June 28, 2015 (Sunday)
Peru Travel Diary Chapter 3: Tarapoto
The day is again sunny. Again I don't think to stay longer in Chachapoyas in order to do the work I need to do on my laptop. It's as if I'm on auto-pilot. I have my ticket for the collectivo to Tarapoto (run by Turismo Selva), so I'm leaving.
The bus station in Chachapoyas is not large. My two bags go on the roof of the minibus. Fortunately I have seat #1, next to the window in the front, so I'll have a good view all the way to Tarapoto. We leave about 9 am. The road we are on leads to the Gocta Waterfall (later we pass the dirt track leading to it). Soon the valley becomes a gorge, with a river running through it. The scenery is quite amazing.
The collectivo continues north to the town of Pedro Ruiz, where we turn to the south-east for the long drive to Tarapoto, passing through the towns of Rioja and Moyobamba, arriving Tarapoto about 5 pm.
I haven't consulted my Lonely Planet guidebook (2004 edition) as regards accommodation, since I'm assuming that José's friend, Henry Cardenas, manages a backpacker hostel similar to José's in Chachapoyas (at least, that's what Henry's business card suggests). Another mistaken assumption (I seem to make these often). After collecting my bags at the Turismo Selva terminal I get a moto to the address of Henry's Hostel, which (surprisingly) is ten blocks from the Plaza de Armas. (Tarapoto is much larger than Chachapoyas; it's a city rather than a town.) The driver at first turns up the wrong street, but eventually we find the place. It turns out to be Henry's residence, with a couple of small, poorly-furnished rooms made available for paying guests (of which there are at present just two), a kitchen of sorts, and a counter with some brochures for jungle trips. (And a nice dog.) Very disappointing. However, Henry is friendly and is quite willing to put me in touch with some local ayahuasceros. He says that ayahuasca ceremonies are held quite frequently in Tarapoto.
I tell Henry that I'd rather find a hostal in the vicinity of the Plaza de Armas, so I consult my guide book and pick one, the Hostal San Antonio, and get a moto to it. I'm shown a room con baño (with bath) which has just a single bed, a table, a chair and a TV, no window, and costs 45 soles ($14.06) — definitely not good value, but it's 6 pm and I need a place to sleep, so I take it.
I've eaten only a bag of chocolate-coated almonds since breakfast, so I go to the Plaza de Armas and find the Real Grill, which is quite good except that the food is rather pricey, nearly twice as much as what I've been paying up to now. I get an affordable and decent chicken breast in a bun with chips and a jar of maracuya (passion fruit — my favorite) juice for 18 soles ($5.62).
The Plaza de Armas is the liveliest I've seen in Peru, with children playing and couples enjoying the balmy evening. But I'm feeling depressed. Why did I leave Chachapoyas when I didn't need to (I have plenty of time left in Peru) and it was such a good place to finish the work I need to do? And to go to this city where Henry's Hostel is a total disappointment and there's no sign of any decent (affordable) accommodation, still less of a proper backpacker hostel similar to José's pleasant place?
I go to bed around 9 pm and lie awake berating myself for being such an idiot. Curiously, I dream of having sex with a gorgeous woman — breasts and nipples to die for.
I wake at 6 am, still thinking I'm an idiot, and wondering what to do. I could get a minibus back to Chachapoyas. I would still have to return to Tarapoto, since my intended destination of Iquitos can only be reached via Tarapoto, Yurimaguas and a boat trip.
I go out at 7 am to look for breakfast, but there's no place open until 7:30, so I decide to go to the Turismo Selva terminal and see if there's an 8:30 collectivo back to Chachapoyas. I'm not sure of the way, but I ask several people and eventually find it. There's no 8:30 minibus, but there's one at 10:00. I ask about a ticket, but there's no seat available. So I sit down, feeling very unhappy. Eventually I consult my guide book about Yurimaguas. It sounds like a nice town, so I decide I'll stay in Tarapoto for a couple of weeks, probably at Henry's rock bottom Hostel, maybe do a couple of ayahuasca ceremonies, then go on to Yurimaguas and by boat to Iquitos.
I get a moto back to the Plaza de Armas and notice a cafe where people are having breakfast, so I go in and get a desayuno americano. Quite good for 13 soles ($4.06). I leave, intending to look around for better accommodation than the Hostal San Antonio. My (2004) Lonely Planet guidebook has some listings, so I walk across the street to sit down to read it, and as I'm doing so I notice a Westerner sitting there. So I go up to him and ask if he knows a decent hostal. We start talking, he's French, his name is Jean, he lives here in Tarapoto, practices Chinese healing, and is studying with a curandero (an ayahuascero using ayahuasca for healing purposes). Well, surprise! Moreover, the hostal where he's staying accepts a few, selected, guests, and I'm invited to take a look. We take a moto to the Hostal Runakay, which is located in a somewhat remote place on the edge of Tarapoto, accessible only via dirt roads.
The hostal is run by another Frenchman, Eric. We three talk for awhile (I mention my attendance at a workshop at Esalen with Michael Harner, and my shamanic practice with Tom Pinkston in California, and that I want to learn more about the spirit world into which Peruvian ayahuasceros enter) and Eric decides that I'm OK. I find the room is also OK — it has a single bed, a desk, a chair, a plastic chest of drawers, a small refrigerator, a fan, a bathroom and a window, and costs 30 soles ($9.38) per night (10 nights payable in advance). Moreover, the rooms are set around a courtyard, with some dense plant life in the center, some of it flowering, and the whole place has a certain rustic quality and a peaceful ambiance. No wifi, but it looks as if an ethernet connection can be arranged at the local grocery store. So I'm very lucky to have met Jean and to have found this place.
