I had the pleasure last week of heading north to the Amazon jungle with a group from Philadelphia for a week to see some familiar faces living at the Scripture Union homes in Iquitos and Puerto Alegria, a little village about 45 minutes by boat outside of the city.
As I have mentioned before, Iquitos is the largest city in the Peruvian rainforest and is surrounded by three rivers: the Nanay, Itaya and Amazon. The city can only be reached by airplane or boat, and houses along the three rivers are either built on stilts or floating logs, which rise and fall with the river water levels.
Houses along the Itaya River built on stilts – June 2008
Houses along the Nanay River on floating logs – August 2011
We started our week off by visiting the older boys (13 and up) that are now living at the newly formed Girasoles Iquitos home. While the location is different and some the faces are new, it is always a joy to spent time with kids that I have seen grow up over the past 3 years.
After saying goodbyes, we headed out to Puerto Alegria where we would spend the majority of our time with the little boys (who are 12 and under). Along the way, it was quite evident that the rainy season this year had hit Iquitos much harder than in years past. Boarding the boat that would take us to Puerto Alegria, it was hard not to notice the dozens of tents that had sprung up along the bank as temporary shelters because the occupant’s home was flooded – or more aptly put, completely underwater.
Many houses only had an exposed thatched roof – the rest was completely underwater like this home.
By the time we arrived to Puerto Alegria, the sun had set and it was hard to fully comprehend how much the river had increased – it had grown so much that the floor of the maloca (which is at the entrance of the house at the riverbank) was completely covered in at least 3 feet of water – this doesn’t take into account that the maloca floor is elevated at least 12 feet off the ground, and all of that was underwater too. Talking with Jherry, the director of the home in Puerto Alegria, he said that if the water levels grew another 2 centimeters (which was expected), they would surpass the city’s record.
Usually, none of this is underwater.
These stairs were completely underwater – from August 2010
Despite the constraints dry locations (we could pretty much only do things in the dining room), we had a very fun week with the 40 boys living in Puerto Alegria. Since the high river level flooded the school, classes were cancelled indefinitely until the students could return safely. I can’t imagine a more perfect group to have been in Puerto Alegria that week because without knowing that the boys would be off of school, they had prepared many games & activities to do with them. It was a blessing to both the team and the boys that they were able to spend almost all week together, from early morning to late evening.
Since it was Holy Week, the group shared about what the week meant but also brought a few traditions that American children participate in during Easter. We had an Easter egg hunt (which turned into bob for eggs in the flooded soccer field), the boys made & decorated Easter baskets (which were “filled” by the Easter bunny) and we had a Easter party, including decorations.
And, of course we made the customary trek to Iquitos with the boys to go to the Quistococha Zoo and the group was generous enough to invite the boys & staff to a pollo a la brasa lunch and the movies.
It was rainy at the zoo, so Alvaro and Presley turned a garbage bag into a rain jacket
Lexon & Job Neber, brothers
Marcelo & Alexis at lunch
It was the first time Lenin had pollo a la brasa. We had to take a photo with his first chicken!
We ended the week with dance and skit presentations and a dance party on the last evening. Of the 40 boys at Puerto Alegria, the majority of them are new. Despite that I had spent 2 months at the home during summer 2011, many of these boys arrived after I left. I enjoyed seeing the new faces, learning new names and being able to share a bit with them. For many, this volunteer group was their first experience with a group of foreigners who had come from far away to play and have fun with them. As we left Puerto Alegria to head to the Iquitos airport, we all couldn’t help but talk about how great it was to hear laughter and see big smiles on the faces of these boys – many who are at least a 3 day boat ride from their family & home.
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A little bonus sighting at the end of the trip? President Ollanta Humala was visiting Iquitos, surveying the water damage from the river and declaring a state of emergency for the region. We caught glimpses of him boarding Peru’s equivalent of Air Force One at the Iquitos airport before our flight took off. Humala is the man in the white shirt boarding the airplane.