Monday - September 28th, 5:30 A.M.
6:00 A.M. - Tarapoto, Peru
Nobody's out just yet. It's our departure time for a long journey ahead of me and nobody is out just yet. It takes about fifteen minutes for everyone to show up: Me the team photographer, then Joel the accountant officer from Paz, then Ronald the Environmental Engineer, finally Ruben the Human Rights Lawyer.
Everyone's wearing pants and I've been wearing shorts the past couple days. I decided to switch to jeans, to fit the meeting we're about to attend. I think "stick to your guns" and then I see everyone wearing pants and I change my mind.
6:30(ish) A.M. - Tarapoto, Peru
We leave Tarapoto for Barranquita. I'm told it's a four hour journey so I attempt to sleep off the grogginess. Everyone else seems chipper and that's not really helping. I drown out the noise and nod off for maybe twenty or thirty minutes total. The landscape is too beautiful (and the road too bumpy) to ignore. We listen to Spanish cumbia or salsa for a bit before the music switches over to Katy Perry and I finally lighten up.
"Maybe this isn't so bad after all."
The journey takes less than two and a half hours so we get into Barranquita around 9.
9:00 A.M. - Barranquita, Peru
We're greeted by our friend Jugo and a member of the Shawi San Jose tribe. This man's name is Apu and he is telling us their water supply is contaminated. Everyone's getting sick in his village. It's a small village about a three hour hike not far from here.
|The sleepy town of Barranquita!|
First things first: Breakfast. We snag seats at a tiny restaurant right next to the town square. Breakfast is a traditional pollo a lo braso with rice and lime-juiced tomatoes. Nobody is drinking the chicha. I reach out for the pitcher. Everyone looks at me and shakes their head. In a low voice they all mutter "You don't want that." Okayyyyyy. I'll have a bottle of water then.
10:00 A.M. - Barranquita, Peru
Ruben and Ronald host the meeting here. This meeting is to support the people living in the area. A mining company has been attempting to purchase a large portion of land. This past Friday the regional government acknowledged the appeals of the population at a Town Hall meeting and announced the documents are currently in favor of these people. This mining company doesn't have strong grounds to purchase the land just yet, but there will be a new ruling at the beginning of November. Thus our meeting today. To create a plan of action to improve our odds before November.
I don't know exactly what is discussed. These people are all older men with small 'chacras' or plots of land to grow some of their own crops. They're mostly worried about their means of living. You can tell that many of them feel helpless when it comes to legal things like land titles, restitution, legal courses. They have to trust Ruben knows what he's saying and can help them.
It's like when you call tech support to help you when your computer's dead. You may have no idea how to switch out a processor, but you're trusting this person completely that they know what they're doing. Except this is on a much bigger scale, and way more important than a buggy computer.
The meeting ends. The men eat lunch together while the Paz y Esperanza team form a plan of action. We've found the Shawi San Jose pueblo on a map. We will head out after lunch and try a highway pass for a shorter trail. We eat lunch at the same restaurant we ate breakfast. Nobody touches the chicha.
1:00 (ish) P.M. - Highway between Alianza and Barranquita
The truck is stuffed with Jugo, Me, Joel, and another traveler in the back. Ruben drives with Ronald in the passenger seat. Apu and his son are in the bed watching the road for the turn off to their village.
The entire time I'm sitting in the truck thinking:
"How are we all gonna hike to this village and back in time? It's a two hour drive to the hiking spot, and that's not counting the two hours it takes to get back. What's going on?"
I fade in and out of sleep for the next two hours crammed into the backseat of this trunk. A grumpy Daniel is a sarcastic Daniel. Every now and then I wield English like a scalpel. And I kind of regret saying mean sarcastic things. Not my best moment.
We stop at a station on our way and load up with eight water bottles and four powerade bottles.
3:03 P.M. - Alianza, Peru
We have hired a mototaxi from nearby Alianza to drive through as much of the Shawi trail as possible. As we precariously lean and jostle over speed bumps and ruts I start thinking "Oh! This makes sense! We can pay the mototaxi to wait here for us and he will take us back to Alianza and we can go from there to Tarapoto tonight."
Ruben and Joel stayed with the truck. It's just me, Apu, his 7 year old son, Jugo, and Ronald.
On my person I have:
- Klean Kanteen aluminum reusable 1 liter waterbottle. Three-quarters full.
