Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Winding Down

We’re in our last week here in Iquitos so the pace of things has really slowed down (and thank god, we love the down time) We’re having more and more lectures here at the hotel and getting more time to read and enjoy ourselves. I’ll leave out the details of the lectures (there’s far too much information to explain anyways). On Monday afternoon, we all went to see another healer, only this time one that specialized in plant roots. I found this experience to be much more enjoyable than the one with the Spiritulista. He did individual session with all of us, just like the Spiritulista did, but used a lot more chanting and song than she did. (just a note for this story: he’s completely blind)When it was my turn to go up to him, before I even got up to him, he asked how old I was. This was a little strange because I’m the youngest of the group by far, and he hadn’t asked anyone else any questions. He did his rituals on me and afterwards singled me out again and said I have a small pulse in my chest beneath my sternum. The professors and I had several conversations with the healer, his wife, and our translator, but still couldn’t figure out exactly what that means. The “cure” for it though is a tea made from a readily available bark, so regardless of whether or not it’s something we would consider real, we’ll make the tea.

On Tuesday we were going to a botanical garden at the edge of Iquitos to have one last outing with our plant expert. No one really wanted to go, but Frank promised we would be back by 11:30-12 at the latest… nothing too extensive. We took a bus out to the garden, and were surprised to see that this was definitely not a garden by our sense. It was typical primary jungle… with a 2’ wide path cut into it…. Great… Not pleased, we took our mud boots out of the bags they went into after Isula, and prepared for a jungle trek. (NOTE: Juan took all of our boots and was supposed to clean them/dry them out… that totally did not happen.) Now wearing wet boots and even less pleased, we head off into the “garden”. The way these walks normally work is Juan leads, and whenever he finds a plant/tree of interest, he will stop, describe it to Kat in Spanish, she translates, and we move on. Today however, Juan would stop, describe it to Kat, Kat would have an extended conversation with Juan about it, and we may/may not get a sentence or two translated for us. Great fun… especially when today of all days the weather decided to warm up again so we’re sweating like mad in our jungle wear and surrounded by mosquitoes. This pattern continues for quite some time, until eventually we get to a fork in the path. Kat tells us that the (short) path we intended to take was really really muddy because of the recent rain, so Juan was going to take us a different (ridiculously fcking long) way, and by different way she meant he was going to cut a new trail with a machete. So now not only do we not want to be here, but we’re wearing wet boots, sweating like crazy, and getting bitten my mosquitoes all while bush whacking our way through the jungle. This continued for the next 3.5 hours…. At least after the two hour mark Kat started to understand that we no longer cared about plants, and we stopped pausing so often. When we finally came out into a field I was so relieved. Seriously for a while in there, I doubted that Juan had any idea where we were going. It was so nice to be back out in the open. We got on the bus and headed back to the hotel, when we finally got there, it was 3:30… FOUR HOURS LATER than we were told. Seriously the only good thing about that trip was that I got some awesome pictures of poison dart frogs.

One more funny story before I go… Dr. Mckenna lectured tonight (Wednesday) and then joined us for dinner afterwards. 10 min or so after we sat down, Frank got a call on his cell phone. He says,”Hey Dennis, Kat’s on the phone wondering where you are. You’re supposed to lecture in 10 minutes.”
Dennis, looking confused, takes the phone and this is what we heard:
“Where is it?”
“Oh, what am I lecturing on?”
“I have to do it in Spanish?!” (His Spanish is horrible)

By this point we’re all laughing too hard to hear anything else. You think our professors would know their schedules, but in Peru, anything can happen.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Nauta and the "Vaccine Clinic"

