Staying in the jungle for a time was an interesting and valuable experience. After 2 hours going up the river in a speed boat, we changed to a motorized canoe and went for another hour, much more slowly, up a much smaller tributary. This is dry season so the tributary was very low. There were 4 of us and at times we had to get out and walk. We even got out of the canoe in the tributary and waded in the muddy water to pull the canoe to a deeper part where it would not get stuck on the bottom. So much for the piranhas taking a hunk out of us. Or the Anacondas!
It was a beautiful ride to see all the birds, to go deeper into the Amazon jungle. After another hour we arrived at our ‘eco lodge’. It was basic but adequate. After all, it is the jungle! Since the water was low we had to disembark in some significant mud and try not to get stuck or fall thus taking a mud bath. It was all good. During the rainy season the water coming from the melting snow out of the Andes mountains can raise the water level as much as 40 feet right up to floor level of the dwellings. Then there is no land, no earth to walk on around the lodge so its all by boat. From and to the lodge by boat and disembark directly into the buildings.
I did an Ayahuasca ceremony every other day while there (read about this in a previous blog, as well as Kambo). On the off days we (at times there were 3 of us) would go with our guide for a walk through the jungle to find animals, to look at and identify different plants and trees. All of which had medicinal value. The jungle seems to be a complete pharmacy containing medicines for most any condition. Also for many uses in day to day living and existence. For example, there is a fruit called a Cannonball fruit, about the size of a cannonball. The guide split it in half with his machete. He said the insides were used as a soap when bathing and often connects one more closely with the plant world. I took one with me and, in fact, used it whenever I took a shower….which in the very high humidity and trekking through the jungle, was quite often. It is purple in color. I would scoop some out of the inside and rub it on my body. It has a slightly grainy texture, a nice fragrance, and makes the skin feel soft and smooth. It felt much better than the soaps one might purchase in a grocery store or Bed, Bath and Beyond! As of yet, there are no plants growing out of my head!
Another time the guide found an ant mound, broke it open and put his hand in it, keeping it there until it was covered with ants. He took his other hand, squashed and rubbed the ants all over his hand and arm stating that this provided great protection from mosquitoes. Mosquitos don’t seem to take to the flavor and aroma.
As we walked on he identified a tree, cut off a chunk of the bark with his machete, handed it to me to feel and smell. He said this is the tree that women in the jungle come to if they are pregnant and want to terminate the pregnancy up to 6 months. They take some of the bark and boil it in water to make a tea. After drinking one cup the fetus will abort within 30 minutes to one hour. Apparently totally acceptable and supported by the community. No government, no men or religion telling women what they can and can’t do with their bodies, doesn’t cost an arm and a leg and nobody is about to shoot a doc for performing the procedure, no pharmacy except the most complete pharmacy in the world…natural plants from the jungle.
And drinking water from a tree branch like someone had turned on a faucet.
As we continued our walk on different days, many more plants, fruits, animals, insects and trees were identified with the guide relating to us what medicinal purpose they served, and which were edible. We also went for walks through the jungle at night with flashlights hoping to see certain animals that come out primarily at night, and took nighttime canoe trips up and down the river keeping our eyes pealed for nocturnal animals. Most interesting.
On one afternoon, just the guide and I went into the jungle for another trek. We came to a couple small villages and were able to spend some time with the people. There was a one room building in one of them which was the school up to the 6th grade. Rarely did a child go any further, but if he wanted to he would have to go to Iquitos and board there to continue his education. That also costs money which most do not have. In the village there were usually only 1 or 2 maybe 3 children in a class. Some of the villages were a little larger with maybe 40 people living there. There was even a little tienda in one managed by an elderly lady who sold some basics as well as the local brew…..what we called ‘white lightning’ in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia. It was beautiful to watch some of the kids kick a soccer ball around or play some volleyball. There was such joy on there faces. No obvious sense poverty of spirit here. Simply a way of life. There basic needs were supplied. At one point I heard a radio and since here there is not electricity available except maybe from a generator for a short period of time. With a little more investigation and some questions, I discovered a small solar square about the size of an iPad that generated enough charge to power a radio. Battery power is of course possible but that get more expensive in the long run.
