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Day 2

PART ONE It was chilly stepping off the plane at 6:30am in Lima yesterday (and there are no jetways, so I stepped directly from the plane to the stairs that led to the tarmac), to the point that I wished I had a puffy jacket with me. I was afraid I'd be cold in the jungle, so at the last second I took the light green blanket provided by Latam Airlines and stuffed it into my already stuffed backpack.

Stepping off the plane in Iquitos yesterday, however, was like stepping into a tropical terrarium, and I knew immediately that I'd made a terrible mistake. Sure I'd looked at the weather while sitting back home in California, but who could imagine that kind of heat and humidity in November? My hiking pants, cami and light sweatshirt were the clearly worst possible of choices and I immediately started sweating from every pore on my body. I'm about 20 pounds overweight, too, so it wasn't the dainty cleanse of like a yoga person; it was the toxic yuck of a person who hasn't exercised in, say, a very long time. Like years.

It is clear also that that the clothes I brought are all wrong for this climate, but the airport is tiny (two gates), there is nowhere to shop, and I needed to meet my group in less than an hour. So I hauled myself outside to wait, where the sidewalk was empty save three twenty-something guys — one with no shoes and shirt with very long hair — talking rather loudly about LSD. Fuck. It struck me that maybe people my age didn’t do things like this, and that maybe I had just flown to the jungle to do drugs with a bunch of people who do drugs, and the idea of it made me feel about a thousand years old, so I did not say hi but sat down two benches over to sweat instead. Fuck.

outside the Iquitos airport

Fortunately a guy in his 20s — B from the Netherlands — came up a few minutes later and asked about the cafeteria (our group’s assigned meeting spot) so we went inside to find it, and about an hour later, a long and lean young Spanish guy named L had our whole group - 11 of us in all - loaded up in a passenger van on our way to village called Nauta. I had a seat next to one of two windows that open for the whole van - which seemed great until we got going and I found myself in a wind tunnel of misery. Everyone else was still sweating to death though, so I couldn't complain.

For posterity, our group looked like this:

  • J, a 50-something guy from the U.S. who is currently nomading. Apparently he's been "drinking" ayahuasca for a "very" long time. He's also started doing his own ceremonies. He’s signed up for 40 days at camp.

  • B - 20 days, from the Netherlands, clearest skin I’ve ever seen, recently graduated with a degree in EE and is in search of clarity and a "good foundation" before moving on to what's next.

  • H - from Finland, just this moment embarking on seven months of travel. Green shirt, tan pants, perfect backpack, blond braid. 20 days. One of only three women, including myself.

  • A - skinny dude in his 30s currently living in the Ukraine though he calls LA home. Sports a metal back brace. Here for 3 months.

  • H - 30 something from Poland who just bought a business in Germany. 10 days.

  • M - a last minute addition, because she met the aforementioned J at her hotel in Iquitos, after departing an earlier dieta two weeks early. Has been living in Mexico for 8 months learning Spanish, and plans to travel Peru until February.

  • K - late twenties, maybe? burly New Jersey type personality who works at the busiest hospital in NYC. 10 days.

  • G - 10 days - friends with K, and like K, originally from Albania. G is like 6'4" and awesome. When he realized I was part of their trip he was like No Waaaaaaaaay. I didn't ask him what he meant.

  • F - no shirt, no shoes guy with the long hair. Sweet smile and bright eyes, 20 something. 40 days.

  • Z - 20 something guy from Slovenia, I think. Found him at the cafeteria across the street from the airport. 10 days.

  • Me - just turned 49. Mother of two, volunteer of various types.

J has kids in their 30s so he and I are the oldest by far, twenty years at least, I’d guess (although this turns out not to be true; M is 40). Overall I feel old and soft and fat compared to the others, and certainly out of place. I was first in the van and the local woman sitting up front asked if she could take my picture, which of course was fine, but Why would she want my picture? What’s unusual enough about me at this very moment to warrant notice, other than the sweating? Uuuuugh.

It’s tempting to try to validate myself with the others by sharing stories of who I've been, but then I remember that it is my own judgment I see in their eyes and I don't. This has not stopped me from telling about a thousand small lies since I arrived, however, especially about what I do, since I am not currently doing anything at all. Still seeking validation apparently, though I tell myself I'm not.

