Hello everyone! This is my first post here on the Amazon Pueblo blog. I'm doing a lot of editing and organizing from the journal I kept on my trip, so this is the first post of many. A tiny bit of background; my trip to La Libertad was my first foray outside of the United States, so it was a major milestone in my life. I've known Ben for nearly 15 years since we led camping and hiking trips together in Maine and I'm thrilled to be a part of this project. I simultaneously had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into, while also knowing exactly what I was doing, when I bought my tickets. I wanted to have an adventure. I currently live and work right outside New York City and haven't spent nearly enough time in nature lately. Ben's website and blog prepared me very well for what I'd see and who I'd meet (and I hope to be able to impart a bit of helpful information for all future volunteers as well), but nothing could prepare me for what I felt within myself, beginning with my first flight's descent into Bogotá.
Without further ado, here is the first coherent post from my notes, written on the morning after my first night in the village *** “I'm thankful we have a toilet. It's not much, but it helps.” Thus began my first journal entry from the village, upon waking at 6am after spending my first night in La Libertad. By the time I wrote this entry I had left the US for the first time and spent a night in Bogotá, Colombia. I had walked across the border to Brasil – two countries in two days! - and I hadn't spoken English since Ben, David, and I had arrived at our hotel in Bogotá. I'd seen the jarring mix of poverty and contemporary life in the port city of Leticia and eaten a hearty dinner of rice and beans cooked for us by the villagers. And on this particular morning, I was waking to the sound of the rooster crowing next to our cabin, with the sun shining bright, and the clean air filling my lungs.
The afore-mentioned toilet in La Libertad
Leticia is curious enough to warrant an entire entry of its own, but for now, I just want to touch on the juxtaposition of poverty and modern comforts I witnessed all around the city. The houses are so very different than what I've seen in the US: nearly all ramshackle, run down, rickety wood floors with cracks and holes, very lightweight movable furniture, and most with little handmade signs selling wares or food. Same in Brasil. The level of poverty is truly eye-opening. The streets are full of street dogs and cats, none of which are neutered. The parks are messy and appear to be poorly maintained, filled with small food carts. And yet there are shops with current trends in clothing and people wearing the latest styles. There are restaurants with new dining rooms and fancy stemware. Motorbikes, smartphones, and Wifi signs are everywhere. New and remodeled buildings housed banks next to worn-down tour offices. In Leticia we talked with a tour agency to see what they offered and at what prices, to see if La Libertad would be able to offer similar programs. We also stopped in the office of a trade and export organization to learn a bit more about possible export opportunities for the future.
Ben inside Julio's (one of Gustavo's sons) homes in Leticia
Once we purchased food for the week, water for a few days, and a bottle of Brasilian cachaça to bring Happy Hour to the village, we set off for the port to catch a speedboat ride to La Libertad. We got kicked off the first boat we were on because we had so much gear and there wasn't enough room for all ticketed passengers plus our gear. Luckily another boat was leaving in about 15 minutes so we didn't have to wait long.A little over an hour later we arrived at La Libertad where Gustavo and his children were awaiting us. They helped us unload and hike up to the village and guest house. The first thing we did was set up our beds with nets to keep out mosquitos. I was surprised and impressed with the level of craftsmanship in the guesthouse and the level of care the family took in putting our beds together. The thatched roof, despite having a few thin patches, is overall very precise and perfect. During later storms, including an hours-long, intense thunderstorm, it also kept us and our gear dry. There are screens in all the windows and they had foam rolls and nets for every bunk bed. I'd brought two closed-cell camping sleeping pads to add to the foam pads too (which are now staying in the village for future volunteers).
My bed in the volunteer house
After this we went through our bags to unload food and supplies and to give tools to Gustavo. He talked to Ben about the solar panel and battery when we learned the battery they have is not sufficient...so we need to help find a solution for that. More important, though, was the clear lack of water filtration. They have not been using the filters and we had only brought water enough for two days or so.Gustavo cooked us dinner – beans and rice for me, with sausage for Ben and David!
Then we went back to our guest house and read to the children and I sang songs. I broke a string on my guitar but it was okay – just my high E so I would survive. After a few songs it was time for bed and we wrapped everything up. Overall though it wasn't very different from primitive camping anywhere else – no lions roaring or anything. Our first priority was meeting with the villagers to discuss the project, where we stand, what we need to do ASAP (including remedying clean drinking water) to get things in motion for more volunteers and more forward motion with the sustainability project.