A two-day trip on a ship from dusty and hot Yurimaguas to Iquitos. We are going to the city in the middle of the jungle and there was not a single road that could take us there. There were two possible ways to get there: the cheaper, slower but also more lively one, by boat; and the other one, for the richer ones with less free time, by plane. And we had plenty of time. Especially during the past few days. We waited for the boat the whole day. And it didn’t move. They rescheduled the departure for the following day at noon. And they postponed it once again for two hours. We departed when the sun was starting to set. We realised once more that there were no rules in that part of the world. You just needed to adapt and accept their rules of the game.
What we would be going to do once we were in Iquitos, where would we be going next – we didn’t have the slightest idea. All we knew was that we knew nothing. That’s right. It was the day to think about anything. Or to write anything.
Maria, why don’t you write this post for my blog? I don’t have any inspiration.
I was shaken up by his voice while I was lying and looking through the doors of our cabin. A new morning and a new place on a movement. River, trees, a couple of canoes.
I was gathering the forces for getting up and getting my ass to the floor below. I had to pass through a couple of hundred hammocks filled by sleeping Peruvians. If they weren’t sleeping, they were reading, eating, talking among themselves, or staring at a blank point. Or at me. Gringa. I had some trouble of getting used to that nickname. Up to recently I thought that they only called Americans that way, but I was wrong. All strangers were gringos. I didn’t like that.
While I was washing my teeth, my eyes were fixed on a chicken bone and a small head of an onion. Still, it didn’t repulse me, I got used to it. I was aware that sinks were used nearly for everything: for washing your teeth, washing baby’s tushies and bowls. Later on, accompanied by a couple of women, even I scrubbed our dirty clothes. They would always look at me funnily and laugh at me. Maybe we were breaking their prejudices. I liked that.
Apart from the bathroom the most interesting place on the boat was the kitchen which was just next to the bathroom. The kitchen and lady’s toilet. For ladies and anyone who felt like a lady. And there were many of those on our boat. A lot of womanized men. All of them worked in the kitchen. Their eyebrows were plucked out, their nails painted and they had very stylish haircuts. I should look up to them. They took care of themselves. They were nice and sociable. I noticed they were doing the prep for the lunch. Since I had plenty of time I washed my hands and helped them clean the platanos.
The platanos were bananas. There were at least twenty kinds of bananas there. Each of them had a special name: platano manzana, isla, seda, capirona…banana this, banana that. Some of them could be eaten as we usually do – fresh. Some of them were used in fruit juices. Some of them were meant to be cooked and they tasted similarly to the potatoes. Some of them could be grilled like sausages and then smashed and mixed with chopped bacon and eggs. Then they formed balls out of it and wrap them in a banana leaf. Some of them were sliced like zucchinis and fried. Those were used as a dessert. Also, you could make banana chips. Bananas were very common there and they could be prepared in all sorts of ways. They were cheap and multifunctional.
We peeled the green bananas and threw the remains in the river. There is something about the waste there. A waste bin wasn’t a common sight. Nobody would give you a strange look if you peeled an orange and threw the remains on the ground; or if I ate a watermelon and spat the pits on the ground, and the remains threw wherever there were no people. They threw everything everywhere. And that was gross. But it was also liberating.
Time passes slowly while you are on a boat and when your area of movement is quite restricted; when you are waiting for an arrival to a certain destination. Nobody likes to wait for anything: a salary, a vacation, a return of a dear person, an e-mail, wait in a queue, or the arrival in a port. We can always count minutes, but it doesn’t help, I’ve checked it. What does help is fill your time with doing something and forget that we’re actually waiting for something.
What I did was: write, re-do a shirt I’d bought the previous day for 50 cents, make a necklace with a girl from the next cabin – one for me and one for her. She gave me a bracelet as a gift and taught me a few Spanish words. I ran in spot. I read, at least I tried to.
Usually you’re not able to concentrate from all the noise of different Peruvian melodies. People around there, especially the younger ones, had an annoying habit of listening the music straight of their phones and not using the headphones. Apparently, they hadn’t arrived in that part of the world yet.
At first Iquitos was a bit disappointing. It was a big noisy town with a bunch of tourists looking for something and full of local people, of course, always offering something, trying to sell you something in a very irritating way. Maybe we were the ones to blame. We obviously arrived there with some kinds of expectations that once again confirmed the rule – don’t expect, just be open to everything.
We spent a few days – two – to be more precise, wandering around the town. We got to know its streets, local traders and, of course, two markets that were a non-stop inspiration for me.
Markets were the place to eat, sleep, bargain, steel – live.
Luckily, and the luck was obviously our fellow companion on the journey, we bumped into a couple of Croatians. Those were the first we met since we arrived to Peru. A drink, a story and we soon found out that those people had an estate in a small place – Tamshiyacu.
Maybe you could go with us?