A joyful game of volleyball
The pueblo school undergoing some repairs
Jungle pueblo playground equipment!
Of course, on these excursions I wore my clown hat and always had a couple red noses in my pocket ready to pull our particularly if there were children around. I don’t think some of these kids every saw a clown before or a red nose. Usually they were happy to try the nose on themselves and all would laugh with sheer delight. It was a great way to make contact and watch the doors open. I am certain I received as much as or more from these encounters than they did. Teachers!!
The young man to the left was very skilled at navigating the low tributary. This is his home a little way up the tributary with his mother and siblings. Dear souls….all
A little tienda in this jungle pueblo…my guide buying some local ‘hooch’ for the older man who raised him and who also navigated the tributary at times for us. The old guy and I had a nice connection. He also assisted the Shaman in our ceremonies….
On the way back to the lodge, I noticed from certain unique trees, and other landmarks, we seemed to be going in circles. My guide more and more seemed to be hesitant and indecisive. There was also a thunder storm building up and it was getting late. It gets dark at about 6pm and when it gets dark it is dark. I didn’t want to say anything to the guide but just kept observing his behavior. After all, he had previously proudly told me about having gone through jungle survival training, and after guiding for 20 years had never gotten lost! At one point I told him where the river was but he didn’t seem to be listening so I said no more and wanted to see how he would get us out of this. I didn’t tell him that I had also gone through survivalist training and tracking with one of the most renowned survivalist and trackers in the USA. As such I knew generally where we were and how to get back to the lodge as a result of several factors. I’m a map person so knew the lay of this tributary in relation to the Amazon River. I carry a compass and would frequently check it as we came up river initially. As a hunter and trapper earlier in my life, it was a rather exhilarating challenge to read tracks and landmarks and to realize that everything is a track. It is a matter of learning to read what they say. So when we arrived at the lodge I checked carefully for the 4 directions in relation to the lodge and the flow of the tributary. As we trekked it was kind of a personal challenge and practice to take note of various landmarks, where we were in relation to the river and the lodge. It does not mean I couldn’t get lost because I’m well aware it can happen to anyone under certain conditions.
Eventually we stopped and he acknowledged with some embarrassment that he was lost. He kept emphasizing that this was the first time in 20 years. Small comfort in that!!For him it happened in a way that is very common, which he acknowledged. He had been bushwhacking his way through the jungle (at times I couldn’t figure out why he was exerting such energy when I could see easier openings which would not require such use of energy), got more and more tired and lost his focus. I told him I was glad he got lost. He asked why and I just said everything is a teacher, and such things are often a necessary experience. He wisely knew what the factors were that got us lost and I would imagined it wouldn’t happen to him again. I assured him I knew he would find our way out. I still knew where the river was but said nothing. Eventually, he found his way to the river and we came out very close to our lodge. By this time we were soaking wet from the downpour. He whistled across the river and someone at the lodge brought a canoe across the river and I soon found myself in the shower with cannonball soap!
I do acknowledge and certainly give credit to my guide that he actually was excellent and was very knowledgeable about jungle plants and animals. I am grateful to him for all the knowledge he shared. He was always happy to show us more, and on another occasion took us up the Amazon River to where the Pink Dolphins hang out. So we went for a swim with them and had quite a lot of fun playing in the mud, taking a proper mud bath!
I want to include here the story of Chi Chi, a young woman of the jungle now living in Iquitos. Somehow it seems to fit at this place in this part of the Amazon experience. I hope you will be able to make the connection as well. You might have already read it if we are friends on Facebook.
Chi Chi is a young indigenous woman and artist, 36 years of age, I believe. I met her on the Malecon, in Iquitos, where the artists make available their creations. She has many tattoos all of which have direct or symbolic meaning.
