The Dawn on the Amazon Christmas Program 2006
We cast off early in the morning of December 23rd with a boat load of Christmas cheer destined to brighten the lives of all the good little boys and girls in two remote jungle villages up the Nanay River. Our guest of honor was Santa Clause who consented to ride on Dawn on the Amazon III instead of his traditional mode of transportation. Seven hours later we arrived at Mishana, deep in the green heart of Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve.
We sounded our fog horn and Santa boomed, “Ho, ho, ho, Feliz Navidad.” With Santa waving and ho, ho, hoing, we edged our boat to shore. As my crew secured the boat, Santa stepped ashore followed by his cute little elves, Marmelita, Marina, Marjorie, Lupa, Loremy, and my son Matt.
Our cook, Judy, and some of the village parents, gathered wood to start a fire and began to make hot chocolate in a giant pan. The elves shared candy and snacks with the children while Santa introduced himself speaking Spanish with a British accent. The children were very polite and well behaved but it was obvious they had never seen such a strange creature as Santa.
One of our Mishana friends, Alicia, told us that the village elders have no memory of a Christmas program in the village. No one in Mishana had ever seen Papa Noel in the flesh and the children were in awe. When Santa handed out the gifts, which the elves had wrapped in pretty Christmas paper, the children did not open the presents. They had never been given a wrapped present and did not know what to do. Matt offered a little boy a candy sucker and he declined because one of the other elves had already given him one. Street children in the city would push an elf down and take the whole bag of suckers and steal the elf’s hat.
Only when we started the contests did the children know what to do. They were very enthusiastic about who could jump the farthest, pull the hardest, hop the fastest…and they were enthusiastic about the fruit cakes. Judy made enough hot chocolate for two villages.
This was Matt’s first trip to the Amazon rainforest so, after the festivities, we slipped out the back of the village for a jungle hike. As we walked quietly on a trail through the white sand forest watching blue morpho butterflies flitting among thirty species of palms, I was thinking: It is hard to imagine life in a jungle village from the comfort of your living room in the advanced economies of the world. Mishana does not have electricity and of course no computers or television, not to mention refrigeration or running water.
A noisy flock of parakeets flew out of a ripe fruit tree while I was remembering last July when four of my favorite guests brought school supplies to the one room school house in Mishana. There were no educational supplies before that thoughtful donation. Matt and I watched an iridescent beetle hide under a fungus and I remembered how concerned another of my favorite guests, a doctor, was when we visited a remote jungle village “hospital” where everyone in the village had parasites and there were hardly any medical supplies. As we backtracked to Mishana I thought again that Dawn on the Amazon should be the partner of corporate donors for distributing educational and medical supplies to improve the lives of the most interesting mammals of the rainforest, its human inhabitants.
We cast off from Mishana late in the afternoon and cruised for an hour or so before looking for a good place to tie up for the night. By the time we tied up and ate a big supper, Santa was exhausted and went to bed early. Matt and I went to the observation deck and star gazed the clear, dark, tropical night skies. A few shooting stars later I went to bed also.
The next morning we ate a leisurely breakfast before moving on to our next stop at Llanchama, the village where we have our Jungle Cabin. I always like pulling into the small entrance to the Llanchama Cocha, how it opens up into the lake with an island covered with jungle in the middle. I like cruising slow around the edge of the island and entering our little port.
Several children heard the fog horn and Santa. They were waiting as we tied up. We started the same program again. Judy and our Llanchama neighbors started a wood fire and made enough hot chocolate for two more villages, everyone enjoyed the contests with special gifts for prizes, and every child received a gift wrapped by Santa’s elves, from Santa’s lap.
A few hours later we started back to Iquitos leaving many happy families in our wake. When we anchored at our home port at the Hunting and Fishing Club, I gave the entire crew Christmas Eve and Christmas day off. Marmelita, Matt, and I pulled guard duty on the two boats. We watched the fireworks over the city. Although my main job was taking photos and saying Feliz Navidad to each individual in the two villages as they received their fruit cake and hot chocolate, I was pretty tired and had a difficult time staying awake for my shift. I spent the night asking myself how I can make a difference in 2007. The answer could be to start an NGO, a non-profit organization, using Dawn on the Amazon as a conduit to provide health and education opportunities for disadvantaged river, rainforest children. What do you think?
I would like to thank my good friend Mike Collis for wearing the hot, Santa costume and sweating so much he lost 10 pounds in two days. This makes the 8th year in a row that Mike has played Father Christmas, carrying on the legacy that his father created by playing Santa for 40 years in the UK. Mike is the owner of Mad Mick’s Trading Post and Bunkhouse, and the publisher of the Iquitos Times, the only English newspaper in Peru. His web site contains many interesting stories and is a valuable resource for what goes on in and around Iquitos.
I recommend going to http://www.iquitostimes.com/ and reading the article about a friend of mine, Richard “Aukcoo” Fowler, called Jungle Survival Tales. That article was previously published in Soldier of Fortune. Also there are five articles about Dawn on the Amazon including one previously published in Living in Peru, called An American Dream Comes True.
I would also like to thank my good friends David Sheridan, Luis de Freitas, Jim Anderson, Dr. Larry Williams, and Dr. Dave Williams for their generous donations and contributions to our 2006 Christmas Program.
Happy New Year to you, from the Dawn on the Amazon Crows Nest