We were shown around the different properties of the People of Peru Project (hereafter referred to as POPP) and spent a lot of time talking with Paul during the next couple of days. It was important that we learn what there was that we could do to help, because Paul was leaving soon and we’d, more or less, be left to our own devices and motivations.
“The People of Peru Project is an organization providing aid to the region of Peru that is located at the headwaters of the Amazon River. Iquitos is a city of 600,000 people surrounded by thousands of square miles of jungle. Poverty and all that comes with it plague this city. Disease, parasites, malnutrition, rampant tooth decay, and premature death are but a few.
In any developing country, with conditions like this, the children suffer the most. Many are left alone to survive on the streets or in the surrounding jungle with no parent or family unit to provide care.”
That comes from POPP website. A lot of what POPP does is provide medical and dental clinics to people who have little or no ability to get this care otherwise. They do this by having groups with medical and dental skills visit from places like the USA and Canada and volunteer their services.
Aaron and I do not possess these valuable skills. When Aaron began chatting with Paul, he basically said, “We would like to do the work that other groups find distasteful. Give us something that is necessary, but that no one really wants.”
We were given two jobs that took up a lot of our time over the next month:
The first was painting a large boat. This boat was constructed for POPP for the purpose of bringing clinics up the Amazon River to help people living up there as well as a means of rewarding groups who volunteer; for example, a couple days of work in Iquitos and a day out on the Amazon looking for caimans.
The funny thing about this boat is that, even for a Peruvian boat, its ceiling on the second floor is quite low. When it was constructed, Paul specifically asked for a higher ceiling, but, according to Paul, and what seems to happen constantly in Peru, the workers took liberties and completely ignored the request and made it shorter instead. This meant that Aaron and I constantly hit our heads during this job.
The second task we took up was digging out a sewage trenchbehind the POPP compound. The poopy creek was slowly creeping towards the brick wall protecting the compound and was deteriorating the integrity of said wall. So we changed the course of the river and built a sandbag wall to protect it in the future.
This second job was kind of gross.
A third job we took upon ourselves was to financially help the POPPY house girls. The POPPY house is where young girls are given the opportunity to pursue education and can live a good, healthy, and safe life when they would not have been able to do this otherwise. When we visited their dormitory, we immediately noticed that the bottom floor was completely flooded. Similar to the boat situation, after making sure that flooding would not be an issue, this building was constructed and it has flooded just about every rainy season since.
Aaron and I wanted to connect the community that supports us with POPP to help these girls regain the use of their dormitory so that they could focus their attention on other things. Also, the rising waters was encouraging wildlife, such as anacondas, to approach ever closer to the dorm and we didn’t like the thought of one of the little girls getting swallowed up.
It took us nearly a full month, but we did manage to complete each of these goals. That last one, we can’t take much credit for, though, as the donations to fund the construction of the walls and network to prevent future flooding came from viewers like you.
We also received help from two of our friends who came to visit us; Aaron’s girlfriend, Dana, and Dave. They arrived about a week after we did. We had a pretty good grasp of what was available around Iquitos by then, so we did a good job of being tour guides, we think, and we were grateful to have some help painting and digging.
We discovered that Iquitos has a very unique type of tourist. Iquitos isn’t really on the way to any other place. Just about the only way to get there is by river or plane, so the people visiting are making an effort to get there are being deliberate in their travel planning.
One of the big attractions to the area is the ayahuasca. This is a sort of tea made from a plant that, when mixed with other plants, often brings about hallucinations. It is believed to be medicinal and to be able to give insight and even show people the future. We met several people who chose to spend a month or more in the Amazon near Iquitos on a sort of spirit quest led by shamans as a remedy to what was plaguing them. In one case it was substance abuse and addiction. Others were dealing with cancer or limes disease or something similar. Some others needed to radically change their lives and wanted perspective.
All of the people that we talked to claimed to have very positive experiences and claimed to have been better off. They even told us that they could physically see the positive influence of the plant on some of those who had physical ailments.
While neither Aaron nor I can dismiss the influence the drug had on these people, we remain somewhat skeptical; believing that taking the steps necessary to remove yourself from your everyday life for a month and live simply in the jungle searching for change almost certainly opens you up to new discoveries and that change.
Anyways, these were the sorts of people we would meet when we spent time in the areas frequented by travelers.
Most of our time was not spent in those areas. We visited the zoo and got to see tapirs, capybaras, jaguars, lots of monkeys, and all sorts of animals that don’t always make it into the zoos where we’re from.
