I asked for a mission and for my sins, the Birding Gods gave me one. When it was over I would never ask for another…. Er no, actually I am already thinking of asking for another. We will come back to Peru. Not giving up that Spatuletail. They owe us.
So, you might be wondering, what does one do all day, trapped in a Peruvian hotel? Besides the brief, early morning, under-the-radar birding jaunt?
I am so glad you asked.
You might think there is not much you would have to do; just wait patiently for the US Cavalry to come.
But sadly, you would be mistaken.
When we got to Iquitos on the 24th, we were greeted at our hotel by a lovely American woman who introduced me to a WhatsApp chat group called “Stuck in Iquitos”.
Joining the WhatsApp group, one quickly realizes that there are, at any given time, typically three different attempts being made by entities, other than our own embassy, to secure flights out of Iquitos, by hook or by crook. (This has been going on since the 16th and is still going in on the 30th.) Each group has a list you must get your information onto, but the lists are fluid and sometimes difficult to find. Then there is a government form you access via a website. Hedge your bets and get your name into all of them.
One group is called WAR, which stands for Warrior Angels Rescue, and they are an amazing private group of volunteers that stepped up to help, when it became clear that our own government was struggling with the enormity of this challenge.
Then there is a woman named Brittany that is trying to coordinate a special flight with a Peruvian airline.
Then there is an Austrian consul offering his service to anyone and everyone, to at least help get them to Lima.
There are probably 30 to 50 active people in the group at any time, and new messages with info about the changing status come frequently. I tried counting them…. 160 posts in the last 24 hours.
Yesterday someone joined the group and mentioned that there was an individual, off the grid, in a town 15 minutes downriver, that needed to get to Iquitos so as to be ready for any flight that might happen. Could someone go get him?
Well normally that would be trivial.
But this is not normal. You cannot just go down to the docks and hire a boat. You have to pass a checkpoint or two, and that requires a permit. The boat captains cannot go out on the river without yet a different permit.
How to get a permit? Well, the US Embassy will work with the Peruvians to make one, on a case by case basis, but they need all the documentation about the boat first. So you need to find a captain that is willing to give you his license numbers, insurance info, etc. Someone in the group had a name for a willing boatman, but then they hit a wall when they found out he spoke no English. My wife and I are bilingual, (surprisingly rare among Americans here). So I volunteered to act as intermediary between the boatman and embassy. We are still working on the permit.
Last week, the WAR group was close to getting 100 people out, but the embassy told them to back off and hand over the list so that THEY could do it. That produced the 70% full flight of the 26th.
Then, the embassy told the rest of us to work with Brittany or the Austrian, even though the latter could only get us to Lima. It appeared WAR was now out of picture.
Then we learned the Brittany effort has been refused permission to fly.
Then the embassy sends us emails telling us they are totally in charge, and please fill out this new online form so you are accounted for.
Last night we were told that WAR is now running the flight out of Iquitos, but it is not clear if it is going to Miami or to Lima. A new google doc spreadsheet was sent out. Then an email came from them asking that the same info be entered into a website form.
Are you confused or irritated by reading this? Well this is what we deal with all day, every day.
I so am grateful that these volunteers are helping us. But they would not have to, if our US State Department had a better handle on this.