It took us around 3 days to actually get to our destination. By that time we were all tired and grumpy and desperately in need of a good night of sleep, a shower, and a change of clothes. Stepping off that plane in Iquitos was one of the best feelings ever. The air was warm and thick and I was IN THE AMAZON RAIN FOREST!
The lodge we stayed at was a 1 1/2 hour boat ride down river from the city of Iquitos. Heliconia and it's staff was incredible. They fed us the most delicious meals, cleaned our rooms, escorted us around the jungle, washed our clothes, extended their usual hours of electricity, and even kept watch all night long in case an animal decided to jump through our screen windows (don't worry, that never happened). It felt luxurious in the middle of the jungle.
Our very first visit to the village was unforgettable. As our boats approached the village, we saw a crowd of people on the shore waving and smiling. A group of guys were off to the side playing music for us. Everyone greeted us, shook our hands, and gave us gifts. A cute teenager walked up to me handed me a fan made of palm leaves and said in English, "This is for you". It was such a whirlwind, that I didn't even remember who that guy was or think it was cool that he knew a phrase in English.
We had Opening Ceremonies inside their community building. The school children sang songs, recited poems and danced for us. We sang a few embarrassing songs like "Getting to Know You" from The King and I, and "Fifty Nifty United States", one of those songs you sang in the 5th grade program, you know?? The whole time I had two things on my mind: "holy cow, it's hot in here. Good thing someone just gave me a fan" and "how are these kids are so stinking cute?!"
The first little boy I met was named Hevinger. He's 10 years old (if I remember correctly) and kind of shy. Yet he sort of understood my attempt at speaking Spanish and that made any feelings of unease disappear. I must have been nervous to interact with the kids because of the language barrier. Very quickly I learned that you don't really have to use many words to have fun with kids. There are so many other ways to connect. They would often laugh at my Spanish, then try to help me say the right thing.
That day I also took a little tour of the village and got to see the building they were planning on turning into the medical clinic. It was about half a mile from the community building, and a very beautiful walk. We passed many houses and properties, a farm, their only water tower, and a fish pond. The clinic building was a mess; much worse than we had imagined. It is a small building, but one of only a few cement and brick buildings that exist in the village. There were 4 small rooms and a bathroom and it even had hookups for electricity. The plaster on the walls was chipping off, the rooms were streaked with bat guano and the new ceilings were stained as well. That was my first of many lessons that things rarely go according to plan. Our plan was to paint, furnish and stock the clinic, and because of other needed repairs, we never even got all the way done painting.
After that first day in the village, I wrote in my journal:
I can already tell that I'm going to be absolutely exhausted by the end of this trip. If a few hours of singing and walking around can wear me out, I don't know what I'll do with so many days of work and construction. But still, It was so fun to meet all the people in Yanamono. I'm overwhelmed by their kindness and the warm welcome that they gave us.
It definitely was exhausting. But it was really so much more than that.
Stay tuned. There's more to come!