It had been two long days, coming down from the Cordillera Blanca from Huaraz via La Union and Huanuco at the door step to the Peruvian Amazon. As far as the mines, some hours before La Union, there had been decent roads, of course for the trucks carrying away the sub-terranean resources to the Canadian bottom line. The ugly appearance of mining facilities and the steady stream of full-sized lorries carrying ton after ton tears your heart apart, -like the mines tear the heart out of the mountains. The Cordillera Blanca is an outstandingly beautiful area – never quite seen anything like it.
“In 1966, the Alpamayo mountain was declared “the most beautiful mountain in the world” by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization“.
The (swim in the) Chinancocha lake speaks for itself:
But the mining business is growing and the mountains shrinking, and the water quality around the mines – down the rivers far away – becoming an ever more dismal health threat:
From La Union to Huanuco the road was a cliffhanger, literally, and the bus -as old as you like- was a charm and equally great were the team of three with whom we sat in the cabin in front and exchanged anecdotes – “The pigs don’t “cover” (“cobran”: demand bribes) you over there (in Europa), do they?“, the driver asked and later noted that around here a kilo of cocaine is US$600, but “We’re intelligent, we don’t use it, just produce it“. We all burst out laughing.
We left Huanuco behind in the mid-afternoon, heading down the one-way road to Pucallpa, the fastest growing city in the Peruvian Amazon, something in the order of 12 hours drive down the hill from Huanuco. It was the rainy season (as is particularly hard felt in Bolivia!) and the road was blocked – more than 200 meters of asphalt road had been washed away by a landslide, a common feature on the Pucallpa road, – hence the buses were on hold, and so we set off in shared cars, another common feature in many parts of Peru; a normal little car and when it is full it takes off to the next town, so town by town we were nearing Pucallpa, going through Tingo Maria, where the forest starts and where the cocaine business is thriving, as it is all along the road – wholesale and production only, though, no one offered anything, no one said anything – but everyone knows that on the road there is a lot of drug stuff going down. “They won’t tell me anything about their economic circumstances” said the young guy working for an U.S. coordinated micro-finance scheme, “when I do surveys along the road to determine needs and wants for the project“. Their finances are all coked up.
Coming into Pucallpa is bizarre – after all those hours and having hiked in mud to the knees across a landslide in the dark, after a long-awaited sleep following a shower in the first and best hotel in Aguaytia, the contrasts were sharp – the brewery, the many logging operations’ facilities and the sheer amount of cars, rickshaws, people, vultures (not the capitalists or the X-tians, but the birds!).
Not quite paradise, but somewhat lost (from the rest of the world) despite its industrial character and noisy, busy, polluted and many streets, cars and honking horns, Pucallpa is certainly in the forest, in Amazonia. But a typical scene in Amazonia might look like this:
And this is Aguaytia at night:
In some other entry we shall look at the great projects and people we met with, but let us here take a quick look at the fifth time that I had the privilege and pleasure of drinking Ayahuasca.
Among the Shipivo (Shipibo) people it is common to drink Ayahuasca not to heal, although of course that is a common use as in the rest of the Amazonia-Ayahuasca culture, but to receive visions for their famous handicraft:
“The Shipibo community consists of about 35,000 people living in over three hundred villages concentrated in the Pucallpa region and is situated to the north and south of the city of Pucallpa. Shipibo communities are mostly situated along the Río Ucayali and nearby oxbow lakes. The Río Ucayali connects with the Río Marañon to form the Río Amazonas (Amazon River), the longest and largest river in the world. The Río Amazonas flows northward past Iquitos on its long journey to the Atlantic Ocean. Similar to the Matis, Mayoruna, Korubo, and Marubo Indians, the Shipibo Indians speak a native language of the Panoan family. Presently, most Shibibos speak Spanish as well and their native language. The Shipibo people are primarily artisans, hunters, and fishermen and some practice slash-and-burn agriculture. Primary tools are machetes and spears. Virtually none of the Shipibo villages have electricity. “
Around Pucallpa, however, many Shipivos live in vilage formations hooked up to the grid – with TVs, with chilled beer and amplified music. A lovely, welcoming people who are not damaged and destroyed entirely by the omni-present Christian Armies and they use psychedelics for creative, artistic purposes – just the kind we like
“No’ vemo’ a las ocho, entonce‘”, said the Ayahuasquero after we had chatted briefly about our desire to taste the local spirit juice and co-determined that we “knew what we were doing”. He was a lovely man – great leathered face with that grin that always tells me that we’re on the inside of a shared psychedelic community, – it is like a universal thing, whether among acid-popping ravers in Goa in the early 90s or with a 70 year old Shipibo artisan-woman in the Amazon, there is a smile shared that reveals a common understanding of “that other place” (as if to say: “Yes, I go there, too”). 8 o’clock seems to be the time to drink – after dark, while you still have energy to concentrate once the electro-chemical storms rage.
