“On the main street in Huaraz they sell birds that are close to extinction.”

Last year The Huaraz Telegraph published the story of Fernando Padrós from Cataluña who was cycling across the country raising funds and food for orphans. In February of this year we had the pleasure of meeting another intrepid cyclist Álvaro Perez Ramirez, a veterinarian from San Diego (USA), who is travelling the world trying to raise awareness of the need for animal protection. His journey began in 2008 in Quebec, Canada and will end in about three years’ time in Namibia. Álvaro, an American-Colombian is working his way south via Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru. We first met Álvaro on a Sunday morning where he was attending the FestiDeporte, a local government initiative promoting sports, games and health issues. During our initial short chat Álvaro told me that Peru was the only place where he had been robbed. It seemed he’d already had some interesting experiences in Peru, and we wanted to know more about then so we arranged an interview with him for that same afternoon.

Could you explain what motivates you to cycle such a long distance?

I am trying to raise awareness about the protection of animals. If asked what I’d do if I found a dog and a human being hurt, I would always try to rescue the animal first. Because for us there are medics, firemen, police etc., but for the animals there is almost nobody. My passion for working with and protecting animals started when I was young. I remember my mum killing a rooster, and afterwards I didn’t talk to her for eight days. The main thing is this: animals are mostly invisible to people. It upsets me when people keep exotic animals as pets, bringing toucans and parakeets from the jungle and locking them up in cages is wrong. Cats and dogs can be tamed and kept as pets, but not animals from the jungle! So I am cycling across the world sharing the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi hoping to create a revolution for the benefit of animals.

This is not your first time in Peru right?

That´s right, I had some bad luck when I was here previously. I met a female professor from the Instituto Pedagogico Publico de Uchiza in the San Martín region. She stole my passport, photos, camera and money, and I had to return to Colombia to have my passport reissued. So basically I have done this trip twice now! I arrived in Huaraz for the second time last week and I am due to leave tomorrow.

How do you finance your trip?

I have been very lucky, local people usually help me. Most of the time journalists provide me with a free room, or some free food. Unfortunately it is rare for local officials to offer assistance as aren’t very supportive of my cause, they are not interested in fauna, and the protection of animals, they do invite me to tell my story, but they soon come to the conclusion that there is no money in it for them, and they may have to pay for animal shelters etc, something which they are not prepared to do.

What happens when you arrive in a town?

I always try to make contact with the mayor, or some important person of the municipality. Most people know me because I have been in the news which makes it easier. Then I give a speech at a dinner for example, and hopefully get the message across. It may be that only a handful of the audience hear what I have to say, but even if ten people out of fifty people listen to my message, I am happy. My story gathers momentum with every day that passes; slowly spreading the word. I heard of a bank manager who had nothing to do with animals, didn’t even have pets, but after hearing my story he adopted two little street dogs, and is taking care of them. It is hearing stories like that that makes this trip worthwhile. I will die happy if I think people will change their attitude towards animals, although this might take another 500 years.

Have you enjoyed your time in Huaraz?

(After a deep sigh…) Bien! Huaraz is a tiny Cusco, I like the weather, there is good food here and good people. I am staying in Hotel La Joya, courtesy of the hotel owner, and I get free breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Encuentro Restaurant, in the Parque del Periodista. Tomorrow I will meet with the mayor to discuss opening a dog shelter in the urban part of the city. Unfortunately I don’t think I will be successful as it costs money, and government officials have other priorities. It seems that the people work hard here; however, they have no understanding of tourism. Tourism could generate high incomes, like in other places around the world, but here I have the impression that no one cares.

Tell us what you did at the FestiDeporte

Today I took my bike onto the main street, trying to motivate kids to get off their computers and get cycling in the fresh air. I agreed to participate in the hope that it gets the dog shelter approved.

Alvaro_Perez in Huaraz

You are the proud owner of a Guinness Record right?

Yes, I beat my previous record by cycling 25 hours and 14 minutes non-stop in and around the city of Juanjuí, which is the capital of the province Mariscal Cáceres. I did that to get a bit of publicity for the city, and myself because being in the media opens doors that would otherwise remain closed to people like me, this in turn increases the attention on my cause. But I have to come up with something new… something to get the attention of the press again. I am not sure what, but I am sure I will come up with something during my lonely rides through the middle of nowhere. When I am cycling it´s like watching a film; so many images and moments pass by. Cycling on your own isn’t easy; it should not be underestimated. Sometimes I’m on the road for hours without seeing any other cars, it´s tough. But if you have ideals, then you have to make sacrifices.

From what you have seen, how are animals treated in this area?

(After another deep sigh…) Animals suffer a lot here. The United States has animal protection laws, as does Europe and even Colombia, that are enforced, but in Peru even though there is a law in place to protect the animals, those who are supposed to enforce it are susceptible to bribery. While staying in Huaraz I have seen something that beats everything. There is someone selling birds on the main street, a couple of blocks from the Plaza de Armas. Among them I noticed two wild birds that are, as far as I know, threatened with extinction. So I went to the nearest policeman and told him about it. He asked me for S/.100 before he would file the complaint! I found this shocking. It is his duty to help me (and the birds), but instead he is asking for money? Not all police are corrupt, but those who are need to change their attitude.

Finally, could you tell us where your trip will end?

My trip ends when I arrive in Namibia, where I will join the Greenpeace volunteers in the fight for the protection of elephants. There are many rich people from the US, the Netherlands or Sweden, including the King of Spain, who go hunting in Africa. So I am going to hunt them. I am now 53 years old and hopefully God will allow me to keep cycling until I reach Namibia. Once there I intend to learn how to treat the wildlife using my background as a veterinarian. There is much to do there, I am sure my help will be welcome. I hope to die there, and if I do I shall die happy.

Nearly two months after The Huaraz Telegraph interviewed Álvaro, he announced that he was giving up trying to open an animal rescue centre, and even though people had been kind enough to provide food and accommodation, the authorities were not cooperating in any way and he had to leave because he lacked funding to stay any longer. A sad end in the end in Huaraz for the animal lover and protector from the United States.

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