Jean and I go into the city and he takes me to a supermarket where I buy an electric kettle (so I can make coffee), a cup and a bowl (for cereal for breakfast). I leave Jean, go back to the Hostal San Antonio, get some work done with their wifi, pack and go back out to the Hostal Runakay.
Jean mentions a vegetarian restaurant not far away, and I invite him for lunch (which is quite good). He has a placid demeanor. He talks of his interest not only in Peruvian shamanism but also in Taoist medicine, the NaqshabandI SufI tradition and the teachings of Ramana MaharshI and Nisadatta Saga, and how there is only one Self, which has divided itself into innumerable smaller selves (that's us). This is certainly a very spiritual person. And he's prepared to introduce me to his curandero teacher, Alberto FerrarI Chavez. Actually, as it turns out later, I'm invited to participate in an ayahuasca ceremony two days from now, on the evening of the full moon. So the day ends very differently from how it began.
Eric has provided sheets for the bed in my room, but no blanket, Tarapoto not being cold, but I still need to use my good Nordisk sleeping bag.
Eventually I stay over two weeks in this hostal. On many days I take a moto to or from the town; sometimes I walk. Each time I pass a place named "Takiwasi". I gather, from a display at the front gate, that they make and sell natural medicines. But I never think to go inside and ask further. Later, in Pucallpa, I discover that Takiwasi was cofounded by the curandero Don José Carlos for the purpose of rehabilitation of drug addicts and research into the use of traditional medicine. Takiwasi provides 10-day jungle retreats (called Dietas), currently, as I find out later, also offered by Don José in Pucallpa (when he's there).
For use in a program I'm developing, I spend the day creating a file containing the 438,292 heliocentric ecliptic longitudes (relative to the year 2000 vernal equinox) of Pluto on each day from January 1, 1600, to December 31, 2799. A very satisfactory day's work.
Although there's a grocery store just around the corner from this hostal, there are no other shops for about a mile. I get a moto to the nearest restaurant for a decent lunch (fish soup with lots of fish, a small portion of grilled ribs with rice and beans, for 7 soles, $2.15). Looks like for the next few weeks it will be coffee and cornflakes for breakfast, a lunch of soup and something, and a simple dinner of biscuits and fruit.
While working on my laptop at the grocery I discover that, although there appear to be no mosquitos in Tarapoto, as Jean has told me, there is in fact at least one sort of blood-sucking insect, since I notice a flying insect sitting on my arm and when I squat it, blood appears. I have no idea what this insect is.
The ayahuasca ceremony is set for tomorrow evening. Jean advises me that from now until then: no salt, no sugar, no meat, no drugs and no sex (except maybe in dreams).
Astrologically, tomorrow night (Wednesday) will be fairly significant: A full moon at 9:17 pm (local time), at 2:30 am Venus and Jupiter wil be exactly conjunct (in the sign of Leo) and at 5 am the Moon and Pluto will be exactly conjunct (in the sign of Capricorn).
This morning is overcast, with light rain. I'm sitting on my bed when I notice something on the floor near the door. On closer inspection it turns out to be a baby snake (about 10 cm long), and it's looking at me. Enchanting! It's probably come in to get out of the rain. But I wonder whether I should let this snake stay in my room. I decide to usher it gently out the door, and do so. It seems to be reluctant to go, but finally leaves, pausing to look back at me.
After a couple of hours on the internet at the grocery store I leave with Jean at about 3 pm to go to the place where the ayahuasca ceremony will be held. It's about 10 km from the city, and we take a taxi, then a moto deep into the forest. We then descend a stone stairway, leading to a muddy trail which finally ascends to the 'medical center' run by Alberto. It's not a medical center in the Western sense, but is deemed so because ayahuasca is regarded here as a medicine, and it is taken to cleanse one's body, mind and soul.
The main structure is the maloca, fairly large, 16-sided and raised on stilts, where the ceremony will be held tonight. There's a house close by with five small rooms for Alberto's students. And a primitive kitchen and (down the path aways) a couple of primitive toilets (not flush toilets; holes in the ground, one with a seat and one without, for squatting). There's lots of trees and shrubs, lots of chickens, several cats, and a few muddy paths.
Jean and I go into the maloca and I am introduced to Alberto, a pleasant man who seems to be in middle age. He does not speak English, so Jean translates for me. I tell him that I'm interested in finding out more about the spiritual world into which ayahuasceros go, and I ask some questions. One is: Are the animals that appear to ayahasceros individual beings, with minds of their own? He says, Yes, they are protectors of the forest. Ayahuasca is a higher feminine spirit, who oversees and looks after those animal spirits. I ask if there is a spiritual being higher than Ayahuasca, and he says, Yes there are several, but normally they don't appear to humans. The spirit Ayahuasca is their 'doorway' whereby they minister to the human world.
I ask if this physical world, which we perceive via our senses of sight, sound, etc., is an illusion, or like a dream. He says, Yes and No. The spiritual and the physical worlds are each created by different non-physical beings, who cooperate (with us?) to produce what we see as the physical world. The Earth is maintained by, not just one spirit, but several.
Outside, I talk with Jean. He picks something off my cheek, presumably an insect. It's probably one of the blood-sucking insects I discovered yesterday. Later a small lump appears at that place on my cheek. These insects are harder to detect (before they bite) than mosquitos.
Jean shows me the toilets, which we are to go to if (as often happens in the early stage of taking of ayahuasca) we are subject to an attack of diarrhea (perhaps in addition to an urge to vomit). They are about 30 meters from the maloca, down the hill. I think I'd better rehearse the trip so I know how to do it in the dark (although since tonight is a full moon, it never gets really dark). I start down the hill, and choose a path which runs by the kitchen, and as I'm traversing this I slip on the mud, my legs go out from under me, and I land heavily on the ground — ground which is uneven, so the fall is more damaging. It's a whack to the left part of my lower back, and it's painful. It seems there's no damage to my pelvis or spine, it's damage to my muscles. I can walk, but climbing steps or turning are painful. Stupid of me to have chosen that path when there were others less muddy nearby.
