In light of all that is happening in the world, I want to say first that I pray you and yours are well. This is a very uncertain time for so many, and I know we are all reeling from the unexpected changes.
While schools are closed and we are all encouraged to distance ourselves socially, I am using this time to do all of the things I like to say I don’t have the time for. One of those is writing, and I am happy to be able to continue sharing my experiences in Peru with all of you.
This is the second post in a three-part series; if you haven’t already, I encourage you to go back and read about the journey. Here, I will share about the place, and finally, I will share about the best part of Peru: the people.
I have done more research on Peru as a country now than I did before I went. This was an intentional decision on my part. In this age of information, the magic of going to a new place is often lost. Don’t get me wrong – I love Google and Wikipedia just as much as the next person, but when I signed up for this trip, I wanted to fully immerse myself in the wonder and mystery of a new adventure. Much of the information I share with you here is from Miguel A. León’s article on Peru, found in the World Book Encyclopedia.
There are many interesting things to note about the country of Peru. It is the third largest country in South America (after Brazil and Argentina). The western coast of the country, along the Pacific Ocean, “consists of a desert even drier than the Sahara” (León). This is where Lima, the capital city, sits.
We flew through Lima and the airport was a bustling hub of international travel. While in line for immigration, I noticed people with passports from all over the world – countries in Europe, Asia, and North America. I didn’t get to see the city, but I would love to have the opportunity to do so in the future.
East of the desert is the Andes Mountains, which runs the entire length of the country, north to south. In this region you find Machu Picchu, the remains of a 15th-century Inca citadel. Lots of tourists were leaving Lima to fly to Cusco to make the journey to Machu Picchu, which I am sure is well worth the effort.
East of the Andes Mountains lie rainforests and jungles. This is where I was, tucked away at the headwaters of the Amazon River. Jungle life is very different from city life, and I am confident that the culture I experienced in the jungle is much different than the rest of Peru.
Peruvians refer to this large region of the country as La Selva, the jungle, there is a general understanding of what you have seen and done when you have been to la selva. It is spoken of with great respect for both the place and the people, as life is not easy in la selva. Since I shared the little I got to experience of Iquitos in my last post, I will focus on village life here.
We spent five days in the village 9 de Octubre, which belongs to the Cocama people (more about them in my next post!). Villages along the river are often named after the date they were recognized by the Peruvian government, which means this village was recognized on October 9th, though I am not sure what year.
Life in the village is very simple. First of all, I want to say that this trip would not have been possible without the efforts of Sam and Marcie, a retired couple who live in 9 de Octubre. Out of their own sacrifices and those of the people who support The Cocama Project, they built a facility that could host our group of twelve and the thirty-plus attenders of the conference.
This facility was built by the people and materials of 9 de Octubre – pure lumber and palm trees. Even the trek from the river bank up to the village was made easy by a sturdy staircase. This staircase, along with the path that leads to the compound and from the compound to the village, is accompanied by a thick roof similar to that of the boat we were on, made of woven palm leaves and minimal sheets of metal to direct the run-off from the rain.
We were fortunate to have wooden walkways to each of the buildings and then down to the village, which made getting around very easy. For many of the pastors and their families who attended the conference, this type of facility is a resort compared to how they live day-to-day. Here, in this compound, we had toilets, running water, and screened in quarters for sleeping and for meeting. This is more than almost all of the villagers live with daily.
Most villagers live in homes made of wood or brick with thatch roofs. These homes are typically open-air – windows and doors are not a “thing” in la selva. Villagers bathe in the river and use grassy areas behind their house as restrooms. Life is very communal, and you can find most people sitting on their porch or congregating on the soccer field or on the pathway along the river.
From what I was told, women run the homes and raise the children, and some also operate small stores with a few basic supplies. The men find work harvesting lumber, building, hunting,and farming. Some women make jewelry and other hand-crafted items to sell, and many men travel to and from Nauta (the nearest town) and Iquitos (the nearest city) to buy, sell, or trade goods or find other work.
There is a school in 9 de Octubre and in many of the villages. While we were there, kids were on summer break, but I got to peek in some of the classrooms. The school I saw was made of concrete, divided into several classrooms that are equipped with chalkboards and desks. Teachers usually come from the city, though there is an effort to raise up teachers from the village themselves. Most of the education is bilingual, given in the native language of the local tribe and in Spanish. I would love to know what a typical school day looks like as materials – especially books and school supplies – are very scarce in the jungle.
The Cocama people work hard and play hard. When walking in the village, I noticed men building boats using little more than hand saws and nails. Women played volleyball with a makeshift net, children ran around inventing games, and men played soccer every night until the sun set or the electricity was turned off. The village runs a generator to provide electricity from 6:00pm to 9:00pm every day, but that is the extent of their power supply.
One thing life in la selva will do is to remind you of how small you really are. The sky is vast, the river is the source of life for all who live there, as well as the only way in and out of the jungle. The views are breathtaking. Villagers live among wildlife we typically find in zoos – parrots, monkeys, jaguars, and more. I didn’t get to see too much wildlife because of the number of people gathered in one place while I was there, but I could hear it day in and day out. I did see a number of insects I never knew existed that looked like they came straight out of the Men in Black movies.
Those that choose to leave the path and safety of the village usually do so with a machete in hand due to the threat of deadly animals and poisonous snakes. Some of the pastors slept in the middle of the room to avoid being the first in the line of fire should a jaguar choose to visit during the night. Others warned Sam of a 12-foot poisonous snake they were certain was hanging out behind his house.
In many ways, life in la selva is very difficult. However, in just as many ways, it is also very beautiful. Being so far away from home forced us to disconnect and focus on one another. Internet access was spotty and only happened a couple of times while we were there. Our day started when the sun rose and ended when the sun set, though oftentimes our group broke the “quiet after 8:00pm” rule by staying up to fellowship. Though I knew those with whom I traveled beforehand, I got to know them even better and in a different way than I ever could have in the States. I also got to meet a wide range of people from all over the jungle – at least five tribes were represented at the conference that week.
I left the jungle tired and slightly overwhelmed, but also with a full heart and a host of memories that I will treasure for a long time to come. I’m finding it difficult to fully articulate my experiences from that week, but I want to thank you for allowing me to share what I can in these posts. I can’t wait to share more about the people in my next post.
León, Miguel A. “Peru.” World Book Advanced, World Book, 2020, http://www.worldbookonline.com/advanced/article?id=ar424560. Accessed 18 Mar. 2020.