Sunday, November 16, 2014

Eye infection in the Amazon and project update

Things are going well, but it is –at times- uncomfortable for living conditions. We have not had significant rain for the past two weeks, so all of the rainwater for drinking is almost gone. Even the project’s 2,000 liter tank is running on fumes. Other families also use our tank when they really need drinking water. I have heard that some villagers are resorting to drinking river water. Not a wise thing to do considering the high concentration of parasites that call the water, and the people who drink it, their homes.
Almost empty water tank
The project’s structures are also taking a beating. We have structural rot in the kitchen and bathroom due to water splashes from roof water run-off. Inside the kitchen the walls are rotting around the sink, as the countertop is improperly angled. The screens on the guest house are rotting and broken, which helped to add more itchy bug bites to the hundreds that I already have.
Rot due to rain splatter.  After board replacement, an enlarged roof will help the problem.

Sanitation is also an issue. The thatched roof is home to many (I am reluctant to guess or investigate the actual number) defecating cockroaches. Large jungle rats hunt and eat the cockroaches. Then the rats poop out the digested roaches. And where does all this defecation go? It goes to everything below the roof, which includes me. Little bits of the thatch also decompose and fall. I believe all of these factors helped to contribute to my bothersome eye infection (more on this later).
The ceiling.  A home to cockroaches and nocturnal jungle rats!

But that is enough complaining about maintenance and sanitary conditions. What are we doing to address the issues? Next week we are going to put a rat-free metal roof on the guest house, the bathroom, AND the kitchen (due to a drop in the price of metal roofing, we are able to replace all roofs). We will deep-clean the buildings, put in new resistant aluminum wire screens, start to repair the rot, paint everything, and maybe even put a comfortable toilet into the bathroom! These things should help with a lot of the sanitation problems.
Screen rot

Other project news:
  • The entire village is motivated to go forward with the project (a major task by itself).
  • The dock that we started building last March looks really good and is ready for “phase two”. Depending on funding this may include building a small store and seating on part of the dock.
    The current walkway
  • The village chief and I had very productive meetings about projects with the state and national government this week in Leticia. Basically the village needs to supply at least 10% of each project’s costs, all of the labor (or pay for specialized labor), and to complete each project in phases with the rounds of funding corresponding to each project phase. To apply for each project we must submit all plans, costs, timelines, and who and how many people will benefit.  Projects:
    • A much more expensive and well-build pier system than originally planned
      People looking at the site of our pier and walkway.
    • Drilling a deep well
    • Rebuilding and upgrading the village water filtration system
    • Further dock developments
    • Developing a village recycling system
    • Improvements in agricultural production
    • Traditional fishing development and improved technique
    • Beekeeping
    • The beginning stages for aquaculture
    • The beginning stages for cacao production
    • Rice production
  •  I believe the time is rapidly approaching for the village to begin talking about the problem of open defecation. We need toilets for all. However, this can be a complicated and messy situation. How “green” do we want to go? I believe that composting human waste is the answer.
  • This week I learned, to my surprise, that the village has not yet incorporated. It is not an officially recognized Colombian village. What this means I have yet to discover. It seems that being a legalized village would only be in the peoples’ best interest. However, the old chief told me that there is some resistance to doing this. I believe that the resistance comes from not knowing the proper way to become legalized. The paperwork and steps needed seem overwhelming. But paperwork is one of the things at which I excel. The village WILL become official.
  • The Peruvian government is hosting a trading convention in Leticia this Thursday, November 20. We expect the village cooperative to enter into our first international business contract! We hope to sell agricultural products, fish, and handcrafts. I will give an update about this in next week’s blog post.
  • On Friday the 21st my sister Crystal and her friend are coming to visit the project.  This is their first trip to Colombia.  Our father and other sister, Rose, visited Bogota in 2005.
  • I am happy with our progress during my first two weeks in the Amazon.
And more news:
Appointment cost $12.  Wait time without a scheduled appointment was 15 minutes.