On Thursday morning we left for an overnight trip to a small town called Nauta. (I like to think of Iquitos as Syracuse and Nauta as Massena.) It’s about 2 hours away by bus and the only town connected to Iquitos by road. We got there around 11, dropped out bags off at the hotel, and got in a boat to travel 2 more hours to a small remote village. The reason for this ridiculously long and uncomfortable day of travel?; to see the place where the Ucayali and Maranon Rivers come together to officially form the mouth of the Amazon River. During the bus/boat rides to get there… most of us were questioning why anyone in their right mind would come all this way just to see two rivers meet, but once we got there we changed our minds. Our boat pulled up to shore and we walked up to the village. Being winter in the southern hemisphere, the Amazon is currently experiencing its dry season, and the river has nearly reached its yearly low. This means that there is a ton (about a quarter mile) of exposed river bed to trek across. Had this been the rainy season, the boat would have pulled up right next to the village. For some perspective, the river covers 3 times more land at its highest compared to at its lowest. The riverbed will be exposed for about 4 months so the people have planted rice to take advantage of the extra space. Most people remarked how this was their first time walking through a rice paddy, however (un?)lucky me, having been to Korea, this was far from my first time, although I never thought I’d do it again. The village has built a large tower that you can climb in order to get a better view of the surrounding area, including the rivers. It cost 10 soles per person to climb the tower, which seemed like a lot, but it’s the village’s only source of income so it’s a small price to pay for their well being. We spent a long time at the top, taking pictures and enjoying the view. The river and the jungle just seemed to stretch infinitely in all directions.

After the tower and on our way to lunch, we met this guy who has a pet sloth!! Her name was Elizabeth, just like me, so of course I had to hold her and get a ton of pictures. She is adorable. Sloths are so sleepy, and move ridiculously slowly – every stereotype you’ve ever heard about them is true. When I took her, she reached out her arms to me like an infant would, and always wanted to have a hand wrapped around at least one of your arms or fingers. The only down side to this is that she had 2 inch nails on all four appendages. Even so, I wanted her… but the guy wouldn't sell her. :(

We got back to Nauta around 6 and had the rest of the night off. There was a big political rally going on in the town square so there were lots of people out and music all night long, lots of fun. Some of us ate dinner at this restaurant where the menu was literally 1. A whole chicken, 2. A half a chicken, 3. A quarter of a chicken… with plantains, fries, or rice. Despite the limited menu, it was delicious. We all ordered half chickens, and seriously got half a chicken… not half a chicken breast, half a chicken, legs and all.

On Saturday it was FREEZING! We're all in pants and long sleeves, and jackets... it felt like winter. :( It wouldn’t be so bad if we could spend the day curled up in bed, but we went on our last boat trip.... 2 hours up river. SO COLD!! It was to another village to bring supplies and do a vaccine clinic. This trip was supposed to be the highlight of the trip, we were all looking forward to it, there were 10 extra doctors/nurses coming with us, and none of the profs had ever done one before. The funny thing was... there were no vaccines... Seriously we had a vaccine clinic with no vaccines? I don't know, but it's Peru and I've learned to roll with the punches here... nothing surprises me anymore. We still spent the day there doing clinic work like we did in Padre Cocha so it wasn’t as if the day was wasted. After the clinic and lunch we played a soccer game with the local kids and as always, it was a ton of fun. (Actually, it was even better because it was so cold, the exercise felt good.) Then it was back in the boat for 2 more miserable freezing cold hours back to Iquitos. It was Saturday night and we had planned on all going out… but because it was so cold most of us opted for a night in instead. I ended up wearing pants, socks, and a hoodie to bed…. it’s wrong for it to be this cold this close to the equator.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Relaxing at the Fitz Caraldo

I’ve been rather neglectful of my blog, but the pace of things really slowed down this week so there wasn’t as much to write about.

Sunday was a delightfully slow day full of naps in hammocks, tanning by the pool, and some quality book time. It was also the day of the world cup final, so we set up the projector and watched it together where we usually have lectures. By dinner time we felt rested enough to venture outside the hotel and headed downtown for dinner at a place called Pizza Hot… yea it was absolutely a rip off of Pizza Hutt, but the food was good and it was nice to have something comfort food.