The trek to get here: 1+ hour in the van from Iquitos to Nauta, 20 or 30 minutes in the back of a tuk-tuk (like a rickshaw in India) across Nauta where there are no cars (or roads wide enough for cars), and at the end of the road a 15-20 minute hike into the jungle to camp. It was still a thousand degrees and I was carrying my 50 pounds of gear — it wasn't pretty. I had to Colorado mountain step up to get up the hill while K generously tried to make conversation (please stop) and offered to carry my bag which of course I declined because it only made me feel worse. But I made it. And oh the sweating.

Once we popped through the trees we found ourselves in a large clearing, dotted with a number of relatively large huts with thatched roofs sitting on platforms raised a five or so feet off the ground. I assume being off the ground helps keep animals and insects at bay, but I don’t really know. The structures have no exterior or interior walls that I could see; the exterior is wrapped in a taut netting, which I assume again is to keep the insects out.

We set our bags down outside what felt like the main gathering building of camp, a large rectangle called the maloca, and went inside to lay on the cool floor. Still sweating. Inside the maloca felt like a jungle yoga studio — wood floor, cool design in the middle, no furniture except a couple of hammocks swinging from the rafters. A wooden canoe. Some sticks and rattles in the corners. A pile of mats, a couple of inches of foam covered in orange vinyl.

The head guy, we’ll call him N, came in and sort of said hello — not in a Welcome to Psychonauta kind of way, but in a Here, sign this release that says you know what you’re doing, that we told you what you’re getting in to. Hmmm. This did not feel welcoming, which was less than I’d hoped for, considering the distance everyone had traveled to get there. He never made eye contact with me, not even once, during the whole opening speech, which felt weird. We all signed the waiver — wish I could remember what it said, mostly about the importance of the special diet, I think — and he talked about the difficulty of this kind of work, of making this choice, about how some of us may eventually feel tempted to leave, to head to town for food or to go home early, but that we should trust the process instead, that whatever happens is exactly what we had come here to find. There’s an order to these things, he said, and the only way out is through.

Hmm. This felt a little menacing but I had no idea what he meant. Why would anyone want to leave? For fried food in Nauta? It didn’t make any sense, so I assumed he was not speaking to me.

Next he called us up to one of the orange mats to make the remainder of our retreat payments in cash. (there's clearly an order to these things.) I noticed at the SFO airport that the retreat had gone up $50 in price on the website and had an additional ceremony (four instead of three), but it didn’t seem worth arguing about. He made eye contact with me while taking my money. Welcome to my office, he said.

Then we grabbed our bags and L walked us to our tambos, the thatched roof huts on stilts. Mine was the second one, not far from main camp and just past M’s. Mine was a two story (like 25 feet tall?) with a peaked thatched roof. Basically a rectangle of mosquito netting with a roof, which made me happy to no end. No electricity of course and the nearest toilet was a four minute walk (two outhouses, only one has a seat), but this was glorious, my own jungle home. Inside was a hammock, a "couch" (a pad leaned against a piece of wood on the floor), a low wooden table, and a plastic tub. A mobile made of twigs tied together in concentric squares hung above the couch. A precarious set of stairs leads to an orange mat on the floor of the loft, tucked into its own rectangle of mosquito netting. Without walls or windows, the overall effect of this simple design in the twilight was absolutely glorious and I could not be more pleased with my choice.

my tambo

When everyone had unloaded their stuff we regrouped in the maloca and had a big dinner together by candlelight on the orange mats. (I suspect everything happens on the orange mats.) Dinner was rice, a mysterious yellow soup, and salad. It was all so delicious, and the only thing I'd eaten all day. Everyone made a big deal out of how it was our last meal with flavor -- no more salt, fat, or spices for ten days - but that doesn't feel like a big deal to me right now. Maybe it will on day 5.

During dinner N spoke about what is to come. Ayahuasca ceremony every two nights. Plant dieta of another master plant on alternating nights, as chosen by the curanderos. One or two meals per day, depending. N is clearly the real deal, by the things he says and the way he says them. I can't do it justice now, but I am relieved by his clarity of presence, not something I would've necessarily expected from a guy who looks like he does, the tiny half mohawk, a whisper of a mustache, tats crawling out of his shirt sleeves and up his neck.

Everyone else had been in Iquitos for at least a couple of days, so they were all in pretty good shape. After not sleeping on the plane, I'd essentially been up for 36 or so hours at that point, and was so tired I could've fallen asleep there on my mat, but instead I left and went to shower in the dark, and then straight to bed. The only shower is in the center of camp, a rough stall enclosed by a sheet of corrugated metal, which sits directly under a plastic 500 gallon-ish water tank. No heated water, but it felt pretty good after the obscenely hot day.