- Greek worry beads I bought while I was in Athens
- iPhone 6 (no cell service whatsoever so even if I was screwed and wanted to pay for an international call I would be physically incapable.)
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 camera with a 14-42mm lens, battery, 32mB SD Card
We slip and slide up a few steep muddy slopes I think are impossible to drive. I think "I'm gonna call this kid a dirt bike magician and thank him profusely for making my day easier."
I was thinking of the spanish word for magician when we stopped.
We are looking at a puddle too big for our ride to cross. Ronald and Jugo are weighing options. Jugo's looking at his GPS compass he has with him. Apu and son are looking out at the trail with longing. They want to be home.
I turn back from the trail and overhear Ronald telling our taxi driver to meet us here again at 7, and then he says 'in the morning'. I think "I must have translated that wrong. He means 7 at night. That makes perfect sense."
The young taxista nods his head and we head out on foot.
3:35 P.M. - Somewhere on the trail in the flatter side of the Andean Amazon
We hike the trail. It's not a hard trail. In fact, it's quite beautiful with huge green fronds, 15-20 feet tall trees, wet leaves everywhere. The light rainfall that afternoon freshens the afternoon up. I'm lost in this beautiful jungle. It's like something out of Jurassic Park.
|"Life finds a way."|
4:35 P.M. - Still on the trail
My cynical side comes out and I talk to Ronald about what we're doing here.
|Found a rainforest frog!|
I'm not mad about taking this hike. In fact, I'm all for it! I love the views. You can't see jungle like this back home. No, what I'm frustrated about and ever-so-slightly angry about is that everyone else seems to have gotten the memo except me.
Granted, nobody knew they would be visiting the village today. But at least Ronald and Jugo had the presence of mind to pack a daypack with some spare clothes, toilet paper, a towel, shampoo. Pretty much the few things they needed to survive.
What's dragging me down is: I have a small backpack for day trips. I have a multi-tool knife, a flashlight, traveling towel, spare clothes, an extra battery for my camera. All the stuff I really need is at the hotel. At my home in Moyobamba I have a traveler's hammock kit, a Zoom audio recorder and shotgun mic, a second lens, as well as a small pillow. If somebody had bothered to mention, just once, that morning "Oh hey! Maybe bring some clothes or a spare towel with you today! You never know!" I would have listened and done it. No sweat.
But I'm on an adventure! I think to myself "What would iconic legendary hero and my favorite movie protagonist do?"
|To emphasize how much I love Indiana Jones.|
Today I get to take myself seriously when I ask:
"What would Indiana Jones do?"
My frustration melts pretty quickly.
Matthew 6: 28-31, 34
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Oh this day's got plenty of trouble already. But, in all seriousness, I have water. I have clothes on my back. I even have a camera to do what I love. As long as I grab a snack and sleep somewhere I think I can manage.
Whatever anger and frustration I had left immediately melts upon seeing the village.
Our home is a school house, made of local woods with a thatch roof. Our beds are several tables all put together, flat as can be. I think "It's certainly more comfortable than sleeping on a rock."
It becomes magic hour here. The sun is setting. I snap some pictures.
8:00 P.M. - Shawi San Juan
Dinner is served! Apu's third or fourth wife (concubine as it is loosely translated) has prepared some lean chicken in a light broth with yucca. There's a bowl of dry bananas (not your normal banana) and yucca to munch on as well. All of a sudden I'm kind of glad I ate so much food earlier today. I devour my meal and leave the dinner table to take some photos of the stars.
I've always wanted to do long-exposure star photography. I love sprawling canvasses of the night sky tinged with the oranges and reds of sun down. The black landscapes dotted with crystal clear dots of light. I get to play for a good thirty minutes. I manage to take one or two decent photographs and I think "This kinda makes up for all my grumbling. I have officially been humbled."
8:30 P.M. - Shawi San Jose
We learn most of the villagers are staying the night in Alianza so it's just us, Apu, his family, and a Shawi-Spanish woman who is the village's teacher.
Ronald and I discuss the video interviews we came here to do. I come alive!
|Apu's awesome son!|
Three interviews staged with Apu, his wife, and the teacher. I go to town setting my focus, seeing the video quality with and without the iPhone light, taking test footage and checking the levels while listening for any background noises. I'm at home doing what I love.