We got to play with some of the animals at a couple different ‘Monkey Islands.’ As we understand it, there was an original Monkey Island that opened up as a sanctuary for mistreated animals of the Amazon and it functioned as rehabilitation for the animals until they were well enough to return to the wild. This Monkey Island allowed people to come and interact with the animals for a price and this money went to help the process.
Then other places opened up claiming to do the same when they saw that this was profitable. So we’re not actually sure exactly how philanthropic or, even, helpful these places are for the animals, but they claimed to have rescued the animals and that they were free to go when/if they chose to.
Again, Aaron and I were somewhat skeptical, but we had some amazing experiences at these places playing with monkeys and sloths (you wouldn’t think it, but sloths are actually a lot of fun) and seeing some huge anacondas. We sincerely hope that visiting does improve the lives of these animals and that we weren’t perpetuating any sort of animal mistreatment.
One place that we fully support and believe is doing great things for the community and that we visited twice, was the Manatee Rescue Center. The Amazon River doesn’t just have river dolphins, it also has river manatees. These manatees are about a third the size of the manatees you find in the ocean and are gentle and cute (at least as babies). They have no natural predator, as their big strong tail does a good job of warding off anything looking for an easy meal.
Humans, however, don’t have the same kind of thinking as animals. While an animal would think that the large, powerful creature minding its own business should be left alone, people, especially in this part of the world (we were told), make great efforts to chase down and kill anything that moves. Whether they think the animals are dangerous or they think that with them gone there will be more fish to eat for themselves, this is a big problem.
The Center rescues baby manatees and has a system that allows them to be released into the wild when they are the right age. At the same time, they have programs aimed at the youth and adults to educate on the right way to treat animals in the Amazon.
They also let you pet and feed the baby manatees, which is a real treat.
We even traveled up the Amazon with our friend and guide, Oswaldo, to a bird sanctuary.
We arrived in Iquitos near the end of the rainy season. This meant that many homes’ first floor was flooded and that we had to take boats to a lot of places that can be walked to during the dry season. Getting to the bird sanctuary required a boat ride up the Amazon, then a canoe ride through some dense jungle. We saw some snakes, caimans, and red-headed iguanas on the way to the lodge.
Once we arrived, we left our bags in the ‘cabin,’ which was a simple stilted platform with a roof and a mosquito net, and took the canoe into the jungle. We were looking for a specific lookout from which to view some of the endemic birds, but we got lost.
While it was comforting knowing that at most we were maybe two and a half miles from the cabin, there were several times when I had almost no idea where we were and the thought of us spending the night, all five of us, in that canoe did pass through my mind.
We went by some of the largest trees I’ve ever seen. Aaron started to climb one and his sunglasses fell off during the climbing. This was, I think, the fourth of Aaron’s sunglasses to get lost or destroyed on this journey. He’d just bought these sunglasses, because the last ones were taken off his face and thrown into the water by a mischievous monkey at Monkey Island the day before.
We eventually found our way back to the cabin and had some dinner. Aaron really wanted to do some fishing, but the locals were not really entertaining the idea, so he made his own line and hook out of things he could find in the cabin and did his best. He got some bites… and he saw a snake… but he didn’t catch any fish.
We set back out in the canoe when it got dark. We intended to find some caimans, but that’s actuallykind of difficult, just floating by with flashlights skimming the water.
While we didn’t find any crocodiles, we did find a lot of frogs hanging out on the lilypads. Oswaldo did his best to tell us which ones were poisonous and which ones weren’t. Of course, Aaron held each one in his hands at some point. I’m not 100% positive that touching a poison dart frog is how you get poisoned, but I think it was probably a bad idea.
We slept in the cabin that night and I actually got some decent rest. The next morning we went to the nearby town – although to be honest, it was way too small to be called a town, and a man offered to give us a ride back to Nanay. The way to the bird reservation was only about 15-20 minutes, because we took a speed boat. It cost us about 75 soles, I think. The way back with this man took us multiple hours, because it was in his small canoe with a motor, and also cost us 60 soles.
He let us off at Nanay and we ate at a large restaurant on the water. Oswaldo offered us some of the food he ordered, which included a fat, grilled grub. I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure this was the reason we felt a little sick the next couple of days.
Aaron and I spent a lot of time figuring out how to make the best of the time we were going to have with Dana and Dave. After a lot of contemplation and debate, we decided we would cheat, just a little bit, and fly down to Cusco with them to see Machu Picchu. We would then return to Iquitos and our bikes and continue our ride south.
