Five weeks later and we’re back in the United States (or Canada if you’re Dayae). Over the past few weeks we’ve experienced and accomplished more than we could have expected. We’ve painted well over ten walls and helped to fix the plumbing and mosquito nets around the bathroom of the school in Santa Cruz all while translating games from our childhood into Spanish.
We’ve traveled for countless hours by boat and hiked over 50 miles through the Amazon rainforest. We’ve found entertainment in things like mud balls and butterfly-eating spiders. We’re so thankful to people like Emerson, Gilberto, Devon and of course Nourish International for making our trip possible. We’re so excited to continue communicating with Santa Cruz throughout the year and help another group of Rice students prepare for their own Amazonian adventure.
This week was our last in Peru! We left our field station on Tuesday morning, and trekked our last hike. We exchanged sad farewells with Ruth and Casey, the two little girls who lived with us, their parents, and Oso their pet dog. We said bye to Gilberto (our cook) in Mazàn, and finally arrived back in Iquitos around noon. I can’t express the joy I (Dayae) felt at the sight of motorcars and streets. We all enjoyed the wifi at our hotel and fans (electricity is amazing) before heading out to eat at Ari’s, a local hamburger/pizza/pasta place near the hotel. We then headed to the Artisan Market where we were able to buy some beautiful souvenirs. I ended up going a little overboard on earrings – where else can you buy anaconda vertebrae, butterfly wings, porcupine spines, and Paiche (a fish) scales?!
At night, we went to a pizza restaurant and gorged ourselves on the most delicious pizza I’ve had. Half of that deliciousness came from the fact that we hadn’t had any Western food for five weeks, but the pizza was also great and cooked in an oven right below us. We then had some fun looking around the area near our hotel – it seemed like downtown Iquitos, with plenty of casinos and brightly lit clothing and electronic stores.
The next day, we attempted to go to a Manatee reservation and took a 40 minute motorcar ride there, but sadly it was closed. We did run into the director of Project Amazonas, who was there with another group about to leave for the field site, and he suggested we go to the zoo which was nearby. Fortunately that was open and it was a fun experience. It was also a little saddening to see the small spaces they left the animals in – the pumas had a cage smaller than my own room at Rice.
The next morning, we left for Lima and made it safely to our hotel. I thought I had been over-excited to see motorcars in Iquitos, but seeing cars was a whole new experience. We walked to a nearby mall to get dinner (at Chili’s!) and had some fun with a photobooth station and giant, moving stuffed animals you could ride.
The next day, we had the whole morning and afternoon before our flight back to the States, so we went to Miraflores. Unfortunately, Avery was sick and couldn’t make it :(. We went to a chocolate museum, where we got to make our own chocolate – all the way from unroasted cacao beans! We also went to Kennedy Park, or rather, Cat-edy park. There were so many cats just lying around everywhere – so many I couldn’t even keep count. Apparently there’s an adoption campaign for these cats, but clearly it’s not working very well! We also went to a local restaurant and the group split Cui…also known as guinea pig. It’s a delicacy in Peru, and we felt like we should experience it before leaving. It was quite the experience!
Finally, we returned to the hotel to collect our luggage and get Avery before going to the airport. I was actually very sad that the trip had ended, even though we’ll all be seeing each other again in two or three weeks. Nothing like the Amazon to make a group of strangers into a group of close friends!
Sunday, 13 July
The World Cup Final! In addition to our usual Saturday trip, Juan, Michael, and I (Nick) took a Sunday trip to Mazán to watch the game. We were accompanied by Emerson, with boating by Julio and family. We arrived at 11 because we thought the game started at 11:30. Turns out it actually started at 2, so we killed some time using the internet and eating some delicious fish at the local cevicheria, El Pez Blanco. (The fish here is straight out of the river and better than any fish I’ve ever had. No annoying “fishy” taste.) Germany won, much to the disappointment of the 50 or so Peruvians also watching in the restaurant. They were all cheering for Messi, if not Argentina.
We walked back in semi-darkness without flashlights. The hike back was a little scary, but manageable. If the game had gone to penalties, though, we might not have made it back. (Emerson says there used to be quite a few jaguars around the field station, but we haven’t seen any yet.) We left Emerson in Mazán and picked up Gilberto, who just recovered from a few-day stint of malaria. We arrived back at the field station to discover that the girls hadn’t had lunch since we left with the cook! Luckily they survived on cookies and ate an extra big dinner to make up for it.
