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Sunday, July 7, 2019

Arrival in Iquitos and visit to Carolina's family in Tamshiyacu

We arrived yesterday  in Iquitos, after a long day’s trip from Boston to Miami to Lima, and a short overnight stop at a hostel near the airport.  On the  flight from Lima, magnificent views of the Andes and the Amazon.  It had been cool in Lima, but humid and hot as soon as we disembarked.

Our airbnb here in Iquitos is quite nice – two bedrooms each with its own bathroom, ac in the bedrooms, much appreciated, and a fan that adequately cools the living room. Loring and I will stay here five days, Carolina and Franz an additional three.  We will head off to a lodge in the jungle for an additional five days. C and F will stay here, possibly with overnight visits by Carolina’s extended family.

We went shopping for groceries yesterday afternoon at a supermarket, although the hosts here had left us a good supply of provisions, especially fruit – bananas, apples and a huge papaya, plus lots of other staples.
The building housing the market had mosaic details on the outsider and a large sign saying “Cohen and Company” overhead. So I guess there were some Jews in Iquitos back in its prime, and perhaps still are.

We went out to dinner at a place called Rustica, pizzas, meats, etc. We got a mixed plate for four, including probably every kind of meat they serve, plus fries and a cole slaw- like salad.  But most important, our first pisco sours of the trip!

It poured torrentially as we were about to leave the store, backpacks laden with cereal, yogurt, eggs, cheese, crackers, chips, beer, and rum. So, we stood in the doorway of the store for a bit, waiting for it to abate. Watched as others came and went in the ubiquitous moto taxis, a motorbike with a seat for two or three attached.  We’ve seen them in many places before, but never as prominent as here, definitely the prime means of transportation. The rain continued, and we watched the streets flood over the sidewalks. 

Last night it rained all night long, heavily. Right now we are waiting to take motorbike taxis to the dock where Carolina’s brother Tito will meet us, in order to head out by boat to Tamshiyacu. And then we will head out there, about an hour’s ride, to meet the rest of the family.

We were a little concerned by the heavy rain ( this isn’t, by the way, the rainy season!) but Tito was already on the way.
This promises to be a momentous day, whatever happens. We don’t know exactly how many family members we’ll meet, certainly Olinda, her husband, and the other siblings, four I think. Plus Tito’s partner and daughter.  We also have a list of other relatives, various in-laws, aunts, ,uncles, cousins. 

We don’t know what kind of health Olinda is in, but know it’s not good. She’s been in a wheelchair for years, but there was also some mention of her not recognizing people recently. I hope that she is able to understand who Carolina is.  But there’s no doubt it’s going to be an emotional encounter.

 I asked Carolina last night if she was nervous. I am, a little bit. She said no, well, not yet. I haven’t asked her again this morning. We have two large duffel bags to bring, one filled with clothes, including T shirts saying  Boston that Franz made in his shop. He also made ones saying Peru for us.  The other bag is filled with stationary supplies, games, bags with various sundries, a lot.  She’s got specific bags for Olinda, each of the siblings and the little girl. 

Oh, by the way, did I mention that none of them speaks any English?! Carolina has been communicating with the siblings via google translator, but it will be rather different face to face. 

Well, we are about to embark on our boat trip and adventure.  I will stop here and add more later, to write about today’s experiences.


 We spent today in Tamshiyacu  with Carolina’s extended family.  Tito met us at the dock in Iquitos as planned, after a ride in two mototaxis. We got a little lost, because our driver apparently didn’t know where the dock was, and had to stop to ask someone. (huh?!)

 Carolina and Franz were waiting with Tito when we arrived.  We got on the boat with our two large duffel bags and waited for Miguel, one of Carolina’s other brothers, to arrive. He lives in Lima, but comes to Iquitos from time to time. He is the only one older than Carolina. I knew about him from the adoption papers, but only his name.

We headed up the river for an hour. Along the way we saw several settlements, and a few people in boats and on the shore.  We disembarked and found two mototaxis waiting for us, along with younger brother Renzo, on a motorcycle. We had seen some photos and video of Olinda, her husband Oswaldo, and the siblings when we first heard from Tito, so had an idea what to expect.

 The house is constructed of wood and tin, with a thatched roof and a packed dirt floor. And a satellite dish on the roof. The furniture in the front room, where we spent much of the day,  consists of a long table against the wall, a sofa, a bunch of plastic chairs, a wide screen tv, a refrigerator, and an exercise bike with clothes draped over it.  Everyone seemed very happy to see us, and kept thanking us.  I’m not sure for what, maybe just for coming to see them.  As I may have mentioned earlier, Tito has been searching for Carolina for years, and finally tracked her down via facebook.

There were a few tears at first, but the general mood was very happy.  Franz was our primary translator, and it’s a good thing he was there, we would have been much less able to communicate without him.  I chimed in from time to time, but his Spanish is much better, because Portuguese is his primary language.

Olinda is paralyzed  because of a snake bite about 10 years ago. I couldn’t understand much of what she said, and she was somewhat repetitive, but in much better health mentally than I had feared. She was clearly thrilled to see Carolina,  beaming most of the time.

 All the kids had cell phones, and between all of us we must have taken hundreds of pictures, with multiple configurations of various family members.

