Saturday, September 22, 2012

Peru/Brazil/Argentina Day 15: Video

May 17, 2012
Peru Day 15: Video

A day of exploration through the Peruvian Amazon on a boat. Awesome "Avatar" tree, bats, night sounds

Male sculpture: Class 1

It's still way too thin (needs a lot more clay!!) but this was the result of only about 2.5 hrs of work on the beginning of a male sculpture I am doing now in my sculpture class.

I'm feeling some progress already since this is most pieces "sketched" out, and this was only 1 class (of 4, though I am going to miss one of them). This was also without a model, just working from an image and using another sculpture as reference.

So I'll only spend another 6 hrs or so on this one, but excited to see if it is similar quality at the end with my female model since it'll be my 2nd one :)

I'm pretty happy with it so far. I like the shoulders and back so far, and spent a bit of time on the chest as well. Proportions are totally off and it needs a lot more "mass", but it feels like a good place to go from.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Peru/Brazil/Argentina Day 15: Amazonian birds, spiders, and more birds

May 17, 2012
Peru Day 15: Amazonian birds, spiders, and more birds

Breakfast this morning was super good, eggs, cheese, and some other random goodness. We ate quick and headed off for another glorious Amazonian adventure, spotting wildlife along the shores.

First up was a cool green Iguana, and a cool bird called an Igret. (I was calling it an "Ingrate" hah. He was cool though). We also saw a howler monkey and a sloth.

Crane taking off
One of my favourite photos of the trip
Little guy boating
Out for a spin
Green and Orange
Sloth face
We boated around some more and kept running into branches, which normally wouldn't be a big deal, but every time we hit a branch some random ants would fall into the boat. Given our experience yesterday, we were keen to stay away from ants, so we didn't really welcome them launching into our boat. No one got bitten though, so all is well!!

After seeing the sloth, we tried to get through one section of reeds and it was very thick. Teddy rev'd up the engine and we went through at full force, only to get stuck part-way through. Oscar started machete'ing us out, we backed up, and rammed through it again. This happened 3 or 4 times until we finally broke through. We saw some lillypads that can hold 20-25kg!! We tried putting one of my boots out on it, and it worked! From there we took off towards the Ceba tree (the "Avatar Tree" as Oscar called it), the largest type of tree in the Amazon.

Oscar when we got stuck in the reeds
Trying to get our boat free
Presenting the "Avatar Tree"
The tree was amazing and very impressive. As we backed away from the tree, we noticed an incredibly massive/gross spider called a "Bird-eating Tarantula" on another tree stump. Crazy!!! It was huge. Oscar said even though we were in the boat, we should not get too close as you don't want it to rear up and hit you with venom. Oy. There was also a Millipede there, straight outta Jurassic Park.
Super gross "bird-eating spider"
Huge millipede
After that excitement, we headed towards one of my favourite parts of the trip so far: San Gregorio Village.

We arrived by boat to a single platform with a bunch of incredibly adorable kids and their parents. They were very sweet and let us spend ages taking photos of them and their surroundings, it was just fascinating. They were selling handicrafts - not just junk stuff, it was really quite amazing. Oscar told us they are "artisans", and the craft skills are passed down generation to generation. There was tons of interesting beaded bracelets and jewelery, necklaces etc. They were made with local materials, which they collected. Color dyes were natural and made from plant life. I got a really cool carved snake which they had carved from fallen/collected balsa wood.

Though many different kids were selling bracelets and necklaces, Oscar assured us that it was a community operation - it didn't matter who we bought things from, the money would be shared amongst everyone. That was nice.

We saw their communal kitchen, there was a chicken walking around, and you could see how they were affected by the recent floods. There were several loose floorboards and a very thin cow and dog, living on the wooden slats with the people. There was no land available for the animals due to the flooding, so they were just living on the edges of the housing platforms. Very sad and unsettling to see.
Fish for dinner
The older kid reminded me of an older man. And he was manning the store of crafts, as well as taking care of his brother. He must have been like 10 years old max.
This girl was the sister of the two guys in the last photo I think, they seemed to have fun posing while we all messed around with our camera settings. And they grinned when we tried to speak Spanish and their native language.
They were heavily affected by the flooding. Check out the very thin cow :(
It seems a tough life, but such a happy group of kids and families... it was one of the most memorable experiences of the trip

Despite a life wrought with complications and a home at the mercy of the mighty Amazon, the kids had amazing spirits. They were smiling, clever kids, handling sales of the crafts... and doing a great job. They were interested in our cameras and patiently smiled and posed while we fiddled with our cameras, trying to best capture the moment. We looked around the village a bit, and there were many flooded areas around their homes, some places completely under water.

I talked with Oscar more about the kids because it was so moving to see them, and I wanted to know more about the life these families lead when they are so deep within the Amazon. Oscar told me a whole bunch of interesting and surprising information. The kids go to Elementary school, but most (or all) stop after that because it's too expensive to buy gas for the boats to take them all the way to Oran village, where there is a larger Secondary school. So they stop after Elementary school and start helping run the house, learn how to fish, etc.

We noticed the families were quite big, lots of kids. One of the ladies there was the mother of several of the children. Oscar said that women tend to have children quite young. There were a few adults on the platform when we were buying the crafts, but it was mostly children aged about 2-10ish.

