Saturday, January 25, 2014

Near Death on the Amazon, Part 3: The Storm

Thank you to everyone who has read and enjoyed this series of posts.  Click here to start reading with part 1.)

Police Station of Puerta Alegria
As we left the village of Puerta Alegria, which translates as Port of Joy, I looked back at the men along the shore. They watched us as I watched them. What they were thinking, I can only guess. I like to think they were a little concerned for our safety. The sky had now darkened with dense, seemingly endless storm clouds. The wind and waves were picking up. The rain was increasing from a drizzle to a steady, soaking sheet.

The other probable reason that the villagers were watching us leave was due to a mix of entertainment and curiosity. I myself have an hour sitting along the bank of the river watching the traffic go by. Very few villages have steady electricity and even fewer families have TV, much less Xbox or computers. The people I have met spend much more of their day (both work and free-time) outside. It’s nice to see kids playing in groups in the free air. They run, fish, swim, play fight, climb trees, pretend, chase or are chased by dogs, yell, and even fall down and cry. Every year in the US I seem to see fewer and fewer kids outside in unstructured play.

After 10 minutes of travel we passed a huge bend in the river and were alone. Only trees and water were in view in all directions. No other boats. The only sounds on the river were of the wind, waves, motor and Gustavo’s son bailing water. The water of the waves was entering over the side of the small boat. At last we had to pull over to the side of the river and wait for the waves to subside. At this time I saw the first flashes in the sky far up river. I motioned to Gustavo at the direction of the lightning. He acknowledged this, but as I thought, he said that the electrical storm was much further up river than our village. I was a bit concerned. I was sitting two feet in back of a metal stove and a 5 gallon propane tank.
Lightning in the distance
So how close was the lightning? I use the counting method to determine how close I am to a strike. Thunder after a lightning discharge can usually be heard at a maximum distance of about 10 miles. To find the distance you start counting as you see the flash and stop counting when you hear the thunder. For every 5 seconds the lightning is 1 mile away. At three mile of distance or closer the prudent person will see immediate shelter. I could not even remotely hear the thunder. We were safe from the lightning.

After what seemed like a long time, but was probably only 15 minutes, the wind and waves slightly subsided. Gustavo pushed us away from the bank and into the faster current of the river. He started the motor, lowered the propeller, and the boat lurched forward. He did all of this without talking. His son resumed bailing. I started to become cold.

Gustavo’s son is named Hector. Hector is 9 years old. He is a friendly, very inquisitive boy who smiles and laughs often. He constantly pokes, looks into and explores whatever is around him. And he hates school. The school of La Libertad involves a lot of sitting around. Hector is not a boy who likes to sit in school.
I have told Hector of the significance of his name as it relates to the Greek story of the Iliad, as well as the more recent Brad Pitt movie, Troy. At times we yell his name like a character in the movie yells, in a long, drawn out Heeeec-toooor! He does not seem to appreciate the humor in this.
Hector cooking pancakes
Gustavo fully opened the throttle of the engine. The monotonous drone of the motor masked all other sounds. We continued onward, against the river’s current towards the village. We were alone on the river. I glanced backward at the bank where we had waited. As I looked backwards a saw bolts of lightning strike in the clouds in back of us. I waited to hear the thunder. None came. I was relieved. As we continued I looked ahead for lightning. It struck far forward of our position. Once again I waited to hear the thunder. None came. We were between two thunderstorms. We continued onward.

At 6 pm we arrived at the opposite side of the river from our village, La Libertad. The wind had picked up again and the waves were high. The sun had just set. I could see our destination, the shore about 2 miles from our location. With the high waves we could not pass. Gustavo steered our boat to a small submerged tree. We ran the boat onto the slightly submerged trunk and held onto a protruding limb. Then we waited for the wind and waves to subside.
Gustavo before the trip
At this time the waves increased. The rain changed from a steady sprinkle to, once again, driving sheets. I wrapped myself further into my rain poncho. The backpack I wore, containing my computer and cell phone, helped to keep my back warm. I glanced back, looking through the corner of the hood of my rain poncho. Hector had retreated, curled-up on the bottom of the boat under a blue plastic tarp. Gustavo told me that he was sleeping. Gustavo was bailing. He was shivering. I was cold too, but not yet shivering. I knew that if hypothermia set into Gustavo then things would become much more complicated. There we waited.
If we did capsize or sink, was it possible that I could swim to the shore? My computer and cell phone would be lost, but these were the least of my concerns. Would it be possible to swim? The distance in water would not be a problem. However, I could not see the shore. If I did not swim in a straight line then the distance could be much further. There was also the current to account for. With the rain the river was more forceful. And the piranha and crocodiles?

After one hour in the rain and waves I attempted to call David and Sarah, my friends from Bogota and the USA who were waiting for me in the village. Just in case, I wanted to tell them what had happened. I wanted to tell them what I wanted to do with my apartment and belongings in Colombia. Just in case. Was I giving up? No. I had determined that if needed, if I ended up in the river, I would ditch everything and make it to shore. Nothing had ever been clearer.  Unfortunately my cellphone lost its signal.

I waited with Gustavo. We spoke of things, plans for the village and project. I could see he was getting colder. As we waited we could see the lights the village just below La Libertad clearly. We could also see one light shine from our village, but it was dim. At 9 pm, by my cell phone, the light from Santa Sofia went out. The waves of the river were less. I looked at Gustavo and told him it was time to go back. He agreed.

