July 20 (Monday)
Peru Travel Diary Chapter 5: Pucallpa
After four nights in Tingo Maria it's time to be moving on to Pucallpa. I take my luggage to a place with Pucallpa-bound taxis and get a seat (costs 45 soles, $13.88), and we leave at 9 am. There's only me and another man in the back seat, though we pick up another passenger for part of the way. The road leading east from Tingo Maria first goes through some flat country but then we ascend to more interesting scenery at higher elevation, partly with cloud forests, However, after about half an hour we are stopped, along with many other cars and trucks, because of a landslide blocking the road. I suspect that we'll have a long wait, but after half an hour the road is cleared, and we move on. Then 15 minutes later we're stopped again because of another landslide. A way past this is also cleared, and we continue on, after a while descending to the Amazon Basin, which stretches east for a couple of thousand miles to the Atlantic Ocean.
We arrive in Pucallpa at about 2 pm. It's quite warm, since the elevation of Pucallpa is just 150 meters. I consult my 2004 Lonely Planet guidebook for accommodation and select three possibilities which, after 11 years, may or may not still exist. I get a mototaxi to one of them, the Hospedaje Barbtur. They have a room with bath for 40 soles ($12.32) per night which is OK; has a fan, desk and wifi, but no hot water. But I like to check other places in case there's something better so, leaving my luggage, I go to look at the two other places. One seems to have disappeared and the other is cheaper (30 soles) but not so good. So back to the Hospedaje Barbtur, where I negotiate the price down to 35 soles ($10.80) per night.
Having eaten only a few biscuits for lunch I want a decent meal. I walk a few of blocks and find the Parrilladas El Braserito. Its menu is a bit pricey for me, but I find an affordable dish, grilled pork chop with chips, plus a glass of red wine, all of which comes to 26 soles ($8.02), and the food is very tasty.
Nights in Pucallpa are never cool, and I sleep well enough with just a sheet to cover me.
At 7 am I go out to look for breakfast. Just up the street is a 3-star hotel (with rooms for 120 soles, $37), the Grand Hotel Mercedes and I go in and ask about getting breakfast there. Yes, and in a pleasant restaurant by a courtyard with a swiming pool surrounded by lush foliage I get a desayuno americano for 18 soles ($5.55), rather more than what I usually pay but that's OK.
Today is mainly taken up by work on my laptop (the wifi connection is excellent), lunch at the Tropitop on the Plaza de Armas (where I get a so-so chicken-and-bacon sandwich with — heaven! — two large glasses of passion fruit juice). On my way back to the hospedaje I pass a woman sitting on a chair in the street, somewhat attractive, but then I notice that she has no arms or legs, or rather, they don't extend to elbows or knees. Was she born that way? Were her arms and legs lost in an accident? Of course, I can't ask.
This morning it's damp, with some rain. I go to a breakfast place near the Plaza de Armas. Peruvians normally eat a meal for breakfast which is like lunch and dinner, not the coffee and fried eggs that I like to have. But I can always get them by asking for café negro y huevos fritos, por favor. A desayuno americano is normally melon juice, coffee, scrambled eggs (with ham) and bread rolls with butter (and sometimes also jam). But at this restaurant they don't have bread rolls, just dry toast. I'll try a different place tomorrow.
Near the restaurant is a herbal medicine shop, with all sorts of herbal remedies, mosty as capsules in jars. Interesting, but I don't know what to look for. Instead, on the way back to the hospedaje I buy 30 capsules of Pharmaton (with 40 mg of ginseng plus vitamins and minerals) for 29 soles ($9, compared to about $16 if bought in Europe).
One of the two reasons I've come to Pucallpa is to see if I can get my hearing aid fixed (by the Widex distributor here), the one that died the morning after my ayahuasca session with Alberto in Tarapoto. It's hard to believe that I've been getting around (in three towns) for nearly three weeks while being 90% deaf. I've often had to ask people to write things down (in Spanish) so I can get answers to my questions (such as I need to ask). I'm used to communicating with people (mainly in Asia) who don't speak English, so I'm quite good at non-verbal communication, but I would really prefer to be able to hear what people say to me, especially if they're speaking in English.
But at 11 am it's raining heavily, so I decide to postpone my visit to the Widex distributor until tomorrow, and instead get some work done.
I go for breakfast at the Grand Hotel Mercedes and in their restaurant I am surprised to see a large mural depicting ayahuasca use. It shows a rural scene, lake (or river) and forest, with (on the right) a naked man (surrounded by wispy naked females encouraging him) drinking ayahuasca from a bowl. At left is another female looking over at the man, apparently with some concern. She is grasping a liand of the vine ayahuasca and apparently represents the feminine spirit, Ayahuasca. At her feet are several other kinds of plants, probably the admixture plants for the ayahuasca brew. In the center is a large snake (an anaconda?) and there are three trees from whose trunks half-emerge men playing musical instruments (two drums and a flute). To one side of the mural are a couple of panels with text explaining the significance of ayahuasca.
