Friday, November 1, 2019

Buy a Colombian emerald and educate a student in the Amazon!

One way we raise money for our students is through the sale of emeralds.  Colombia is the source of the best emeralds in the world.  Our emeralds are from the Muzo mines, which have produced the finest emeralds found in Colombia.  (Scroll down to see the emeralds we sell. Please contact me at benangulo@outlook.com if you are interested in an emerald!)


The emerald region of Colombia.

I buy the emeralds in the emerald district of Bogota.

Shopping in downtown Bogota.

I test every emerald I buy to verify that it is real.  This is required to ensure that they are not artificial, synthetic, and are of a good to highly exceptional quality.

And now, the emeralds!

Medium studs, $50.

Small studs, $40.

Tiny studs, $30.

Cats, $40.

Natural emerald crystal formation, museum-quality, $400.

Large bracelet, $250.

Angled ring, size 7, $ 150.

Teardrop ring, size 7, $150.

Open-sided ring, size 7, $125.

Vibrant emerald leaf ring, size 8, $300.

Round side-layered ring, size 7, $80.

Rectangular drop earrings, $100


Open-sided, angled emerald ring, size 7, $75.

Larger emerald pendant, $100.

Emerald drop earring and pendant set, $150.

Small bracelet with 5 brilliant emeralds, $150.

Large rectangular drop earrings, $100.

Elegant earrings with very small,
fine emeralds with great color and brilliance, $100.

Inlay ring, $150. SOLD

Teardrop earrings, $150. SOLD

Small curved emerald ring, $60. SOLD

Drop curved ring, $80.  SOLD

Leaf pendant, $300.  SOLD

Pair of emerald leaf earrings, exceptional color and clarity, $400 SOLD


Brilliant, beautiful 1/3 ct.emerald of exceptional color.  18k gold, 3 small diamonds.
Size 8 1/2.
  $750 SOLD

I am with Abelardo, one of the emerald sellers on Calle 13, by the Gold Museum in Bogota.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Critical cargo boat repairs and a new faster wooden boat


Boat time!

This summer was filled with boat repairs and boat building.  Boats are very important for the villages which are along the river.  They are needed to go to the city to buy food, supplies, and to receive medical care.  Wooden boats are the workhorses of the majority of inhabitants of the Amazon.

Returning with our cargo, six hours on the river.

Our first boat is a 39-foot wooden cargo boat.  It is two and a half years old.  It will safely carry up to three metric tons of people, animals, building supplies, and fuel in any and all combinations.  This was our first choice of boat.  It was built by Israel the boat-builder in the Peruvian village of Puerta Alegria, 15 kilometers upriver from the city of Leticia.

Repainting our boat.  We used a new two-part epoxy paint which seemed to have worked very well.

Our cargo boat was first used to transport building supplies for our guesthouse.  Now its main use is to bring students, who are in our scholarship program, to Leticia to buy school supplies.  It is also frequently borrowed by the village school to transport students to events in other river communities.  Occasionally we loan it to a group of villagers to go to church-related functions.

Our cargo boat towing our new wooden boat.
The village does not always have a community boat to transport its members.  They have had boats in the past, but as with many community-owned resources, no one was responsible for the boats' maintenance.  Within three years they were all rotted or unable to safely use.  It is very important that we maintain our boat.

We loaned our boat to the neighboring community of Zaragosa.  They are bringing tons of sand into the port.  The sand will be used to make concrete walkways for the village.  This will help to reduce erosion.

One small part of the total sandbags for the project.

This year we replaced six of the boat's rotten internal braces, the stern board, and repaired and resealed the hull.  We also repainted the outside of the hull with very durable epoxy paint and the inside with flexible polyurethane paint.  It's better than new!  Many villagers are surprised at the good condition of the boat, given its age.  Only about half of the villager's boats are painted.  They rot quickly.
Wood, even when painted, rots quickly in the intense heat and humidity of the Amazon.

While our cargo boat holds a lot of weight and is very stable in the water, it is slow and uses a lot of fuel.  Our first solution was to buy an aluminum boat.  Aluminum boats are lighter than wooden boats of comparable size. They do not rot.  But they do have a big disadvantage.  They cost 10 times the price of a wooden boat which carries the same number of people.

While it looked good, it leaked.

We almost bought a used aluminum boat which was within our budget.  However, after a little investigative work, I found that the hull had been treated badly and repainted.  It had leaks that were not fixed.  One day after bailing (the bailing happened directly before they showed it to me) it was filled with water.

Building the boat in Puerta Alegria.  Israel is a third-generation boat builder.

As an alternative we had a new, smaller wooden boat built.  It is 25 feet long and weighs about a quarter of our large boat.  It is twice as fast and uses much less fuel.  It was also made by Israel.  It was painted with grey epoxy paint on the inside and outside.  When we have trips in which we only have a small amount to transport, or we need more speed, the new boat is excellent to use.


Putting on the finishing touches to the sides while we start to paint the bottom of the boat. 

At last, the day after painting it is ready to launch!

We are continuing our campaign to buy an aluminum boat that will be used by us and the village.  An aluminum boat offers speed, much better stability, and is more economical to run.  It will not have a rot problem.  The only problem is the cost.  We have $1,300 now, we need another $1,200 to buy one.  In Novemeber we will be starting our fundraising, on our Facebook Boat Fundraiser page.  Please help us in our efforts.  Thanks!


A video of us traveling upriver with the new boat!



Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Clones come to the village!

The first thing I think of when someone says "clones" is Attack of the Clones", the 2nd (?) movie in the StarWars saga.  This post is not about those clones.