Monday was another slow day. We spent all day out by the pool again, went downtown to the market, and had a lecture in the evening. The market we went to was a smaller one, but by far one of my favorites. It’s set up basically like a covered strip mall, three sides are occupied by artisan stalls, and the middle has a small snack bar and places to sit. We’ve been there before, but I never get tired of walking through it because new things appear all the time. I’m also fond of the numerous cats and puppies roaming around. What could be better than shopping while holding adorable animals?! That evening’s lecture was done by Vance Gheller on the use of ritual in both folk and western medicine. He is a photographer who has travelled all over the Americas to observe healers at work. It was an interesting lecture in that he used comparative photography to show the similarities between western and traditional healing. His major conclusion from all his research is that the most important factor in effective treatment regimens is belief by the patient that it will work (that is where ritual comes in). Doctors from all different cultures have developed treatment rituals and follow them because their patients believe in their effectiveness. He has done/read several studies showing that upwards of 60% of all medicine has nothing to do with treatments or medicine, and everything to do with positive outlooks and the placebo effect. I haven’t decided if I find this data discouraging or not… On one hand, it suggests that my drug knowledge is completely useless because it doesn’t work 60% of the time anyways, but on the other hand, it gives me an important position as a medical professional in that I am a vital part of convincing patients that their treatments are effective.

Tuesday and Wednesday were bad days for everyone. It was ridiculously hot out, and we had just essentially had two days off so we didn’t feel like doing anything. The icing on the cake was that both days were chocked full of lectures… Lecture days are good when we’re awake, but horrible when we don’t want to do anything. All of our energy goes into staying awake and we don’t really retain anything. Also, half of the lectures were done in Spanish and translated for us; this makes them very long and tedious. On Wednesday we had a lecture in the morning, the afternoon off, and two more in the evening. During our afternoon break, a bunch of us girls wanted to do a workout before going to jump in the pool. We laid towels out on the floor and spent a good half hour doing core, butt, and legs. When we finished, Natalie, Amanda, and I laid on the floor while Sharin stood up to stretch. She bent over, as if to touch her toes, and then stood up to and reached toward the ceiling…. The last thing I saw was her stretching up out of the corner of my eye, and then I heard a WHACK!, and Natalie screamed. Amanda and I looked over to see Sharin flat on the floor, eyes open and glazed over. Natalie got Sharin to come to while I ran to get water and Amanda went to get Frank. We moved her into a sitting position and were shocked to see a rather large pool of blood on the floor where her head had just been. I grabbed one of the towels to put on her wound, and we made Sharin start talking to check her cognitive function. Frank arrived, evaluated her, and thankfully everything seemed to be fine. It seems that she was dehydrated and stood up to quickly which caused her to faint, so besides the rather LARGE cut on her scalp, she was fine. She ended up needing stitches (which involved shaving her head where the cut was… thankfully Sharin is really easy going) and now has to wear a gauze headband for the next few weeks. (again, thankfully Sharin can laugh at herself.?

Frank’s response to all of this was… “ My god guys, I try and make it so you have to do as little as possible here, and what do you go and do? Workout! Why can’t you be lazy like the rest of us?!”

Sunday, July 11, 2010


On Thursday we left for a three day/two night trip into the jungle. Dr. Jose Cabanillos, a friend of Dr. Mckenna’s owns a 1000 hectare chunk of the rainforest that he uses for medical research. It’s about 2 hours up the Amazon from Iquitos. He built a small compound that can host about 20 people and we went to stay there to experience the rainforest. (tons of pictures of the compound – called Isula – on facebook.) Isula has several pets, a beautiful cat that looks like a miniature ocelot, two toucans, and a green parrot. All of them have free range of Isula, so they randomly appear next to you on a bench, or on the railing to your cabin sometimes. Not a big deal with the cat, but the birds scare you the first few times. It’s so hot out in the jungle, but there is a dock off which everyone goes swimming. A lot of us were timid(me included) about getting in the water because it’s very cloudy and we know there are animals in there. The doctor swears it’s not dangerous though, because the piranhas swim much deeper than we were swimming…. Real reassuring. The fact that they swim deep did not stop him from later taking a dead snake(poisonous one he found on the property btw), slitting its throat, and dangling it in the water to try and attract the piranhas… all while some people were still in the water swimming! That was the last straw for me, no more swimming; I’ll stick to cold showers. That night a few of us went piranhas fishing with some of the workers, but we didn’t catch anything. The water was too high and our poles didn’t reach down to where they swim. It wasn’t a loss though because the experience. We went in a handmade canoe that had been carved out of a single tree and used poles that were literally shafts with some fishing line tied on. The water and the sky were beautiful, and it was so peaceful to be out there without any noise or commotion.