They each tell stories.*
These people have suffered from a Chilean mining operation that has tainted their water supply. They don't have medical facilities and it's two hours to hike just to the tiny town of Alianza so they still have two hours to get to Tarapoto to find a doctor or hospital. If children get sick it can take two to three days to find help or for them to get to a doctor. Their education system is tiny. The community lives off of the land and trades mostly in bananas, Yucca, and a few other vegetables. They are a small pueblo so everyone pitches in. Very few speak Spanish.
I'm struck. If I thought I was humbled before, I'm broken now. It's a lot to take in and I'm glad I was there to record it.
We finish our interviews and say thank you/goodnight.
9:00 P.M. - Shawi San Jose
|Our bed for the evening.|
3:00 A.M. September 29, 2015 - Shawi San Jose
I wake up again from a deep sleep. Despite all odds I passed out. My back muscles are on fire. There are parts of me I didn't know that could hurt in paid. It's early and still not time to get up. I wait it out. Try a few new positions, still no luck. At least the bugs aren't flying around me anymore. An hour goes by and I conk out one more time.
5:30 A.M. - Shawi San Jose
I wake up again. Ronald's passed out. The sun's just started to rise giving everything that fresh-dew purple glow you always see. I admire it. Then I try to get up and my back seizes for a solid minute.
Very, very carefully I take my time getting up. There are too many stiff muscles in my body. I massage as much as I can while I survey my surroundings. Thank god I was wearing my glasses or my eyes would have been on fire from leaving my contacts in. Also thank god I was wearing jeans or my legs would have frozen in the night.
Ronald wakes up not long after me. We wake up Jugo, pack our bags and leave at first light. It's about 6:00 A.M. when we hit the trail. I'm still groggy and grumpy but moving has warmed me up and the exercise drove away the stiffness.
|Saying goodbye to the Shawi San Jose - for now!|
We make it back to our starting point. I realize we're supposed to get a mototaxi ride back to Alianza from here. We wait about 30 minutes and nothing shows up. By now the morning has warmed up considerably and I've got about 1/4 of a liter of water in my bottle left. Ronald and Jugo are chipper than ever. We make our way through the remaining trail. My cynical side sets in. I'm sweaty, muddy, and sarcastic. At this point I separate myself from the two. A conversation is the last thing I want to have right now. Spanish might completely fry my brain and make me a vegetable so I focus on photographing the area and of some of the logging activities going on here.
8:20 A.M. - Highway between Alianza and Tarapoto
We made it! The highway is here! Of course my ridiculous hopes that Ruben and Joel would somehow be there holding plates of eggs, bacon, and orange juice are dashed. We hop on a colectivo back to Tarapoto. I fade in and out of consciousness smiling to myself.
"This," I think "this is what Indiana Jones would do."
10:15 A.M. - Tarapoto, Royal Kerkus Hotel, Peru
We make it back to the hotel. I stumble into my room. It kind of hurts to walk I'm so sore. I moan, strip off my clothes, and take a long shower. My grumpiness doesn't fade just yet, but considering I have the day off it gets better.
I got to rest and relax the rest of the day.
It was a long trip. It was an incredibly taxing trip. I was unnerved and completely unmanned. I won't lie. I almost broke down on the hike to the village. It might have been the hardest trial by fire I've had to face yet. I thank God I have practice in hiking trails, conserving water, photographing nature, and making the best of a bad situation. Boy Scouts, Frisbee games, road trips. I managed to come out of this one okay.
I may have had it rough, but this is people's lives. Apu and his son hike that trail maybe seven or eight times a week to get into town for something. If somebody gets hurt and breaks an arm or leg it's four hours to the nearest hospital. I'm not staring into a corner of the world unseen by previous human eyes and discovering a new tribe. No. I'm staring into a corner of the world humanity has ignored, that could just as easily have been somewhere else in the world.
This was about applying myself: mind, body, soul to the work of advocacy, care, and human connection. This was God's work and it was God's plan. In the process of living a lifelong dream of mine (I've always wanted to live an Indiana Jones-esque adventure) I got to help Apu, his son, his wife. I may have been pushed and tested to my absolute limits but God knows I can do it.
He trusts me to do the work I was sent to do. I trusted in him to take care of me. You know what? we didn't let each other down.
- Daniel Pappas -
* I can't post the videos to the internet just yet. I need permission from my boss before I do so. Some of it is in Quechua and all of it is in Spanish so I will have to subtitle them all when I get back to Moyobamba.