After some work I go to the hearing aid shop, not far away. The door is opened by a very attractive lady with large breasts, with tempting cleavage, amply revealed by the blouse she's wearing. We sit at her desk, and I admire the view. Her young son, maybe three years old, is clinging to her, demanding. It seems that she is still breast-feeding him, and he (pulling at her blouse) very much wants to suck her nipples. So do I. But instead I show her my non-functioning hearing aid and ask, in my bad Spanish, whether it can be fixed. At first, in a friendly way, she says No, I need to buy a new hearing aid (which would cost about 3400 soles, $1050). It's obvious my Spanish is not good enough for this discussion, so I suggest we move to Google Translate. Her colleague in the next room (another attractive young woman, but not revealing any cleavage) has a laptop on her desk, so we move to there and begin a computer-assisted dialogue. After much back-and-forth we agree that the hearing aid should be sent to the Widex lab in Lima (for 45 soles) to see if it can be fixed. But next week there are two days when no-one works because it's the Peruvian national holiday. So I won't know until a week from today whether it can be fixed. And then it would probably take another week for it actually to be fixed. So at best I'm looking at another two weeks of deafness. The lady fills out the required forms while we're still sitting next to the laptop. Her son is still bothering her. I think later that I should have continued the computer-assisted dialogue by saying, "I too would like to suck your nipples", and maybe she would have replied Ven arriba ("Come upstairs"). Damn! — missed my chance.
It's a fine morning and at 7 am I go to the Plaza de Armas to the Tropitop for breakfast. Across the street, on the plaza, there's a naked man sleeping on the ground. After a while two municipal security men come along, tell him to move on, and escort him away from the plaza (mildly protesting, as if he had a perfect right to sleep there naked).
The desayuno americano is quite good (9 soles, $2.78) and the view of the plaza is quite good, so I'll be returning. I go back to the hospedaje and start work.
It's a warm day. I need to recompile the heliocentric aspects program due to fixing a small bug. I wonder if I might add some further functionality. I have an idea for including a planet in the search for a planetary aspect pattern, and I start on that. It's not easy, but doable.
The hospedaje has cable TV and after a dinner of a bisteck ("beefsteak") sandwich I catch the History Channel's history of Hugh Hefner and the Playboy Magazine, showing old footage from the 1970s and before (JFK, Lenny Bruce, Sammy Davis Jr, Women's Lib, etc.). I lived through those times, so it's a bit of down memory lane. Hugh comes across as a likeable, impish character who had a lifelong desire to see how far he could stick it to the puritanical American WASP culture with its fear of sex.
This morning it's rainingly lightly. As I exit the front door of the hospedaje I see a half-naked old man lying on the footpath, asleep. Not a good way to start the day. I go to the Grand Hotel Mercedes for a decent breakfast.
I continue to work on the heliocentric aspects program. I've discovered that I can include not just one planet in the aspect pattern search, but three. It's difficult, but doable.
It being Sunday, the usual almuerzo (cheap lunch) restaurants are closed, so I go to the Tropitrop for a light lunch. Several old ladies (Shipobo?) come along trying to sell me shamanic things. I'm not interested. After lunch I walk down to the park by the river. Lots of people are milling about, it being Sunday and presumably they not having much else to do. There are boats docked at the edge of the river. They don't look interesting.
I'm feeling rather depressed. A number of personal unresolved issues are weighing on me, including money. For the last few months, sales of my software have been way down, about one quarter what I'd make in a good month back in March. It seems that the reported worldwide slump in consumer spending is also playing out in regard to my software. The spectre of insolvency looms once more. An offer of advertising, costing $220, has come up. Should I spend the money on that? Would it be yet another ad costing over $100 which gets me almost no return? I decide against it.
Upon returning to the hospedaje I'm too depressed to work, and I sleep for most of the afternoon.
It's Sunday evening, and all the restaurants are closed, except for a burger joint. I don't feel like a burger, but there's an ice cream shop open, so my dinner is a couple of scoops.
Not too depressed to work this morning, and I penetrate further into the complexities of finding heliocentric aspect patterns involving up to three specified planets.
It's time to arrange a flight for my departure from Peru. Being 90% deaf is a bit of a hindrance. I go to a travel agent who says they only handle domestic flights. He directs me to Star Peru, who says the same, but the lady directs me to travel agents around the corner. I go to one. It's a young man who understands what I want, and comes up with a flight. He allows me to bring up a flight comparison website on his computer, and we find another suitable flight. So this is progress.
I go for the daily almuerzo to a different restaurant then my usual one, and get soup, a plate of chicken and veg, and a drink for 6 soles ($1.85), excellent value.
Back at the hospedaje I continue work on the heliocentric aspects program. By late evening I have solved the problem, so that the program can now, for example, find a heliocentric grand trine made up of Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus (such a grand trine occurs on June 4, 2047).
My depression has lifted. Nice sunny day today. It is Peru's National Day (also tomorrow). At the Plaza de Armas the street sweepers are out in force. Out in even more force are sailors of the Peruvian Navy, with several stationed at regular intervals around the plaza. No police present, but a couple of soldiers with rifles. A band is lined up, presumably in preparation for a march, but I don't wait to see it.
In Pucallpa (and in other Peruvian cities) you can see in the street lots of things that you'd be unlikely to see in a Western city. Not only naked men sleeping on the footpath but also men and women selling puppy dogs. There was a man today pushing a trolley containing about a dozen cute 2-month-old dogs, several different varieties. Lots of people were interested. You could take one home for 150 soles ($46). Presumably vaccination certificates, etc., not included.
Fortunately there are no mosquitos in Pucallpa (at least, in the center). Also there are very few Westerners to be seen here. The Plaza de Armas was redesigned in 2010, and they did a nice job, greenery and fountains. Apparently ten years ago Pucallpa was a dump, with footpaths full of dangerous holes, but now the streets are properly paved, the footpaths often have adjacent strips of grass (they are currently putting them in), and there are pedestrian zones with places to sit (and covered to provide shade). This time, mid-winter, is the best time to be here. It doesn't rain much and on warm days it's not too hot. Mid-summer is hot and rainy, so I imagine it's not a good time to visit.
