This is the fourth installment in a series by Wayne Zanardelli, an IE guest who generously shared notes from his recent Amazon adventure aboard La Amatista. Get caught up with Part I, Part II and Part III here.
The small village we will be visiting looks pretty ragged. According to Victor, it has a population of 200 and there is a school there. We boarded the skiff, sailed around to the other side of the La Amatista, pulled up to a muddy bank and disembarked onto a partially grassy soccer field. Directly in front of us is our first stop — a one-room school house.
Inside the school, already seated in small chairs (there were no desks), were 21 village children ages four to 11 in kindergarten through sixth grade. They were all as cute as a button and well behaved. George, our resident raconteur, music rapper, naturalist speaker and gifted teacher, spoke to the kids, all the while moving his arms up and down and racing about the room making them laugh.
They sang a song, counted to 10 in English and we, in turn, sang to them, also in English (there are no linguists in the group). George had us introduce ourselves and the kids then repeated our names. Then George introduced the kids and we said their names. The kids then stood and sang the Peru National Anthem (a very long song, by the way). Hernando then gave our group school supplies to pass out to the kids and the anxiously awaiting adults. The adults may have been more excited than the kids to receive a pen. I was at once very happy and very sad.
In the village, a well constructed sidewalk runs perpendicular to the river. I’m guessing it is about 500 yards long. Along the length of the sidewalk were power lines. All the homes have electrical power. The crops they grow here also ran the length of the sidewalk — cucumber and yucca where they harvest the manioc or tapioca root. One of the local men demonstrated the harvesting of the manioc. First, he cut down the tree with a machete. He then grabbed the trunk, gave a hardy pull and the tubers (roots) came out of the ground. Each plant has four to six large tubers each the size of a sweet potato.
Dan volunteered to harvest one as a demonstration of our groups’ capabilities. They handed him the machete and he handled it like a pro — chop, chop, chop, the tree was down, a manly yank and the manioc was out. We all cheered. He then became a folk hero to the local folks.
A tidbit: George explained that a kid in the village can only continue his education past elementary school if he has friends or relatives in Requena who will provide room and board; otherwise they are doomed to the rough life of their parents. It broke my heart.
Our next launch is at 4:15 to visit another village and meet their medicine man. Here again, the ride from our boat by skiff took 30 seconds to mud steps carved into a steep bank. The village was built perpendicular to the river. The current school building which lies about 200 feet from the river was one mile from the river just a few years ago. It is currently being dismantled and moved further inland. Can you imagine?
The main street is dirt — now mud from the rain. The houses are shabby huts on stilts with thatched roofs that look badly in need of repair. The town has a water tower and water purification system for drinking water and cooking. Prior to the system being installed several years ago, dysentery was a major health issue for the children of the village.
The town had a nice soccer field and a number of the locals were playing a game against some of the crew from our boat. Three, four and five year old kids were running around playing and laughing and just being kids. They were all adorable.