Monday, 14 July
Continued work on the school today, painting and replacing mosquito screens. Many kids are absent from school with malaria; Emerson said one class has 12 of 16 students out sick. The hike back was dreadfully hot so some of us decided to go swimming. While swimming we made 4 mudballs, and decided to name them Chachi, Tofer, Pablo Sanchez, and Pelota.
Tuesday, 15 July
Today for lunch Gilberto made us Huancaína, which is a delicious cheese sauce that tastes amazing with potatoes. We’ve asked Gilberto to make it more often. (Note by Dayae: this was my favorite food I had on the trip, and that’s saying something because all the food was amazing! I don’t even like cheese…)
Wednesday, 16 July
Watched Brother Bear and finally learned the word for the delicious ice cream things: curichi. There’s curichi salespeople everywhere. We keep calling it “helado,” but Emerson told us the real word today. The aguaje flavor (Emerson’s favorite) is made from palm tree fruit and has a really unique taste.
Thursday, 17 July
Incredibly hot today, so Michael and I (Nick) decided to jump off the boat on our way back from the school. It was slightly terrifying once we realized the current was stronger than we expected, but we both made it to shore safely. Then Juan and Dayae and I decided to run the trail instead of hiking. It was a terrible idea but surprisingly fun. We made it in 12 minutes and collapsed when we made it to the table. Gilberto had orange slices ready for us, and after a long, sweaty run they were the best-tasting orange slices I’ve ever had.
Friday, 18 July
We painted using ladders today, and bought some orange KR (a Peruvian soda) from a house store near the school. Then one of Julio’s sons climbed an incredibly tall coconut tree and threw down a couple coconuts. He hacked them open with a machete, and we drank the coconut water! It was refreshing even though it actually tasted pretty bad.
Then a bunch of us jumped off the boat again to cool off. Walked back to the field station with Emerson, and he told me a bunch of stories about working for Project Amazonas. Apparently he only took one year of English classes, and the rest of his knowledge was learned through work. Which is amazing, since he’s a pretty competent English speaker. He told me that the Mazán river has tons of stingrays. Emerson is such a wise, caring person. I’ll miss conversations with him.
It’s the end of the third week of our trip, and things are a lot calmer than they were the first few days. The hike is a lot easier now and there have been significantly less giant spiders/tarantulas in our huts recently. Rain kept us from working on Monday, which was a bit disappointing, as we were all really excited to start painting. It was nice to have another day of relaxation and sleeping in, though. On Tuesday, we had to head down to the school with a smaller group than usual, as a few of the girls seemed to have gotten food poisoning from our trip to Mazan over the weekend. I (Michael) haven’t gotten sick out here yet, so I’m hoping my luck continues!
Having fewer numbers than usual worked out, however, as when we met Emerson at the school and started painting, we had just enough brushes for the group that came. Painting was a really interesting process. We started by mixing the paint with glue and water until it was “ready”. I couldn’t really tell what made it “ready”, but Emerson was there to let us know when it was good. Next, we had to sand down the walls of the bathroom to clean off clung-on dirt and make the surface tacky for putting on the paint. Scratching the spiderwebs and bat droppings from the wall wasn’t the most glamourous of work, but we got through it pretty quickly. Then we finally got to paint! We went with a light blue for the boy’s bathroom, with a light green trim around the top of the room. Painting was a blast, and we played some music in the background to get into the zone, so it was basically like a mini painting party! We were able to get through several coats of the walls in one day, and when we came the next day, the room looked fantastic. With the whole group healthy again, by the end of the work week we had finished the boy’s bathroom, painted the wall outside the bathrooms green, and started on the yellow for the girl’s bathroom. The plumbing the bathrooms was also working without leaking now!
After a solid week of working, we actually got two chances to head into town. We went to Mazan on Saturday for internet and food, heading to Pez Blanco again, where we got a full menu this time around. We also found out they had spaghetti as a side, which literally everyone at the table ordered. The internet didn’t work out, as the laptop we were going to use died and couldn’t be charged, so we just enjoyed our meal and then headed back to the field site. On Sunday, the guys headed back into town to catch the world cup final. This was great as we had heard of Germany’s trouncing of Brazil a few days earlier and were dying to see some soccer. We came back to Pez Blanco, which had basically become our home base, and got good seats for the game. We accidentally got there a bit early (about 4 hours before the game), but it gave us time to use the internet and relax. The game was great, although a bit disappointing as almost everyone in Mazan was supporting Argentina. Still, the game was a highlight and a great way to wrap up another productive week in the Amazon.