Day is sunny. On my way back from breakfast I notice an ad on a wall for a shamanic retreat center, costs $40/day or $70/day with ayahuasca ceremonies. Their website tells us that it's 35 km from Pucallpa, and has pics of simple bungalows with shower, and a communal dining hall. Obviously aimed at Westerners, not necessarily wanting to take ayahuasca, since they also offer jungle trips, animal-watching, healing baths, etc. It might be worth a look, but if/when I get my hearing aid fixed then there are a couple of contacts I've been given that I want to check out, and maybe find another curandero who comes well-recommended. As Jean in Tarapoto advised, when doing an ayahuasca session you must choose your ayahuascero carefully, since some don't always have your welfare at heart.
It turns into a frustrating morning. The money changer is offering a poor, but not unacceptable, rate. The post office (actually it's now been privatized, run by SerPost) still hasn't received the registered letter I've been waiting three weeks for. And when I go to the hearing aid shop there's no news as to whether the lab in Lima can fix my hearing aid. I'm annoyed, but try not to give the lady manager a hard time about it. (Today her young son, previously here clamoring to be breast-fed, is not present. She's dressed modestly and — sad to say — her glorious cleavage is not on display.) The hearing aid was sent to Lima last Friday. Today is Thursday. Inbetween, Tuesday and Wednesday were public holidays. Which meant that anyone who could get away with not coming in to work on Monday did so. So maybe tomorrow I'll get some news.
The last few days, after the usual almuerzo of soup and main dish, on returning to the hospedaje I just want to take a siesta, which results in sleeping until 3 pm. So I decide to skip the almuerzo in favor of a slice of cake, cup of coffee and a few strawberries, which allows me to work instead of sleeping. Then at dinner time I can have something more substantial than usual.
As I go out to dinner the hospedaje manager gives me a message from the hearing aid place. It seems that Lima has replied that they can fix my hearing aid. Good news! It will cost 467 soles ($146) — not too bad if this allows it to hang onto a few more years of life. [It dies again 19 months later; at which time I've acquired a better one.]
I go to SerPost with the tracking number for the registered letter I'm waiting for (sent, of course, by airmail). The nice lady brings up the website and we discover that it left from the country from which it was sent on July 10 and arrived in Lima on July 30, twenty days later! And one more day to Pucallpa, but not yet at hand, so I have to wait until tomorrow.
Over at the hearing aid shop I agree to pay the 467 soles and the lady calls Lima and finds that I can expect to get the hearing aid back next Wednesday. That's progress. Apparently moisture inside it caused it to die.
On the streets of Pucallpa (as in other Peruvian cities) there are men and women trying to make a living by hawking all sorts of things, mainly CDs, food and drink. One man (and his wife?) are pressing oranges to make fresh orange juice. I ask how much a glass costs and he replies 2 soles. I suspect the correct price is 1 sole, so I wait until two Peruvians come up, buy two glasses, then pay the man 2 soles. Then he agrees to 1 sole for me.
At the grocery store in the pedestrian zone I discover Chinese instant noodles (big and small), so now I can avoid eating dinner at the restaurant across the street, whose grilled chicken is not bad, but tends to give me indigestion.
The heliocentric aspects program is still not finished, so I spend much of the day putting the final touches to it, then publishing it at last. What started out as a minor functional addition turned into a week's work. And now I have to tell the world that it exists, which I don't look forward to. Whether the world will take any notice is quite unsure. Probably not. [As it turns out, it does not.]
After breakfast on the Plaza I go to the post office. Have to wait a few minutes while the man in the section at the other desk processes the registered letter and transfers it to the nice lady at the counter who is authorised to give it to me. She brings up their web page for that item again, which says that it left the country of origin on July 10. The next entry says that it arrived at the sorting office in Lima on July 30. No evidence of where it was between July 10 and 30. Did some spooks somewhere hijack it? Was it tossed into a corner somewhere and not found until two weeks later? Was it not unloaded from the plane, and accidentally flown back to where it came from, then had to be sent again? Another mystery that will probably never be solved.
On my way back to the hospedaje I walk through the pedestrian zone, with its several pools. There's a naked man sitting in one of the pools, doing something with a bottle and a plastic bag. He seems quite relaxed. No-one appears to think this is strange. Only in Pucallpa.
I work in the afternoon and around 7 pm I decide I'd better go out to the grocery store to buy some food in case tomorrow, Sunday, all the restaurants are closed. I buy instant noodles and a pack of biscuits. I decide I want some pizza, so I go to the place on the Plaza which bills itself as a pizzaria and order an Española (personal) for 18 soles ($5.54) plus fizzy drink. It arrives and is edible, but not great. The old Shipibo women are always hawking their wares around the Plaza and one comes up and tries her luck with me. I say no, but invite her to consume the few pieces of garlic bread that came with the pizza. She sits down at the table and proceeds to eat them. I offer her a slice of pizza, and she accepts, but calls the waitress over and asks for it to be put in a bag; presumably she's saving it for later.
It's a balmy night so I decide to walk around the Plaza. It has two quite impressive fountains and tonight they are playing and are illuminated in ever-changing colors. There are a lot of people, young and old. Peru (unlike Western countries) has no shortage of young children. There's an amazing full Moon. In the cathedral across the road a wedding is taking place. Next door is the large town hall and administrative offices, with its columns decorated with geometric designs (see below) that are obviously inspired by ayahuasca visions.