So Machu Picchu came early for us. We booked our trip through POPP, which is very unlike us, but there is a bit of comfort in knowing that everything is already taken care of. We were also told that we had to book in advance if we wanted to do any of the climbs at Machu Picchu, so all for the best.
A flight, slight mix-up involving a sign for ‘Daniel’ instead of “Dana,’ and a quick bus ride had us at our hotel drinking coca leaf tea. We had the rest of the day to walk around Cusco. The old colonial plazas, museums, and wide variety of restaurants make Cusco a really interesting city to visit. The inundation of alpaca wool goods and sellers of, more or less, the exact same Incan thing make it a little bit tiresome.
The next day, we took a bus and then a train that brought us to Agua Caliente. This is an interesting city, in that there is an ascending sidewalk that passes by a long string of restaurants on both sides. These restaurants almost uniformly sell pizza (decent pizza) and Mexican food (not really Mexican food) and have happy hour deals that don’t seem to follow any normal hourly schedule. The happy hour special varies from 4 for 1 drinks to 6 for 1 drinks and they will almost certainly try to make you drink Pisco sours.
Pisco is the alcoholic drink of Peru. It’s made from distilled wine. It can be pretty good.
This is the closest city to Machu Picchu and it’s where you can get on a bus to Machu Picchu. They take about 20 minutes.
There’s a lot that can be said about Machu Picchu. Incans lived there a long time ago. Then around the 1500’s Spanish people came and conquered the Incans, who were having a bit of a civil war at the moment and weren’t really in any position to put up a decent fight. After that, Machu Picchu was basically abandoned. Later, like 1911, a young explorer wandered through and asked a local guy who brought him up to Machu Picchu. It’s been a tourist hotspot since.
That’s more or less how things went, honestly, there’s so much going on at Machu Picchu that I don’t really feel should be addressed here. Go to Wikipedia’s page on Machu Picchu if you’re interested in more.
Aaron and I agree that of any landmark in the world that we’ve visited, Machu Picchu is the most monetized. They’ve built up the area for tourism and then there are the taxes and added cost of entry and train fare, etc. Is it worth it? Yeah, I’d say so.
When we got back to Cusco we didn’t have much time left with Dana and Dave. In an attempt to see as much of Cusco and the surrounding area as possible, we took a 2-hour ride on a double-decker bus that brought us to Sacsayhuaman – old ruins of the ancient capital of the Incans that overlook the city of Cusco. The tour guide kept pronouncing the word in a way that sounded like “Sexy Woman,” so that was fun.
Then there was something on the to-do list that we couldn’t leave undone. We rented two Honda Tornados and rode around Sacred Valley. We visited an amazing salt mine and ate a delicious Cuy/Guinea pig-it was honestly good.
Before we left on this great little adventure, Aaron went to get some money from an ATM. Dana had just brought Aaron’s new card with her, because a machine ate his Visa card earlier in the trip. So this card was only a couple weeks old. Aaron forgot what the PIN was and the machine ate his card. Of course this was on Sunday, so there was no immediate recourse for this.
The next morning, Dana and Dave left and Aaron began an attempt at regaining his Visa card. He went to the main office of the bank and was immediately told that it was impossible to get it back.
Aaron and I have discovered a bit of a secret in our traveling: very few things are actually ‘impossible.’ Especially in these kinds of circumstances, what ‘Impossible’ means is, “It’s more work than I care to do and I want you to go away.”
So Aaron just sat down in the office and said he would wait.
She told him it was already all cut up and there was nothing that could be done.
He questioned the idea that someone would come around on Sunday, a day they certainly didn’t have to work, to that particular ATM and cut up the card.
She admitted that this would not happen. Later she admitted that the place where they get cut up is right in her office. In fact, she was the one who cuts the cards up.
The basic rule is this: Make yourself more work and a bigger problem than the problem you want the person to deal with. This often gets results.
So Aaron got from ‘Impossible’ to ‘Come back tomorrow afternoon’ in a very short period of time.
The problem at this point was that our flight was for early in the morning. Boarding our flight would mean leaving the card. Aaron made a series of very confusing and aggravating calls and eventually, after a lot of frustration, learned that we could reschedule our flights at only the cost of the difference in price between the flights. This was about $50. So we were to be in Cusco for another two days.
Aaron got his card back and then we rented two Tornados again and did some more adventurous and aggressive riding than we did with our friends on the backs. We rode through Sacred Valley, looking up at the mountains and the trails leading to the tops. When we saw one we wanted to get to, we asked the locals where the trail started and off we went.
