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Caving essay wins trip to Peru


National Geographic chooses Spokane boy

An essay about exploring a cave along Fish Lake Trail earned a 12-year-old Spokane boy a trip to Peru with National Geographic as his guide.

Ian Baer’s essay described digging with “shards of basalt” and finding “fossils of leaves and seeds.” He submitted it with a picture of himself and his father, Ron Baer, in front of the cave.

It impressed the judges at National Geographic Kids, who chose Baer as one of 15 winners among the thousands of children ages 10 to 14 who entered the annual contest.

Ian and his father will leave for the 12-day trip to Peru on May 23.

“He was so excited when he got the call that he’d won,” said Ian’s mother, Patty Baer. “Then, as soon as he hung up the phone, he said: ‘Do I have to get shots?’ ”

Ian was the only winner from the Pacific Northwest, according to National Geographic Kids’ Web site, which lists the winners along with excerpts from their 300-word essays.

Ian flipped a coin to choose which parent to take with him. Both wanted to go.

Ron Baer said the $19,000 trip is a wonderful opportunity that would have been financially out of reach for the family. Ron and Patty Baer are elementary school teachers.

Members of the group going to Peru have begun communicating with one another online. A current hot topic is the required shots, including a painful yellow-fever inoculation. “I passed out,” Ian said.

Winners also recently received outdoor apparel, and digital cameras are on the way.

Ian’s entered the contest by chance.

Ron Baer received an e-mail about the contest at work, but none of his students was old enough to enter, he said, adding he almost deleted it. He brought the application home to Ian.

“He didn’t think he’d win, so he kept putting it off,” Baer said.

Ian, a sixth-grader in the gifted program at Spokane Public Schools’ Libby Center, was inspired after he and his dad explored the cave.

Ian learned he’d won on the last day of spring break. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of preparations – passports, doctor visits and clothes, Patty Baer said.

Father and son have been reading about Peru to prepare for the trip. Highlights: “Burping at the end of meal is the ultimate insult,” Ian said, and the region has several hundred types of potatoes.

The Baers will visit Machu Picchu, the Amazon jungle, Lima, Puerto Maldonado and a nature reserve, according to a press release from National Geographic Kids.

They will also learn about how to make medicine from items found in the jungle. “I know they use herbs to make teas. It’s just so fascinating they can cure fevers,” Ian said.

So far, Ian’s favorite part of winning the contest has been being in contact with kids from across the country, his mother said.

Even so, when the judges had narrowed down the choices to 25 finalists, “he said he felt like he was a winner already.”

Contact Jody Lawrence-Turner at jodyl@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5593.

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