I walk back along the pedestrian zone, which also has (smaller) illuminated fountains. I turn down a dimly-lit side street heading back to the hospedaje and I'm almost upon her when I notice the armless/legless woman that I had seen several days ago in the pedestrian zone. She's sitting on a box, waving her stumps of arms. I'm a bit embarrassed to look too closely as I walk past. I walk to the next corner and stand awhile, looking back. I see that people sometimes stop and lay a coin down. So I decide to walk back and do the same, and get a better look at her. As I come up to her I say "Buenas noches, Señora" and place a 5-soles coin between her stumps of legs. There are already about 30 1-sol coins there, so she's doing quite well tonight. (Obviously there must be someone else who takes care of her.) It looks as if she may have lost most of her arms and legs in a fire, or maybe some motor or industrial accident; or maybe she was born that way. As I put the coin down she half-smiles at me and thanks me. She looks to be about 30 and is quite attractive. Despite having only half her limbs, I suspect she's quite capable of having sex. I wonder if she has a boyfriend.
It being Sunday, I go out later than usual for breakfast, to the usual place on the Plaza. I wander over to the municipal offices and take some photos of the ayahuasca-inspired columns. Next door, the cathedral is packed with Sunday-morning worshipers. I don't stay long.
I go to the hearing aid place at midday. The well-endowed lady manager is not there, only her young and attractive, but rather cool, assistant. She gives me the hearing aid and — it works! Actually it seems better than when I gave it to them. I pay the 467 soles ($146) and leave, very pleased to be able to hear again.
I have the idea to check Vladimir Putin's (geocentric) natal chart, and discover that he has a 4-stellium, specifically, the Sun, Mercury, Saturn and Neptune together (within a 10-degree-arc) — a fairly rare planetary configuration. I also find that his Uranus is approaching an exact square aspect with his natal Uranus, which only happens twice in a person's lifetime. This will occur on October 14 of this year (2015), 63 years and one week after his birth. Also on that date there are five other planetary transits which are almost exact. Curious. I'll have to watch that day when it arrives. I post this information to a couple of astrology forums, but no-one comments. [As it turns out, October 14 sees the Russian military bombing the hell out of the CIA-created, -trained and -armed Islamic State terrorists, demonstrating that the U.S., in a year of supposedly attempting to wipe out ISIS, never really tried, hoping fruitlessly that its proxy fighters would bring down the Assad government, thereby allowing Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to run their hoped-for oil pipeline through Syria so as to supply Europe with oil, thereby undermining Russia as Europe's main oil supplier.]
It's quite warm today, about 90 degrees. Across the street, outside the restaurant, workmen are adding a concrete strip next to the footpath with a strip inbetween for grass. They're doing this for all the streets in downtown Pucallpa. I go into the restaurant and order a Sandwich Bistek (bun with a bit of grilled beef), but the waitress doesn't understand me. What's difficult about it? Finally I have to go to the menu board and point to it, then she understands.
Now that I can hear people again, it's time to contact some ayahuasceros or some other people who know something about ayahuasca. I asked an American friend, well-known for his work on Amazonian plants, for a contact here, and he mentioned Don José Campos. (As mentioned previously, in Tarapoto I passed almost daily the Takiwasi Center which Don José had cofounded in 1992.) I google "Don Jose Campos" and come up with his website, and spend a few hours looking through it and reading the interesting story of Don José's life. When he is not guiding his 10-day Dietas in the jungle he lives in Pucallpa, not far from where I'm staying. So I send an email message requesting a meeting.
I sleep late, until 7:30 am, and awake from some strange dreams. One I remember clearly: There's some kind of bovine animal with long horns, like an African wildebeest, standing in a park, facing away from me. Someone else is about to take a photo of the animal from just behind it when, from its asshole emerges a stream of shit which forms a huge pile, about a meter high. The animal then runs off, leaving the photographer (whom I see as a vague outline) besmirched with shit.
It looks like being another very warm day. After breakfast at the Plaza I check my email and find that my message to Don José has bounced, since the email address I used (obtained indirectly from Don José himself via my American friend) is no longer valid. So I resend it to an alternative address that he gave.
No reply to my message, so maybe Don José is off in the jungle.
I decide to visit Yarinacocha, 10 km NW of downtown Pucallpa, which my 2004 LP guidebook describes as "a lovely oxbow lake". I'm thinking of moving to a hostal there in Puerto Callao (Yarinacocho's port), which the guidebook describes as "better and larger than the previous" hostal that it mentioned (described as "pretty basic"). I take a moto to it, and find that "pretty basic" accurately describes this one also. I walk down toward the lake, but find that a wooden wall, 8 feet high has been erected around the whole thing, preventing access. Apparently there's a renovation project going on (which will probably take a year or two), so the "lovely oxbow lake" is no longer accessible. I walk through Puerto Callao (it's a dump) and reach the Plaza de Armas, which is nothing special. There's a restaurant, with a grill smoking away on the footpath, so I go in for lunch and get a decent pollo a la plancha for 15 soles ($4.60).
I decide that Yarinacocha is defintely overrated and not worth staying longer. I decide to go to the address given on Don José's website, 390 Mexico St. I hail a moto and the driver knows where Mexico St., is so we go there. It's a dirt road, ramshackle houses, and no "390". No sign of the nice-looking guesthouse whose photo appears on Don José's website. So I give up and go back to the Plaza de Armas in Pucallpa.
As I'm walking through the pedestrian mall I see a man in front of me who looks like a genuine shaman, wearing a poncho and a feather crown (called a maiti), accompanied by two young Indian women, probably his wives. I wonder if this is an opportunity to find an ayahuascero with whom to take ayahuasca again, so I sidle up to him and say "Buenas dias". He's friendly, but speaks no English. My attempt to communicate in Spanish is unsuccessful. So nothing comes of this.
