Impressions from pucallpa to Iquitos by cargo boat (8 days)
Three chickens held by their feet upside-down peeping with fear as a man rushes past the waiting line towards the kitchen. A turtle escapes the elderly woman’s purse as she naps on the 10 inch wide bench barely 3 times the size of the escapee. I wonder as I pass her if she will react with anger or grief when she wakes to the sight of a crushed shell and guts smeared across the iron deck. Perhaps she was taking it home to eat anyway. Two caged rodent-like animals were offered to us for 100 soles a piece. These animals with their curiously twitching long whiskers seemed less fearful and more bemused as they twisted and turned to see the gaping primates. I gestured to my mouth and he nodded “si, si”. I left them to their fate thinking they might be some kind of rare spotted mammal, but I guess not every exotic animal has to be endangered. Saw a curious moth on the toilet door. Half lion half Insect. I had to blow on it to make sure it wasn’t simply in an advanced state of decay. 1.5 inchs long with a mane of feathers almost as long as its mottled brown (insert color here: colorblind) body. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Climbed up on deck behind the bridge to have a beer with the stoners who where sleeping outside under the stars. 2 from Poland 1 from Norway. The captain’s spot light comes on as he tries to find a safe place to dock at the bank of the river. On the bank, signal lights flash among the trees to show where the ship should land.
The stars are so bright it’s breathtaking the milky way slashes across the Amazon from one tree lined bank to the other. No lights visible anywhere except from the hammock deck below which light up the closest bank of trees with a dull glow as we quietly drift past. The funnel from the engine pours out a white smoke against the night from the pitch black shape of a dragon’s head. Bats dart in and out of the ship’s spot light hunting insects like flashes of white lightning. Below decks the faint sound of salsa drifts out into the night. This is the Amazon 3 days out of Pucallpa 3 days from Iquitos and as I pick up my recharged iPod and head to my hammock I wonder if by some miracle I can bump hammocks with the 23 year old Belgium beauty who shares my fever pills.
Spent the night on the roof again with my new shipmates drinking beer and sharing like college students. A remote village with 4 street lights total which line the river bank that slopes down to Henry I, our ship. Tied up dugout canoes next to us. Candles and flames visible through an open door in one house of four facing the river. The village proper in complete darkness under the thick vegetation of jungle.
One on one with Medado a shaman from Tamshiacu 45 min by fast boat from Iquitos, Northeastern amazon, Peru, August 10 2010.
After a meal of rice, fried bananas and fried eggs I retired to my bunk in the wooden sweat box that sloped down hill and lay down to sleep fitfully for a few hours before the ceremony which was going to start in the kitchen at 7 sharp.
I passed an American women who wished me many visions as I walked to the kitchen with my water, foam mattress and toilet paper which would make the diarrhea at the improvised toilet quickly dug by the shaman do-able if my senses didn’t desert me.
Sitting facing the shaman I watched nervously as he, sitting cross-legged in front of the various bottles of different colored liquids, leaned into the candle light to check the time one last time. It was now dark outside. As I squinted through the screen which circled the kitchen and I saw an anomalous bright light floating briefly among the trees before disappearing.
I kept reminding myself to say Salute to the shaman before drinking the ayawaska as the woman had advised me less than an hour ago.
The shaman was just finishing blowing smoke from the mapacho cigarettes over his body and started to anoint himself with the liquid from one of his bottles as I steeled myself mentally to drink the small cup which I knew any minute now I would be offered.
” Salute” I said quietly and I raised my cup to the jungle and my demons and all the circumstances that had lead me to this jungle clearing in the middle of the amazon for this moment of madness. Tasting like a light dishwashing liquid I resisted the urge to spit unsuccessfully.
I immediately start spitting into my puke bucket strategically located on my left hand side and leaned back against the crudely cut planks of wood that constituted the walls of our ceremonial space and was aware of this dark liquid sitting ominously in my stomach which in my mind was like an acid that was moments away from being violently ejected from my throat. “If you vomit in the first 10 minutes he will likely give you another cup” her words echoed through my head and I once again swallowed another foul tasting gob of spit.
Sitting opposite each other we sat silently in the flickering candle light for 15 minutes before the shaman without warning or hesitation leaned forward and blew out the candle. Utter darkness ….. except for the burning ember of a last mapacho. It was a shock. Did I feel anything? Nope, nothing and then I heard a faint whistle coming from the direction of where the shaman must be sitting. Oh, I recognized this from the movie Blueberry and over the next few minutes he continued this barely audible whistling amidst the ever sharpening sounds of the jungle and occasional rumbling of thunder which sporadically broke through the stillness of three people sitting silently in the pitch black. As my eyes started to adjust to the darkness Medardo started to chant and the faint sound of the schacapa, a dry leaf instrument, rustling rhythmically dampened the call of a billion insects.
Oh! The discharge of neurons visualized as light began to condense into shapes and became brighter. Is this a hallucination ? Oh shit here we go! Images started to become discernible, but what were they? I shake my head and look around. The shaman now is chanting with a strong voice and I realize he must be in-sync with what must now be running through both our veins. Then my attention is drawn to a mythically sized bright lime green flying centipede which funnily enough has no legs but has green spikes all over its body and I realize as I fly along beside its beautifully undulating body that I am unafraid and I look around curiously at the dark space we are flying through half expecting to see stars or perhaps a swirling galaxy emerge. A warm sensation in my abdomen reminds me that I have drunk something that is probably going to make me puke and I reach for the plastic bowl on my right and Iean over and start to spit… a lot. Within minutes I am no longer casually leaning over to spit, I am on my hands and knees under the cover of darkness with the bowl inches from my face anxiously dry heaving stomach juices by the mouthful, into the darkness.
Sitting up again with some relief I stare out into the barely discernible darkness of the jungle when a firefly suddenly fires up and the right hemisphere of my skull explodes with light, temporarily confusing me as to if it is actually flying through my head or outside. I shake my head again and realize that I have to get up and urgently find the toilet outside in the rain. I stand up and find the toilet paper and grope with my feet for the crocs which I had judiciously placed next to the open door. I turn on my head lamp and instantly blind myself before stumble unsteadily down the steps to the improvised log toilet created specifically for this eventuality. In the light of my head lamp I can see a web of strings that flow around every object including my arms.
I remind myself to start drinking more as I am losing lots of fluids. Sitting back down I can hear the shaman has started to sing his icaro. I try to hold my koan “what is this?” briefly but give up shortly after. What’s the point, really? The shaman whistles the end of his icaro and after a moment of silence a vibrant neon sea slug glides across my vision from the left peripheral filling up my field of view then as I watch it sail off into the darkness ahead of me I see that from a flower-like tail it is drizzling a trail of stars and it’s then that I realize I am inside an experience that is closer to a living poem than a hallucination with multiple layers of song, sound, color and smell. I think this the most beautiful experience I have ever had.
Throughout the rest of the night vision after vision morph and form to and from one another. Crocodile skulls, trees, cartoons, people, streams, ideas, insects, leaves, distorted faces, sexual images, spiders, stars and space all quickly flowing from one into the other. Curiously enough I had a few insights into my personality that may or may not be accurate but which made so much sense as to be self evident. But they seemed to be for me anomalies that came from nowhere in-between visions of nature and modern life that, like currents in a river as it flows over a waterfall, mixing and merging to form one continuous flow.