On Monday at school, we tried Peruvian “ice-pops”. They look like ice pops, but taste a lot creamier (though there are also non-creamy kinds that we haven’t tried yet). The coconut flavor was full of little coconut pieces and was amazing, especially with the hot weather.
We also had someone else join us this week! Her name is Kate, and she’s a med student from Britain who is doing her elective with Project Amazonas. She just finished a medical expedition on one of PA’s larger boats, and will be staying with us until we leave. She’s staying for a bit longer and going on another boat trip – I don’t know if I would be able to stay here that long!
The day after Kate came, the boys had a visitor in their hut: a giant spider that we named Ivy (she looked terrifying and poisonous, so…poison ivy?). She was our entertainment for the night, as she ended up murdering 3 butterflies and making them a 3-course meal. Now that’s something you’ll only see in the Amazon.
We were waiting all week for Emerson, the constructor who is supposed to help us, to arrive but he was nowhere to be seen…until Friday! We were all so excited because now we have all our supplies and we can start working on our latrine-repair project. So far we’ve been playing games with the kids at recess (Pato Pato Ganzo, or Duck Duck Goose, is crazy tiring because all the kids are fast and the sun is so intense).
Once he got here, we were able to clean out the bathrooms so we can paint them. The boys’ bathroom had been full of bats so there were bat droppings and twigs everywhere. Emerson told Nick that the twigs are actually fruit tree branches, and that the bats eat the fruit. Anyways, next week we’ll finally be able to paint and we’re all very excited!
We’re here in Peru! It was a long journey with lots of flight delays (we had to board a plane, get off the plane, and reboard another plane in Lima), but we made it to our home for the next five weeks. We’re pretty isolated – Iquitos is the nearest mainland city and it takes around 2 hours to get there (30 minute hike, 50 minute boat ride, 15 minute motorcar ride through a small town called Mazàn, and a 30 minute speedboat ride). Speaking of, the hike from the river to our field station is quite intense. It’s only a mile long but it takes us 30 minutes because we have to step through recently machete-d trees, canoe across a flooded region, and try not to trip and die along the way. We’ll definitely get in shape here!
I think we were all a bit surprised when we saw the huts we would be living in. The huts are half wood and half mo
squito netting (so that air can flow through, seeing as there’s no electricity for fans or AC), and have thatched roofs. There are beds in the huts, and thankfully we have mosquito nets to put around the beds – I have no words to express how many mosquitos come out to feast on us here.
The first night was especially bad for me, because we had to shower in the dark. The only two showers are outdoors (though they have walls and doors) so I (Dayae) felt pretty vulnerable. Juan also found a stiff, dead mouse in one and I nearly touched it thinking it was a leaf. It took me quite a while to recover from that, haha.
But the excitement couldn’t end with just a dead mouse – not in the jungle! Vy and Laura found a tarantula in their hut and eventually moved to another hut. I also woke up to very disturbing scratching noises in the middle of the night. Turns out, they’re from harmless geckos on the thatched roof but I thought a giant bat was going to come and eat me.
Basically, it was a tough week of adjusting but I’m feeling better already. The food is WONDERFUL (Gilberto is our chef and he could probably win Masterchef), and showering in the light is a lot more pleasant. We also haven’t seen any more tarantulas (though that could change in the next few weeks), and there haven’t been any snakes on our hiking trail yet. The kids at the school we’ll be working at (15 minute boat ride down the river) are wonderful and adorable. The school even has toilets already! We had all thought that we were going to be building portable latrines, but it turns out we just need to fix the plumbing. Unfortunately the constructor we’ll be working with – Emerson, isn’t here so we can’t start yet. For now, we’ve been keeping busy by teaching English and playing games with the kids during recess.
We’re all excited for the next four weeks!
Hello! We are so excited to be on our way to Iquitos, Peru soon. We’ll be working with Project Amazonas in the Santa Cruz forest reserve for 5 weeks, helping to improve the latrine plumbing system and a little bit with education.
We’re leaving this Sunday and will be in our field station by Tuesday after spending a night in Lima, then in Iquitos. Hopefully there won’t be any complications with all the travel, especially when we arrive in Lima (since we’ll be arriving on 3 different flights). Once we’re in Iquitos, we’ll be meeting with the coordinator for Project Amazonas who we’ve been emailing like crazy for the past few weeks.