I email three contacts in Iquitos. No reply as yet. I contact a colleague on Academia.edu and he responds saying he has a friend, one Ketty, currently in Pucallpa whose husband is there to seek treatment from one of the best old médicos (the term for an ayahuascero who treats sick people rather than an ayahuascero who leads ayahuasca ceremonies attended mainly by Westerners — the term for the latter is charmanes a.k.a. shamans). So I reply and hope that I'll soon get a phone call from Ketty.
One reply from Juan in Iquitos, saying only "No problem" (about doing ayahuasca in Iquitos). Otherwise nothing.
Some years ago I bought glasses (spectacles) in Northern Europe; very expensive. About two years ago I lost them, went without glasses for a couple of months, but finally got new ones in Cairo; cost me about $35. A helluva lot cheaper than in Europe, but not as good (especially at night). And one time I accidentally stepped on them, causing the frame to become a little skewed. Also the lenses have scratches. So I decide to get new glasses here, and after breakfast I pop into the optometrist in the pedestrian zone. Despite my limited Spanish we manage to discuss this. He quotes me 120 soles ($37.50) for an eye test and new glasses (frame & lenses). This is reasonable — compared to European prices it's a bargain. It's almost the same price as I paid in Cairo. Not having the money on me, I say I'll come back tomorrow.
Despite my efforts to announce to (possibly) interested people that my heliocentric aspects program exists and can be had for a modest amount (less than $40), no-one has yet purchased a user license for it, though someone today did purchase a license for the geocentric program. I spend all morning setting up on my astro website a "combo offer" of 33% discount for purchase of both programs together, hoping to entice some buyers. [No-one is enticed.]
At 7:30 am it's raining heavily. I go to the Grand Hotel Mercedes (just up the street from my hospedaje) for breakfast. While I'm eating an elderly European or American man sits down at a table and shortly after he is joined by four Peruvians (maybe a family). He hugs a couple of them, so this is some kind of cordial meeting. I wonder if he is in Pucallpa to drink ayahuasca; maybe these Peruvians are his contact to a curandero. Soon after, another Peruvian comes in and is greeted by the man. I think, this could be the shaman himself. I'm not sure I like his looks. I consider going up and asking whether this is about ayahuasca treatment, but that would be difficult. So I decide to come back next morning, and if the man again takes his breakfast there, then I'll ask.
Late morning the rain stops, so I go over to the optometrist about my glasses. I'm invited into the back room where a lady optometrist gives me an eye test. It's a bit difficult since I don't speak Spanish well enough to say things like, "Yes, I can read all the letters on line 8 of the chart but only a few on line 9", and "That's not bad, but the lens in the glasses I have now is better." So it takes longer than usual, and she's ready to call a halt and give me my prescription. But I still have my old glasses, and I note that, although the new lens for my right eye is excellent, the new lens for the left is not as good as the left lens in my old glasses. So I insist that she do better, and soon we have an acceptable solution. I then select a frame, pay the requested 120 soles, and am advised to return in the afternoon to collect my new glasses. I do, and I'm very pleased with them. In the night, however, I find that the left lens is still not as good as the right, though in the daytime there's hardly any difference. Curious that my night vision is worse than my day vision, something I noticed also with the old glasses. [Six weeks later I shall lose these new glasses while rushing to get off at a train station, due to being immersed in reading a very interesting book (Graham Hancock's Magicians of the Gods) and not watching out for my stop. Then I have to go back to wearing my old glasses.]
On most days in Pucallpa there are men and women on the streets selling strawberries. For 1 sole (30 cents) you get six strawberries. Delicious.
Later that afternoon I decide to begin writing an article I've had in mind for some time, working title, "Thoughts on our Relationship to the Discarnate Entities of the DMT World". Since the main ideas have been clear to me for about a month, composition goes surprisingly well, and after 3 pages I've pretty much completed it — though it has to be refined and enhanced before publication. Curious that this second article of mine on the DMT entities will appear 23 years after the appearance of my first published article (1993) on this subject, with just a few related articles appearing on the web during the intermediate years. I doubt there'll be a third. [As it turns out, this was just a first short draft and I added a lot more later, when it became Concerning the Nature of the DMT Entities and their Relation to Us.]
It's raining again this morning. I go again to the Grand Hotel Mercedes for breakfast, in case the man from yesterday turns up again. Just as I'm finishing he walks in. I pay for my breakfast and go over to him and introduce myself. He rises from his seat and we shake hands (he's polite, reserved, of the old school). I say that I saw him yesterday with some Peruvians, and is he by any chance in Peru to seek treatment from a Peruvian healer. He says No. Turns out that he's a medical doctor, spent many years in Peru, now lives in the U.S., but is back to do some research. I tell him I'm looking to find a shaman with whom to take ayahuasca, but I don't want to go to a "retreat center", whose personnel are perhaps mainly in it for the money. He tells me it's very difficult to contact an ayahuasca healer in Pucallpa. He recommends I read books by Marlene Dobkin de Rios, Richard Evans Schultes and Wade Davis (all of whom were distinguished anthropologists). I ask him about deaths from taking ayahuasca. He says he's heard of them but knows of no cases in Pucallpa. I ask him exactly what causes death and he says that ayahuasca causes a drop in blood pressure, and when it drops far enough your heart stops beating. (Later I wonder what causes the drop in blood pressure, since, I suppose, it is the force of the heartbeat which mostly controls blood pressure.) I ask him if he's taken ayahuasca himself, and he says, yes, twice. Both occasions were mostly vomiting and diarrhea, and thereafter he was not inclined to take ayahuasca again.
I take my nifty Coolpix digital camera with me when I go out for my usual breakfast at the Tropitop on the Plaza, in case there's anything worth photographing. And, yes, there is: the pretty waitress. We might have a thing going, except that my Spanish is entirely inadequate.
