Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Peru Bike Race

Nauta to Iquitos Bike Race
This 60 miles of road was finally paved in 2006. It is the only paved road within 300 miles in the upper Amazon region. We thought it would be a perfect place to promote a bike race since no one drives cars and there are only a few buses and taxies on this road. During the past year PAC Tour riders have donated over 200 old cycling jerseys and shorts to the Peru Parts Fund. We took these items to Peru to give as prizes for the race. PAC Tour donated another $1,000 as a cash prize. The winner would receive $400. Since the average monthly wage is less than $350 per month in Iquitos there was a lot of interest in this race.

There were 85 riders who entered the race. The riders met in Iquitos at 6:00 AM and were transported by bus to Nauta for the start at 8:30 AM. It was already over 90 degrees when the race began. The pace was fast from the start the lead pack quickly was reduced to twelve riders. I was able to stay with the leaders and ride my Bike Friday in the middle of the breakaway. A lot of the racers had never seen a bike with 20 inch wheels and they were surprised I was staying with them. The whole race caravan was like a big stage race with police escort motorcycles and ten other support vehicles behind the
lead group.

There was pack crash during the last 20 miles and I got tangled up in the mess. The first eight riders including Alessandra got away. I chased but couldn’t catch them. I rode mostly alone the last miles. The day was really hot near 100 degrees by now and I was cooked too. The broom wagon came by piled high with bikes from riders who quit the race. I estimate only 30 riders finished. It was a tough race because of the heat and rolling hills. Alessandra won the women’s race and collected $100.

The police gave everyone a neutral escort the final ten miles to the plaza downtown. There was a big stage for the awards presentation. All the riders got to come up on stage and select a jersey or shorts from the display of donated clothing. Overall it was a good event and something worth doing again. Next year we might change the start time to 7:00 AM and race the reverse direction from Iquitos to Nauta in the cool early morning and take the bus back in the afternoon. All the racers want to say thank you to everyone who donated parts and clothing to the PAC Tour Peru Parts Fund. The chance to get real cycling equipment is very much appreciated by them.

What’s Next?
We are continuing to support the projects we started. Your donations have helped a lot of people this past year. We are evaluating new projects we know we can control and finish.
Donations can be sent to:
The Christ Lutheran Church Peru Fund.
Questions can be sent to me:


Monday, December 08, 2008

New Peru School part 7

New School at Kilometer 46
The road between Nauta and downtown Iquitos is 100 kilometers. It is the only paved road within 300 miles in the Amazon region. The new school we built is located three miles off a dirt path at KM 46. The village is in the middle of no where. Even the rural schools along the river see more action going past their door. The final hike to the villages takes about one hour from the road on a red clay trail. It is not a bad walk on sunny days, but in the rain the trail is as slick as a ski slope. There are 15 creeks and bridges that flood the low lands and turn into swamps.

The planning for the school began last November when our group visited the village to ask about their desire to build a school there. We made a plan with the architect and the construction began in January. The new school foundation was cut into the hillside by hand shovels. It was a lot of work to move a basement load of dirt by hand. The real work began when it was time to bring the cement and sand to the village on the trail. A five gallon pail of sand weighs about 60 pounds which is a lot of weight to carry three miles. The school needed about 300 pails of sand to mix with the cement and mortar. All the cement blocks and bricks also needed to be carried into the jungle. One person could make about three trips between the road and school each day. By the end of the day they only moved a small wheel barrow of materials.

It rains a lot in the rain forest. In the rainy season from December to April it rains ten hours per day. In the dry season from June to September it rains only two hours per day. On the days the trail was wet they didn’t move materials. The reality of moving materials through the jungle was becoming a big problem. They tried using a 4 x 4 pick-up truck on the dry days. That helped a lot but the truck cost about $30 per load to move $10 of sand. We were getting desperate to get the materials to the job site and get the school built. The deadline to get the school open by March 2008 had passed. The villagers would rather spend their days picking $2.00 worth of bananas to sell in the market than moving sand and bricks across the jungle. We reorganized a work force and said we would pay them $3.00 per day to move materials. We needed to hire better brick masons from Iquitos and pay for their food and transportation. Gradually by August the village was working again to get the school finished.

When we visited the school this past November it was 90% complete. They still need to add the lattice style block windows that allowed ventilation while being secure. We were impressed with the size of the four classrooms. The brick walls are straight and thick and the cement floor is as smooth polished as in any Walmart. The hundreds of wood planks and boards I saw them cutting in April are now part of the rafters hidden inside the attic space.

The plan for the next four months is...