It was in San Francisco, a little village half an hour down the Yarinacocha (lake) that makes Pucallpa a natural metropol for the surrounding settlements and which connects the town (city) to the Ucayali river – S.F. is a budding eco-village centre with a nice botanical garden and as many ayahuasqueros as you like and blonde voluntárias frolickin’ in serial attention from the local boys!
A friend of a friend, –who is a student at the Universidad Nacional Intercultural de la Amazonia working on a very interesting botanical garden project to which we return in a different blog entry–, had taken us to the ayahuasquero’s house to where we later returned for the spiritual mission. “Only10 years” he said looking down in slight embarrassment about his credentials as tender of spirit juice, but his songs were great, timeless, beautiful and the little space, clad in white cotton protecting the insiders from mosquitos, was very comforting. His daughter was there to “help out”, which included bringing in two buckets, which brought out smiles on our lips – we all now where we’re heading now, then!
Five us, including the ayahuasquero, drank a cup of the spirit juice and we sank slowly, safely and comfortably into a restful, focused and concentrated space, ready to welcome the plant spirits. The ayahuasca was a smooth mixture of the ayahuasca vine and (a local variety of) chacruna that began to assert its presence after the usual 45-60 minutes, during which we had all reclined to a horizontal position in contemplation and enjoyment of the lovely melodies that emanated from the ayahuasquero and filled the room with confidence and anticipation of a great journey.
This was our first ride with Psychotria viridis as companion – in Ecuador chaliponga (Diplopterys cabrerana) is normally favoured as the companion – and it felt different, but then again, it probably always does, depending on the specific recipe, handling, diet and other bio-strategic rhythms.
Doing a “How are you?” round after an hour and a half the ayahuasquero took a breather from his singing, which in itself included a lot of breathing exercises, common to many ayahuasca practices, where breathing is part of letting out the bad, undesired energies from within. For instance the curandero will often breathe, suck rather, bad energy straight out of what Eastern practitioners call the crown chakra – from the top of your head s/he sucks out your illness.
I was lying down in deep meditation when the spirit juice began to take hold of my body. “Oh Dear, here we go again“, I though to myself and sat up determined to remain in the driver’s seat no matter what the plant spirit had in (my) mind. I stumbled around imaginatively looking for, trying to articulate a question to pose to the ayahuasca spirit – my thoughts circulated around the fear and well known desesperacion and I realised that my question was crystallising: Why I am drinking ayahuasca – what do I want from you and what do you, plant spirit, want from me, in case I should continue to drink?
The dose was mild for the size of me, for Colona it was just around the threshold of disembodiment and she floated happily besides me. Sitting up the energy began to flow through my soul and I lifted up my arms like the wings of a bird about to fly -or to impress a mate- to facilitate the flow of energy now calmly rushing through me. The first 15-25 minutes of the main trip were soon over and I decided to add a wee bit of THC to stimulate the processes and the spirit returned with great enthusiasm and slightly wilder rushes.
Feeling in charge of things, hand in hand with ayahuasca, I lay down to began the journey through the visions that were hopefully going to provide answers to why the hell I am doing this thing! Soon enough they came rolling over me like a Hollywood trailer show with such consistency and conviction for an hour or more that I knew for certain that if I keep drinking, which I intend to, then I now have a purpose – a psychedelic rebel with a cause, you might say. The contents of the visions, the cause, as it were, will surely be revealed slowly over time in this blog – but some gardening and construction of dwellings are involved. A focus has emerged.
Again, this experience was reminiscent of a de Quinceyan dreamscape – body slow below, head fast above in a field of visions providing more food for thought than anything else I can provide a first-hand account of.
A few hours later we had all fallen asleep – Colona, our two Shipivo friends and general hosts, the ayahuasquero, his daughter and grand-child just next to me. It was a deep, spiritual and communal sleep and we woke up with smiles on our lips to become Godfather and Godmother respectively of two little (grand-) children. All in all a very illuminating, convivial and strengthening experience ending with an honourable, yet dauntingly responsible task of being the official “guardian” of another human being.
“Are you aware that we might now come back here very often, that we do not have any money, really, and that we going to live our lives in a different place with different commitments?” we asked the daughters of the ayahuasquero. They nodded, they knew, and we proceeded to give the kids their new names, including our own and the ceremony, in that sense, came to quite a bonding conclusion.