When it's completely dark inside the maloca, all the people who will be taking ayahuasca enter. In addition to Alberto, there are seven of us. For the first hour we just lie on mattresses (adjacent to the wall) in the dark. There are no lights except occasionally someone's flashlight. Each of us, going around the circle in turn, approaches Alberto and receives and drinks a cup of ayahuasca, then returns to their mattress. There are no sounds; total silence. We lie there in the dark waiting for the ayahuasca to take effect. The darkness is only broken by Alberto occasionally lighting up a hand-rolled cigarette made from tobacco plants which grow just outside the door.
I hear something strange, and realize that it is Alberto singing/chanting icaros. The ayahuascero leading a session normally does this (and sometimes, at least in Colombia, also plays on the harmonica). Alberto's icaros are sung softly and with the 'words' rapidly run together. Curiously, I hear them as coming from my left side, when I know (since he occasionally lights up) that Alberto is on my right side. I wonder if he is somehow projecting his voice.
I'm hoping that the ayahuasca will produce visions, but for an hour or so, nothing happens. Being told of this by Jean, Alberto then gives me more ayahuasca, half a cup. After a while this produces some effect, but it's not strong. I'm very annoyed that I fell and hurt my back. Initially I want revenge upon whoever or whatever caused this (assuming it was not a mere 'accident'). Then I turn to asking Ayahuasca to heal the injury. It occurs to me that my fall was related to the baby snake that came into my room this morning. In ayahuasca visions, snakes often occur. It may be that the Snake Spirit sent the baby snake into my room as a sign of welcome. But, since I was too stupid to realize this possibility, I shooed the snake away, thereby pissing off the Snake Spirit, who punished me by causing me to fall and injure myself.
I spend the rest of the night thinking, not very clearly, mostly about personal stuff, and engaging in some erotic fantasies (especially regarding a girl that I met briefly at the hostal yesterday, who is studying French with Eric). No animal spirits appear, and I'm disappointed that apparently Ayahuasca has nothing to tell me. Three times I have a full bladder and need to piss, so I have to get up (painfully), put my boots on at the door, and go down the path to the toilet.
Back in the maloca, although I'm wearing a pullover that covers my arms, I'm occasionally bothered by insects.
The night wears on. I frequently wonder whether it will ever end, and hope that dawn will come soon. It doesn't. About once an hour a couple of roosters (apparently right next to the maloca where I'm lying) crow several times, causing me to wish for their deaths. I'm uncomfortable because my back hurts if I move, but eventualy I fall asleep, but before doing so I decide that this ayahuasca experience best merits the epithet 'awful'. I have no wish to repeat it.
I wake to find that the day has dawned, and most of the particpants have left the maloca, so I get up. I'm not feeling well. I sit next to the kitchen with Alberto, and Jean translates for me. I tell him that I suspect my fall was caused by the Snake Spirit. They agree that it's possible, though Jean (who normally does not believe in 'chance') says that it may have been just an accident.
I mention that I smoked DMT many times, long ago, and have experience of the entities in the DMT space, and that I wanted to see whether some such entities would appear under the influence of ayahuasca. Alberto explains that taking ayahuasca is not meant to produce vsions but rather is meant to cleanse one's body, mind and soul of impurities. When all three are healed then, and only then, will ayahuasca enable one to perceive the higher worlds. Thus my disappointment at not seeing visions is due to a misunderstanding of the purpose of taking ayahuasca. Alberto also says that in this shamanic practice one has to be seriously involved with plants, to sort of get into communion with them, to become part of the world of plants. This is a new idea for me, and one that I'm not especially receptive to, since I have never taken much notice of plants, other than admiring beautiful trees and flowers.
Jean and I leave and make our way down the stony/muddy track to the small townships of San Antono and San Pedro, where we take a moto and a taxi back into the city. I'm exhausted, and immediately get a moto back to the hostal, take a shower and then sleep for a few hours.
After I wake I prepare to go to the grocery store for some time on the internet. I put my Widex hearing aid (the one I bought years ago in Bangkok) in my left ear and find that it is not working. I think it needs a new battery, so I insert one, but the hearing aid is still not working! This looks bad. I clean it, but can't get it to work. Disaster! I've sent my newer hearing aid (for my right ear) back to Germany, and without this older hearing aid I can hear a person only if they talk directly into my left ear.
I take my laptop to the grocery store, and search on the internet for 'hearing aids Tarapoto'. Eventually I find that there actually is a Widex representative in Peru (Panadex SA), contrary to what I believed when my other hearing aid died in Chiclayo. And — damn! — they have a branch in Chiclayo! So I could have taken my other hearing aid to them instead of posting it back to Germany! I note that they also have branches in Pucallpa and Trujillo (as well as Lima), both further away than Chiclayo. But unfortunately there's no mention of a branch in Iquitos.
My back is a little better today, but still is painful sometimes.
I leave in the morning with Jean and take my muddy jeans, etc., to the local laundry. The woman tells me to collect the laundry tomorrow at 12 noon. Then we look for a place in Tarapoto that could fix my hearing aid. The local medical center doesn't know of any place, and a call to someone who might know produces no result. We go to a place selling medical supplies and a technician there tries to clean the inside of the hearing aid, but likely does more harm than good.
