]The Late Birthday Present
I've recently broken my camera, so you can view the last of the photos I will be able to upload from my camera at its album Ayahuasca Vision Quest, an Overnight Jungle Trek, and Los Días de Los Muertos Facebook Album. I will probably be uploading photos from Ami's camera (I apologize in advance for people who are friends with both of us for the duplicates in pictures).
We spent about a week in Puerto Maldonado, which (other than the broken camera) an exquisite trip. Two of our friends live there (Naun and Rachel). It's one of the largest cities in the Amazonian region of Perú (Iquitos would be the other). It's more expensive than most of the rest of Perú, but still very cheap by US standards. In Perú they use the Nuevo Sol (New Sun) and the exchange rate, while it fluctuates daily) is about three sol's to every USD. The double room that Ami and me were staying in (Hostel Moderno) cost s/. 25 per night (or a little over USD$4 per night). We could eat a giant rice, soup, meat, and juice dinner for only s/. 3... which is so cheap. Some places are more touristy, and thus more expensive.
While we were in Puerto Maldonado we did go to a couple of the tourist restaurants. There we ate some traditional jungle food and jungle meat. I had wild jungle pig (Giant Peccary – Pecari Maximus) and Ami had wild jungle rodent (Capybara - Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris). It was good although neither tasted like chicken. We also ate at a couple of great pizzerias, a chifa restaurant (Peruvian Chinese restaurant), and I ate some Juane on my jungle adventure.
We also ate some other unexpected stuff. We were in Puerto for a couple of days, I began to notice that Ami kept going off with Rachael to I figured plan something. I left to go to the bank one day, while we were all getting coffee and dessert and came back to Ami explaining about her birthday experience. Well, were sitting in the hostel room one day, and Naun and Rachael came by. Ami told me, “you need a hammock… and let's go.” I decided I needed pack a few more things, but I didn't know where we were going. I had figured this had something to do with my birthday, but I had not know that Ami had been planning it for almost two weeks.
I quickly packed my bags (because everybody was waiting for me), and we headed off on motorbikes. When we got outside of town, we switched drivers (I was riding with Naun and Ami with Rachael). Ami had been asking for days to be able to drive one of the motor scooters so I figured I ought to let her drive us, to where ever we were going. I second guessed myself after we started weaving back and forth across the road. When we came to the first bridge, Ami wasn't used to the breaking system and we made it more of a jump than a bridge.
A little further down the road we ended up laying the scooter down, not going very quickly so nobody was hurt. After a little bit, and some adjustments of my giant backpack, and Ami got the driving down pretty pat. That's how it seemed at least. Let's just say that going uphill on a little scooter can be a dangerous endeavor. We had just gone over a bridge. The bridges in the jungle (for buses, trucks, motorcycles, and everything) are somewhat menacing. There have been a number of times on buses that I have been afraid that they would break. The generally contain two wide boards that are higher by about an inch then all of the crossbeams. While the wide boards would seem the more secure bet, they are too narrow to be easily navigated by bike. Taking a bike over the crossbeams has its own challenges too. Normally they are lower than the ground, and so there is always a bump getting on and off. By the end of the hour trip there and back both me and Ami became proficient at navigating these.
The steep dirt road hills are another story. After crossing one of these bridges, Ami started heading up this hill. About half way up, she decided that the bike was in too high of a gear. The combination of me (a good couple hundred pounds heavier than Ami) and my backpacking bag seemed too much for the bike. We road a wheelie for a couple of feet before the bike tipped over onto it's back. I kind of jumped off of the bike and fell back on my pack. My first response was to look at Ami's feet and legs to see if they were trapped along the hot metal. Her flip flop (not good riding equipment for either of us) was stuck between the tire and spokes. Out of instinct I grabbed for her leg and tried to make sure she was safe. In the process I managed to create some excess bubbling skin on my forearm (interestingly, it was right over a previous burn). We both came out alright, although Ami was pretty beat up. I drove the bike the rest of the way (only five minutes down the road) to the Shamans place.
When we finally arrived in the woods, and first found a wooden platform to set our hammocks on, was when I was first told what the present was. I was being brought into the middle of nowhere to do a vision quest with Ayahuasca (ayawaska pronounced [ajaˈwaska] in the Quechua language). This is a brewed mixture of a vine and some leaves that have psychoactive (hallucinogenic) proprieties. As we have been traveling I have met a number of people who have either taken Ayahuasca or San Pedro Cactus, and it has always been a thought to personally try these. One lady we met from the UK has been traveling around South America for the past several months after being diagnosed with a deadly brain tumor to just take Ayahuasca. She said that she had not been medically tested yet, but she was sure it was helping and that she had a number of physical manifestations.
Knowing that I have come to South America partly to find myself, and help figure out what I am supposed to do with my life… Ayahuasca seemed an interesting experience to have. I did have to spend some time deciding whether or not I would take it at that moment. It is a strange thing, to be brought somewhere and expected to take a hallucinogen without any type of preparation or forethought. We also almost did not perform the ceremony because the Shaman that Naun knew was performing a ceremony at another lodge that evening. We were left with his two understudies. Interestingly, they were gringos (i.e. foreigners).