On Friday morning we went on three hour walk in the jungle with Juan Ruiz, the plant expert. We all got dressed in full jungle regalia, long sleeve shirt, long pants, soccer socks, and rubber boots that come up to the knee. You want to cover as much skin as possible to avoid bug bites and scratches from foliage. We piled into canoes and took a 30 minute ride through the lakes smaller tributaries to higher ground. Now when I say small tributaries, I mean SMALL! We were sailing through maybe 5 foot water that was at most 30 feet wide. There were trees hanging over the water, and places where lily pads had completely covered the width of the water. (There are some pictures on fb) It was such a cool experience. It’s one of those places that you see in movies and read about in books, but I actually got to go there. When we arrived, we had to scale a 20 foot bank, and then we followed a rough trail into the jungle. We had 4 guides on top of Juan so luckily finding our way wasn’t an issue. Juan is a gifted man; he could name every plant/tree we passed, its scientific and common name, its herbal and industrial uses, and any notable compounds it contains. Juan is really at home in the rainforest so we learned a lot during that walk.

One time, Juan walked up to a tree and started telling us about it. He moved a branch on the ground and suddenly got a look of pure terror on his face. I heard a hum/buzzing sounds, and next thing I know our teachers are yelling at us to RUN! We didn’t hesitate; if Juan is scared, it’s definitely something we don’t want to be around. We ran for about 1/8 of a mile before we stopped to regroup. It had been a large ground nest of jaguar wasps, and enormous and very painful (as some of the group found out) wasp to encounter. No lasting harm was done, and we had first aid supplies and an epipen with us in case anyone was allergic to anything so we were prepared. This is one instance that shows how a group of pharmacy students is an ideal group to take to this part of the world – we’re always prepared for medical emergencies.

We got back and immediately stripped down to shorts and t-shirts. I don’t think any of us had ever sweated that much in our lives. All our clothing was drenched. We were going on a second walk that evening and hoped there would be time for stuff to dry but no such luck. When the humidity is chronically at/above 70% nothing ever dries. (No worries, it was raining when we left for the second walk so we traded wet shirts for rain jackets anyways.) The night walk was a shorter one through lower jungle to see an approximately 1,000 year old tree. Dr. Mckenna compared it to the tree of life from avatar. We set out on the trail and about 5 minutes in ditched the raincoats – we were wet from sweating so what harm could a little rain do? A few minutes later the trail turned to liquid boot sucking mud and we were thankful for our boots. A few minutes after that the trail became flooded (because we were in the lower jungle..) with progressively deeper water. At its highest the water came up to my waist… and yes we walked through it. So much for the boots keeping us dry, they were filled with water in no time. It was useless to empty them out too because just when you did, the water would get deep again and fill them back up. This sounds as if it would be miserable, but I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s one of those times when the situation is so horrible, that it just becomes fun. We were all soaked, and covered with mud, but who cares? We’re in the Amazon! The one time the water became not so fun is when the guide at the front got attacked by a sting ray! (I didn’t know they lived in fresh water, but nothing about the jungle surprises me anymore.) It surprised him, but he had a machete and quickly sliced/diced the ray to pieces. We were 2/2 on the day with guides who had been afraid in the jungle… not a good record. We proceeded with caution and when the next ray attacked, the guide was ready and took care of it with no problem. When we got to the tree, it was clearly well worth the walk there. The base of the tree was easily 15-20 feet in diameter and it jutted majestically up into the sky. It was sitting in the middle of a clearing in about 2 feet of water (high enough to fill our boots lol). The tree was so large that no other trees could survive within a 40 foot radius of it. The fact that it owned the space made it seem even larger. I didn’t bring my camera on this walk because of the rain but other people have plenty of pictures that will be posted later.