Jean goes off for an appointment somewhere and I get a good 3-course lunch for 10 soles ($3.07), then do some grocery shopping at a modern supermarket near the Plaza de Armas. In Chiclayo and in Chachapoyas I asked at a lot of pharmacies for mosquito repellent with DEET (more effective than anything else), but all they had were greasy sunblock lotions with 7% DEET but also parabens and other crap. At last I find a pharmacy here which has a spray can of mosquito repellent with 15% DEET (and alcohol as solvent), not a high concentration, but hopefully sufficient to repel the insects here that have been biting me, leaving itchy bumps.
I cannot get to sleep, since I'm thinking about what to do regarding my (dead) hearing aid. It's hardly possible to go on for long without being able to hear people. I could take an overnight bus from Tarapoto back to Chiclayo, where there's a Widex distributor. I also remember that there's one in Pucallpa. So I check my Lonely Planet guidebook and find that there's a road going south from Tarapoto to Tingo Maria (500 km away), and a road from there to Pucallpa (another 200 km). And Pucallpa is well-known as a place to find ayahuasceros. So I decide to go to Pucallpa, a 4-day journey by bus (including a 1-day stopover in Tingo Maria). From there, depending on how long I stay, I could either take a boat to Iquitos or a bus to Lima. Unfortunately my guidebook says: "The southbound journey [from Tarapoto] ... to Tocache and Tingo Maria is dangerous and not recommended because of drug-running and bandits. If you go, avoid travellign at night ..." Hopefully the situation has improved since 2008.
Back to bed at 2 am, but the insect bites are annoyingly itchy. Fortunately I still have the calamine lotion that I bought in Thailand many years ago, so I apply this. It relieves the itch and I get to sleep.
I get up at 6:30 am, keen to work further on my heliocentric aspects program, and have breakfast: a bowl of cereal, a cup of coffee, some chocalate biscuits and a banana. As soon as the coffee has an effect I resume work on the program.
Jean arranges for me to visit Tarapoto's hearing aid dealer at his home. He can't fix my hearing aid, but offers to sell an over-the-ear type for between 800 and 1200 soles ($245-$368). I decide to query the Widex dealer in Pucallpa by email regarding prices, and maybe get my hearing aid fixed there.
I leave Jean and go to collect my laundry. I'm there at 11:30 am, but the place is closed. Nor does it open at 12 noon. The woman told me to collect it at that time, but she hasn't showed up. Apparently she is unreliable and has no respect for her customers. Jean later tells me that this sort of thing is common in Peru.
On return to the hostal I tell Eric I'm planning to go to Pucallpa. I take a nap and on awakening I find that Eric has left a note saying, "Pucallpa, it's a dangerous place. I would like to speak with you about."
I go to the grocery store and try to connect to the internet, but it's impossible. Maybe because the grand final of the America's Cup (soccer) is currently being played (Chile vs Argentina) and everyone in South America is watching it either on TV or via the internet. Depressing.
I have a lot of things to do on the internet, so at 6 pm I go back to the grocery store to try again. Fortunately this time I get a good net connection, presumably because the soccer grand final finished several hours ago (Chile won 4-1) and the internet is no longer being hogged by soccer fans.
July 5 (Sunday)
Great news: The Greeks have voted 60% in favor of 'No' to the Troika! The EU bureaucrats must now be feeling quite scared. If and when Greece is declared in default, so that the Greek debt can no longer be used as collateral for other loans, the long chains of derivatives will begin to unwind, and banks right and left will be going bankrupt. It's the demise of Western corporate capitalism. The only downside is that if your bank goes bankrupt then you lose any money you have with it (and can't get any from their ATM machines). Of course, the Troika has prepared for this possibility, and the bigwigs have no doubt moved their money to a safe place, or bought gold.
I spend most of the day completing the user manual for the heliocentric aspects program. At lunchtime I go to the grocery store and spend a couple of hours trying to do some work, but the net connection is terrible; the DNS server goes out to lunch every few minutes. I manage to read a few email messages, send one, and read The Saker and Zero Hedge about the wonderful Greek 'No' vote in the referendum. A 'triumph for democracy', as the Greek prime minister, Tsipras, declared. The situation is very complicated and unstable, but it's clearly an opportunity for development in new directions and new possibilities are emerging. Best would be for Greece to tell the EU to shove it, and turn to Russia and China for assistance. [As mentioned earlier, Tsipras ignored the popular vote and handed Greece over to the Troika, presumably in return for a promise that he and his family would not meet with an 'accident' and that he would be handsomely rewarded for his betrayal of the Greek people.]
No sign of Jean or Eric at the hostal. I talk with no-one today except the people who run the grocery store — and then I don't exactly talk to them, since (a) we don't have a common language and (b) without my hearing aid I couldn't hear what they said even if we did.
A few days ago I discovered a grocery near the laundry place in town which sells instant noodles. So tonight that's my dinner — somewhat more substantial than the cube of concentrated chicken broth in hot water which I can get at the nearby grocery.
Yesterday, when Jean and I were discussing ayahuasca and DMT, I said I think that the DMT space is where we were before taking physical incarnation, and that we return to that space when we die. Jean said, yes, but maybe not to exactly the same place, depending on how one has lived one's life. During the night it occured to me that this (physical) world is a 'way station', to which we come in order to go to some (better) place afterwards. Well, most of us, anyway. The spiritually obtuse and the psychopaths come to this world for its material pleasures (such as can be got) or for the chance to enjoy themselves by gaining power over others and deliberately causing harm. It may be that one can only progress spiritually by a process of 'testing' in this world. That is, one's only chance of advancing from the same-same discarnate (other) world to a better one is by undergoing the trials and tribulations of this life. This is an answer to 'the problem of evil' that has vexed Christian theologians for so long. But not entirely an original answer. I vaguely recall that there was an early Church Father who taught that the sufferings of this world are for the purpose of 'character building'. I'll remember his name sometime, I'm sure. [It was Origen, and two months from now I shall write up these ideas in a long philsophical discourse.]