Maybe we could!
So, now it’s time for something that may people have heard of, and many, on the other hand, haven’t – ayahuasca.
Ayahuasca – a healing plant, a teacher plant. You can hear and read about it all sorts of things. You can read that it’s been in use for more than thousand years in the tribes in the Amazon forest, mostly for medical purposes, you can read about the hallucinations, about broadening your perception and consciousness under the influence of DMT, an active substance which is apparently released by the human epiphysis. Since everything, in a way, always repeats like in a circle, from the seasons to the fashion, in the same way the ancient knowledge and practices have become interesting and very appealing. The Western culture finds the inspiration in the East (or, in this case, in the South), while the Eastern world is aspiring to become more like the West and to adopt the Western lifestyle. Lately, many westerns have been coming to these parts of the world to ask the Plant for the answers, ask her to heal them so they could be re-born.
Heh, I would always snigger at them – I didn’t want to be judgmental and a sceptic, but hello? Can a plant give us the answers if you don’t have them already somewhere deep within yourselves? My critical mind refused to succumb to other people’s fascinations. There was also a certain amount of fear. Why, fear of what? I tried to understand it. Maybe it was the fear of the unknown – even though I like living without knowing what will happen next. However, this was different. Was it fear or maybe awe?
Whatever it was, my interest kept on growing bigger and bigger and it finally beat the fear. Before I could do anything we were on a peer from which the boat for Tamshiyacu was leaving.
Are we late?
No – Tamara and Žac, the owners of the estate, said. They had fallen in love in this part of the world many years before. You’re just in time. We’re only waiting for the shaman.
We exchanged looks waiting for that man.
I already created an image of that man in my thoughts: a man with a lot of jewellery, unusual and a bit scary. Naturally, the reality was completely different. The man who approached us was short, a bit older with a gentle expression on his face, wearing a shirt and a cap. He walked slowly, but proudly. He won our sympathies straight away. Everything is going to be okay.
After only an hour on the river we arrived to Tamshiyacu. The look on the huge estate of ten acres and a streak running through it and creating a small lake assured us that we were in the right place: that was what we were looking for, even though we didn’t know what we were looking for. It happens quite often – even if you don’t know you get to know it once you’re there.
That streak and the lake would be our favourite place during the following few days. It was surrounded by palm trees and a lot of greenery, and there were the cabañas – small houses with straw roofs. There were no windows, but they were replaced by nets as the first line of defence from the biggest parasites in the jungle – mosquitoes. There were a few trunks that were used as chairs; instead of a couch there was a wooden bench; there was a big sponge in the middle of the room that served as a bed and above everything there was the second line of the defence: a mosquito net. There was no electricity, no water, no network, no internet. Still, we didn’t feel as we were missing something.
It would be a true paradise on earth, only if it wasn’t hot as hell.
As the night was approaching we started preparing for our first ayahuasca ceremony. The potion was already prepared, that is boiled, by Rodil, a young curandero who was more into curing with natural potions than ayahuasca. He, along with Emanuel, an experienced shaman from the Shipibo tribe, was supposed to guide us through that unusual world.
Ayahuasca is, in fact, a plant which is very similar to a liana or to the leaves of the grapevine. It was supposed to be cooking from eight to ten hours with the leaves of chacruna and this is what gives the wanted effect. The exact recipe with the precise amount of all the ingredients depends on the shaman, just like the pieces of advice of how to prepare for the ceremony. The majority mostly agrees that a day or two before taking it one should not consume sugar, oil, cigarettes, alcohol or marijuana and they also suggest to restrain from the sexual activities…so, if you still want to do it, go for it.
The biggest wooden hut was ready for a party. Each and every one of us had their own mat with the mapacho on it, the Peruvian tobacco. They believed that by smoking mapacho you chase away the evil spirits. There were also other things we may need: a bowl where we could vomit, a bottle of water, and a torch so we could see the way towards the toilet. One of the things ayahuasca did was cleaning your body from all the toxins that accumulated in it so, according to that, we prepared adequately.
We sat on our mats. There was this soft light of a candle and the shaman started producing certain sounds using a bundle of leaves. He gave us each a small cup of not-so-tasty potion. We drank the liquid and he turned off the candle. The eight of us started smoking mapacho. Slowly we lied down and waited for the potion to start working. During that time the shamans were singing something.
It was so funny. I mean, look at me, after a few months in Croatia living a normal life, whatever that means, I was lying on a floor, it was pitch dark, in the middle of the Amazon with the people I had met only recently. I had just had a cup of hallucinogenic potion, I didn’t have the slightest idea of what would happen next, except that that there was a bowl for vomiting next to me and a torch that would help me find the outdoor toilet easier when the nature would call. And the craziest part was that we were all waiting for the spirit of the Plant to come to us.
