Sunday, January 01, 2012

Peru Adventures 2011

Peru Adventures 2011
by Lon Haldeman

The police gave us a warning at the roadside checkpoint. A group of bandits had stopped and robbed a bus 100 kilometers ahead on our route. The good thing is that we only had to ride 60 kilometers more today.

Our cycling route from Tarapoto to Yurimaguas, Peru was 160 kilometers of newly paved roadway across the jungle. I had ridden this stretch almost ten years ago and the road was filled with mud and melon size rocks. It took me almost 12 hours to ride 100 miles on my mountain bike. During the past eight years the road had been improved from each end until both cities were now connected by a smooth path of twisty black pavement suitable for filming a sports car commercial. This would be the first time we could ride the entire distance without sections of road construction.

This road has always been a strategic location for hijackings and political protests. The road bends and climbs through many miles of mountainous jungles, making it a perfect location for hiding bandits who ambush buses and taxies. Since this road is the only way to reach the river port of Yurimaguas, there was always a steady supply of trucks and supplies being transported from the jungle to the coastal cities. Whenever there was political unrest this section of road would be blocked with burning tires and fallen trees by protesters to disrupt the transport of goods across Peru.

This year during our bike tour we would divide our ride from Tarapoto to Yurimaguas into two cycling days. The first day was 36 miles up and over the mountains to the truck stop town of Caynarachi. We would sleep at a basic hotel that had a bathroom down the hall and a restaurant across the street that served local jungle food. The next day would cover the final 64 miles to the river port at Yurimaguas where we would find our boat to travel down the Amazon River.

Our tour group included Greg Lester and his wife Drue Banister. This would be their first trip to Peru. They had wanted a tour “that went where tourists don't go”. We were trying to balance adventure with a safe tour so we were taking precautions in this part of the country. We were also joined by Susan Rosenblatt who was returning for her fifth tour in Peru. Her easygoing spirit is always welcome when things get stressful. Lynette Chiang was along to document all of our Peru Projects and make a DVD about our tour. She would have a challenge producing a program that covered eight major projects in a 22-minute show. (More Peru DVD updates later). Peru National Cycling Champions Alessandra Divila and her sister Samantha also joined us. They rode their racing bikes and didn't have any trouble dropping us whenever they wanted. Rounding out our tour group was our 12-year-old friend Aracely and her mother Nayda. We met Aracely six years ago at a roadside restaurant in the jungle. Since then she has traveled with us every year to all corners of Peru. Her friend Yeni from the Chosica Girl's home also joined us. Yeni won a competition to go on the tour for being the top English-speaking student at the Girl's Home.

All together we had a varied group of eleven people ages 12 to 65. We traveled and worked together to complete a busy schedule of projects across Peru. We had all arrived in the busy city of Lima and spent our first two days visiting the Chosica Girl's Home and buying books to deliver to Amazon River schools. The next day we flew 250 miles into the jungle to the remote town of Tarapoto. Here we assembled our bikes and began our tour, while transporting 220 pounds of school books in our support vehicle.

Our first cycling day leaving Tarapoto included a break to tour a waterfall in the roadside canyon. The recent rains were making the 100-foot high waterfall expand to over 20 feet wide. After an hour of hiking to the falls and wading in the pool we continued riding up the mountain. A steady cool rain began as we climbed higher over the summit. The new road was built on a series of pillars and braces extending out from the cliffs. The cliffs on one side and the drop off into the canyon on the other made a picturesque landscape as we meandered up the green jungle grade in the misty drizzle.

After our night's rest in Caynarachi we were planning our next day to Yurimaguas. We knew we would need to ride through the location where there had been a roadblock and robbery the day before. We made a plan to hire taxies from Tarapoto to travel with some of our non-cycling crew. One taxi would drive two kilometers ahead of our bike group and the other taxi and crew members would stay two kilometers behind us. If the taxies saw any suspicious roadside activity they would drive up and warn us. We would have the choice to wait or turn around before riding into an ambush.