This morning Eric is again giving French lessons to the cute Peruvian girl, but it's useless to attempt any conversaion.
I go to the grocery store at 10 am to try to do some work on the internet. But the DNS server dies every few minutes and comes back again after a few more minutes, so it is impossible to get anything done. I decide to get a moto into town (all moto rides in Tarapoto cost just 3 soles, a dollar) and try to find a coffee shop with wifi. I find a cake shop near the Plaza de Armas and for the price of a slice of cake (5 soles) I get a good internet connection, work for a couple of hours and get done half of what I had been needing to do for several days.
After some grocery shopping I return to the hostal and work until the evening on the heliocentric aspects program. There is one 'final' bug, which I fix by making the Pluto ecliptic longitudes more precise (by not rounding to the nearest minute but keeping seconds as well as minutes). During testing I notice that, heliocentrically, there is currently a Jupiter-Saturn-Neptune T-square in effect. Since these are slow-moving planets, this seems likely to last a long time. On closer inspection (using the program) I find that this T-square began about July 1, 2015, and will persist until about January 28, 2016 (it is most exact on November 5), so it lasts 7 months. (Geocentrically, there is no such T-square at this time.) Also there's a Uranus-Pluto square, which began in September 2010 and will persist until November 2016 — six years. And there's a Mars-Pluto opposition beginning now and lasting until August 16 — so present for all of the first month of Jade Helm. It becomes exact on July 27, when there are also three T-squares. Looks like interesting times ahead.
I often wake in the night and think awhile. Last night, I was thinking about how we come from the DMT world to this (physical) world. Assuming, as Andrew Gallimore has suggested, that DMT is a neurotransmitter which enables awareness of (or, as he says, "construction of") the DMT world, this would likely occur as soon as the foetus has a sufficiently-developed brain (maybe two months or so after conception), and the foetus would be conscious almost entirely of the DMT world during its nine months in the womb. After birth the neonate is exposed to input from the physical senses, and with DMT replaced by serotonin as the normal neurotransmitter it becomes aware of (or "constructs") our physical world. We thus have a transition from awareness of the DMT world to awareness of the physical world, and since there is a transition, we can view this as movement along a dimension, just as we can move in the three dimensions of physical space. Thus we can hypothesize that reality (what we can experience in an objective manner) is 5-dimensional: time, the three spatial dimensions, and a dimension of consciousness. The conventional view of reality as 4-dimensional is thus analagous to the view of Flatlanders, whose world is 2-dimensional and who cannot experience a 3rd dimension (even if they can think about it). Once we began to conceptualize reality as 5-dimensional rather than 4, we can more easily think of travelling along that 5th dimension, which is what psychonauts already do.
At the grocery store this morning the internet is — surprise!— working just fine. Perhaps yesterday's failure was connected to (reports of) cyberattacks (from China?) on American institutions. Probably this (attempted) cyber-sabotage will increase. Bad news for honest businesses that depend on the internet.
In the evening I invite Jean to dinner at some local restaurant. We go on his motorbike to a quiet place he knows, where I can hear him talk. Dinner is fried fish, rice, etc., not great but better than instant noodles. Jean proceeds to convey to me the usual esoteric/theosophical view, explaining how we have three bodies (etheric, astral and causal), how we exist in an energy vortex above the Earth Mother and below the Sky Father, how there are levels of being emanating from the Source ("I am that I am"), through archangels, angels, etc., down to humans, animals, plants and minerals (the traditional 'Great Chain of Being', generally abandoned since the 'scientific revolution' of the 17th Century in favor of a materialist, mechanistic view of the world).
Some days ago Jean mentioned buying some ayahuasca from a curandero he knows, and at dinner he calls him about this. Yes, half a liter is available for 200 soles. But that's more than I could use, and anyway I would prefer to take it in a proper shamanic context. So I raise the possibility of doing a ceremoney with this curandero, whose name is Miguel. I ask Jean if he has ever taken ayahuasca with Miguel, and he says No, he's afraid to, because he believes that Miguel is a brujo rather than (as Alberto is) a curandero. The latter are mainly concerned with healing. Brujos, in contrast, don't care much about healing; they work with spiritual forces, either good or bad, to achieve results for people who come to them with requests (so could be described in English as sorcerors). It sounds as if taking ayahuasca with Miguel might be interesting, so I ask Jean to arrange a meeting with him, and he says this is possible a couple of days from now.
Late evening I discover a swelling on the back of my neck. Probably an insect or spider bite. During the night I feel some pain when swallowing; might be due to the bite. And maybe there's a connection with an injury to my tongue when I accidentally bit it awhile back.
After I wake at 6 am the swelling is still present, but swallowing is not painful. Tongue still hurts a bit. This morning it's raining, but not heavily. I keep hoping that, when it rains, the baby snake will pay another visit. But no. Perhaps it (or the Snake Spirit) was so offended by my lack of hospitality that it decided never to return. Silly me!
Jean says the bite is probably a spider bite. He kindly gives me a bottle elaborately labelled Agua de Florida (judging by the label, Florida may be a mythical place like Paradise), which he says contains amber in an alcohol base. For application to skin. Invented in New York; made in Peru. Recommended by shamans, he says. Also used by them as a salve, as I later discover.
It's now just over a week since I fell down at Alberto's place and injured my back. It's now pretty much healed. I estimated it would take a week. I'm reminded of Nietzsche's aphorism: Was mich nicht tötet macht mich stärker. "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger."