And so ends part 3 of the three-part story.
Please wait for part 4: The Tree, to be published before I return to the Amazon on February 24, 2014.

Hector at the front of Gustavo's new (non-leaky) boat

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Fossils for Amazon Pueblo from Villa de Leyva, Colombia

Taking advantage of the last days of vacation allows me to post again!

I am selling part of my Colombian fossil collection to help support the project.
The large ammonite weighs over 13 pounds (6 kilos)!

Ichthyosaur Jaw & Vertebrae, Ammonites, from Villa de Leyva, Colombia

I bought these about 9 years ago, from local fossil hunters at the El Fosil attraction slightly outside of town.  All of these creatures lived with each other in a time period spanning 200 - 300 million years ago.  At this time the area of Villa de Leyva was a shallow marine sea.  Since that time geologic forces and changing climate have made the region into a mountainous desert, located about 2,000 meters (7,000 feet) above sea level.

The first piece is an ichthyosaur fossil jaw with teeth.

The second and third pieces are fossil vertebrae (each about 6 centimeters or 2 1/2 inches) also from an ichthyosaur.
The fourth piece is a large ammonite measuring 30 centimeters (12 inches) at its widest point and weighing about 6 kilograms (13 pounds).
The fifth piece is a small ammonite measuring 8 centimeters (3 1/2 inches).
The sixth and seventh pieces are rare heteromorph ammonites measuring 14 centimeters and 15 centimeters, respectively.

About 6 years ago Colombia passed a law making it illegal to sell or buy fossils.  It is especially illegal to take them out of the country.  While I believe that some people are probably smuggling them out, I did not, nor will I in the future!

Here are some picture from National Geographic that illustrate what they may have looked like when alive.

If you are interested in the auction you may visit it on EBay:

I leave for Colombia on February 24, so (just like voting) bid early and bid often!

Friday, January 3, 2014

50 Brave Winter Storm for La Libertad!

I picked up Sarah J at the Portland Jetport on Christmas day.  

On the ride back to Rockland we caught up with news of the Amazon and other travels.  We also discussed the fundraiser planned for the next day.  The weather channels had predicted near-blizzard conditions for, guess when, almost the exact time of our fundraiser!   We stayed up late Wednesday night stringing the guitar, checking the sound equipment, and cooking a delicious vegetarian stir-fry.

Upon awakening the “red sky at morning, sailors take warning” saying came to mind after looking at the sky.  Two friends joined us later in the morning to help us get ready for the event.  By noon the snow was falling and our friends (who had a long drive) had to leave.  “Maybe it would be only rain in the mid-coast”, I keep telling myself.

We also put together displays, organized handcrafts, and created the “Monkey Graph”.  This graph helped us to visually illustrate our fundraising goal.  We were attempting to raise $2,000 for a dock on the riverfront of La Libertad.  Why is this dock needed?
  1. Improved and safer access for villagers and tourist to the village
  2. Greater security for boats
  3. A place to sell gasoline, food, and other store items
  4. A great public relations project between the village and the Amazon Pueblo project

Sarah’s sister and her sister’s boyfriend joined us in the afternoon and helped us load the equipment.  At 5 pm we stuck off for the event (with a slight side trip to the hospital where Sarah played a Christmas carol for my grandmother).  On the ride over the snow was, as predicted, falling in a blizzard of intensity.  The driving was difficult, but possible with reduced speed.

At last we arrived and set up.  In all about 50 people attend the event.  We had hoped for at least 100, but we were happy with anyone who fought the weather to help the project and enjoy Sarah’s wonderful playing and voice.  We spoke with people about the project, sold raffle tickets and handcrafts, and listened to music until about 9:00.  In all we raised $900.  Short of our $2,000 goal, but greatly appreciated!

Thank you to all who helped with the event: Sarah J, Billy’s Tavern, Dianne, Lisa, Mark, Julie, Cassidy, George, and everyone who attended -whose support made this possible.

We hope to have Sarah back at the beginning of May for another fundraiser.  The next time we expect to have better weather!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Fundraising: A Dock for La Libertad

We are on a mission to build a dock!

For the past three years I have been struggling to climb the river bank at La Libertad, falling multiple times.  The villagers started building a dock two years ago, but ran out of funds.  As the project moves along in its efforts to bring sustainability to the village, the time is upon us to build the dock!
The Current Shorefront (no dock)
Why, exactly, is it so necessary?  What are some of a dock's benefits?
  1. Improved and safer access for villagers and tourist to the village
  2. Greater security for boats
  3. A place to sell gasoline, food, and other store items
  4. A great public relations project between the village and the Amazon Pueblo project
2 examples of docks

At our recent fundraiser we gained $900 towards the dock.  (We had bad weather -a snow storm- and as a result less than 50 people at the event!) After the fundraiser we received another $200.  That leaves us only $900 away.  We have until February 24 to raise the funds.  At that time we are going back to the village to build as much as we can!
Another dock example

On the Amazon River bank


Our Monkey Graph!  I will fill it in as we approach and meet our goal.

If, by the generosity of our donors, we exceed the $2,000 goal, all money will be put to our water project.  For every $500 we raise we can provide a 2000 liter clean water storage tank for 15 people!

Please click above to go to our donations page.  Thanks!  Gracias!