30/04/2017-14/05/2017 Amazon Hope
As so many people have been asking us about our trip, and as our internet access has been sporadic, we thought we would start a blog to update everyone on what we have been up to, and hopefully add in a few pictures.
Our first two weeks have been pretty busy, and so I apologise in advance that I will write a lot! Feel free to read as much or as little as you like.
We started our adventure in Lima, where we arrived quite late and flew to Iquitos early the following morning.
Iquitos is a pretty lively town, very hot and humid, but has lots of character. We were there for 24 hours, and got to experience the Belen markets and a couple of museums as well as meet the two medical students (JP and Beth), who were coming with us on the boat.
We travelled by car to Nauta, where we stayed for one night before catching a “speed boat” at 5am to Amazon Hope. The journey to this boat took 6 hours to get to so was by no means speedy!
Amazon Hope 2 is an ex navy tender, which was bought by the Vine Trust, a Christian charity based in Edinburgh, and refurbished to allow it to be used to supply medical and dental aid to rural communities along the Amazon river and it's tributaries. We sailed north along the Tigre tributary as far as a town called Intuto.
The Peruvian government supply an AISPED team, which consisted of 6 people (a doctor, a midwife, a dentist, 2 lab techs and a nurse). The Vine Trust supply everyone else, another doctor, pharmacist, another nurse, several crew members who maintained the upkeep and general running of the boat, the 3 translators and a chef. They also cover the cost for all the food and half of the drugs and medical supplies.
The crew members stay on the boat for 20 days at a time, and volunteers rotate every 10 days. We were the second group. The crew then get 10 days off before starting for 20 days again. They have a six month contract, but the majority of them extend for years as they enjoy it.
The majority of the team members spoke very limited English, but were all lovely and welcoming, and all very hard working. We were very lucky that JP is fluent in Spanish and so were able to communicate via him and the translators.
The boat had three decks and was reasonably large. The cabins were pretty cosy with a small bunk bed in each. The shower was a small hand held shower, with “filtered” Amazon water, which was an interesting shade of brown. We did our clothes washing directly off the back of the boat into Amazon water. It is safe to say we were all far from fragrant by the end of it!
The chef, Wennie, did an incredible job making three meals a day for 26 people in a kitchen that was smaller than our bathroom in Southampton. We got a mix of British meals, such as burgers and casseroles and Peruvian dishes – such as shredded Chicken in a chilli/Cheese sauce over potatoes (Aji de Gallina). Pretty much every meal came with plantain, unfortunately for Tom, who still hasn't got over his aversion to bananas! It's ok though as every meal had double carbs (Rice with every meal) so he was still well fed!
Our day followed the same routine of breakfast at 7:30, followed by some free time to explore the villages we were at with one of the translators, Frank. Frank was great, and had a good sense of humour. He took us into some of the local schools to gatecrash their English lessons, where we taught some English and they taught us some Spanish. In one village, where the elders still speak the language of Quechuan, some children in the kindergarten sang us some songs in Quechuan, and we sang them twinkle twinkle and incy wincy spider... I don't think they were impressed!
Clinics started at 09.00 and typically lasted until 13:00. We would then break for lunch and a siesta in the hammocks on the top deck before resuming clinic at 14:30-16:30. We would sometimes go to different villages in the morning and afternoon, but in larger villages would stay all day. Occasionally the AISPED team would separate from us and take a small boat to villages located down smaller tributaries, that the Amazon Hope was too big to reach.
The clinics were held on the lower deck, where three went on simultaneously. Tom and I would each see patients with one of the medical students, and one of the Peruvian doctors would also see patients down there. There was a pharmacy, which was reasonably well stocked with a wide variety of medicines, however we ran short on the last couple of days which meant we had to improvise slightly. There was one dental chair, and facilities for tooth extractions and fillings only. The dentist was very busy throughout the trip and always was the last to finish.
The cases that we saw were standard GP things... Back pain, headaches, coughs and colds etc. There was a lot of patients with diarrhoea too, unsurprisingly. Everyone who presented with fever needed to be tested for malaria, of which there were a large number of cases.
There were two lab technicians who would take blood samples and analyse them under the microscope and so people got a diagnosis very quickly. Other than testing for malaria, you could only do blood tests for anaemia, HIV and syphilis. You could also do blood sugars and urine samples, but that was it.
Anyone requiring any other investigations or treatment had to go to their nearest health centre. For some villages that could be up to 6 hours away, but other villages had there own health centres, which were run by nurses. Due to the expense of travelling far distances many people would not end up getting follow up despite us recommending them to do so.
We had interpreters present in every consultation, who were all very good. However, was also challenging. The hardest consult I think I had was breaking the news to a 15 year old girl that she was pregnant via an interpreter... She wasn't pleased!
On one afternoon, Frank and Julio, one of the crew members, took us into the jungle a bit deeper to try and spot some wildlife.... We didn't see a lot, but it was a cool experience despite the sweltering heat and all the mosquito's. Poor Beth got so many bites (even through her clothes) that she looked like she had Chicken pox!
On the last night the crew put on a show for us, there was some karaoke (although Dr Ronald, one of the Peruvian doctors wouldn't let anyone else sing and got a bit mic happy), followed by an interesting dance show with lots of sparkly waste coats and pom poms. There was lots of Incacola (a fluorescent yellow drink that tastes like a mix of cream soda and iron bru). Afterwards there was lots of dancing and we got taught some Latin American moves, which was lots of fun. Tom still dances like he's having a seizure though.
We arrived back to Iquitos and, following a well needed shower and pizza, went for a night out at the karaoke (which is very big out here!) with some of the team. It was great fun, Tom and I did Summer Nights from Grease and of course totally smashed it.
All in all it was an incredible experience and we have both said that we would like to do it again. We are currently in Iquitos airport, where we are getting ready for the next part of our adventure. We are going to Lima for a couple of days to explore Peru's capital before heading on to Huacacina for some sand boarding. Despite having a great time, we are both pleased to be moving on, away from the heat, mozzies and living in such an enclosed space with so many people.
We will try and update this throughout our trip.... I promise they won't all be this long! If you managed to read to the end then thank you!Read more