I put the final touches to the heliocentric aspects program and take my laptop to the grocery store to upload the files in order to publish it. But the attempt to connect to the internet is completely unsuccessful. So I get a moto into town to the cake shop where I used their wifI a couple of days ago. I get a good slice of pie de limon but when I attempt to log on using the same password that worked two days ago — no success. I complain, but no result. They wave their hands in the air, presumably trying to say that it is not their fault but rather something 'in the air'. Maybe the whole net is down. I go to a restaurant across the street, which has a 'WiFi' sign, and ask if their wifI is working. The woman at the desk indicates 'No', pointing at a light on the router which is off, but presumably should be on. I then walk around the corner and find another restaurant (called Mama Cos) with a 'WiFi' sign, and ask the same. This time the girl says 'Yes', so I test it, and, yes, the wifI is working here, and working well. So I order an Inca Kola and spend the next 2 or 3 hours uploading files, then take my dinner there — a 'classic' hamburger (6 soles, $1.84), the only thing on the menu that looked safe enough, and it was OK, though I thought it a little undercooked.
I get a moto back, and as I'm approaching the area of the hostel I meet Jean leaving on his motorbike. He tells me to be at the hostal tomorrow at noon, so he can take me to meet the (as he thinks) brujo Miguel.
It rained in the night. I have slight sore throat. After breakfast of cereal, biscuits and coffee I take an antibiotic capsule in case this is incipient bronchitis.
I have a lot of problems with wifI here. At 9:30 am the wifI at the grocery store isn't working (again). I go into town to Mama Cos but it's closed. I go to the Cafe Plaza which has wifi, and it's working, so I am able at last to publish the heliocentric aspects program. But the wifI stops working after an hour and a half. Mama Cos is still closed. I try the wifI in the pizza restaurant nearby, but Windows says it can't get the information from the router that it needs. So I return to the hostal.
I take my laptop into town and meet Jean and Miguel at the Cafe Plaza at 3 pm. Miguel — whose full name is Miguel Tapullima Cachique, a maestro ayahuasquero according to his business card — strikes me as slightly crazy in a good way, and we get on quite well. I tell him about the three power animals with whom I connected when (briefly) studying shamanism with Michael Harner in the 1980s. I say that I'm hoping to connect with some 'entities' in the ayahuasca realm, and Miguel says that's likely (given the strong ayahuasca that me makes). He has a bottle of this ayahuasca (in a white plastic bag) on the cafe table, because he's leading an ayahuasca session tonight (Friday), and also on Monday night. My throat is sore, so I don't feel well enough for tonight. We make an appointment for Monday evening. It will be 150 soles (about $46), same as Alberto charges.
I go to Mama Cos's, now open, and get some work done. Jean then takes me on his motorbike to the place with buses to Pucallpa, but he has to leave right away. There are a couple of ticket offices and I manage to find out that there are buses from each of two companies which run three times a week in the morning. They get into Pucallpa about 17 hours later, sometime between midnight and dawn; not good. But I can take a bus to Tingo Maria and arrive about 9 pm, so I can spend the night there.
Back at the hostal it's instant noodles and an apple for dinner, plus two anitbiotics and a CoEnzyme-Q capsule. I have three days to recover from this sore throat so as to be in reasonable shape for taking ayahuasca with Miguel on Monday night.
Light rain again this morning. My throat feels worse. It's not just a sore throat — it's laryngitis. Hopefully lots of rest plus antibiotics will cure it by Monday afternoon.
Went into town to Mama Cos's, got a few hours work in, then had a dinner of grilled chicken breast — best meal I've had in Tarapoto so far, and I need some protein.
I was lying awake last night wondering how many aspect patterns — arrangements of planets forming a pattern — are possible, and mapped out a strategy to calculate this, so today I start to write the program.
July 12 (Sunday)
A weird dream last night. I'm somewhere in the countryside and I see a man, whom I don't recognize. Soon after I'm in a very dark room, with an open door to the outside, and the man (almost invisible in the dark) is standing in the room chanting in Tibetan (or perhaps it's Sanskrit), maybe a long mantra. I wonder if I should also begin to chant in Tibetan.
Feeling a lot better today. I think I'll be OK for the ayahuasca session tomorrow night.
I go to the grocery, hoping to get a net connection. The ethernet cable I've been using there stopped working a few days ago (don't know why), and today I decide to plug it into one of the two jacks in the router which already have cables connected (and lights flashing). I do this and — yes! — I have good connection. Unfortunately, unknown to me, I disconnected the guy next door, and he comes in to see what happened. So my ethernet cable is removed, and I can't do any work. What pissed me off was that the grocery store owner was trying to blame my inability to connect to the net on what he said was the wrong plug on the ethernet cable, though it worked fine a few days ago, before he made some change to his router. So I have no alternative henceforth but to get a moto (over excruciatingly bumpy tracks) into the city when I want net connection. Not good. Hopefully I'll find a hostal with wifI in Pucallpa.
I successfully complete the program to calculate the number of possible aspect patterns (for from 3 to 6 planets). Turns out that it's quite a lot more than I thought there'd be — more than a hundred. Most of them have no names.
After some work on my laptop (trying to add some functionality to a currently-published program) I go to the Cafe Plaza and get a couple of hours on the internet. Back at the hostal, I continue work on that program, but run into obstacles, so have to shelve the attempt.
I'm to meet Miguel at 5:30 pm, so I prepare. Based on my experience at Alberto's I know what to take: flashlight (important!), water (important!), insect repellent, camera (to get a photo of Miguel), case for glasses, small Spanish dictionary, toilet paper, bandaides (in case of small cuts), umbrella (in case it rains), small packet of biscuits (for breakfast tomorrow morning). After a cup of soup at lunchtime I eat nothing more until next morning.
I'm at the Plaza de Armas at the appointed time. There's a large group of dogs playing around. Groups of dogs are common in Tarapoto. Fortunately they are not dangerous.