Anyone for drugs?  Read about whatever problem you have, go in and buy drugs.  Be you own doctor!
  • EYE INFECTION. Last week I noticed a bit of blurriness and irritation in my right eye. I did not examine my eye, as there are very few mirrors in the village. When I got around to shaving I noticed it was very red and swollen. You might say pink, as in pink eye, which it was. I have had conjunctivitis three times before, but this was the worst case I have ever had. I believe it came from a combination of the stress of moving around a lot in Colombia, the pressures of the project, the extreme heat and humidity, the lack of sanitary conditions in the village, and the constant stream of rat-dropping falling into the house from our thatched roof every night. Luckily, the next morning I had a trip planned to Leticia. In Leticia people with money may buy any drug normally available only by prescription in the United States. The exceptions to this are narcotic class drugs like heavy pain-killers or amphetamines. I picked up some antibiotic eye drops and started dropping away. The next day I looked up what I was taking on the internet and found that it contained steroids, which I did not want to take due to their side effects. To make a long story short, I ended up trying three different drops and to a visit to an optometrist. I am now taking Cipro-based drops. I paid $9 for the eye drops and $12 for the doctor’s office visit. (I also found a good anti-allergy mast cell stabilizer drops for $5 per bottle). While I do have traveler insurance with World Nomad Travelers (highly recommended) I did not file a claim. This bout of conjunctivitis has been exceptionally difficult to control, but I believe I now have the upper hand.
    Pink Eye

  • There is a new coffee shop in town. It is called Punto CafĂ© (Coffee Spot). It is run by a very nice young woman named Adriana. She speaks English and Spanish.  She opened the shop, located on one of the main streets of Leticia, four months ago. She serves espresso, cappuccino, lattes, regular coffee, juices, and an assortment of pastries baked on location. Adriana also has a love of Turkish food –serving the only Kibbes in town. Why the interest in this little restaurant? Before the arrival of Adriana I could not buy a good cup of coffee in Leticia. I had the plan, if we ever had an Amazon Pueblo office in Leticia, to invest in an expensive machine and serve good coffee. If I spent the time looking through the city for a descent cup of coffee, I’m sure other have as well. Adriana said she is interested in forming a partnership with the project. I will set up an English Facebook page for her, and she will have the project’s brochures in her shop.
    Punto Cafe!
  • I am planning a visit to San Francisco (Amazonas) to get a detailed view of their cacao production operations. They are located about one hour upriver from La Libertad by speedboat. The president of the operations, Arcesio Rendon, is from inland Colombia, but has been living in Leticia for over 10 years. They have 10,000 trees in production. However, they have many problems with the fermentation process needed to make a good chocolate. Currently their chocolate is bitter and tasteless. Gustavo (from La Libertad) described it as tasting like bitter dirty water with sugar added. Arcesio recently received a government grant to improve their production. I am curious to see how things are going and to make suggestions regarding quality improvements.
    Arcesio.  If this business venture does not work out, his plan B is to move back in with his mom.
My next post should be on Friday, as I wait for Crystal to arrive. Hopefully I will be able to include pictures of our newly-installed roof!
Village Green

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Maps for La Libertad

I have arrived in Leticia! Our flight was an hour late due to a passenger with an illness. She became sick just before take-off, so we went back to the gate and she de-planed. I hope it was nothing serious.

When in Leticia I checked into my usual hotel, Hotel Fernando Real, and settled in. The first things I bought in the city were a 5 liter bottle of water, bananas, a San Francisco Giants ball cap, and sandals. I then met with a cacao grower from the indigenous village of San Francisco (2 hours further upriver from La Libertad) and discussed how their chocolate production is going. The production of cacao (chocolate) in our village will be similar to what San Francisco is now experiencing.  They currently have 10,000 producing trees.

Yesterday I put together the maps. Why maps? And why did I have to put them together rather than buying them?

About a year and a half ago Gustavo, a project supporter and indigenous guide, was leading a group of foreigners from La Libertad to Leticia, through the forest. Gustavo became lost, and what should have been a three-day trip turned into a five-day trip. Since then Gustavo has not received any more request from the tourist industry in Leticia to lead jungle tours. And his river business has also dropped off a bit.