The kids seemed well nourished (or at least, not visibly unhealthy), but it was still just a very sad moment I felt. They were very happy, smiling, excited to see us, and not pushy at all with their crafts. They were shy but also interested in us, staring and glancing over and quickly turning away when we looked over to them. It was very strange to think about how different their daily life is, compared to my own childhood experience - way different priorities.

This is the kind of experience that only comes by once in a while, and is very affecting. I was very pensive and sad after meeting them and I wasn't immediately sure why, I had to think on it a bit. I was not sad because of their lack of having my way of life - I think they seem very happy living in a way that retains and respects their tribal traditions and also allows for survival. I suppose they could choose to live in Iquitos or a bigger city, but they prefer to stay in nature along the Amazon. After thinking for some time in the afternoon, I think I was sad at the precariousness of their situation - their home at the whim of mother nature, and their schooling taking a backseat to the upkeep of the family's business (really, the survival of the family). I was sad thinking about the lack of opportunity for learning - wondering if one of these kids might have a brilliant scientific mind and would not have the chance to realize (or discover) their own potential. Maybe one might be a leader and future politician, who could increase the prosperity of his country if only given a chance to flower intellectually.

If school ends at elementary level for all of these kids, and time is better spent helping the family with the upkeep of the village/town, they will never know what gift they might give back to the world. The potential for change is so powerful with education: this reminded me a bit of the story of an NBA Player that I remember seeing a great 60 Minutes article about several years ago - I believe it was Dikembe Mutombo, born in The Congo. He went to College in the US, became a superstar NBA player, and then returned to the village he was from in The Congo to build a $29 million dollar modern hospital and do other major humanitarian work. It made me sad to think there was missing potential for some kids to grow up, move away and then one day to return and do something helpful for their community... say, improving infrastructure or coming up with ways for communities to be more resistant to wild changes in water flood levels. That certainly would be helpful, given what we'd seen on our visit.

These thoughts led me to ask Oscar about the OLPC program (One Laptop per Child), of which Peru is (I believe) the largest participant. He said those laptops are available in Iquitos, but not in this remote area of the Amazon. I wondered if they had them in this nearby Oran village, but he said no, they were currently only in Iquitos. This got me thinking, what software would help these kids learn the most? Reading about OLPC before, the fact that they have offline Wikipedia (not requiring an internet connection) is truly impressive. I bet you could learn a LOT from there, continuing to self-educate or with help from your parents if they couldn't afford to send you to school. (These laptops are paid for by the government). The laptops are solar-powered which is brilliant, and I'm not sure what the specs are on the newest ones, but solving the connectivity problem in developing countries would be an impressive feat. I know the OLPC's have webcam/video chatting capabilities - so if there was a way to get satellite or cell-tower based data transfer in remote villages like this, you could have a teacher give lessons by video conference to a wide range of kids. Kindof like Australia's "School of the Air" radio school based in Alice Springs, Australia ( - they service families in extremely remote areas, now using Satellite technology.

We had come at a particularly harsh time, it seemed. Oscar gave some hopeful details about their lifestyle when the area is not flooded. He said "during low water season, the land is very fruitful. There are plenty of things to eat, bananas, and much more."

Waving goodbye
We got back to to the lodge and had some lunch. It was great food again, and the cooks did a great job as usual. We had spaghetti and beef, sweet potato, rice, lentils, and starfruit juice. We also had an amazing Amazonian fruit called a "Charricheula", it was yellow and round and tasted like lemonade! Oscar is right, this land sure can be fruitful. :)

In the afternoon we just chilled around the lodge, and I continued to think about the emotional impact of the day. We headed out later in the afternoon, about 4:30pm, for an evening of more wildlife spotting along the Amazon. On the way to the evening spot we saw a... Huatcin!!!!!!!!!!! Also called the "Stinky Bird", or as Oscar called it, the "Prehistoric Bird"! It was so cool, and we saw 2 of them. I didn't have my zoom lens with me (darn!) but the photos still came out ok with some cropping.

Nighttime adventure
Searching for more animals
Oh look it's the Hoatzin!!!!
Hoatzin flying
Awesome wings
2 Hoatzin perched
The "stinky bird"
Really crazy to see these guys
We saw a few more sloths and I continued to take a few more photos as it got darker. We then went on a search for some Caiman. Teddy would point from the boat into an area of trees at the shore and they would ram the boat forwards very quickly, as Oscar near-lept out of the boat, trying to grab the Caiman by the face or neck?!!! Crazy!!

They searched for a long time, just looking for 2 eyes in the dark and then trying to zoom over to grab one to show us. We tried a couple of times over a hour or two but it literally slipped through his hands, Oscar showed us his slimy hands, as result of him touching the Caiman's slimy nose.

Night time
Sunset 1
Sunset 2
Still out looking for Caiman
Jess and Alicia
After a while, we headed back for dinner: fish, chicken, rice, and another strange and amazing Amazonian fruit juice - this time "Cocona" - a yellow tomato juice, with similar spicing to the famed Chicha Morada!!!! Ohhhh man it was so good.

We headed to the hammock room after dinner for some chillin', had some fire/tooth water (ha), and chatted about all of our experiences on this busy and eventful day. What a time we are having.