Miguel shows up, with two friends. One of them, Antonio, speaks good English, fortunately. He's to take me on the back of his motorcycle to Juliampampa, Miguels' centro de retiro y curación (retreat and healing center). First, however, we stop to get something at a herbalista.We take off for Miguel's center. The journey takes about half an hour, and eventually we enter a dirt track in the forest. It's bumpy and it turns muddy. Antonio is having some difficulty controlling the bike in the mud. Suddenly the bike pitches over to the right and I am thrown into the shrubbery at the side. This part of the track is adjacent to a steep decline which ends at a small river about 5 meters below the road. I am in danger of slipping down, but my knees in the mud, and the vegetation snagging my clothing, is holding me up. Antonio is alarmed and tries to pull me back, and with some difficulty I regain the road. I'm not hurt, and view the incident as somewhat amusing. Miguel's center is not much further along, and I walk the rest of the way.
We arrive just as it is starting to get dark. Juliampampa is comparatively more developed than Alberto's center. The place has running water, in contrast to Alberto's reliance on rainwater. Here, in addition to the maloca there are a couple of small houses, a kitchen and a place with two showers and two modern flush toilets (though, as I later find, only one of them works properly). There are lots of chickens strutting about. Several other people, in addition to Miguel, apparently live here, but since (without my hearing aid) I am almost totally deaf I cannot talk to them.
Miguel is making the final preparations for the ayahuasca ceremony. He's emptying a bottle of thick black stuff into a metal pan. It looks disgusting. He takes the pan down a short path to a hut with a fireplace, and places the pan on the fire. This is one of the ayahuasca preparations that Miguel will use this evening.
The maloca is a large rectangular hall, with an array of folding mattresses along each wall, and many Tibetan prayer flags hanging in long rows just under the rafters. I'm shown where to sit, not far from where Miguel will sit. There are six people taking the ayahuasca this evening, including an Australian couple (the only other Westerners present) and Antonio, who appears to be Miguel's assistant. After it's completely dark all participants take their places. Miguel prepares his bottles of ayahuasca. There are three kinds, each "cooked" in different ways. He calls each of us up (the order appears always to be counter-clockwise). He mixes liquid from two of the bottles into a small cup, offers it and each of us drinks in turn. As usual, the stuff tastes awful, but not too bad. We each retire to our mattresses to await the effects in total darkness.
After awhile there is an effect, an energetic turbulence in my consciousness. It feels as if there is a struggle going on, with entities competing to enter my mind. But none succeed, and after a while this wears off. About an hour later Miguel asks if I want more ayahuasca. I say Yes, and he gives me another cup, small but full.
Now begin the main events of this night. I start to feel sick, and eventually vomit (into a small bucket; there are buckets for this purpose beside each of the mattresses). I vomit several times. Although the volume of ayahuasca that I consumed was quite small, thick and concentrated, I vomit a considerable amount of liquid. I also develop diarrhea, and have to go in the dark (with the help of my flashlight) down the maloca and out to the toilet block, where I release a large amount of shit and also vomit some more. I feel awful, and very weak. During this night I have to go four times to piss and twice to shit. Apparently most of the other participants don't need to do this.
I see no visions, but rather spend a lot of time thinking. I think about the dream I had two nights ago, in which I was in a very dark room with a man, dressed in black, hardly visible, and chanting in Tibetan (or Sanskrit?). It now occurs to me that this person was Death. Just like Death appears to Savitri in the Indian story of the husband and wife, Savitri and Satyavan (set by Gustav Holst as a chamber opera; the best version is with Dame Janet Baker as Savitri). Death approaches Savitri and informs her that he has come to take her beloved husband Satyavan. Satyavan returns from his day's work as woodcutter in the forest and collapses, dying. Savitri and Death then engage in a conversation, which ends by Savitri tricking Death into allowing Satyavan to live.
Under the influence of the ayahuasca, it now seems to me that Death appeared to me in my dream, either to warn of my impending death or to inform me that my time had come, and I take seriously the idea that I may die tonight. I am resolved not to die, but it would make for a bad trip if I had to spend the next few hours just resolving not to die so as to survive until the morning. So (like Savitri) I decide to talk to Death. I request Death not to take me, but to allow me to live, since I believe I still have lots do do in this life. In fact, I ask to be allowed to live until my Uranus Return, when Uranus returns to the same position in the zodiac that it occupied at the time of my birth. This occurs at about age 84, and will occur for me 23 years from now. Death does not say Yes, but apparently agrees to consider the request, so I'm relieved that I probably won't die tonight.
I then turn to thinking about other things, my work on heliocentric aspects, but especially personal matters, in the past and in the present. I attend to issues going back more than 30 years, which makes me feel sick again. I attend also to the possible development of a recently-renewed connection to an old girlfriend in California. I have a reason to return to Europe two months from now, and I could give her a reason to meet me there if she wishes. I rehearse this idea often, and it seems to me definitely the way to go. A few days later I do put this idea to her and she accepts enthusiastically. However, after booking her flight she has to cancel later for medical reasons (or perhaps she simply regretted her impulsive decision).
During the night Miguel several times goes around to check how people are doing. Around midnight each of us sits before him to receive a limpieza (a "cleansing"). Miguel shakes a bunch of leaves (called a chakapa) over most parts of my body — head, neck, limb joints — while chanting an icaro. In contrast to Alberto's icaros I don't hear Miguel sing any other icaros during the night, though perhaps he did and I didn't hear him. Some hours later I fall asleep.