December: Complete all the building before Christmas
January: The government will inspect the school
February: The government will assign teachers
March: The new school term begins

There will be four teachers and four classrooms. Younger kids go to school in the morning. Older kids go in the afternoon. There will be about 100 kids total with an average class size of 15 kids. When we asked the mayor of the village how many kids will attend when the school opens he said “When a monkey in the jungle finds a tree with good bananas he tells his friends. When the first kids arrive at this school they will tell their friends. The school will grow when more kids learn that it is here”.

We have $3,000 left in the building budget to finish this school. I expect they will need additional classroom supplies like writing paper, pens and chalk We still have an extra $1,000 available to spend on classroom materials. This has been a difficult project, but not any worse than the Jack Wolff School we built five years ago. I expect the KM 46 School will have similar growing pains as the teachers, village and students all learn how to include a new school in their daily routine. The next six months will be interesting as the new school year begins. Thank you to everyone who continued to support this project during the past year. You have now made a school for 100 kids where there wasn’t one before.

End part 7

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Peru Part 6

Street Kid Party in Iquitos
Probably one of the busiest and most meaningful nights we have on the tour is the party for the kids who live on the street. Some of these kids are homeless and live under the cardboard boxes of back alleys. Some are sent downtown to beg for money or food for their families who live in the poor neighborhoods. Either way they have a tough life.

For the street party we invited 40 kids divided between boys and girls, big and small. This year David and Debbie McFadden sponsored the party with money they raised from their business. Before the party David and Debby bought shirts, shorts, hats and sandals for the various size kids. One hour before the party was to begin we all walked the back streets of Iquitos and gave out invitations to the location of the secret party. We tried to match the size of the child to the size of clothing purchased. A restaurant had agreed to make a meal for each kid of 1/4 chicken, salad, fried bananas and drinks. Jordan Butturini donated two huge birthday cakes.

The party began at 7:00 PM and the doors of the secret restaurant were opened. Only kids with an invitation were allowed inside. The restaurant did a good job of having the food ready to serve. Member of our group were the ushers, and servers to keep everything on schedule. Considering most of the kids hadn’t eaten a full meal in weeks, they were very well behaved while sitting at the table. Most of them asked for a doggy bag to take half their food home to their family.

After dinner the kids lined up to receive their new clothes. Based on their size they got a new shirt and pants and some sandals. Some of them changed into their new clothes at the restaurant. They had entered the restaurant looking like rag muffins and the departed wearing shirts from Spider Man and Whiney the Pooh.

End part 6

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Peru Part 5

Part 5

Jack Wolff School in Iquitos
Usually the boats depart Yurimaguas in the evening and arrive 36 hours later in Nauta in the morning. Since our boat departed at 1:00 PM and made good time down the river we arrived in Nauta before midnight. It was too dark and early to ride bikes the final 65 miles to Iquitos. There were ten cyclists plus our guide Clara in our group. The other seven people stayed on the boat the remaining eight hours to Iquitos. We had a decision to make about stalling some time until sunrise. The cyclists decided to stay at a hotel in Nauta until 6:00 AM. Our group of riders got off the boat wearing only our cycling clothes. We rode through the desolate streets of Nauta to the nearest hotel. They had three rooms for six of the people in our group. Since these hotels usually rent buy the hour it wasn’t unusual for us to arrive without any luggage. We only needed to stay for six hours and the cost was about $13 per room. The rest of our group found a similar hotel a mile away. At 6:00 AM we arranged to meet and ride the final miles across the jungle to Iquitos.

We rode 65 miles in about six hours including breakfast at a roadside stand and a lunch at a swimming resort. By the time we arrived at the hotel the boat had arrived and the group had moved all the luggage into the rooms. We had a leisurely afternoon in Iquitos. Since we had hustled to get on the early boat leaving Yurimaguas we now had an extra day and a half to to visit some traditional Indian Villages near Iquitos.
The next day we made the 12 mile trip to the Jack Wolff School at the Village of the Dolphins. This is the school we started building in 2004. It has continued to grow from 200 students to over 500 kids now. They started with nine teachers and now need 23. The school was built on the far edge of Iquitos nine kilometers further out than the next school in town. The Village of the Dolphins is very poor and even the teachers would rather commute an hour by bus to Iquitos than live in the village.

This school had some growing pains in past years as the directors, teachers, parents and kids learned how to make a school where the concept of going to school was new. They had seven directors in the past five years. All of the teachers have been replaced at least twice. There is no tax support for the school and the students do not pay tuition. A teacher is paid $335 per month (the national standard in Peru) and teachers are expected to pay the school phone bill and buy classroom supplies from their wages. The education situation is not good but probably not any worse than the other schools we visited across the country.