Saturday morning was supposed to be rest time, but the workers at Isula invited us to their village to see how they live. We got in the canoes again and took a 5 minute ride to their village. The people there were SO happy to see us. It seemed like half the town had come down to the water to greet us. We walked up to see the rest of their village and at the center of town was a soccer field. As I’ve learned to expect, they didn’t have a ball. The kids usually play with oranges, or ball up numerous plastic bags. Luckily, once again Frank had brought a soccer ball, which of course the kids got to keep. The guys spent the next hour and a half playing soccer with the little boys. For not having a ball to practice with, they are really good. While they were doing that, I was walking around the village taking some pictures. There was a shy group of children standing together, and I asked them if I could take a picture. Immediately after that I had a group of like 60 kids mobbing me. They rarely get to see cameras and love to get their pictures taken. They especially like the digital cameras because after I took the picture I could show it to them. I took some group shots, and then had an idea; why not take a bunch of group shots, friends, siblings, parents and children, etc…. print them in the states, and send them back down. That way they could keep them! I asked Frank and he said it was totally possible. When the villagers found out what I wanted to do, they went craaaazy, especially the kids. They wanted so many pictures taken. It was a lot of fun for me because the kids took me all over their town to take pictures, see things, and show me how they live. When we finished the photo shoot, we went back to the soccer field, and the guys were exhausted from running in the sun. They proposed that we play another game with the Peruvian women vs. our women. We accepted and had such a good time. We lost miserably, but had so much fun doing it, and we could see the villagers really appreciated us coming. Now thoroughly drenched in sweat (yet again) we went back to Isula, packed up, and went home.

Since we had Sunday off, a group of us decided to go out to a discotek. As usual, we all had a blast. With the exchange rate, everything is incredibly cheap in Peru, which means no guilt about spending money. The place we went was heavy into Salsa and had a live band and dancers that went all night. What was especially cool is that all the guys in Peru know how to dance. I danced with one person for the majority of the night and he taught me a ton of salsa moves. It’s really easy to pick up with a good partner. We are all glad to have Sunday off, after the jungle trip and a night out we are in the mood for some serious R&R.

Padre Cocha

On Wednesday, we took a boat ride up the Amazon to a small town called Padre Cocha. We spend the morning at the clinic, and went to a butterfly farm in the afternoon. As far as neighborhoods go around here, this one is very nice and well kept. There is a central square surrounded by several shops, the school, and a large soccer field. Off of this area are several sidewalks (that serve as roads) which lead to the residential areas. The clinic lies beyond that. The clinic was set up like the others we had seen, consultation rooms, a pharmacy, and a single ER room. When we arrived around 9:00, the waiting room was empty and one of the nurses went out to spread the word that we had arrived. I asked the doctor why it mattered whether we were there or not – we were only there to observe, and it’s not like they normally lack staff – and she said it was because we bring supplies. The clinic is supposed to get a shipment of supplies from the government every month, but that rarely happens. They often go two and even three months without getting a shipment which means they run out of the basics. This was one of those times; it had been two months since they had received supplies and were completely out of basics such as Tylenol. The people know that when foreigners come they bring supplies, and they all show up to received some much needed medical attention.