So, in order to help Gustavo I am putting together some maps copied from Google Earth. They were printed in color on adhesive-backed plastic. I then stuck the plastic to some pleather from my friend’s motorcycle shop in Bogota. I tried to buy topographic maps, but I needed special permission from the Colombian military to do so. Google Earth was the easier way to go. The ones I made don’t have all the features of a topo map, but they do have a smaller scale than what is available (about 1:24,000 rather than 1:100,000). I also bought compasses and a used GPS unit for Gustavo to use. Now I just have to teach a few GPS and map-and-compass skills to the villagers!

Tomorrow I will continue to take things easy. I expect to do a bit more blog posting, work on my professional webpage, and may even practice my Spanish a bit. I found out the hard way that it is best to give the body a few days of time to adjust to the heat and humidity before doing too much of almost anything. Dehydration and heat stoke come very quickly to a northerner in the Amazon!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

We are Back in Colombia. The Project Moves Forward!

I'm back in Colombia!  I have been in Bogota for the past week.  I leave this Saturday for Leticia.

My favorite restaurant in downtown Bogota, El Artistico

So what is going on with the project?  Here are selections from our last board meeting minutes with my current updates added.

  1. We have changed the registered Amazon Pueblo business from Rockland to Thomaston, Maine, USA.  The Colombian business co-op remains based in La Libertad, Colombia.
  2. Fundraising
    1. We have reached our $3,000 goal.  The monkey graph is full!
    2. We may have our next major fundraising event during June of 2015, at Water Dog Tavern in Thomaston, Maine.
    3. Amazon merchandise
      1. I am storing the unsold Amazon Pueblo merchandise at our Thomaston address.
      2. To buy for new sales: ONLY emerald stud earrings, blowguns, piranha jewelry, and stuffed piranha.  These are consistently our best sellers.  We have enough of everything else.
      3. I am selling coffee and chocolate for half price.  Should I bring back more?  Better marketing?  Should we try selling these items on EBay?  It is great coffee and chocolate.
    4. New developments
    5. University of New Hampshire
      1. We have started an informal talks with the Environmental Engineering department at UNH.  I met with them in October.  They are interested in helping with the project.  They are also a member of the Students Without Borders program.  They have two current projects at UNH for SWB, which is the max they allow.  When they are finished with one of the two, they may be interested in a formal partnership.  However, an individual student from the program is interested in volunteering in the village in January.  They are also open to the idea of jointly submitting a grant proposal.
      2. I met with a Ellsworth organization called Sustainable Harvest International, .  They have many overlaps with Amazon Pueblo.  I with the founder and a director of their organization.  They are a multinational business.  They are interested in expanding in Latin America, speaking further, and possibly in jointly submitting a grant proposal to fund work in La Libertad.
      3. I have been in contact with Vintage Plantations,,  (from New Jersey).  They are interested in buying chocolate from the Amazon.  I am going to meet with representatives in San Fransisco (10,000 trees in production) to see what we can put together.  This would help to accelerate the cacao industry in La Libertad.  However, from what I last knew San Francisco had some serious problems with their fermentation process during their production stages.
      4. I have been speaking with one of my former students from Colombia.  (He actually read all of the website!)  He has graduated from college with a degree in mechanical engineering, and currently working for a French firm in Bogota.  He is eager to help with the project.  I met with him this week in Bogota.  He may also know some of my other former students who may be willing to help.
      5. The Chisholm Group,, has offices in Washington DC and Bogota.  They have contacts in Colombia that may help with the project.  I spoke with them and have been in communication until September.   I have not had any further contact with them since.  I plan to stop by their office in Bogota this week to see what is going on.
      6. I have spoken with the founder of Maps for Good,  He is interested in the Amazon project and gave me some good tips.  To proceed with many of our development plans we need some good maps.  In the interim I have Photoshopped some Google maps with fairly good detail and applied them to vinyl.  These should help with jungle navigation from La Libertad to Leticia.  I may also get an official topographic map of the Leticia/La Libertad region, but to get these I need permission from the Colombian military.
    6. Board meeting in January
      1. Our director positions (for our four officers) have reached their two year limit this past month.  According to our bylaws we should reinstate our positions, as needed, this January.  We will discuss this, and the overall plans for Amazon Pueblo, Inc, further.
That's all folks!