Story by Campbell Plowden, Executive Director, Amazon Ecology
LEAVING ON A LANCHA
I had a few days in Iquitos after the Artisan Facilitator training before departing for the next leg of my trip to visit several partner communities in the Ampiyacu River area. Our team this time included our program coordinator Yully, Marianela from Amazonas who joined us to help Yully with workshop logistics and craft purchases, and Exiles from the village of Chino who would begin teaching artisans how to do an inventory of chambira palm trees in their fields.
A wide variety of boats now travel down the main Amazon River from Iquitos to and sometimes beyond the border with Brazil and Colombia. We boarded the large lancha Don Pepe that carries several hundred passengers and a lot of cargo stacked on its main deck.
Most passengers spend the night in a hammock they have slung in one of the two large open areas. The last time I traveled like this was when I was quickly leaving Pebas in March 2020 when COVIID hit Peru. This trip we were fortunate to get a pair of adjoining "camarotes" with bunk beds to pass the night.
Apart from being able to sleep on a rather thin mattress, the main advantage of a camarote is keeping your belongings safe near you instead of under your hammock hoping that nobody bothers them while you are asleep. The other advantage is easy access to an outlet to charge a phone or laptop.
One new extra feature in our tiny room was a small monitor, a DVD player and a small stack of disks. Since they were clearly home made pirated DVD with vague descriptions next to a remote with expired AA batteries, we chose not to explore this potential benefit.
The downside of a camarote can be sweating in this metal box. These rooms may have a small fan to cool the space, but ours did not. One can keep the door open to the river breeze, but this reduces the security of the space to unplanned visitors. We were lucky it was a cool night. Exiles and I shared a Cuzquena Negro beer and went to sleep.
I awoke a few times in the night and wandered on deck to appreciate the stars and remember how lucky I have been to travel to the Amazon twice a year to do work I love.
FOLLOW THE EGGMAN TO PEBAS
Our lancha arrived at the port of Pebas just after dawn. As usual there was immediate chaos as passengers began trying to get off the boat as vendors and new passengers pushed forward to board through narrow corridors of cargo surrounding piles of long rebar on the floor of the deck.
When the first rush passed, I followed a fellow carrying about 1000 eggs on his head over the floating dock to get to dry land in the town. See video.
YOU CAN GET ANYTHING YOU WANT AT PEBAS GENERAL STORE
The heart of commerce in Amazon small towns like Pebas are the general stores that carry a little bit of everything someone living in these parts might need and a few other things they might want. We needed to stock up before we headed farther up river to the village of Brillo Nuevo for our next workshop.
As usual the gatekeepers included one cat and one sleepy dog. The wares included staple foods..particularly stacks of rice...canned goods...Brazilian booze...knock off Barbie dolls...rolled cigarettes...small outboard engine for a wooden canoe..fishing tackle...clothes...toys...batteries...machetes...tools and more. I smiled seeing some screwdrivers with the US flag red, white and blue design printed on the handle.
SORTING OUT THE BAD ONIONS
After stocking up on dry goods, Yully and Marianela focused on buying fresh produce for our trip. The markets had large bright red and small yellow charapita peppers, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, and some regional fruits like cocona, platanos, pijuayo and maracuya.
I had hoped to get some mangos which are my favorite, but the ones for sale were past their prime as the prime season ended some weeks before.
At home I frequently enjoy a mixed green salad with lots of fresh veggies, but this is not a strong point of Amazon cuisine. I am lucky to get a cucumber and tomato salad with a touch of vinegar and cooking oil as a dressing.
As Marianela sorted through a depleted bin of onions, I learned more about the fine points of choosing a good one from her in five minutes than I had learned in the rest of my life combined. While I make exacting observations about the fine points of woven bird ornament, she showed me how to use my eyes and finger tips to assess whether an onion was too dry or had the beginning of a rotten piece near its top that would spread in a day or two.
PASSAGE THROUGH PUCA URQUILLO
After finishing our shopping in Pebas, we boarded Brillo Nuevo's new community boat to head up to their village. We appreciated riding in a craft with a plastic roof since it provided some protection against hard rain and harsh sun not available in the usual open peque peque motor canoes.
We briefly stopped in a few communties along the Ampiyacu to pick up a few fellows joining us for our Alternatives to Violence Project workshop.
We made our obligatory stop in Puca Urquillo to check in with FECONA - the federation that represents the 14 native communities in the Ampiyacu region.
We next visited a number of artisan leaders to set up meetings with their association members on our way back to Pebas.
I always enjoy these opportunities to get a first hand feeling for the daily lives of our partners. Milda chatted with us while her baby rocked calmly in a nearby hammock. Three almost finished chambira bags hung from nails on a wall. I appreciated Milda's offer of a large glass of cupuazu juice since this relative of cacso is one of my favorite Amazon fruits - particularly in ice cream that Brazilians have perfected.
When I visited the rest room in the back, I saw a calabash tree with large pods ready to be picked to make large bowls or traditional carved crafts. A pile of coconuts had sprouts up to two feet tall that were ready to plant. Red flowers provided beautiful color to the yard.
An hour later, we went back to our boat for the five hour journey up the Yaguasyacu river.
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