Welcome to Caballococha!  This was the starting point of our adventure.  From here we took a plane to Iquitos.

What is a clone in this post?  And why are they so important?

Fruit tree clones.  Clones of fruit trees are genetically identical.  They all come from one, original "parent" tree.  Every true "Naval" orange comes from one original Naval orange tree.  Every "McIntosh" apple tree comes from one original McIntosh tree.  Every "Gala" apple comes from one original Gala tree.  Through the practice of cloning, a branch was cut from the original tree to grow copies (clones) of that original tree.  This "cutting" involves a process called grafting.

A seed from any one of the above-mentioned varieties WILL NOT produce a fruit that tastes like the tree from which the fruit was taken.  The seeds from apples, for instance, will produce "crabapple" trees and fruit.

Original trees are picked to be cloned because they have attributes that are very desirable.  They may have excellent taste, high productivity, resistance to disease, or any combination of these attributes.  Clones are a reliable way to guarantee high-quality fruit.  This fruit may be eaten and sold for profit!


I went with Victor and his son Nicolas.  Victor grew up in Iquitos and most of his family lives there.  He helped me to locate the trees.

The airplane is run by the Peruvian air force.  There is only one flight per day.  This was Victor and Nicolas's first time on a plane.  They were both a little anxious to fly!

Does bringing a small number of clones to the village justify the cost?

To bring the trees to the village was difficult and costly.  It took us over a week of time to find, transport, and plant the clones.  We travel over 800 kilometers by plane, various boats, and trucks.  In all, we bought 22 orange and lime tree clones.  Additionally, we bought three other types of non-clone native fruit trees.



The approach to Iquitos by air.  Iquitos is the capital of the Peruvian Amazon.  It is a jungle city of around 1 million people.  This was the only city that has fruit tree clones that are well adapted to the region and ready to buy.
Using clones to make clones
One of the best features of cloned trees is that the clones may be used to make additional clones.  After three years of growth, we can use our trees to make more clones by graphing.  We can teach the people in the village to do this.  They can plant these clone seedlings or sell them.

Victor and Nicolas in the nursery.  They only had lime and orange trees for clones, but they were of very high quality.  We also bought some beautiful mango and other regional fruit trees which are expected to produce well, but they were not clones.
How will we teach the villagers to graft clones?

Instructors from SENA, the nationally-run technical training school of Colombia, will help to teach the villagers how to graft the seedlings.  Three years ago we had an instructor in the village to teach vegetable farming practices.


The port of Iquitos.  The water level was very low at this time of year, so a lot of the muddy river bottom is shown in the picture.  During October the rainy season starts and the river rises.  The difference between low and high levels can be up to 20 feet!  Our boat, seen on the left side of the picture, was called the Maria Fernanda.  It had five levels, including the hold.


One of our first stops at 7 in the morning.  It would take between 30 minutes and two hours to unload cargo at each village.

This is the town of Pebas.  It is a town of the Yagua tribe.  The town was very clean and well organized.  While our boat was unloading cargo we had a chance to look around and to stretch our legs.

Breakfast on the first morning.  They had a full restaurant onboard.  Up to 200 people were traveling with us at any time.  People come and go to each village along the river.  There are three levels like this with hammocks (20 USD for a hammock space) on each level.  You must bring your own hammock.  There are also small cabins available for about double the price of a hammock ticket.  At every stop, vendors came on board to sell things like hammocks, food, soap, razors, clothing, games, and almost anything else the passengers may need.

Our trees were stored undercover on the top deck.  They were out of the rain, wind, and direct sun, but they did receive good light.  Transport wise, the ship did very well.

Caring for the fruit tree clones is also good practice for our next project, cacao clones!
This is a very interesting village which we encountered during our first day of travel.  It is around the village of San Francisco.  The village was very orderly and well maintained.  There were also many people, men and women, dressed in long robes.  Most of the people (men, women, and children) had very long hair.  Many of the men also had long beards.  They looked like they were living in Biblical times.

After asking my co-travelers, I found that they were members of a religious cult called the Israelites.  These people believe that Jesus Christ is alive, on earth now, and living in Equador.  They do not drink alcohol, smoke, or use drugs.  They work very hard and farm well.  Many of them also cultivate coca, the plant from which cocaine is made.  They do not use the coca, but they do sell it.  There are 10s of thousands of followers of this religion in the Peruvian and Colombian Amazon region.

So you don't believe this?  Check out these links, including their Facebook page! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israelites_of_the_New_Universal_Pact
http://2alltheworldperu.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-israelite-cult-of-peru.html
https://www.facebook.com/Evangelical-Association-Of-The-Israelite-Mission-Of-The-New-Universal-Pact-124494144310330/

The Israelite flag?

At last, we arrived at our destination in Caballococha!  After 30 hours on the river, our ship arrived at 3:30 in the morning.  We woke up and frantically unloaded our gear and the plants.  By 6 am we had them safely stowed at Victor's house.  After that, I took a speed boat downriver to La Libertad.  The next day I traveled back upriver to pick up the plants with the project's cargo boat.

At 12 noon, after four hours of travel upriver and heavy rain, we finally load the trees into our boat.  It took us three hours to go downriver.

Almost home!  We ate, talked, and slept while our pilot navigated the river.  After one night in the village, we continued downriver to the city.  

We have clones in two locations.  One in the village and the other just outside of the city.  The trees outside of city are being grown and cared for at an organic vegetable farm.  This picture is where we plan to build a nursery to graft more fruit tree clones.  We will then sell the clones for profit.