It rained throughout the night and the drizzle continued until 9:00 AM. We waited at our hotel for our taxies to arrive from Tarapoto. The taxies were delayed 45 minutes and we began to wonder if we should find different taxi drivers. Finally they arrived and the drivers were agitated and talking fast in Spanish. I knew something was going on. They had just been stopped in a ten-vehicle ambush a few miles before Caynarachi. We were familiar with the twisty road from the day before. The gunmen made the drivers get out of their cars. Then they were robbed and the gunmen threw the driver's car keys into the jungle. The drivers were further delayed when they needed to hunt for their keys.

The incident added to the anticipation of proceeding to Yurimaguas. Now there were recent ambush locations in front and behind us. The police were out patrolling the road but the heavy jungle coverage along the road gave the advantage to anyone hiding in the bushes. We packed our escort taxies and started riding our bikes with our eyes scanning the ditches for hints of trouble. The feeling was similar to riding past a familiar farm where you are chased by dogs. We were on the lookout while playing hide and seek.

We passed the location of the ambush the day before and didn't see any signs of activity. The rain had stopped and the jungle humidity was making us wetter than the rain. As we approached Yurimaguas we could see three riverboats docked at the port. We had made it through the most dangerous section of road. (Next year we have an eight-day bike ride planned through a very safe region). Now we would need to find a riverboat to take us down river for the next two days covering over 400 miles to the city of Iquitos.


Delivering Books to Amazon School

Delivering Books to Amazon Schools
At the port in Yurimaguas we made arrangements for one of the big riverboats to transport us down the Amazon. These boats are mainly for cargo and they are notorious for being delayed and not departing on time. That is why it is best to visit the docks and then choose a boat that is getting ready to leave. We were able to find a boat that was leaving tomorrow morning. We reserved cabin space on the upper deck to store our gear. We would spend most of our time in chairs or hammocks on the deck during the day and then retire to small sheet metal cabins when the nighttime temperatures cooled down. The views of the jungle and trees are fascinating as the sun reflected off rain clouds in the distance. We would spend hours watching the world pass before us as we glided down the river.

Our main project on the riverboat was to deliver schoolbooks to six rural jungle schools as part of the Anne Marie McSweeney Book Delivery Project. We had bundled our assortment of books and school supplies we bought in Lima into neat tight packages. Our mission was to take a small shuttle boat to villages along the shore. Our delivery time was limited because the big boat was continuing down the river. We would have about 15 minutes to locate the school in the village and make the delivery and then hurry back to catch the big boat. Our deliveries would need to be quick and efficient.

We have organized this book delivery project four times in past years. Our delivery schedule would need to be during school hours if possible. Since we started this voyage almost eight hours previous to past years we calculated we would be stopping at new villages during this tour. With the recommendations from the captain, he suggested which villages hidden along the riverbank would have schools that needed books. A crewman from the cargo ship drove our small motorboat to shore. He would take six members from our group to the riverbank. Usually we were met by some local villagers wondering why non-native people were stopping at their village. This is why it was important to be traveling with our young friends Aracely, Yeni, Alessandra and Samantha who acted as the ambassadors for our group. After a few minutes we were led to the school where a class was in session. The teachers were happy with the surprise visit and books and the class was happy for the distraction. We repeated this delivery routine to six schools in eight hours.

The chance to get real books and classroom supplies was a real necessity for these rural schools. Some of the schools wanted us to stay and visit longer. They had never been visited by non-native people (gringos) before. Some of the villages insisted on giving us handmade gifts of carvings, beadwork and other elaborate souvenirs. This was an exciting and worthwhile project that is always a highlight of our travels across Peru. That night we continued down the Amazon River on the boat. When we were 100 kilometers from Iquitos in the town of Nauta the paved road began again. From there we rode our bikes the final 65 miles into the city. We had completed the book delivery project and now we had four days of other projects planned in Iquitos.


Peru DVD and Street Kid Parties

Get Your New DVD of Peru Projects
Lynette Chiang has produced a new 22-minute documentary about all these adventures and projects across Peru. This DVD is being sent to all the people who have supported these projects with a $100 donation this year. It is not too late to make a $100 donation and receive your DVD. Your donation will go toward continuing to support these projects in Peru. Checks should be made payable to:

“F.P.C. Global Outreach”

Send to: PAC Tour
P.O. Box 303
Sharon, WI 53585

Street Kid Parties
Iquitos is a sprawling jungle city of 400,000 people. It is isolated by 300 miles of jungle in all directions. Iquitos has gone through several boom and bust periods in the past 150 years. The markets for rubber, wood and oil have contributed to extreme wealth for an elite few and poverty for the majority.

