Saturday, May 9, 2020

Amazon Pueblo Winter/Spring update 2020: COVID-19, clones, scholarships, boats, and more!

Amazon Pueblo Winter 2019 and Spring 2020 update

Welcome to the news from our small part of the Amazon. This update is longer than most, as we are quarantined in Leticia.  We are using this time to do office work, rest, write, try new recipes, and to catch up on reading. 

The virus has arrived in Leticia, where it is spreading rapidly.  Due to years of underfunding and corruption, the health care system is not able to deal with the problems it is facing.  Likewise, the neighboring Brazilian city of Tabatinga (were there is no consistent containment policy) and the city of Caballococha in Peru are both severely overwhelmed by illness.  

La Libertad
Many people are currently sick.  The first person to have died was the village chief's mother.  She passed away Tuesday in the early morning.  As it spreads we expect to lose more people.  So far, no health services have attended the village and no testing for the virus has been done.

As bad as the virus is, and it is bad, they tell me that without help and if they are not allowed to work (they are under a military-imposed quarantine) they will starve.  Please follow our Facebook page for more updates.

Donations to help the village with the COVID-19 crisis are accepted (with zero processing charges) on our director Dianne's Facebook campaign page.  We are also setting up an alternative donation portal which we hope to be ready later this week.  This blog post will be updated with the link when it is ready.

We have also created a donation portal on, as an alternative to Facebook.

But now on to our positive news!

1: School shopping with our students in the store La Regalia, in Leticia, Amazonas, Colombia.


2: Alirio, the village chief fell in love with this boat after his first trip on the river.  He excitedly called me as soon as he got back to shore to finalize the purchase.

Aluminum boat
Thank you to everyone who donated towards our aluminum boat fundraisers (over two and a half years) and to everyone who has supported our programs. I am happy to report that we have purchased a used 24-foot aluminum boat! It is in excellent condition, has a roof, proper running lights, and a horn. It has the documents necessary to operate in Colombia, Brazil, and Peru.

3: The former owner, from Brazil, is on the left.  Next is Alirio, Chiqui, and me.  If you look closely, you can see a smile on Aliro, something that does not often happen!

The boat will be used to transport the students when needed, to go to the city for shopping, for official village business, and most importantly, for emergency trips to the hospital. This is especially needed in the time of the pandemic!  It will cut the travel time from 2 1\2 hours to just a bit over one hour.

4: Some of the village kids in front of the boat.  To avoid theft, it must be pulled out of the water and stored next to the houses every night.
This picture was taken at sunset during the inauguration and presentation of the boat to the community.

Cargo boat
Our 39-foot, three-ton cargo boat has been repaired. This March marked its third year of use. We had rotted supports and wood replaced, it was resealed, and we painted it with epoxy paint. With luck, it will last another two years. The life expectancy of an unpainted wooden boat in the Amazon is less than three years, at which time it is completely rotted.

5: Israel (the boatwright) and Hector (Gustavo’s son) are painting the boat.  Fibrous hemp and tar are used to seal the boat.

6: This is the first time we used epoxy paint.  So far, we are delighted with the results.  It covered well, dried quickly, and has held up well to the rigors of the river.  The bright yellow helps to make the boat very recognizable.

A new wooden boat
We have a new, small, and light 22-foot wooden boat which is much faster than the cargo boat. This will be used for volunteer transport and project work. It cuts our travel time and expenses by about 40%. However, its faster time means less stability on the water. We must be very alert when driving.

7: Israel also built our new boat.  He lives in the Peruvian village of Puerta Alegria, about an hour upriver from Leticia.  It took him about four days to build after he had collected the wood, nails, tar, and hemp fiber.  In the background is the Amazon River.  It was at one of its lowest levels last August.

8: We used grey epoxy paint on the new boat.  We had to drag and carry the boat about a half kilometer to place it in the river.

Motor repairs
We have a 15hp Yamaha outboard motor. It is very important that our motor remains in excellent condition. We do not want to be adrift in the river, hours from repair, due to motor failure. The gear oil in the lower unit must be replaced after 25 hours of use (every 5 roundtrips). Additionally, general maintenance of the motor must be done after every 100 hours of use (every 20 roundtrips).

9: The mechanic getting the first good look at the problem.  Luckily, it seems like no lasting damage was done to the motor.

Unfortunately, regularly scheduled maintenance has not been done with our motor. When leaving the port of Leticia on the day before the Coronavirus lockdown (a hectic time in the port), our water pump was not pumping, and the engine overheated. We were in the open river, and the waves started to toss us about. Luckily I insist that we always have at least one good paddle. Today we happened to have two. We spent the next half-hour rowing back to the port. We were very fortunate to find a mechanic. He quickly identified the problem as a broken impeller. The engine also had severe carbon buildup in the lower unit. He had a used impellor and did some quick maintenance. Then we were back on our way upriver. If we had been further away from the mechanic, the story might not have had as happy an ending. With routine maintenance, I am sure this problem would have been identified before it became a problem.

10: You can see the new impellor on the shaft at the top of the lower unit.  Note the old, broken impellor to the lower right of the shaft.  All of the impellor’s fins are missing! 


Repairs in the village

Boats and motor repairs are only part of our story. The extreme climate (daily 85F to 100F, 80-90% humidity, and frequent rain) causes organic things to rot quickly. We have made many repairs to the buildings and raised walkways. We also had to replace our stove, refrigerator, and some of our cookware. Our one new building, in addition to the bathroom, is a storage shed for tools and larger building supplies.

With time, we are trying to replace the wooden structures with concrete. Thanks to one of our volunteers, Stephan from Switzerland, we now have a new bathroom with a concrete floor and posts. Stephan also replaced the bases of our water tanks and one of the walkways with concrete. Additionally, he replaced our kitchen countertop with a stainless steel surface.

11: Floor rot which looks like a face.  Photo credits to Sarah K.

Kitchen repairs

12: In addition to replacing rotted boards and applying new paint, we also have a new stainless steel countertop.  Thank you, Stephan!

New Bathroom

With time and diligent work, we have a new bathroom! It is almost twice the size of the old one. It includes an area to shower. The floor and supporting posts are made of concrete. The walls are metal laminate in the parts most likely to come into contact with water, and treated, pre-painted wood is in the other parts of the structure.

13 Gustavo with Stephan. 

14 Edinson, who dug the pit. 

15 The inside of the bathroom.  We moved the old toilet and sink to the new bathroom.  Unfortunately, the water pipes supply the toilet leak badly.  For the moment the water pipes to the bathroom are turned off.  This is next on the list to fix.


We brought grafted clones and regular fruit trees to La Libertad and to our partners in Leticia. With the exception of three that were dug up and stolen and one that died, the other 25 are growing well.

16 Our first cloned orange tree is growing well.  When it is of sufficient size and producing well, we will use this tree to make more clones.

17 Cacao from Arcesio, the owner of Chocolates del Amazonas, a chocolate business in Leticia.  We may plant these cacao seeds and then use clippings from our cacao clone to produce more cloned seedlings.

Chocolate in the Amazon

Our first cacao tree clone in the village is producing its first significant amount of cacao. The tree is approaching the size where it may be used to make more clones.

18: This cacao pod has been broken open.

19:  Here the the fruit is being eaten.  The white part is chewed off the seed.  If the seeds were to be used to make chocolate, they would be gathered together with the white part, and placed in large wooden crates to ferment.  They would then be dried, roasted, and crushed to make chocolate.

20: Chocolates del Amazonas is a business that make chocolate candies using cacao from the indigenous villages of the Colombian Amazon.  It is located in downtown Leticia in the Parque de los Orellanos, across from the Hotel Anaconda.


All of the student scholarships (25) have been given for 2020. All of the students and their families were very happy with and appreciative of the scholarships. As of late April, all schools are closed because of the virus. The Colombian government changed the dates of their summer vacation to coincide with the national lockdown. Our students are looking forward to returning to school.

21: The scholarship students and their families arrive at 7 am in the port of Leticia.  They left their village of La Libertad at 4 am in the morning!

22:  After years of shopping, we mostly buy all of our school supplies at four different stores in Leticia.  

23: We know what the students need, and the best places to find a good mix of quality and price.

24: After shopping, we usually go out to get something to eat and drink.

25: We try to be finished with everything by 12 noon.  Then we met at the town docks for the trip upriver.  The return trip takes up to four hours.

26: One of our students reading a book with her mother.


Due to the problems we had in 2017, we decided to officially leave the village and to only support the students in the scholarship program. After changes in the community, I have been speaking with the village chief and we are planning to start formally working with La Libertad again.

27: A toast, with the chief, to the new boat of the community of La Libertad!

Our influence on the community

After eight years of intermittent time in the village of La Libertad, we have had a positive impact.
• Many more bathrooms
• Fewer children with distended stomachs due to intestinal parasites
• More houses being painted
• Less trash
• Better attendance in school
• Helped to establish a strong work ethic

In the coming years, we hope to continue our work with the help of volunteers, donors, and most importantly, the villagers.

OUR GOALS FOR 2020 / 2021

1) Student Scholarship Program
Continue the student scholarship program to support 25 students during 2021. We will start our scholarship fundraising in November.

28: Gustavo with his daughter on our last school shopping trip to Leticia.

2) Health Care Center
We will start to plan and raise funds for the first health care center in La Libertad. Amazon Pueblo would be responsible for $1,000 for labor costs, as well as transportation and project coordination. The government of the Amazon would supply the materials (other than wood), and the village would supply laborers and wood. A health care center is truly needed. There is currently an outbreak of intestinal worms in La Libertad. This makes it more difficult for our students to do well in school. We have already talked with the government and they seemed interested in the project. We hope to start construction in 2021.

3) Expanding the cacao program
We will start to do the initial planning to grow good cacao clones in the Amazon this year. For a pilot project, we estimate a monetary need of between 3 and 4 thousand dollars. So we will be busy with FUNDRAISING!

29: Our first cacao tree in the village is producing well.


Craft Fairs -We went to a craft fair in Searsport, Maine. We also attend three more fairs in Mid-Coast Maine during November.

30: Some of the handcrafts that we sell, made by the people of La Libertad.

Emeralds -We have picked up a nice selection of emerald jewelry to sell for fundraising. I am also having an emerald eternity ring custom made. The ring will include 4 carats of high-quality emeralds completely encircling a gold band. It should be finished this May.

31: Uncut emeralds of mostly exceptional color and clarity.  Some of these will be used for the ring.

32: These were offered to me as a possibility to use in the ring.  However, while their brilliance is outstanding, their color is lighter than I desire.

33:This is an example that I used when planning the ring.  I hope to exceed the quality of the emeralds shown in the picture.

Giving Tuesday 2019 – Giving Tuesday is always the first Tuesday following Thanksgiving. We would like to thank all of our donors for our most successful fundraising day to date, during which we filled all of our scholarships for 2020.

Additionally, on Giving Tuesday Facebook gave us a matching grant of $1,000 to help fund our cacao program. Thank you, Facebook!

Thank you for reading our newsletter. We will be posting more updates on our blog and Facebook page.

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