I decide that today (at last!) I will visit Usko Ayar, "the gallery of the visionary local artist Pablo Amaringo" (at 465 Jr. Sánchez Cerro). I spend the morning doing some difficult work on my laptop, but about 12:30 pm I decide I'd better leave it for now so as to go out for lunch and then to Usko Ayar. I arrive at 1:30 pm, but the gallery is closed from noon to 2 pm, so I wait. Pablo Amaringo died in 2009 and his gallery is now maintained by his son Juan Vásquez Amaringo (who looks to be in his 50s), assisted by Pablo's grandson, also named Pablo, and studying to be an artist.
The gallery is a large room, with about two dozen of the artist's paintings arrayed along the walls. In particular there are two large (5'x10') canvases. They have a wealth of detail, inspired by the artist's ayahuasca visions. There are animals, mermaids, UFOs, men, women, snakes, castles, flowers and other plants, and lots more, all in a swirl of psychedlic colors and designs. All very interesting.
Señor Juan has not yet returned from some errand he had to make, but I talk with his son, Pablo, who speaks passable English. I tell him that I took ayahuasca twice in Tarapoto, and I would like to take it again in Pucallpa. He says his father has a friend who is a curandero, and advises me to wait until his father returns, which he does before long. Juan also speaks passable English, and is quite receptive to my request to take ayahuasca. So we arrange for me to come back tomorrow night at 8 pm (with 150 soles as payment), and Juan will take me to the curandero. I'm not sure who else will be present, perhaps some Peruvians. As I'm leaving Juan tells me not to worry (not that I'm worried) since I'll be in good hands.
I'd been concerned that I might not find any curandero here in Pucallpa to take ayahuasca with. And now I have an appointment with the friend of the son of the visionary artist Pablo Amaringo. Of course, I should have thought earlier to visit Usko Ayar and to ask, but at present I still have a month left in Peru, so not a problem.
Out of curiosity, I check the planetary configurations for tomorrow night. Geocentrically there's a (fairly uncommon) 3-stellium, Sun-Venus-Jupiter (shown at right), which began today and lasts another four days. Heliocentrically there are a couple of T-squares and a strange 4-planet aspect pattern composed of Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus. My personal geocentric transits include (today and tomorrow) an almost-exact Mars trine natal Sun, with a close-to-exact Uranus square natal Mars. My personal heliocentric transits for tomorrow include five almost-exact aspects: the Sun and Venus both trine to my natal Jupiter, Mars square to my natal Jupiter, Mercury opposite my natal Venus, and (the long-lasting) Uranus sextile my natal Uranus. I don't know what it all means, but it doesn't look too bad.
I spend the day working, then fill a small backpack to take to the ayahuasca session tonight with everything I think I mightt need: flashlight, toilet paper, umbrella, bottle of water, T-shirt, slippers, notebook, biscuits and mosquito spray. At 7:30 pm I get a moto to Usko Ayar to meet Señor Juan at 8 pm. The moto driver has some difficulty finding the address in the dark, but I arrive more or less on time. The door is closed, so I knock. No-one comes. After knocking several times a woman, presumably Juan's wife, opens the door. I show her the business card that Juan gave me and she nods and lets me in. Juan is not at home, so I wait. Eventually he arrives. I ask him whether ayahuasca is always made with chacruna, the DMT-containing plant, and he says Yes. Sometimes, he adds, there are other plants added, such as toé, which (as Jean already told me in Tarapoto) is very dangerous. But tonight's ayahuasca is the normal ayahuasca plus chacruna.
Juan drives me to the house of the médico, not far away. His name is Felix Paredes and he looks quite old, though maybe only in his 50s. His house is a ramshackle affair, like all the houses in this neighborhood, which is not exactly a slum, but obviously is inhabited by poor people (at least, materially poor). The roads in the main part of Pucallpa are paved (and now with good footpaths), but once you get into the suburbs it's just unpaved, dirt roads, no doubt very muddy in the wet season, but fortunately this is now the dry season.
Felix lives here, of course, with his family. There are some young men sitting in the front room (I'm not sure if they're part of the family). Felix takes me to the back room, which has only a chest of drawers and three well-worn foam-rubber mattresses on the floor. He shows me a small adjacent room where he says I can sleep tonight. Felix tells me to disrobe and leads me to a shack outside where there's a tub of water containing leaves of some kind and indicates that I should pour water over myself from the tub, which I do. Back in the house, and clothed, Felix and I try to talk. He knows almost no English, but produces a large notebook in which are written some English and Spanish phrases, such as "What is your country?", "Do you smoke cigarettes?", "Do you want to take ayahuasca?", and he gets me to say these in English, which he repeats. The notebook also contains sketches of houses and countryside, and Felix attempts, unsuccessfuly, to explain to me (in Spanish) what these are.
Finally we're ready to begin the ayahuasca session. The three young men I met previously come in and sit on the mattresses. Only one is going to take ayahuasca tonight; the others are apparently just sleeping here overnight. In contrast to the curanderos in Tarapoto, Felix wears no shaman-paraphernalia such as a feather headdress or beads, just his everyday clothes. Next to him he sets up what he needs: a bottle of ayahuasca and some other bottles, and some objects such as rocks and stones, maybe fossils (presumably with some magical significance). He fills a small cup with ayahuasca, chants over it and blows smoke on it, then invites me to drink it. I do, and as usual it has a revolting taste. He then gives a cup to the Peruvian man, and drinks one himself.