During our stay in Iquitos we organized several group dinners for the kids who live on the street. Many of them haven't ever eaten in a restaurant so this party is a special event for them. We usually invite 15 to 20 kids to a prearranged restaurant that serves a meal of chicken, salad, fried bananas and birthday cake. The kids also receive a new t-shirt. We organized two parties in different neighborhoods this year. These parties are always a special night for the kids and for the members of our tour.


Peru School Building

School Building Projects
While we were in Iquitos we needed to inspect the two schools we built in the jungle near there. The first school (Jack Wolff School) was built in 2004 and is located 9 kilometers outside of the city. The second school (Joseph Pulley School) was built in 2008 and is located 50 kilometers in the jungle. Visiting the schools is always a special day and the schools always have a warm welcome for us. The Jack Wolff School continues to grow and now has over 600 students. The teachers and parents are working together to keep the school running smoothly. We had a meeting with the directors to discuss some plans to improve the school. Last year we replaced the metal roof. Unfortunately during the roof construction the builder did not overlap the new metal panels the required amount. The roof has some leaking seams so more metal sections need to be added. We estimated it would cost about $1,500 in additional materials to reinstall more roof sections. The work needs to be done soon before the rainy season in February and March.
The Jack Wolff School also requested support for more computers. They want to have a room where more students can work and use the Internet. They have some computers we bought them three years ago. We are reviewing how much we can spend on three more computers. The school also wants to have a traveling Soccer Team for boys and Volleyball Team for girls that will compete against other villages. The coach says they have some good high school age players to recruit for their team. They requested $500 to buy 30 uniforms with their school name and colors for the teams. We are going to be able to help them get a team organized for the next school year, which begins in March.

The second school we built in 2008 was the Joseph Pulley School. It is much more remotely located, almost 35 miles from downtown Iquitos. The brick school is in the jungle three miles off the main road. Most of the children walk several kilometers on a network of trails through the trees to arrive at school. Currently there are about 25 kids who walk to school each day. They recently painted the school inside and out. The most pressing problem is to protect the school from the termites that live around the cement foundation. The termites are climbing into the wooden roof beams. The teachers are spraying for termites several times per week. The school is closed for vacation January and February so we hope the school is ready for classes again in March. Overall both schools are in good shape and doing a good job with the students.


Girls Home and Aracely

Chosica Girls Home
We began helping support the Chosica Girls Home six years ago when our little friend Aracely moved there from the jungle. The Home was founded by a group from the Netherlands who wanted to start a safe house for abused or neglected girls. Since that time several other groups from Canada and Germany have continued to help with special projects. The Home has expanded to a rebuilt private residence that includes a remodeled kitchen, shower room and large dining area. The Home is located on two acres of land with a nice yard and a secure fence around the property.

The Home usually takes care of 15 to 18 girls from the ages of 3 to 17 years old. Our support has been to take the girls on shopping trips to the market where they can pick and choose new clothes. Most of the girls never have personal money to spend, so buying their own clothes is a special occasion for them. During the year we help supplement their food budget with better meat and chicken. We have also provided an English teacher to meet with the girls one day per week. This year the top two English students (Aracely and Yeni) were chosen to travel with us on our tour across Peru. In the future we will continue to help them with their food budget and English classes.

Aracely Update
We met Aracely when she was six years old. Her mother could not take care of her and Aracely had the chance to live at the Chosica Girls Home. For the past six years (Aracely is now 12 years old) we have watched her grow into a young woman. Aracely is now attending additional English classes that are part of the University. She can receive a teaching certificate in three years. She is a top student at her school and her favorite classes are History and English.

Someday she wants to live with her mother again. We visited her mother's house but it needs many repairs like a bathroom, running water and security. It would be a good project to go there and do a Total Home Make Over. I expect with four people working on the project her six-room house could be cleaned and repainted in three days. We would need to make the house secure from rats and other critters. To complete the electric and plumbing we would need some professional help to install a water pump and toilet.