The worst thing about this is that many of the people who showed up that day could have been helped without the supplies we brought. Many people have parasites or infections that require antibiotics, or UTI’s which need only lessons on basic personal hygiene to prevent. The doctors have so much to offer but the town doesn’t understand that it can be done without medicine. (this is not to say that the supplies wasn’t appreciated, they were in desperate need of Tylenol, ibuprofen, antifungal creams, alcohol, etc…)

After we finished at the clinic we went back out to the central square to eat lunch. School for the younger children happened to be ending at the same time, so of course they all came to see the group of gringos. Frank had brought a soccer ball, and the guys played a game with the little boys, omg the kids were having the time of their lives. When we got ready to leave for the Butterfly farm, we left the ball with the kids and started walking away. They were calling to us, confused as to why we left it there. Frank explained to them that it was a gift for them to keep and they exploded with joy. It’s nice, but also very sad to see that they live such that a soccer ball is all it takes to make them happy. If I had known what type of conditions the people here lived in before I came, I would have brought an extra bag full of just toys, vitamins, and supplies for them. It doesn’t cost us very much but it sure means the world to them.

The woman who runs the butterfly farm also uses her land to shelter and rehabilitate animals that were rescued from illegal trading. She has several monkeys (four of which are allowed to roam free which means I got some fantastic pictures), anteaters, lemurs, turtles, ocelots, parrots, a jaguar, etc... The animals are all beautiful wild creatures, which unfortunately must now live in cages. It reminds me that while monkeys may seem like awesome pets, they aren’t meant to be caged. The woman also had a rescues anaconda at her facility. It was only a year old, so it was only about 4-5 feet long. I started talking to her about snakes, and how much I loved them. One thing lead to another and next thing I know she’s letting me hold her! I got to hold an anaconda!!! It was amazing; the snake is such an elegant and misunderstood animal, and it was remarkable that I got the chance to interact with one. (pictures will follow soon, I didn’t get any on my camera… was a little busy… but everyone else has plenty.)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I'm getting used to sweating constantly.

Yesterday we went to the herbarium, a library of plants. They currently have over 100,000 physical specimens in their library, and they want to digitalize them all – the advantage to doing this is that it makes the info available to everyone, no matter where they are. Also, about 3 weeks ago, a herbarium in Quito burned down. It had specimens dating as far back as 1600, and now everything is lost. There are currently 5 grad students working on scanning the mounted specimens in at a rate of about 250 a week. (this is with one scanner, they have a second on the way so that number should double but it’s still slow going) The big problem however, is that only 30,000 specimens are mounted and ready to be scanned in. The rest are still in boxes from when they were collected (some more than 50 years ago, pictures on facebook) meaning the pace will slow waaaaay down when they get there.

Next we went to the Belen market – I have a TON of pictures from there that I put on facebook. It was amazing, an endless sea of venders. It’s broken up into sections based on merchandise, such as clothing, fruit, meat, etc… My favorite part was the herb alley, or the Peruvian equivalent of a pharmacy. We had a woman with us translating that is the granddaughter of an herbalista, so she could tell us what everything was and what it was used for. Most of the herbs aren’t meant to be eaten plain, so they are either made into a tea or put in cane alcohol to make extracts that can be drunk. The venders gave us a bunch of samples as we made our way down – I think I had 8 or so. They don’t taste fantastic, but it’s not really something you can say no to. Besides, it is interesting to taste the different types of herbs and barks.

We had lunch at a Chinese restaurant (in peru.. go figure…) and it was delicious, tasted just like home. I guess American Chinese isn’t a correct term… it’s more like non-Chinese Chinese. Then in the afternoon we had an appointment with an curadera (healer) She walked us through traditional things she uses (this included several more extracts and by this point I was getting rather tipsy…. No good when it’s 100+ degrees out) and then did a short session with each of us. She used a lot of tobacco smoke, blowing it on us to clear away the negative energy. A lot of mediums that healers deal with are seen as sponges that suck away the negative or bad things that make you sick or unhappy. The mediums are then destroyed (candles are burned) or dissipate (like the smoke) along with the negative energy.

