Service in San Roque

Posted by Kathryn Schmidt; additional text by Jill Steinmetz

Jill, Eric and Ariel are having a wonderful time in San Roque, a tiny pueblo in Peru’s northern jungle  San Martin region, about an hour from the larger city of Tarapoto.  They are enjoying the village’s tiny size (less than 1,000 people), flexible schedule and friendly feel.  They teach an English class in an open air classroom, help out with their families’ day to day activities, and also on the local coffee farms (chacras).   They have soaked in the town’s simple lifestyle, incredible scenery, and the comforting sight of men leading donkeys, carrying bags of coffee beans, in and out of the pueblo.  There is no sense of hurry in San Roque, and these students absolutely love it.

Here’s some thoughts on San Roque from Jill:

San Roque is like a dream.  The environment is like paradise.  We live in a little town with close connections and we live off of the land.  Many people have a chacra (farm) with all kinds of fruits, plants and there’s always something in season.  It’s beautiful weather–warm and sunny–rich for plants and people.  We bathe in the Cumbaza river everyday, washing our faces, clothes and spirits.  The air is sweet with a pleasant humidity that makes me want to bottle it up in a jar and breathe it forever.  The fresh fruits are abundant as well as coffee, which is always on the stove ready for you.

All of the villagers know each other and there is a friendly vibe when I walk through town (the four or so streets.)  I live right by the main plaza where people gather, kids play and community events happen.  I exchange ‘holas‘ with everyone I pass and many times a smile.  Chicha is made by the gallons and shared with the community with a broken coconut shell.  Often people stop by to collect a few fruits, or to give us a bag of cilantro.  People love to use our wood-burning oven (it’s huge) to bake their breads and bocadillos and always share with us as they come fresh out of the horno.  Many times people come and chill out in our front room, or porch, watching a Copa America game or sharing some chicha.  The other day on our walk back from the river we asked a neighbor for some coco and he climbed up and grabbed a coconut for each of us which he cut (first the top, then in half) for us to drink and eat.  It was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever consumed.

I feel like there is always something new to try: a local coco, homemade chocolate from the cocoa, jumping from a mirador (a high look-out point above the deep part of the river) or harvesting bananas.  I am always discovering, exploring, adventuring and experiencing.”

We are very excited about this new service placement.  Ariel is very busy with her family’s 3 small children (including a tiny brand-new baby!) as well as orchestrating activities for the English class.  Eric has been very busy on his family’s coffee farm, helping with the harvest.  He even moved to their tiny dwelling up at the farm, a 90-minute hike away, and stayed there for almost a week.  While there he worked very hard, and saw the most incredible stars he could ever imagine.

San Roque still faces some fairly significant obstacles.  Decent healthcare is a windy 1-hour drive away; the education system needs a lot of help; there is poverty, no running water.  Young people definitely want to leave to the bigger cities to better their education and future prospects.  However, there is hope.  Our friend Rodrigo Ponce, a connection from Lima, has now moved there and is working hard on an eco-tourism business which stimulates the tiny town’s economy, and provides jobs to locals as tour guides.  He has been a big help in setting up our students with host families, and providing the structure of an English class.  And the town does draw some of it’s young people back, to enjoy the natural beauty, and coffee and cocoa farming opportunities.

These 3 have been having a great time, their joy about San Roque not at all masked by the fairly dramatic bug bites on their legs, and no running water.  We also enjoyed a day with them in Tarapoto, a more bustling city where we enjoyed some time beside a hotel pool (our first and last!) and a lovely restaurant with parrots and other beautiful exotic birds.  Only in South America!