Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Peru Part 4 - School Book Delivery

Amazon School Book Delivery
Part two of our tour began in Tarapoto. This is where eight more new members would join our tour. We now had 18 people in our group. Tomorrow we would ride the final 50 miles to the boat docks in Yurimaguas.

By the time the new members flew in from Lima and assembled their bikes it was almost midnight. They already had a hectic day with a Lima Bus Tour and flying to Tarapoto. The bad news was the road over the mountain would be closed at 5:00 AM the next morning and we needed to shuttle our bikes 25 miles past the construction zone starting at 4:00 AM. The tradeoff would be to wait in Tarapoto another day, so we decided it was better to leave sooner and get to the boat docks earlier.

We also got word that a good river boat was leaving at 1:00 PM the next day from Yurimaguas. The boat schedule is unreliable and we have learned it is better to get on a boat that is ready to depart instead of waiting for a boat that is loading and might not depart for another one, two or three days. This boat news added to the excitement (or stress) of getting over the mountain in the dark by truck and then cycling the final 50 miles to Yurimaguas in time to shower, shop for supplies and get settled on the boat before it departed.

The non cycling members of our group drove ahead and loaded all the gear on the boat. By the time the cyclists arrived they were able to take a shower in a nearby hotel. We had a hectic two hours to buy books for the riverboat delivery and get everything organized on the boat. We had four cabins for eight people and space to store our gear. We bought more hammocks, mattresses and chairs for lounging on the deck. By the time the boat departed at 1:00 PM we were all comfortable and ready for the next 34 hours on the river.

The boat is about 120 feet long and has a barge type hull. There are three decks above the waterline. The first deck is for storing bags of rice, potatoes and bananas. The second deck if for passengers sleeping only in hammocks. The upper deck has six cabin and space for more hammocks. Our group would be on the upper deck which allowed us more room to spread out. We had a private kitchen and dining table where we could cook our own meals. The cabin accommodations were simple but clean with fans in the rooms. This isn’t Carnival Cruise Lines and it is more like camping on a boat. What this boat has, that no other cruise line offers, is a desolate 300 mile voyage down the Amazon river system. The sunrises and sunsets are amazing.

The boat would stop to deliver supplies to a village every few hours. Delivering books to rural schools is part of the Anne Marie McSweeney
Book Delivery Project that was started three years ago. The captain would tell us if we were stopping for five, ten or fifteen minutes. If we were stopping for at least fifteen minutes our group would take a bundle of prepackaged books and start looking for the school. The school was usually within sight and was the biggest building in the village. Sometimes the classes were in session and our group appeared like aliens with gifts from another planet. We had three translators with our group who introduced us to the teacher and students. We would distribute the assortment of workbooks, writing notebooks and pencils to the class. Their teacher would say a few words of thanks to us. The students would clap. We would then wave goodbye and get back on the boat, all within fifteen minutes. The whole process must have seemed a little strange to the villagers who rarely see visitors get off the boat. We would deliver books to six schools this trip. We wish we could spend more time at each school. Maybe staying in each village could be a goal for a different tour.

End Part 4


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