During the next half-hour or so, the the Peruvian man seems to be affected, covering his eyes with his hand. The ayahuasca is having no effect on me. Felix is regaling the Peruvians with some story, apparently occasionally amusing. After about an hour Felix turns off the light. The room is then almost totally dark, except that the door leading to the entrance of the house is open, and some street light filters in. Felix begins to chant icaros. I'm still not feeling any effect, no psychedelic effect and no nausea. Felix comes over in the dark and asks if I want more ayahuasca. I say Yes, and he gives me another cup.
After a while I lie down, but still no effect. I could almost go to sleep. Felix continues to chant icaros and there are strange sounds. Some of it is probably dogs barking, but Felix appears to be making grunts and other noises, as if engaged in some battle with entities in the spirit world.
Felix comes over again and begins a healing (limpieza) upon me. This is not like the healings of the Tarapoto curanderos, which consist mainly of chanting and shaking the chakapa (leaves bound together) over various parts of my body. Felix also chants, but is hands-on, rubbing my joints and massaging my shoulders, back and stomach. Apparently he is brushing away whatever bad things he finds in my body. Also he blows smoke over me. Someone or something (I assume it is Felix) places a large stone of some kind in my hands. This is presumably some kind of power object. Since the room is almost totally dark I can't see how it looks, but it is heavy, and feels smooth but has bumps and hollows. I suspect that it is a meteorite (if so, certainly a power obect, having fallen from the heavens). After further massage Felix takes back the stone and returns to his seat on the other side of the room and I lie down. Soon I start to feel sick. I sit up and take the bucket beside the mattress and vomit into it, twice. Apparently whatever Felix did has led me to vomit, which is what often happens in an ayahuasca session.
I'm still feeling no psychedelic effect, but I am thinking about stuff from my earlier life. I remember a couple of instances where people acted badly toward me, and I ask myself whether I am still angry at them. I decide that they acted from ignorance and that there's no point in feeling angry about it, and I forgive them. There's probably a lot of anger that I still have, and have forgotten about. I'm not feeling well, and I recognize that when I attend to negative thoghts that I feel worse. And in the last few years, as I've learned more about how the world really works, I've had many reasons to think negative thoughts. There is an infestation of psychopaths in this world. The evil they do is mind-boggling, and it's not clear what can be done about this. Maybe the best we can hope for is that they will destroy themselves (via major nuclear war or ecological collapse?) — but at what cost to the rest of humanity, and even to all higher life on this planet?
In the early hours of the morning Felix is ready to retire and tells me to go to the adjacent small room and sleep. The bed has no pillow; there's a sheet but no cover. Felix leaves me his jacket as a pillow, but when I try to sleep I feel cold, so I use the jacket to partly cover myself. Fortunately I have the T-shirt I brought in case it got cold, so I take off my shirt, put the T-shirt on, and my shirt, and (with my head on my arm) I lie down again.
But I'm still feeling sick, and diarrhea is threatening, and I don't sleep. Eventually I go out to the next room and to the adjacent toilet and vomit, or try to. The toilet is a sit-down toilet with no seat and no flush, and the floor looks none too clean. I'm now feeling very sick, and can barely stand up. I go back to the bedroom and try to sleep, but the threat of diarrhea mounts and eventually I go to the toilet again and shit. Near the toilet is a tub filled with water, so I use this to flush the toilet. Back in the bedroom I lie down and eventually fall asleep.
At 7 am Juan and Felix wake me. Juan has come to take me back to my hospedaje. I'm still feeling sick. Felix has me lie down and again massages my stomach. I then ask about the stone that Felix placed in my hands last night. Felix opens a backpack and takes out various stones and shells (fossils?). But these are too small, and don't have bumps and hollows such as I felt last night. I say, No, where is the larger stone? Felix denies any knowledge of it. He says that it must have been a stone that I saw in my imagination. But no, I felt it for sure; it was large and heavy. Felix might have denied knowledge of it from not wanting to show it to Juan. Or it was a stone that some spirit had materialized and placed in my hands. I definitely did not merely imagine it.
They ask about my possibly doing more ayahasca sessions with Felix and I say, No, my body can't take this any more. All three of my ayahuasca sessions in Peru have been negative: no psychedelic effect and mainly nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, with just a few psychological insights concerning the early part of my life. This third session has been as bad as the second, even worse, considering that it was conducted in an environment that I'd prefer to forget. So I'm ready to give up on ayahuasca.
Juan drives me back, and I take a shower and lie down to sleep, which I eventually do. At midday I wake and am still feeling weak. I drink a cup of soup and eat some biscuits, check my email, then go back to sleep. Around 6 pm I get up. I'm still not quite well but don't feel as weak as before. I go out to buy some food for tomorrow (Sunday), and for dinner I get a pollo a la parilla at the restaurant across the street. After checking my email it's back to bed again.
No further replies to my earlier messages to people in Iquitos. And no word from Ketty regarding meeting her médico here in Pucallpa, so I have no reason to stay longer, except to visit the Parque Natural, Pucallpa's zoo.
At dinner, at the restaurant across the street, a busker appears. But no ordinary busker. This man has a harp, and he plays delicately upon it, after which he goes around among the diners, accepting donations. Since a harp is not a common musical instrument, and he plays well, I give him 3 soles (a dollar).
I've noticed a sudden improvement in my health. Last week I was often coughing up quite a lot of phlegm from some kind of chest congestion. But since Saturday, following the ayahuasca session with Felix, that's gone. I have to conclude that he healed me of that problem.
