabin you can stockpile these supplies before we depart Yurimaguas. Salty food such as potato chips and fried banana chips are good to eat in the heat. On the boat I suggest you bring at east four liters of water for drinking and brushing teeth. There will be villages along the way to buy more snacks and drinks when the boat docks for five minutes to load bananas.

Pack In Only One Gear bag
When we load the trucks and taxies all your stuff has to fit in one gear bag. Make sure your backpacks, cameras and extra snacks all fit in your gear bag. Vioricka and Nayda will be transferring and moving these gear bags at the hotels. It is not fair to them to have to keep track of a ll your odds and ends. If you have a bike case, these cases will be moved in addition to your one gear bag. You may want to bring a small day pack for airline carry-on or when we go hiking in the jungle near Iquitos. You should always carry 2-3 bottles of fluid during your hikes. This day pack must still fit in your big gear bag while you are cycling.

Slow Down the Runs
A good precaution for traveling in Peru is to chew one Pepto-Bismal tablet each morning and evening. This is not an excuse for proper sanitation concerns but the Pepto-Bismal tablets will slow down your digestive problems to a manageable speed. The side effect is constipation, so be sure to drink plenty of fluids each day.
Start chewing your Pepto-Bismal tablets three days before you depart to Peru.

Side Note: We have had some tours where no one has been sick. We ate at restaurants, drank bottled water and washed our hands as often as possible. On a different tour the most sick rider was a strict vegetarian who would only eat raw foods. Eating salad that was washed in river water is not a good idea. You will probably stay healthier if you eat cooked food, packaged food and stay away from raw fresh food that you do not know how it was prepared. Peru has some delightful food made by roadside venders. It would be a shame to eat nothing but packaged Powerbars in Peru. I have never been sick from eating cooked food.


Friday, October 05, 2007

History of the Puerto Ocopa Orphange in Peru

History of the Puerto Ocopa Orphanage

I will be going to Peru in two weeks delivering supplies to several desolate projects we are involved with there. One of these projects is the Orphanage in Puerto Ocopa which is located 300 miles east of over the Andes Mountains. It is a long three day taxi drive to arrive there while moving supplies of food and clothes.

The following article was written last March and gives some more history about this forgotten Orphanage in the jungle.

Franciscan Mission cares for needy Peruvian children
By Barbara J. Fraser
Catholic News Service (www.catholicnews.com)

PUERTO OCOPA, Peru (CNS) – The morning mist still clings to the trees as more than a dozen girls line up on wooden pews in the chapel of an old Franciscan mission, and under the gaze of a statue of Jesus dressed in a white robe with bands of red, green and purple well-suited to the tropical climate of Peru's central jungle. Five Franciscan sisters care for nearly 100 children at the mission. Children arrive at the mission under different circumstances. Some come when they are newborns, while others are left at the mission because their families don't have enough food.

After prayer, songs, Communion and the kiss of peace, the children file into the cavernous dining room for a breakfast of oatmeal and bananas. They are joined by half a dozen older boys whose plates are heaped with rice in deference to their adolescent appetites. Amid a clatter of benches and a quick song of thanksgiving, the youngsters head downhill to the river to scour their tin plates and cups with fine, dark sand from the riverbank.

For nearly a century, the mission has taken in children from distant communities with exotic names such as Ucayali, Shanky, Jairikishi and Shevoja, who live half-hidden in the dense forest. Most are indigenous – mainly Ashaninka, with some Shipibos and members of other groups.

"They come speaking Ashaninka, and little by little they learn Spanish. And we learn Ashaninka," said Sister Nelida Vicente, superior at the mission. She and four other Franciscan nuns care for nearly 100 children during the school year. In January and February, the South American summer, most of the youngsters return home, but about 30 remain at the mission. "Sometimes we get newborns. The mother dies and they bring us the baby," she said.

The children stay through adolescence, attending grade school and high school in the tiny community of Puerto Ocopa, a river port reminiscent of an old Western movie set, but surrounded by lush jungle vegetation. A new vocational school offers courses in nursing, agriculture and animal husbandry, enabling youths to gain job skills without going to a distant town, a move that is often prohibitively expensive. Sister Nelida reminded the girls to change from skirts to shorts before picking up brooms and mops, then took time out to play a singing game with one of the mission's youngest residents.

By mid-February, she had already received 17 new children, and more were trickling in. This put the mission almost at capacity before the school year started March 1. "Some people bring us them because in their communities they don't have enough to feed them," she said. "A woman came this morning. It took her five days to get here."

Once a jumping-off point for Franciscan missionaries heading deeper into the Amazon, Puerto Ocopa is the end of the road in the rainy season. From there, boats crowded with people and goods head up and down the network of swift-flowing, chocolate-brown rivers that serve as highways in the Amazon.

Walter Mejia, 12, arrived at the home about six months ago after his mother died. "I like working in the garden best. I like being in nature," he said, although he hopes to grow up to be a doctor. The garden helps the mission stretch its meager budget. Sister Nelida said the children "plant it themselves and eat the bananas and cassava that they grow."

But food is a constant worry. Donations from a government nutrition program are insufficient. For 100 children, she calculated, she will need about five cases of evaporated milk per day at $30 a case. And that doesn't count other food, clothing and school supplies. There is barely enough for basics and nothing left over for frills.

For reasons of hygiene, she would like to upgrade the kitchen, a huge, brick room where food is prepared over an open fire. But she needs plywood and tile, and has no money. "If we had the materials, in 15 days the kitchen would be nice," she said. "If we get even tiny donations, we know how to stretch them."

The mission has a long history of welcoming people in need. Franciscans first arrived in the 1600s, but earthquakes destroyed the original buildings. Father Teodorico Castillo Corrales, 81, has worked at the mission for 50 years. He said the convent, which was rebuilt in 1918, is known as the "rescue mission" because the friars took in children "who were being traded or sold (into slavery), or who were condemned to death because they were suspected of witchcraft."

In 1947, another earthquake destroyed the buildings and flooded nearby towns. Ten years later, Father Castillo was sent to rebuild the mission. He also started agricultural programs to help the communities increase their income and improve their diet. But his plans were cut short by the eruption of political violence by the Shining Path, a Maoist insurgent group that had launched an armed uprising against the government in the 1980s.

"When the subversion came, everything came to an end," said Father Castillo, a tall, gray-haired, good-humored man whose vigorous gait belies his age. Members of the Shining Path abducted entire Ashaninka communities, indoctrinating young people into fighters and holding women in virtual slavery. Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated that 10 percent of the Ashaninka people were killed during more than a decade of violence – a figure that constitutes genocide under international law. Most fled during those years, but Father Castillo stayed although the Shining Path threatened him and the military urged him to leave.

He took in refugees, and the mission's population swelled to about 1,000. On July 21, 1991, Shining Path members torched the wooden buildings in Puerto Ocopa, then headed toward the mission. Father Castillo watched from the second floor. "I thought my time had come," he said. But the subversives stopped at the foot of the stairs, talked among themselves, then slipped away into the woods, apparently aware that soldiers were pursuing them. Eventually the violence subsided, but that was followed by a cholera epidemic, measles and the problems that come with drug trafficking. Little has changed for the Ashaninka people, who still suffer from malnutrition and lack access to health care and education. But, Father Castillo said, "they know, from times past, that the mission will help them."

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Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops