NEW VIDEO: Booking it along the Amazon with PACTOUR

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DVD Sleeve. Click on image to read it. 
UPDATE: A DVD of this tour is available Feb 2012 from Lon Haldeman, (Original 2004 DVD: 16,000 Feet on a Friday)
Currently, this DVD is an important fundraiser and not sold as a separate item, but given as a gift for donations of $100 or more.
Donations for these Peru Projects (administered by FPC Global Outreach) are always welcome and appreciated. As you can see, they are put to good and immediate use!
To donate, contact Lon Haldeman,  ABOUT THIS TOUR | LON'S BLOG

Delivering books to remote schools along the Amazon.

I'M JUST BACK from my second expedition in Peru with cycling legend and tireless philanthropist Lon Haldeman of PACTOUR.

The 17-day, non-stop itinerary involved several charitable projects:  a shopping trip for a home for abused and homeless girls;  delivering books to remote schools along the Amazon;  visiting two schools that PACTOUR built near the jungle town of Iquitos; inviting street kids to an impromptu meal, and buying supplies for the Puerto Ocopa orphanage that we stumbled upon back in 2004. Lon has led this same trip almost every year for the past decade, so it's become an ongoing concern, attracting donations from many of his cycling clientele.

Nuns look after the 45 kids at the Puerto Ocopa Orphanage where we took food and clothing for 3 months.
My first visit, in 2004, resulted in a feature-length video, 16,000 Feet on a Friday: Biking the World's Highest Paved Road which portrayed, among other things, my gasping, slightly blue mug as I tried to bike over that 16,000 foot bump at a centipede's pace ... here's 1 minute of gasping for you.

16,000 feet ... ohhh, my head feels like lead ... 
This year, we drove it, while some of the crew biked sections. Without the gradual acclimatization afforded by biking at a steady 5-6 mph, we all got a little bit sick, despite ingesting No-Doz, Coke, Mate tea, loads of coffee and unbearable amounts of sleep-depriving Latino rap courtesy of every taxi driver's mp3 player.

1. Shopping for the Chosica Girl's Home. A generous Dutch non-profit runs "The House of Gina," a girls home in the attractive town of Chosica, 35 km outside Lima. It's a safe haven for abused and homeless niƱas, and our contribution was to take them all shopping to buy some treats.
What are little girls all over the world made of? Pink diamonte shades! 
Gina was a little girl who sadly drowned. The home was named in honor of her.
Little Aracely (below), who Lon met 6 years ago in the remote, dusty town of Yurinaki, is now one of the local PACTOUR crew. Although she has a loving mother, her family are very poor and she is lucky to have secured a spot at the House of Gina.

Aracely, now one of PACTOUR's local crew members - is a terrific interpreter.
The cyclists in the crew included four Americans and two Peruvian competitive cyclists - sisters Alessandra and Samantha, currently national champions in their age groups. The cyclists leapfrogged the rest of the crew in taxis over the 3-day stretch from Chosica to Tarapoto, the jumping off point for boat trips along the Amazon and its tributaries.

Peruvian women's cycling champ Alessandra Davila

2. Delivering books to remote schools along the Amazon 

Buying books in Lima, for the jungle schools of the Amazon
An unforgettable segment of the trip was the 3-day, 2 night banana boat cruise from Tarapoto to Iquitos along the Amazon and confluences.

View from the Eduardo VIII "banana boat" at 6am, somewhere along the Rio Amazon.
12 bundles of goodies await six lucky schools. 
Being the "first class" passengers at $US60 per person, we slept in cabins and hammocks on the top deck and were served three really quite decent meals a day, prepped by the cook in the deck below.

The regular class passengers on the deck below vied for hammock space and brought Tupperware eat meals from the kitchen.
After bundling the books into 6 piles of 2 packages - books and writing/drawing materials - we were dispatched by motorized dugout canoe at various points along the Amazon, popping up in remote villages and surprising a number of tiny schools with our humble offering.

The teachers and kids were surprised - and delighted - at their windfall from the "extranjeros."
Escuela Esperanza: 71 kids. 
Interestingly, some officials from the local Dept Education happened to be on the boat doing their rounds of inspecting and testing teachers in remote schools. Apparently, students must attain a certain level of skill in certain subjects or the teacher gets shown the door (if there is a door) - according to Vioricka, our local Director of Operations.

3. Visiting the Jack Wolff and Joseph Pulley Schools

These two schools, built entirely from donations collected by PACTOUR, are located at kilometer 9 and 46 outside the northern jungle town of Iquitos. The Jack Wolff School, with almost 600 kids, prepared a grand welcome of placards, dances, poetry readings and food. Then the teachers got down to business to discuss their needs for the coming 2012 school year.
Touching messages everywhere you looked at the Jack Wolff School.

Lon listens to teachers articulating needs and desires - sporting uniforms, a powerpoint projector, laptops ... 
The kids at the remote Joseph Pulley School. Many walk 1 hour from further inside the jungle to class each day,
The Joseph Pulley School is a hot, dusty, 4km hike into the jungle. It was named after the father of an avid PACTOUR cyclist., Brenda Pulley. The site consists of the school building, a hut for the teacher, a hut for the live chickens, a cooking stand and a river nearby. The teacher, Vioricka's mother, spends 5 days a week living in these spartan conditions, and returns the city of Iquitos on weekends.  Many of the children walk 1 hour or more to the school from deeper in the jungle each day to attend class.
A hot 4km hot and sweaty hike in and out of the school. Douse your socks with repellent!
As remote as it was, the Jack Pulley school cooked everyone wonderful meal of duck confit, rice, pickled onions,  plantain and slices of the sweetest pineapple.

4. Street kid parties

Like a "flash mob" event, we hosted two spontaneous meals at a local restaurant for kids who looked like they had nowhere to go home to. We handed out individually numbered invitations and asked them to show up at the restaurant at 6.30pm. A sign that Peru is become more affluent: some kids refused the invitation, and those who accepted looked fairly well looked after "which hasn't been the case in previous years," said Lon.
The little boy selling snacks took time off work to attend the party. 
Not all the kids were particularly poor ... this fairly affluent girl (left) sticks by her less affluent friend.
I wondered if this benevolent gesture might be misinterpreted by onlookers, given that my mother always told us "not to accept pollo from strangers." My concerns were laid to rest by a local guide:
"Peruvians are accustomed to foreigners stopping buy and doing kind things," he said.

5. The Orphanage at Puerto Ocopa

The Orphanage is at the end of a spectacular and often treacherous 300+ mile route from Lima to Satipo over the 16,000 foot Ticlo pass.

It's come a long way since we first visited in 2004, when a single nun looked after 85 kids whose parents had been killed (apparently) by guerillas. At the time, all cooking was done over wood, each child had one set of clothes, which were washed by standing and soaping themselves in the river and rain - and there was no electricity.

Thanks to non-profits from France and Spain the center now has running well water, electricity, three fridge/freezers and even a TV room.

Gabriele Garcia, who lives year round at the Orphanage, runs the Children of Rio Tambor Foundation.
He's made the well operational so that the Orphanage now has running water.
The orphans received clothes, shoes and personal hygiene items as well as 3 month's supply of food.
6. Cycling

Our crew included Peruvian champion cyclists Alessandra and her younger sister Samantha. Read about their rise to fame here.

Christian of the many beautiful and charismatic kids we met in Peru.

Crayolacam 2.0: I used a SONY DSC-HX9V and a Canon S100 point and shoot cameras for this project.

Thanks so much to gun cameraman Johnnie Behiri, who I've met through his spectacular review of the SONY DSC-HX9V on Vimeo. He provided life-saving online help in mastering the impressive little camera which shoots 1080p/60fps - yet it's still just a point & shoot. I really need hi-def video but with one-handed operation (the other on the handlebars of a bicycle) and this really did the trick!

More pictures on my Facebook page here
Read about this tour


Mary Ann Sprung said…
What a great adventure and for an even greater cause - helping impoverished, Peruvian orphans!!!

Awesome work!!!
Valeri said…
You are amazing Lynette! Great cause and great story!

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