Back at my tambo, I popped on one of the puck lights I’d brought with me, feeling very smug in my preparedness, only to discover that when it’s dark, the cockroaches come out to play. This was new. Pretty much all my stuff — my toiletries on the wooden shelf, my clothing in my open suitcase — was littered with cockroaches. Not thick like a blanket of cockroaches, but like a serious smattering of them, to the point where I had to shake the cockroaches out each piece of clothing one by one and then drop it into the plastic tub. Use the bin to keep the roaches out of my stuff. Duly noted.

Finally done with the preliminaries, I crawled on wobbly legs up the ladder as the whole house swayed in the oppressive heat, sporting a layer of mosquitos on the back of my left arm. I crawled under the corner of the mosquito netting suspended over my mat and prayed that the cockroaches would stay downstairs, and that the rats and porcupines N mentioned finding earlier in M’s hut would not come to visit.

Despite N’s warning about the trials of this kind of isolation, I tell you I could not get away from the gathering last night fast enough. Yes I was tired, but I also haven't had to talk or attempt that much conversation with new people in years.

Laying in bed listening to the sounds of the jungle I wasn't happy or unhappy; I just wanted sleep to come, and it did.


When I woke up today, the sun had not yet risen. I did not want to get up and pee but I did - It was about 6am, 4am back home. I walked to the bano instead of squatting in the jungle - still nervous about that. Cooler so far today - cloud cover so no sweating. A woman brought a huge amount of tan mush (a kind of porridge, maybe) in a stainless bowl - and that's where we are. No flavor at all, as promised.

I guess I'm writing all of this down so I can remember later, but even as I'm doing it I sort of wonder about the point. It's all going to be gone in a minute anyway. The mind wants to capture it, hold on to it, make an identity out of it, but what's the point? The point seems to be the transitory and ephemeral nature of it all -- the game letting go instead of holding on.

Hopefully this gut/constipation problem of mine is also ephemeral/transitory.

It would have to be, of course.

I hear someone playing the guitar and someone singing so far today. And a chainsaw far away. N warned us about the chainsaws; there’s no escape. Irony and ecstasy everywhere.

Lunch came: quinoa maybe with carrots, beets, and a yellow something I don't recognize and also don't like. (plantanos, it turns out)

It's all so predictable, that's the problem. Write the story of suffering and redemption -- every story is the exact same story -- smaller versions until the last. Love helping love find its way back to Love. A bunch of vagabonds who become a family.

The New Christianity is Not a Religion.


  • I read the Shaman's Way a few days ago and it talked about how one thing the shamans do is something like soul and power retrieval, basically helping you retrieve the parts of your self that you've given away over time. I need this. I feel so fragmented -- I can't remember anything, I have trouble focusing or concentrating, trouble listening -- I would like to recover the fragmented parts of myself, including my memory.

  • I'd like another opportunity to unplug from fear, like I had in those visions on the cliff.

  • I'd like to receive info or clarity around my purpose or my calling.

  • I'd like to heal and learn how to heal.

I spilled a little of my quinoa, but I figure it's okay because the cockroaches will come to clean the place tonight.

Today has been glorious so far -- cool and breezy while I nap, eat, meditate and stretch. Only now - 1pm or so - do I have a twinge of boredom. Should I go for a walk? meditate longer? We are not supposed to socialize with the others. We are to be alone with our stuff, to take our healing seriously.


I surrender. That's what I said that night outside of Begur, and yet I have not really surrendered at all, have I. I have tried to fight it this whole time in fact, have pretended to surrender while actually refusing to do so in any meaningful way. If something wants to change you life, let it, she said. But I did not.

There's someone who's been strumming the same 3 or 4 chords on the ukulele over at camp since about 9 this morning. They just reached the point where I recognize the tune: Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours." There's a woman who sings now and then - now we're plucking the same chords, I think - it's nice, but 10 days?

Later: I went for my first walk in the woods - no, the Amazon rain forest - and truly, even right here it is something. Dense, buggy, and hot. I expected taller trees, maybe, but I suppose like in California that those are only in certain parts. I am, however, quite out of shape, which makes going up and down these mountains quite a challenge.

I keep practicing my intentions - why?

There is only one choice -- love or fear.

Turns out it's my neighbor M with the ukulele and singing.

The sun is low, first ceremony begins soon. Wish me luck.

continue to Day 3

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