We’re a bit worried because we’ll be working with a community along the Amazon River, so we won’t have internet access on a regular basis (until we make the boat ride/trek to the mainland to find an internet cafe). We’re hoping that we can schedule that once a week so we can update the blog and keep in touch with NINO and our parents, but no guarantees. The UNM chapter is there (in a different community) right now, and apparently they’ve been using payphones to communicate – we might have to do that as well.
In any case, we’re all very excited about the trip and can’t wait to be able to give new updates!
Our first week in Uganda flew by! We spent the first couple of days becoming familiar with Nkokonjeru, and getting to know our gracious host, Ignitius, as well as our project manager Anthony. They have both been terrifically helpful and we are being incredibly well taken care of. After familiarizing ourselves with the concept of sanitation and discussing the details of our project, we set out to the field and visited the eight sites where we will be constructing latrines. We began latrine construction on Friday, and have since poured the ring-shaped concrete foundations of all eight latrines. The concrete takes a few days to dry, so after we finish constructing the concrete coverings for the latrines, we will begin surveying the people of Nkokonjeru to gain a greater understanding of the current sanitation situation here. I know a lot of us are particularly excited about the research aspect of our project because it will allow us to have direct contact with the people of the village. Our survey results could also be useful in determining the direction that sanitation-related RASD projects will take in the future.
The first group (Sneha, Tanya, Daniella, Clara, Ravi, and myself) arrived in Kampala late Monday night, and we were brought to Dr. Gloria’s house. Tuesday morning we woke up to a beautiful view of Lake Victoria (which we couldn’t see late at night). During the day, we took boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis) around Kampala and saw the entire city. Part of the trip included going to Casio Lodge, the highest point in town, so we could see all of the city and the lake, as well as seeing Kampala International University (KIU). Tuesday night the second group came (Olivia, Cindy, Ian, and Becca) and we all spent the night at Dr. Gloria’s. Dr. Gloria is an incredible woman, and we were all excited to stay with her and hear her stories. She was born in Georgia and moved to Illinois during the Civil Rights Movement, and later attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne. She traveled in Africa before returning to the US to receive two doctorates from UC Berkeley and teach at San Jose University. She retired to Uganda in 2001, and is currently hosting 5 children for whom she pays school fees.
The next morning, after breakfast, we stopped to exchange money and grab lunch before the one and a half hour car ride to RASD in Nkokonjeru. Nkokonjeru is a sub-county inside of the greater Mukono district which is made up of 12 small villages. Nkokonjeru means white chicken in Lugandan (one of the 37 languages in Uganda), and it is a very religious (Catholic) area. The RASD compound is very nice and very safe. The ten of us are split into 7 rooms with two indoor bathrooms, and breakfast and dinner are cooked for us by RASD employees. For lunch, we go to a restaurant in town. Both lunch a dinner tend to consist of some combination of rice, potatoes, noodles, chapatti, stew made of meat or fish, beans, matooke (mashed plantains), and squash or cassava.
We, the Rice chapter of Nourish, are counting down the minutes until we get to embark on our exciting summer project. This year we are volunteering with the Rural Agency for Sustainable Development in Uganda. After a year of fundraising, screening people for our project team, and pre-planning for the trip (passports, Visas, yellow fever vaccines, tickets, malaria pills, the list goes on for miles), it’s surreal to be so close to finally touching down in Uganda! Granted, we haven’t even taken off yet, but we’re definitely all already daydreaming about gorgeous landscapes, red dirt roads, the wildlife (see the drawing of the grey crowned crane), and the incredible people we’re sure to meet.
We didn’t know a lot about Uganda when we started and most of us are still a little nervous about what to expect. However, one of our team members, Becca, has been to Uganda before and has been an invaluable source of information. The same is true about our volunteer contact at RASD, Ignitius, and our guest house host for our first two days, Dr. Gloria. They are the nicest people and they have been incredibly helpful in preparing us for Uganda. Another (not-so-invaluable) source of information was an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations which tackled Ugandan food from fried bugs to lungfish. Probably not the best way to settle our worries about our upcoming trip, but still an interesting insight into the country.
With half our group leaving on Sunday and the rest on Monday, there’s not much more to write about yet. We still have a long way to go, with a grueling 29 hour flight ahead of us, but we’re almost there! For now, we’ll get back to overpreparing, overpacking, and overexcitedly waiting for our trip. We’ll post more when we actually land: then we can compare our pre- and post-impressions of Uganda and write about all of our adventures. Stay tuned for more!