That first night was wonderful, at least for me. I was with a lot of people I love, both with those that had passed away and those that are still alive. I felt a strong unity and love towards everyone and everything. I felt especially tied to Tomislav who was right there next to me. We could feel the thoughts and the energy directed towards each other.
At the end of the evening we exchanged our experiences. Most of the people weren’t quite satisfied claiming that the potion was too weak and that they didn’t experience any vision – they said that it wasn’t that. And I thought it was great.
The following day they went to Iquitos to get the already prepared bottle of the real ayahuasca.
That was a totally different experience.
The procedure was exactly the same as the night before. We lied on the floor and waited. Everything started when I felt an enormous amount of warmness in my chest. Enormous. Also, I felt like there was some sort of a net in front of my eyes. The whole beginning was very interesting. I told her that I didn’t have anything to ask, that I didn’t want to think: all I wanted was for her to guide me and to show me whatever she wanted to show me.
And she did. There was no boundary for my eyes: they could go everywhere and see everything as if I was looking at a painting without a frame; as if I was looking at an infinite canvas where all kinds of movies were projected inspired by the content of my mind. It’s incredible what can be found in one’s mind. As the effect of the potion was growing stronger my control over the world I was entering was growing weaker. It was the fireworks of everything which was turning into a complete psychedelic experience, just like the paintings of Dalí, the movies directed by Tim Burton or the music by Pink Floyd.
I saw elements that were totally unrelated to each other, but, at the same time, they made perfect sense. There was no hiding anything: you couldn’t store anything in a drawer of your sub consciousness; there was no the famous line: “I’ll think about it later”. I was everywhere. I even wanted to go on different planets, but something (maybe even I?) said that I wasn’t ready yet. The images transformed into colours and the colors changed depending on the emotions they expressed. In one moment they were colorful only to change to a complete blackness.
It was interesting, even scary: the feeling we had where your body is completely irrelevant – like a jacket you toss on the floor – while your spirit is that powerful. The body didn’t seem to be totally okay with that so it expressed its protest with a twitch or two, it would forget to take breath in, or my arm would get too heavy and it would sink through my chest.
When the effect started to wear off a bit there was the first outbreak of people rushing to the toilets which were occupied nearly the entire time. We had to find another post in the pitch dark. Walking was basically an impossible mission since the ground seemed at least half a meter higher than it actually was. Also, everything was dancing and vibrating so it was hard to concentrate. When I came back everyone was throwing up in their bowls. The sounds of people vomiting only made the atmosphere appear even crazier and more surreal. At one point during the night I threw up, too, and even though I hadn’t eaten barely anything during the day, some fruit and a carrot, the bowl was full of something and I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly.
Accept the consequences of our actions – that was the only thing I heard from Tomislav that evening. His journey was also much more intense that the one from the previous night. His body, just like mine, was passing through some rough times and his head was swarming with chaotic thoughts and unrelated images.
Just before we went to sleep he managed to put a smile on his face and tell me his conclusion of the evening: I think I’m on the right path. Nothing more than that. Still, it was more than enough.
The following day we found that that besides ayahuasca there was also datura, a plant with a strong hallucinogenic effect – it could take to another world, in our potion. That explained the greater effect than that of the first evening. Also, we all got the same amount of the potion, no matter that was our first time, no matter our height or weight.
The following few days we slowed down a bit: we kept thing about that night, we walked to the village, ate cheap specialty of the Amazon area – pescado en hoja – grilled fish wrapped in a leaf, we drank wine and beer, hung out with the people, danced, sang. Soon we realized that it was time to move on. Once we got to Iquitos we had three options: we could take the ship and go back to Yurimaguas, take the ship to Brazil, or we could take a third ship that would take us further southward, to Pucallpa. We chose the fourth option since we stumbled upon an offer – cheap airplane tickets to Pucallpa.
Ayahuasca remained somewhat mysterious and it was definitely something that I would like to investigate more thoroughly. I didn’t have a complete impression of it despite the fact that I saw its effects that night. Very soon, during a bus ride, on the back seat, next to a window – it hit me.
Up to recently I thought that I knew everything, at least a lot of things. I thought I knew a lot of things about me, world, life. I thought I was a complete, mature, formed person and that that was what mattered. That was how the things were supposed to be. I thought I should have a strong, right, carefully formed opinion about everything. I thought I should stick to my principles and that they were the ones that would lead me through the life. I thought that was me. I was so wrong and I thought I was right.
In fact, all these principles and all those moments I took side, meant a kind of a restriction: a boundary, fight, alienation. Whenever we give ourselves a chance to discover new and different ways we keep on growing and developing – all those were different levels that ought to be explored. A personal journey. One should not be stubborn and resist the change.
I made the decision. For a while I would leave aside everything I’d learnt before – all the things I firmly stuck to. I would give a chance to everything to inspire me and to guide me.
Oh, Peru – what a meditation.