Honda Tornados are a lot smaller than our 650s and we were able to go down some much smaller trails and take more dangerous routes than we would have felt comfortable with our bikes.
We enjoyed wandering around Cusco for a little bit longer. Aaron bought a second-hand tablet. Oh right! I forgot to mention that while we were painting the POPP boat on the Amazon that Aaron’s Galaxy 5 phone went into the water. As Aaron tells the story, it was on the second deck and jumped off the seat, bounced on the floor, then on the stairs, then one the lower deck, and then into the water. Apparently he watched the whole thing in terror and disbelief.
I didn’t see any of this happen, but I heard the splash and Aaron shout in anguish. He looked down at the water. This water was not water that we wanted to be in. There are lots of houses around this boat and all of the waste from the houses goes into this water.
So I watched as Aaron’s face displayed an obvious internal battle. He really wanted his phone back, though, and for good reason. It was the best camera we had. It connected to the internet via WIFI and allowed him to use it as a computer. We also used it to listen to music. So he jumped in.
The water was about 10 feet deep there. The Galaxy 5 is waterproof, but only to 3 feet.
After Aaron went to the bottom twice, he began yelling at me for not jumping in. I, too, was having an internal battle. I really, really didn’t want to get in the water. Also, I didn’t think that there would be any chance of the phone working normally if it was rescued.
Aaron just kept getting angrier, though, and voicing my reasoning was not making things better, so I jumped in. Don Alfredo, The Keeper of Boats (not sure if that’s his actual title) came to watch us as we tried to retrieve the phone and a little while later, his neighbor came and joined us.
A long pole was stuck into the water near where we believed it was and I started diving down. With my eyes closed, by simply feeling around with feet and hands, I found the phone during the third dive.
A long series of attempts to fix the phone then followed. Rice, alcohol, and visiting phone and computer repair stores were all attempted to no avail.
One man at a repair store took the phone confidently. Aaron asked if he could do it and he responded nonchalantly, “It’s my job. This is what I do. Come back in 20 minutes.”
Twenty minutes later, he said come back in an hour. An hour later he said it was impossible.
After this, Aaron tried following Youtube directions to fix it himself. He got really close. It did turn on and work a little here and there. But in the end, he heated the screen with a hairdryer and it cracked it all up.
All that to say, he bought a tablet for about $40 in Cusco to replace the Galaxy.
Then we flew back to Iquitos to finish painting the boat, as we promised we would, and to retrieve our bikes.
We finished painting in the dark. There was a university group from Washington that was about to take the boat out and we needed to have it finished before then. So, the night before they left, we went out with flashlights and finished up. We had to wait until the next morning to see our work. I think it turned out alright.
We kept talking about how much we wanted to go fishing out on the Amazon River, so we took a day to accomplish that goal. We went with a member of a tribe called the Bora. We were a little disappointed that we didn’t come close to catching anything as big as we saw at the zoo or even some of the fish we saw while we were painting, but Aaron did catch a piranha and I caught some smaller fish. It wasn’t exactly the episode of River Monsters that we wanted, but it was alright.
We then took a couple days to fix our bikes up. During this, while we were taking dentists that were volunteering to the manatee rehab and zoo, I managed to get into a little accident.
Coming around a slight turn, on which was a small store, a middle aged woman with a large man sitting behind her on a scooter came blindly out from a dirt road. I couldn’t see them until they came out from behind the store and angled onto the street directly in front of me. I was in 4th gear, trying to catch up to Aaron at the time, so when I swerved around them and went down pretty hard. I’ll add that it the road was wet and that it was raining some, but the result of this accident was that I broke the shift lever off the engine and, more than likely, broke at least one toe (Sandals were a bad choice. Aaron likes to remind me that he told me earlier that I should have worn boots instead).
We’d made some efforts to work on our motorcycles here and there during out time in Iquitos. From one of our adventures into the motorcycle part street, we met a friendly and helpful Colombian man who introduced us to two brothers who race and repair all kinds of bikes, even large ones like ours.
We knew that if anyone could fix my shift lever situation, it would be these brothers. After all, they’d already fixed a long time problem of my rear suspension (by replacing it with Honda Tornado suspension) and a couple other issues that had been bothering us.
Sure enough, once we got to their shop, after talking to their mother, they expressed confidence in their ability to fix it up. The only major problem here was that I rode the KLR through a busy town in 4th gear and just about completely ruined the clutch.
They were able to fix the shift lever, but they couldn’t fix the clutch pads. They did their best and sent us on our way. This meant that I rode the whole way to Lima from Iquitos very carefully.