Carolina unpacked the two duffel bags and showed them around, cosmetic cases,  art supplies, T shirts, lots of clothing, a couple of games, a pair of binoculars, a few pairs of swimming goggles, some calculators,  several plastic horses from Carolina’s friend Valerie, which were an immediate hit with Tito and Gina’s adorable toddler daughter, Carolina’s niece Kylie.  Carolina took photos of her playing with them and posted them to Val. And then there were the American foods they’d  brought, boxes of macaroni and cheese, and peanut butter and  fluff, which we tried to explain was a special food from Massachusetts, and went along with the peanut butter! I’m not sure if they actually got the concept, or had even had peanut butter before, much less fluff!

Carolina was given a beautiful hand carved rabbit that she had known one of the uncles had been making for her. We didn’t didn’t recognize the name of the wood until Carolina looked up the translation – rosewood.

I had worried that communication would be difficult, but it really wasn’t, with Franz doing most of the translation (although he admitted he sometimes didn’t have a clue what they were saying, but just nodded and smiled.) I have certainly done that many times myself. Also, because Carolina and Tito had been communicating so much online over the last couple of months, she could get the gist of some of the conversations.

They gave us each a painted wooden parrot with the name of the town written on it, and a woven fan. They also introduced us to a baby alligator that they’d caught some weeks before while fishing. It wasn’t very big, maybe eight or ten inches long. Carolina had already seen pictures and named him Herman, and was delighted to see that he was still alive.  They said he’d grow to be six to eight feet long. We asked how long they were going to keep him, and they said they were just keeping him to show Carolina.
There must have been about 15 people there, all relatives. There were several brothers, some Olinda’s, some of her husband Oswaldo. And some sisters and sisters-in-law. And the siblings, Jose, Tito, Renzo, Oswaldo, and Emma. As we understand, all of the younger ones beside Tito are Oswaldo’s, and Tito and Carolina have the same father.  I am not clear on who  Miguel and Erika’s father(s) are. Miguel is two years older than Carolina, and Erika is two years younger.  Erika is Olinda’s only child who was not there. She lives in Lima. There had apparently been a rift between Erika and Olinda some years ago, but it sounds like things may be on the mend. Carolina may possibly meet up with her in Lima. I think she’s been waiting to feel things out a little more, not wanting  cause any more tensions. My own sense is that that wouldn’t be the case, but it’s of course her decision. We wouldn’t meet with her because Franz and Carolina and we only have one day’s overlap in Lima.  They have to  go home a bit earlier, and we were only able to schedule our own trip to the jungle lodge for certain days.

After we’d all had some Inka Cola and chatted,  Oswaldo, Olinda’s husband, stood up and spoke quietly and earnestly about how he had chosen to stay because he felt obligated to take care of the family. He apparently goes off to do some kind of work, for a few days at a time, and thanked the other members of the family for helping to take care of Olinda. Then his brother, the uncle who had carved the rabbit, stood up and spoke. And then another relative. It almost had the feel of speeches at a wedding, but very low key. 

Then it was time for lunch. Tito, Gina, and Kylie, Miguel and we walked a few blocks to a small restaurant. They had about a half dozen choices. All four of us had fried chicken, and the others some other meat platters. They all came with rice, beans, a bit of cucumber and yucca. Pretty good. And they ordered food to bring back to the rest of the family. We offered to pay. The total cost, for about 15 of us, was about $35.

Back at the house, the tv was still on. Earlier, it had been some shopping type program, rather a contrast with the humble trappings of the home. Now on the tv, though, was the World Cup game between Chile and Argentina. I think everyone but me was really into it. In addition to the family, there were three adorable little boys leaning on the window sill (no glass) looking in.

Tomorrow, though, is the big game, between Peru and Brazil. I can imagine what an event that will be, with Franz perhaps the only person around rooting for Brazil. We have been invited to watch the game at the Iquitos home of Miguel’s father-in-law. That should be interesting too.

Carolina and Franz plan to go back to visit on Wednesday, and bring Tito and family back  to Iquitos with them.  We’ve worked it out with the family who owns the apartment where we are staying. Loring and I will be leaving the same day for the Tayahuano Lodge. So we will all be heading the same way upriver in the morning, but Loring and I will continue up the Amazon for several more hours.

By the way, Loring looked up the weather today, here and at home. It’s about fifteen degrees hotter in Massachusetts today, in the low nineties, and in the seventies here in the Amazon.

Pictures to follow soon.


Unknown said...

Wow! Thank you Joanna - you write so vividly that I feel I am there or at least reliving Jesse and my trip to Peru to meet her birth mother and extended family. It is a joyous experience and I hope your while trip will continue to be as exciting..Debby

Ken said...

This -- along with the pix on Facebook -- is so fascinating. Can't wait to read, see, and hear more.

I looked into Cohen and Company and your mention of Jews in Iquitos. Turns out there is a whole book about it (which is available here at BU). The author also wrote an essay about it, part of which is available online at

Maria Elena said...

How wonderful to read! I'm happy that it all went well. Happy for Carolina!

Sherry said...

Love the way you write! I is great to be able to follow the journey as it happens rather than having to wait for a summary when you get home.