June 9, 2008

Dr. Jo Langford reflects on a celebatory 2nd week with Amazon CARES


After a busy, yet successful first week of work at Amazon CARES it was collectively decided that a night out was to be had in downtown Iquitos! Hooray! So Friday night we hit the local salsa club under close supervision by Bruno and Lily. It was (and how shall I put this??) a memorable” night, and let it be said the gringo girls danced like they´d never danced before- perhaps somewhat helped along by a few cuba libras and the local beer “Iquiteña” (pretty good, if I remember!?!).

We stayed the night in a local hostal and was up bright and early at 6am the following morning to depart on our “jungle adventure”. Hmmm, I hope you can sense the sarcasm....! An adventure though, it certainly was! We had independently booked the trip with a local tour guide, who could not have gone more out of his way to ensure we had a good time. The tour turned was for the four of us WVS-ers only and consequently was entirely tailored to what we wanted to do. We gave our guide a short list of “must see and dos”: see pink dolphins, swimin the Amazon, go jungle walking, see local wildlife, check out the giant lily pads, visit local indigenous villages (OK, not such a “short” list!), BUT the guy exceeded all expectations and we had an action packed two days ticking all, and more, of our checklist boxes!

I´m sure I can speak on behalf of the other three when I say that I don´t think we could have laughed more if we´d tried in the 36 hours! I would strongly, strongly recommend to any future volunteers to take the opportunity of doing such a trip. It cost less than $50 for the whole weekend and would have been cheap at twice the price. However, I do attach two warnings to this recommendation: 1. It is not for the faint hearted who like their luxuries. Accomodation was a bed on a platform on stilts, there was no running water, and the toilet, well, I´ll say no more and let you check out the piccie! 2. If the state of my face after the jungle walk is a lesson to you all... TAKE DEET, and lots of it!!

Food throughout our time in Iquitos was always plentiful! The Peruvian diet doesn´t scrimp on carbs and fat! Most dishes come with rice, fried potatoes or yuka, and fried chicken or fish! How the locals aren´t the size of buses I don´t know! It all tastes great though, and there is fresh fruit around for the more healthy minded.

On this subject, I must mention Marlena. Marlena was our heroine at Cabo Lopez who cooked, did our laundary and generally cleaned up after us. Dinner would always be ready upon out return home and she never ceased to dissapoint with a variety of dishes, fresh juices and fruit. Another top tip to future volunteers.... get the pancakes for brekkie as many times as possible- they´re amazing! Gracias Marlena!
The daily commute to work wasn´t your average fight-with-the-school-run, endless red-light-catching battle! In fact, the trip to and from the clinic was a highlight of the day. We would speed along the river in a slick power-boat, wind rushing through our hair and at least thinking we all looked very glamorous! Along the way we would pass through a village on stilts (the outskirts of Belen) where the only way to and from each house was by canoe. The whole community was based out at river, with shops, fuel stations and even a church all raised above the water.

The boat trips gave a snapshot insight into local Amazonian ways of life and just how different the daily routine is out there. However, I do have to mention at this point our first trip out to Cabo Lopez. In doing so feel a disloyalty as it appears I´m making fun of Bruno (really, Bruno I´m not, honest!). In retrospect it makes for a funny story. So here goes; having all eventually congregated in Iquitos over the first weekend, Sunday was the night for us to finally see where we were due to be staying for the coming two weeks! Tamsin´s flight hadn´t landed til 6pm so by the time she had moto-taxied out to Pevas it was knocking on about 7pm (i.e. well after sundown). This was the first time the team” had all been together, and with girls being girls we set off on motor-mouth missions getting to know each other and generally yabbering! We were ushered down to the boat, where we loaded our stuff and set off cruising up the river.

All of us got caught up in the moment and all its awesomeness (not a real word I know, but one that I think sums up the occasion quite well!) and didn´t really twig what was going on: i.e. the fact that we suddenly appeared to be stuck in a reed bed, surrounded by nothing other than.... reeds! We (or rather Bruno) turned the boat to head out of said dead-end and yet we couldn´t seem to find our way out! In the pitch black, one clump of reeds seems to look very like another.... and another.... we felt completely useless and not quite sure how to act. Should we try and help? Though we had know idea where we were. Or should we keep schtum and hope? We compromised and all got out our torches to try and at least provide a small amount of light! And, at last.... we made it out! Apparently we had overshot a small gap in the vegetation that led us through to a slip way and onto the next part of the river. The following day we all but missed it again, and this time was in full daylight, so in the dark it was near impossible! It certainly made for a talking point over dinner about how we´d all secretly been wondering whether swimming to shore or sleeping on board would have been the best option!

And finally, as a closing point from me, I have to mention my birthday! I hit 25 whilst out in Iquitos and it will certainly be a birthday never to be forgotten! During the day we were out neutering in Padre Cocha and I had to keep pinching myself to remind myself that yes, this really was me, in the Amazon jungle, working as a vet! And upon return to the clinic that evening all the team had arranged a “party” for me! The most amazing cake had been ordered and decorated with a personalised b´day message and rum and cokes were passed round in plastic cups!

The whole occasion, to me, just summarised the whole ethos at Amazon CARES: everybody is always helping and supporting each other in every way. The enthusiasm for work and sense of being part of a team is strongly evident, and I have the utmost respect and admiration for all of the staff and support crew who really make this organisation deserve to be a success.

Thanks so much Amazon CARES!

Buzz up!

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