I consult my guidebook and it says that a certain bus company here has buses to Oxapampa (with many of the inhabitants descended from German immigrants in the 19th C.), which I've been intending to visit, despite the reputedly very poor road south from Pucallpa. After breakfast I go to their office and find that, no, there's no bus to Oxapampa, but there's a daily bus to La Merced (along the same road, I think), which is not far from Oxapampa. It leaves at 9 am and gets in the next morning at 4 am. A bit early. I see that they also have buses to Satipo (I'm not quite sure where that is), which arrives at 6 am, a better time. I consult the map and find that Satipo is a jungle town 130 km beyond La Merced. Presumably the La Merced bus continues on to Satipo. My guide book also tells me that there are buses from Satipo to the mountain town of Huancayo. And from there one can take a bus or taxi to Lima. Aha! So I'll forgo Oxapampa for visits to Satipo and Huancayo, then on to Lima, from where I fly out.
I go for breakfast as usual at the Tropitop. The pretty waitress is a bit cool this morning. Probably she realizes, correctly, that a romantic relationship is unlikely to occur.
A clown appears. He is dressed in a baggy green suit with big white stars, is wearing a blue wig and has red make-up. He's trying to sell packs of chewing gum. But no-one is buying, so he goes off.
After some work I finally get away at 10:30 am to go to the Parque Natural. I arrive about 11 am, just as the big cats (leapoards mostly) are settling down to snooze away the hot day (it's over 90° today). The admission fee is 3 soles (93 cents). It is quite a good zoo. There's a meandering path to follow which takes you past most of the animals and birds. There are wild pigs, coatamundi (shown at right) and lots of others with unfamiliar names. There are several varieties of monkey, who seem to be having a lot of fun playing together in their cages. The parrots are either green or a riot of colors. In the serpent house is a huge anaconda, which looks at me with beady eye.
On return to my hospedaje I find a message from one of my Iquitos contacts (the Maestro Principal of the SpiritQuest Sanctuary), who writes:
Unfortunately there is no one here who I could recommend in good conscience, other than the people I regularly work with. Authentic traditional vegetalismo and curanderismo using Ayahuasca been extensively corrupted and modified by western influences over the past ten years. Consequently it is very difficult to find a genuine legitimate and ethical curandero without sufficient time, Spanish proficiency, and considerable trans-cultural experience and skills.
I'm afraid your objective is a bit unrealistic to do on your own without informed and trustworthy guidance. There are risks involved that range from actual safety and security, to brujeria (sorcery), to charlatanism. Perhaps one in 20 or 30 'practitioners' here are actually legitimate. An uninformed newcomer simply can't navigate this landscape very well on their own without considerable time and trusted guidance.
I reply as follows:
I agree. I did,however, manage to contact three ayahuasceros here, two in Tarapoto and one in Pucallpa. Each of them was recommended by knowledgeable people and were not of the 'ayahuasca tourism' variety, although not without some Western students and patients. The first two were self-described "curanderos" (I believe the term 'shaman' is one that is not indigenous but has been taken over by Peruvians from Westerners) and the third was a "medico". Unfortunately each of my ayahuasca sessions with them was either mostly or thoroughly unpleasant. In the latter two I experienced a lot of vomiting and diarrhea (not entirely unexpected) and felt very sick both during the night and the next morning. The only benefits were that I did some psychotherapeutic thinking during the first two, and the medico managed to cure me of something like bronchitis that had been bothering me for a week or two.
Due to the very negative physical effects I won't be doing any more ayahuasca on this visit to Peru,
Late afternoon I make another visit to the gallery of the late Pablo Amaringo, who died in 2009 from stomach cancer. I've come to take some photos of details of his last work, the large canvas that I mentioned earlier. It's certainly a beautiful and impressive painting. I ask his son Juan how much he would sell it for, and he replies $250,000. I express some skepticism that anyone would pay so much for it, but he says there are some people interested in it.
There's another Peruvian man present, who is also a painter. His work, though hardly comparable to Pablo Amaringo's is not bad. By profession he's a moto driver, and he drives me back to the Plaza de Armas. I 'generously' give him 5 soles (instead of the normal 3 for a moto ride within Pucallpa), to, as I say, "support his painting". He is gracious enough to thank me, though perhaps he was thinking, "Five soles won't take me far in my career."
Most of the Peruvians I've met here have been polite, relaxed, friendly and often quick to laugh. Only one man (a waiter in a restaurant in Jaén) behaved in a way that made me angry.
After breakfast I go to the Turismo Central bus office and buy a ticket to Satipo for 80 soles (about $24). The bus leaves tomorrow morning at 9 am and is supposed to arrive at Satipo at 6 am next day — a 21-hour journey. This will be the longest bus ride I've taken since the 45-hour journey a few years ago from Kunming in China to Vientiane in Laos.
Today is a significant day, since today the statutes of limitation expire on three of the trumped-up charges of sexual assault brought by Sweden against Julian Assange. Only a rape charge can still be prosecuted (despite the fact that both Swedish women involved in this matter have denied that they were raped by Assange). Actually, Sweden has never charged Assange with any crime. It only caused the issue of a European arrest warrant, demanding that Assange be arrested and transferred to Sweden for questioning. But Sweden has not primarily wanted to question Assange, because if that was the case then it could have conducted an interview via video link, as it has done in order to question 44 other suspects in the UK since the events of August 2010. What Sweden wants is to get Assange on Swedish territory, where almost certainly he would be handed over to the Americans and likely be tried (for revealing U.S. lies, crimes and atrocities via Wikileaks) on "espionage" charges, convicted and sent to Guantánamo. In this matter the government of Sweden is a shameless puppet of the U.S. government, as are the governments of the UK and Australia. [In February 2017 Assange remains effectively imprisoned without charge in London, over four years since he was granted asylum at the Embassy of Ecuador. An international disgrace!]
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