The support we give them goes a long way in keeping the school repaired and stocked with supplies. Every year we visit there we see the changes and improvements. This past year we gave them about $3,000 to use for over twenty different projects like roof repairs, a new motor for the water well and repairs for the sound system. We will continue to support them on an item by item basis. This year some of their teachers met with members of our group Dan and Debby Berg. They went on a shopping trip to restock the library with books and buy an assortment of educational DVDs. Dan and Debbie paid for all the products from funds they collected from their school at home. We expect the Jack Wolff School to continue to grow in the years ahead.

END Part 5

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

Monday, December 01, 2008

Peru Part 3

Cycling from Piura to Yurimaguas
The city of Piura is located in the northwest corner of Peru near the Pacific Ocean just south of Ecuador. Piura is known as “The land of eternal heat” with an average daily temperature of 95 degrees. The terrain is arid and sandy with scrubby trees. This is where our group of seven cyclists began our tour heading east over the Andes Mountains. We would have a support vehicle with Aracely and her mother plus our driver Falipi from Piura and Vioricka from Iquitos. We were also joined by a young man named Cristhian who lives in Piura and wants to be a bike racer. Another Peruvian who joined us was Alessandra from Iquitos. She is a 23 year old cyclist who is strong enough to ride with PAC Tour Elite riders. We had a good mix of Peruvians and gringos on our tour.

It would take eight cycling days to reach Yurimaguas averaging 100 KM per day. The road is mostly paved with smooth blacktop. There are some sections with avalanche damage that are in constant repair but overall the route can be ridden on road bikes. I used my folding Bike Friday with 28mm tires and didn’t have any flat tires from road damage.

The theme of the tour was “Going to where tourists don’t go”. Members of our group were warned not to expect the good hotels or restaurants that cater to most tourists. This part of the country is for mining and farming and most of the services reflect this industrious simplicity. Except for a van of bird watchers we didn’t see another gringo tourist the whole tour. Even without the tourist frills our hotels were clean and functional. We had fans in the rooms instead of air conditioning. The showers had one knob for cold water but the warm days made a cool shower feel welcome.

The third day we went from Olmos to Pucara and began climbing over the Andes Mountains. The gap at the summit was 7,000 foot elevation. It had taken us six hours to travel 33 miles up the continuous 7% grade. This is one of the lower passes across the Andes. The climb is still impressive as it snakes along the edge of the valley with great views of the mountain peaks around us. The final 45 miles were mostly downhill into a stiff headwind. By the time we reached Pucara we were pretty tired from the climb and the heat. The next several days would be more of the same while crossing the ridges and valleys deeper into the rain forest region of the Amazon basin. Each mountain range we crossed offered a slight change in vegetation by adding more jungle type plants and trees. The arid dryness of Piura had been replaced by steamy humidity. Even the afternoon rain showers were warm and welcome and we never needed long sleeves or rain jackets.

Our daily schedule was pretty full with cycling so we didn’t have time on this part of the tour to participate in any extra supply projects. Our group of cyclists rode six used bikes which we gave away at the end of the tour. We did see some rural schools in the mountains which could use some support. Maybe we can help them during our next tour in this area.

Our final two days of cycling to Tarapoto were about 100 miles each. We were well accumulated to the heat and routine of dealing with cycling in Peru. Alessandra had crashed descending a hairpin turn when a motorcycle cut her off. She slid off the road and mangled the fork on her bike. Her rear derailleur left a ten foot silver trail of aluminum shavings along the retaining wall. She was lucky she walked away from the 35 mph tumble without even tearing her jersey. The racing bike we had brought her from the United States wasn’t so lucky. That night we arrived in Nuevo Cajamarca and starting looking for a new fork. After comparing several mountain bike forks and side pull brake clearances we were able to get a fork to fit her stem and frame. We bought a hacksaw and file to cut and grind the fork to fit. After two hours of fabricating the new fork in the hotel room her bike was ready to ride again.


Peru Part 2

Puerto Ocopa Orphanage
The Puerto Ocopa Orphanage is located 300 miles due east of Lima on the other side of the Andes Mountains. We have ridden our bikes there in the past to deliver supplies to 80 kids in the jungle. We were not scheduled to visit there this year because of our busy schedule with other projects. I was surprised when the head Nun was waiting for me at our hotel in Lima. She had traveled to Lima to ask about helping the orphanage with some expenses this year. They need five more bunk beds and mattresses which cost $125 per bed. They also needed some cooking equipment and basic bags of food like rice and beans. The total price was $1,000. I said we could help with that amount this year.

Their wish list for the future included a bus trip for all the kids to travel to Lima. The costs for bus fare, daily food and lodging would cost about $3,000 for six days. I said that would be a good project in the future but we didn’t have that much in our budget for their travel at this time. We hope to include another tour to the orphanage to deliver supplies next year.

End part 2