Into the Jungle (Part Two)
As I’d mentioned in part one, we’d stopped at a lodge in the Cloud Forest over halfway on our journey to the land of the Machiguenga in the Amazon. It was an eight-hour ride over very bumpy roads and at times when I’d look down we’d be so close the edge that I couldn’t see the road beneath! Since it had been raining so much, this was an alternate route to the usual way, which would have taken five hours, so all of us were exhausted and ready for a rest. Hot showers, flush toilets, and comfortable beds in the middle of the forest helped sooth our tired bones.
The next morning it rained as we ate a delicious breakfast cooked by Jenny and her crew. Aside from sharing this journey with Jesseca, it was one of the best features of this trip. After that we loaded up the buses again and continued onward, prepared for an additional four hours on the road. From there we got in boats for a cruise down a river that was to take us into the heart of the Amazon jungle. We arrived at the boats, loaded them up, and headed downstream, cruising along with the help of the river’s flow and an outboard motor.
As we floated along the river there was a distinct feeling of more “aliveness” all around us. Countless trees draped the banks of the river, carpeting their way up the mountainsides. Perhaps it was the richness of the oxygen given out by all these beings that far outweighed the CO2 that we meager humans had to offer them. Or maybe their quiet but full presence of being. No matter what, all of us were feeling in awe of the beauty of being here and connecting with the spirits of this part of the Earth. I felt relaxed, trusting that whatever was to happen would happen for a reason whether I understood it or not. I mentioned earlier (in part one) that my mantra for this trip would be, “go with the flow.” Now on this river we were literally doing that!
So I recounted to Jesseca bits and pieces of the previous week’s adventures. She had missed the tours to the sacred spots of the Andes, but she and two others were able to join us for the Amazon adventure. At one of the ancient ruins, Saqsaywaman (SAX-e-WA-man), a shaman named José led us in a beautiful ceremony of blessing for Pachamama (Earth Mother). As we sat in circle, he prepared by placing various food items in empty sheaves of corn as we all chewed on the ubiquitous coca leaves that helped oxygenate our blood at this altitude of 10,000 feet.
He then folded each sheath and gave each of us one, then called us forward one at a time to kneel near a hole that had been dug earlier. We were instructed to place the package in the hole, take a handful of earth, kiss it, and then put the dirt on top of the offering. As I did so, tears came to my eyes—sweet tears of gratitude for all that Earth Mother gives to all her children. In recounting the tale to Jesseca I was again reminded of the power of sacred ceremony, and especially one that provides a dedication to the Earth.
So the journey along the river continued as we felt the anticipation building. We were soon to be coming to Machiguenga territory, where we would be participating for three nights of plant medicine ceremony using Ayahuasca, a traditional brew used by many tribes in the Amazon basin for shamanic healing.
After the lengthy journey, we pulled up along the bank of the river, apparently arriving at our destination. However as soon as we all got out of the boat, the guide informed us that because the river had changed, we would now be faced with about a mile hike through the jungle! Fortunately to our great relief, he also said that the men accompanying us would be carrying our packs to our destination, the Traditional Medicine Center of the Machiguenga tribe.
So we started down the already wet trail to begin the next phase of our adventures, not knowing quite what to expect once we got there. Although we had been given some inexpensive tennis shoes for this part of the hike, I figured my walking shoes I’d purchased specifically for this trip would suffice. They did, but turned out to be the wrong choice. We hiked through mud and across one fairly sizeable stream, feet and shoes getting thoroughly soaked and muddied. So glad I didn’t pay all that much for these very cool looking walking shoes.
After several minutes, we arrived at the lodge. Here in the middle of the jungle, further in than the Cloud Forest Lodge, was a well-constructed facility, open-aired, with a connection to an actual kitchen. It was a welcome sight after our two days of travel and our the trek from the river. We were then assigned to individual rooms, and once the guys delivered the packs—which was well after dark—Jesseca and I scurried to our room, where clean sheets and comfortable beds with mosquito netting awaited us. Oh, yeah—and flush toilets and showers too!
So after a refreshing night’s sleep, we awoke to the first day of our stay. That night would be mine and Jesseca’s first experience with this plant medicine. I felt both excited and nervous, yet very willing to have a go at it as I’d heard so much about its healing properties and the plant spirit’s remarkable ability to provide guidance and insight.
(to be continued . . . )