Today we went to a clinic near where we are staying to help out. All of us have the same blue scrubs, so into consulting rooms with the doctors. We saw patients with them and got to see how the medical system works. There are a lot of similarities and some shocking difference. First, each room had two chairs and a desk. The doctor sat on one side, and the patient on the others, there were very few examination beds. Second, there are no appointments, people just show up and wait their turn. This doesn’t sound like it would work, but the records are all paper (faster than electronic) and while each patient gets the doctor’s full attention, there is no waiting in between patients, one leaves and the next enters. The other major difference is that there seems to be little knowledge of sanitation. Doctors don’t wash their hands between patients, the rooms aren’t the cleanest in the world, and nurses even touched needles before giving a child a vaccine. They do very well with their limited resources, but if anything a lesson in basic sanitation would help. Another thing we noticed is that doctors here are not as likely to prescribe antibiotics. In the US, people often demand them, and doctors give in even if they will have no benefit. Here, the people trust the doctor’s judgment and are more willing to leave without medicine. I’m glad we went today because it allowed us to see exactly what people have for healthcare here. Also, we had a chance to give them basic information to make their daily lives better. (such as how much water they need to drink in order to avoid UTIs)

Oh, btw… 5 people were sick Sunday night, 4 didn’t come on Monday, 3 were still sick today. They were/are all puking their guts out. We have no idea what they have; we all eat the same food. All that matters is that I didn’t get it. :)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Fourth

Turns out we had nothing to worry about when it came to sleeping. We are all so exhausted at night that the heat doesn’t matter. It also seems like our bodies are adjusting to the heat – like resetting what we perceive as hot and cool. It feels very comfortable in the morning even though I know it’s like 90 degrees. Breakfast is excellent. We have assorted breads with fresh marmalades, huge bowls of fruit, eggs, ham, and cheeses. They also gave us fresh squeezed orange juice to go with it.

Yesterday, we walked down to the river to go for a boat ride. Iquitos is surrounded by three major rivers – the Nanay, the Itaya, and the Amazon. We sailed out the spot where the smaller two mix, and officially form the mouth of the Amazon. The Amazon River is essential to the lives of so many people so it was cool to go out and see where it starts. On the way back in, the boat driver stopped suddenly and started whistling, we asked why, and they told us that the Amazon is filled with a unique species of pink dolphins and they were trying to call them. It didn’t end up working, but the driver invited some of us to go Parana fishing with him on one of our days off so maybe we can see them then. We went downtown later that night to exchange some money (1 dollar = 2.8 nuevo soles!!) and see some sights. On the edge of the city where the Amazon runs, one of the professors showed us so buildings that were built by Iquitos’ poorest. They make platforms out of balsa wood, build small homes on top of them, and put the rafts on the river. Since they don’t own any land, they anchor on the river. The platform then moves up and down as the river rises and falls. The difference between when the river is at its highest and when it’s at its lowest has to be something like 50-70 feet. (see my pics on facebook to see the how high the water rises) Right now it’s the dry season, and since the river is so low, there is a ton of exposed land. The poor take advantage of this and go out and plant the land with yucca while it’s available. The water won’t rise again for a few months so they have time to harvest the crops before it does.

Today we stayed at the hotel, and had a series of four lectures by Kat and Dennis. Kat works with the way that Peruvian culture relates to the plants and medicine they use. She looks at the rituals, problems, and needs are met/solved with plants. For example, how reeds can be used to make boats and baskets, how toxic plants are purified for food sources, and how plants fit in to rituals and healing. Dennis on the other hand, studies more of the pharmacology of the plants, or how they can be used for medicinal purposes. Together, the two of them work to try and find natural products that have the potential to be cures for diseases. Dennis also spoke about a large project he is working on right now – the digitalization of Iquitos’ herbarium. The herbarium (library of plants) houses more than 100,000 species of plants found in the Amazon, and their goal is to scan them all into the computer and make an encyclopedia that can be access all over the globe and used for research. Tomorrow we are going to spend the day at the herbarium and see exactly what they are doing there.