All in all, there were the two stand in Shaman, Naun, Rachael, Ami, two girls from Spain, and me all participated in the experience. We sat on mats on the floor of a dark hut and took each took our turn of drinking the concoction. We drank about one half cup of the liquid, which both smelled and tasted bad. After about a half hour, they turned off the lights started chanting and shaking a maraca type instrument. Soon after, with my eyes closed I started hallucinating a bit. I, and almost everybody vomited. Vomiting is very normal with Ayahuasca, and supposed to symbolize cleansing the body. One member of our group continued to vomit through the entire night (not a very pleasant experience). While I did not seem to see my purpose or any type of future life vision I did see some other things.
I felt both very hot and cold at different points during the experience. At one point, I was sitting on the ground, and I felt like I was a giant ball of gravity… pulling everybody closer to me. I also experienced seeing a white light and seeing all of my thoughts running across this glass like surface as if they were ants. I also saw myself madly trying to type all of my thoughts down in a darkened room. All in all, it was an interesting experience. I would not say that it was life changing or vision forming. But it was very interesting.
I drove us the majority of the way back on the motor bike… but I ran into a similar problem as Ami did. While attempting to navigate a hill, I realized I was in too high of a gear I attempted to downshift. Ami fell off the back of the bike as we popped another wheelie. I was able to control the bike and not let it come crashing to the ground. While I was able to control the bike, I did end up spinning it in a circle (and revving up the engine at the same time because I was holding the gas with my hand). I nearly ran Ami over with the bike. Deciding that she did not want to ride with me anymore, I rode back with Naun and Ami with Rachel.
Church Outreach Event
A couple of nights later, next to the Plaza Armas (the main square), there were people setting up for a concert that evening. Ami and I met a couple who are from Texas, and had been living here for the last four months. They are here to plant a church, and are planning to start an English language school. They also helped to set up the event that was happening later in the square.
The event was pretty spectacular. There were hundreds of people hanging out in the plaza, and around the stage. The event started with some awards for various groups involved. They then had a children's program which consisted of people in giant costumes, singing and dancing. Some of the pastors who spoke described Halloween (the day the event took place) as evil and of the Devil. They also told parents to not let their kids go out dancing or drinking. There was a number of human videos and dramas. The main event was a singer from Bolivia. It was amazing to see so many people worshiping, and dancing in the streets. At the end, they had an alter call and maybe 20 people came forward to commit their lives to Jesus. It was very exciting. Apparently the local pastors set up a free breakfast in the morning for the new converts to be able to better meet them.
Tambopata National Reserve Jungle Trek
I got the amazing opportunity to go on a very cheap jungle trek. I went with a number of French speaking people, but it was still an amazing adventure. I showed up at the port at 6am, and we took an eight hour boat ride to make it fairly deep into the Tambopata National Reserve. The whole trip cost me less than USD$100… which is really an amazing price. The lodge that is across the river from where we were costs about USD$1,000 for a four night trek, making my price super cheap. During the boat ride, I saw a number of different birds and even a small clay lick for macaws. Macaws will eat the nutrients at the clay licks to help settle their stomachs giving them the ability to eat both ripe and un-ripe fruit. We also saw a couple of peccaries (wild jungle pigs). My necklace I recently bought has a tusk from one of the peccaries. It's also interesting that there were birds eating the little insects off of the peccaries that we passed.
When we arrived, we made camp and went for a swim. I had neglected to bring a tent, believing my hammock would be enough. Everybody thought that I was crazy. After our swim we had a candle lit dinner and went searching for caiman. I thought it was very funny that we were looking for caiman right next to where we were swimming a few hours before. Interestingly, the only caiman we saw was not more than a 2 minute walk down the beach from where we were. Apparently they aren't much for attacking people. On our night walk, we also saw a little frog, a deadly snake, and some cool bugs that eyes glow.
I ended up not sleeping in my hammock, due to a killer rain storm. They made some room for me in one of the tents. From inside the tent the entire ceiling was constantly lit up by lightning and the ground seem to shake from the thunder. I donned my swimsuit to experience the storm fully, and found one of my fellow traveling companions tent completely flooded. After helping them in their midnight wet move, I stood out the storm. Me and four other guys stood out in the rain and finished the rum and coke that was left over from after dinner.
After a long stormy night, 4:30 am came very early. By about five we were in the boat and heading to the world largest known clay lick. We saw so many different types of birds. It was worth the early morning trek. After that, we returned to the camp to pack everything up. While I was heading out into the woods, to use the bathroom, I spotted a little jungle rodent. So much wildlife. After that we took a two hour jungle hike. It was very interesting to see so many different plants and animals. Some of them have really interesting stories. Make sure to check out the photos' linked above… because I describe about each on the photos themselves. Wildlife wise, we did see some squirrel and howler monkeys.
Is South America Supposed to Be Cold?
We took an 15 hour bus ride from Puerto Maldonado to Cusco Peru. Arriving at about 6:30 AM we decided that Cusco is a very cold place. During the day's it's about mid 70's to low 80's, and just above freezing during the night. Although we both took medicine for altitude sickness (Cusco is 3,310 m), and drank coca tea… we both ended up not feeling the best. For about two days I have been very sick… barely wanting to leave my bed to eat. But finally this morning I am feeling better.
We spent the first couple of nights couchsurfing, but are now staying at Pirwa Colonial Backpackers Hostel. When we were couchsurfing it was an interesting experience. The guy we stayed with, owned an extra two bedroom apartment and we stayed there by ourselves. He was very nice. Currently we will be starting to do volunteering on Monday. We are also looking for apartments and jobs. We believe we will be staying at the South American Explores Club.