Aracely understands that living at the Chosica Girl's Home in a better opportunity for her now. She realized that someday with a better education she can live with her mother and make a better life for both of them.


Puerto Ocopa Orphange

Puerto Ocopa Orphanage
The village of Puerto Ocopa is located over the Andes Mountain about 300 miles from Lima. We discovered this remote village in 2004 during a bicycle tour to the end of the eastern most road in central Peru. At the end of the road is the Puerto Ocopa Orphanage. It is a home and boarding school for 45 to 85 kids who live in the wild jungle between Peru and Brazil. During our first tour we saw that the conditions in Puerto Ocopa were very basic. In the following years we have organized many tours to bring supplies to the orphanage.

This year we hired a mini van to make the two-day drive over the mountains to the town of Satipo. There one of the nuns from the orphanage and three of the kids met us. They would help us do the bulk of the shopping for food and clothing before making the final 50-mile drive to Puerto Ocopa. We were able to buy about 2,000 pounds of rice, sugar, beans and cooking supplies. The nuns estimated we bought enough food to feed the kids for 2 months.

Traveling the final 50 miles to Puerto Ocopa is always an adventure. Fortunately the terrible mud road from past years is now half paved and road crews are constantly grading the rough gravel sections. The driving time has been reduced from three hours to less than two hours.

We made the deliveries to Puerto Ocopa by early afternoon. All the kids lined up and received their new set of clothes and sandals. We stayed and ate lunch with the kids and had a tour of the buildings. The conditions are improving thanks to several organizations from Germany, Spain and France. It is nice more organizations are helping in this remote part of the world. In past years we donated 15 bunk beds that are now being used in a new building. The people in Puerto Ocopa always appreciate the support we give.


Peru Bike Racing

Bike Races and Training
Two years ago our friend Alessandra became the Women's National Cycling Champion of Peru. Her younger sister Samantha is the Junior Women's Champion. They were both chosen by the Peru Sports Foundation to represent Peru at the Pan-American Games next year. Last September Alessandra had the opportunity to travel to Monterey, Mexico and train with the Mexican National Team. Alessandra was surprised at the amount of drug related violence in the region. Their training rides needed to be escorted by a follow car and they were not allowed to travel near certain areas. Dead bodies in the roadside ditch were a routine sight. A classic sign on the bridge tells how the area has accepted the violence. It read: (in Spanish) “Please do not dispose of bodies in the river because they pollute the water”. Alessandra said she was glad to return to Peru after seeing how bad things were in Mexico.

Alessandra has helped organize many bike races in Peru. We took over 300 prizes of donated parts and clothing to the race in Lima this year. Cycling is still an elitist sport in Peru compared to soccer or running. We are hoping to help more riders receive better equipment and be able to participate in cycling. We are continuing to collect a large assortment of clothing and parts from donations. We have been using these donations as race prizes and to rebuild bikes and frames that have been donated. We are always amazed at the good quality of the equipment riders are contributing for these projects.

Bike equipment can be sent to:

PAC Tour
202 Prairie Pedal Lane
P.O. Box 303
Sharon, WI 53585

If you would like a DVD from this year's adventures, you can send a $100 check
payable to:

“F.P.C. Global Outreach”

Send to:
PAC Tour
P.O. Box 303
Sharon, WI 53585

For more information contact:
Lon Haldeman


Future Project Plans
We will continue to support all of our current projects in Peru. Our short range goals are to repair the roofs at both schools we have built. We will also provide help for the Chosica Girls Home with better food and more English classes.

Cycling Plans
Next year we will fly with our bikes to Cusco located at 11,000 foot elevation. . We will have two days to visit the ruins at Machu Picchu and get used to the altitude. We then start riding our bikes back to the desert coastal towns of Nazca and Pisco. We have a downhill ride to the ocean covering 900 kilometers in about eight days. The road is safe and smooth for road bikes. We will climb several mountain passes over 10,000 feet and stay in towns with hotels. The region is safe and the people are friendly. There are lots of historic sites along the way. This total tour is about 13 days including flying to Peru and back. Look for more details on the PAC Tour web site in June.