I wake at dawn. I don't feel well, and remain lying down for some time. Eventually I get up, walk around outside for a bit, then return to talk to Miguel, with the help of Antonio's translation. I tell him about my dream of two nights ago, and my interpretation that it was a dream in which Death appeared to me. Miguel and Antonio both disagree, and claim that the person in the dream was more likely a deceased relative of mine, who was asking for help. The only deceased male relatives of mine were my father and my stepfather, and there was no indication in my dream that this person was either of those. Also, the person in the dream was definitely chanting in Tibetan or Sanskrit, not likely for my father or stepfather. Apparently Peruvians do not believe that there is person, god or spirit who is Death, unlike the Hindus and Buddhists, who personify Death as a deity (called Yama by Hindus and Yamantaka by Tibetan Buddhists). Peruvians say that the time of death is decided only by God. That may be true, but I think that there is a place for a lesser deity whose task is to appear to someone who is dying (or soon to die) and to take them to the other world.
I ask Miguel if he considers himself a curandero or (as Jean said) a brujo, and he replies that most definitely he is a curandero, and that brujos are best avoided. I ask which plants were added to the ayahuasca, and he surprises me by saying that none were. I understand this as his saying that there was no addition of the DMT-containing plant chacruna). I had believed that ayahuasceros always added this plant "to make the visions more intense". I conclude that this partly explains why I saw no visions (no animals, no spirits) last night. But it seems I misunderstood Miguel, since later Jean and other people tell me that the ayahuasca brew is always made using chacruna. Probably Miguel was saying that he adds no other plants, such as the dangerous tooi/toé to his ayahuasca.
After paying 150 soles to Miguel and thanking him (and Antonio) I get a moto back into Tarapoto, to the Plaza de Armas where I go to the Cafe Plaza for breakfast (it's about 8 am). I'm still not feeling well, but think that a decent breakfast might help. I order a desayuno americano. After a long wait (about 20 minutes) it finally arrives at my table. I start on the scrambled eggs and ham, but I feel sick and don't want more. I drink half the glass of orange juice, and sip the coffee. I feel I'm going to be sick so I go to the bathroom and vomit up the orange juice. Obviously the desayuno americano was not a good idea.
I take a moto back to the hostal, and almost immediately lie down and get some sleep. Jean turns up at about 11 am to ask about my experience. I tell him, and tell him about my dream. He also thinks that the person was not Death but rather a deceased male relative asking for help, and advises me to say prayers to help him or seek other assistance. I'm still not convinced. We arrange to meet tomorrow at 4 pm at the Cafe Plaza, after I've gone to the bus office to buy a ticket to Tingo Maria.
The military operation known as "Jade Helm" starts today in the U.S. and runs for two months. [Contrary to some fears/expectations, there were no confrontations between soldiers and civilians. It may have been simply a positioning of military resources if/when martial law is declared in the U.S.] Since I have been mostly off the net for the last week I have had no further information about this. I have realized how dependent I am on decent net access. I miss not being able to, for example, use Google or DuckDuckGo when I want some information.
I notice a spider under my chair, black, about 3 cm. long. What to do? It's no immediate threat, but if I leave it, it might crawl into my clothes. Killing it seems rather drastic. I sweep it out the door and it runs off. In contrast to the baby snake, this time I feel no regret for my lack of hospitality.
I decide to leave Tarapoto tomorrow, so I take a moto to the bus office and buy my ticket to Tingo Maria (70 soles, $21.50). Then I go to Henry Cardenas's home (the man whom I went to visit immediately upon my arrival in Tarapoto ten days ago); I want to ask some questions. Henry's English is not so good, but fortunately there's a young man there who can translate. I ask whether ayahuasceros usually add (DMT-containing) chacruna to their ayahuasca, but he doesn't know. I tell him about my dream, but he also think it was a deceased relative. (It occurs to me that perhaps it was the tantric protecting deity Mahakala.) I ask Henry if he can put me in touch with a shaman in Pucallpa, and after much phoning around he comes up with the name and address of a Mr Mamerto.
Back at the hostal I manage to use Eric's ethernet cable (which he has strung from a house over the road) to get a half an hour on the net, where (after two days away) I find many messages awaiting my attention.
I meet Jean at the Cafe Plaza. I tell him that Miguel said that he adds no admixture plants to his ayahuasca, that it is made only from the vine, with no chacruna. Jean insists that this is not so, that all ayahuasceros add chacruna to their ayahuasca, and that Miguel must have thought that I was asking whether he added any other plant, such as the powerful and deadly toé (Brugmansia) or the extremely emetic piri-piri (Cyperus articulatus). So I'm not sure what to believe on this point.
I wake at 6:30 am with bronchitis. I complete my packing for departure. I arrive at the bus office at 8 am. It's a fine sunny day. The departing passengers are in the waiting room, watching the news on TV. Again it's videos of crime in Lima captured on CCTV (apparently very popular with Peruvians). This time the CCTV footage is of a hotel reception desk, with a woman at the counter. A man appears, goes behind the counter and drags the woman out. They scuffle, fall to the floor, he gets up and proceeds to drag her away by her hair. I don't know what happened after that, but this was on the front page of the newspapers next day, so I suppose the guy was apprehended. Lima (other than the tourist areas) is definitely not a safe place.
The bus is big, red, quite old, and has lots of compartments for luggage and freight. Packing everything into these compartments is an art. Finally we leave at 9 am, heading south for Tingo Maria. The journey is through interesting country, but not as spectacular as some earlier bus trips I've taken, for example, two months ago from Chachopoyas to Celendin and on to Cajamarca, which goes over a pass at 3000 meters. No bandits appear, but at one point there were two guys dressed in navy blue (one with a rifle) waving for the bus to stop. The bus driver didn't even slow down. First rule when travelling in dangerous areas: Never stop your vehicle for men with guns unless they are obviously police or military.
The trip to Tingo Maria takes 12 hours, and my bronchitis stays with me the whole time.
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