She was born in the jungle and is now in Iquitos with her daughter because her daughter wants a good education and to be a veterinarian. I like Chi Chi a lot because I saw quickly she is very genuine, has a beautiful heart and is a great soul. I also had her make me a necklace today from the teeth of a young female black panther/jaguar. Animal rights activist, don’t get your panties in a wad!. It was killed in a fight of jealousy in the jungle. Two of the small teeth are molars and the larger one is from further toward the front on the right side of the mouth. She said the Jaguar was about three years old. Chi Chi is very conscious and sensitive to the environment, to the animals and protecting all of it.
One day her mother came to her and said she had something to tell her. She was a little anxious about this because she thought her mother might tell her that she had a different father or perhaps a different mother. Actually, what the mother told her was that she was born in a canoe while they were traveling on the river! That’s when Chi Chi, the baby, decided to emerge. I love that story. She smiled and seemed to be very proud of that event. Of course, in the jungle, there were no medical facilities.
She has been very open with me and our conversation at times became more personal. I asked her if she has a boyfriend now and she pointed to a young man sitting right close to her who was helping to make my necklace. She also pointed to a young woman there and said she is her lover as well. So I suggested that she is bisexual. She said, “actually I am what I would call pansexual. No specific sexual preference. She said she doesn’t really care for these definitions like straight, gay, bi, etc., because they really don’t define you but rather lock you in. I then shared my experience of being married to a woman who was the love of my life for 14 years who then discovered she is lesbian and had fallen in love with a woman. I said she could bring her new love to our house and we could all live together but that didn’t go over very well! Go figure! So with the great and deep love I had for her, and still do, I encouraged her to go with her new love and to live the truth of who she actually is, to give and receive as much genuine love as possible and I would get over my devastation of losing the love of my life. I told Chi Chi we still love each other in a different way and I am very happy for her.
Chi Chi wondered about my own sexuality. I told Chi Chi that I have looked very closely at my sexuality and I’m very clear that I have no interest in romantic relationships with men and have never been physically or sexually attracted to another boy or a man in my entire life even though I have looked at that very closely as a psychotherapist of 45+ years, and a student of human behavior and human sexuality. I said I would be quite fine with it if I were gay or bi or whatever. We come into this world wired in a certain way and there just isn’t anything we can do to change that orientation, despite what some folks would like to think, and what some Christian organizations have tried and failed to do, eventually with the founder coming out as gay himself. One of the greatest challenges of this journey through life is to learn to love those who are different from us.
She understood all this and was supportive of my experience as well. I love this woman but not in a romantic sense. I love her soul, her spirit and the purity, as I see it, that she is. We talked of her Pueblo where she is from in the jungle many hours up river and explored the possibility of my living there for a period of time. It’s possible. It does not have all the trappings of a tour agency, nor that kind of expense. It’s related more to making a contribution on some level to the people there. If I do this at some point I will need to build my own little dwelling with the help of the local people. Bathing is in the river, and the toilet is a compost toilet. It definitely would be something that perhaps I might need to get used to although I have lived in some similar situations, e.g., the Great Thar desert of Rajastan. I might come back to Iquitos after Ecuador and pursue this. Her uncle is the shaman. All of this actually warms my heart and tugs at my spirit. Of course, I might go there and be ready to come back the next morning!
I wonder if she knows the inspiration, the teacher, she is to me. Just WOW! Thank you!
After coming out of the jungle now, I’m back in lquitos, the largest Peruvian city in the Amazon and accessible only by river or air. This happens to be the time of the year annually, approximately 10 days, that the Patch Adams/John Glick clown group is here coming from around the world. I’m told there are approximately 100 clowns here this year. They are well organized. Patch and John are not here this time. This group has been coming here for many years and are greatly appreciated. They have done so much for Iquitos and specifically Upper and Lower Belen, the poorest part of Iquitos. Lower Belen is down by the river and all the houses are built on stilts. When the river is low one can get around on land but when the river rises it is by boat only. Much has been done to get clean drinkable water to Belen, medical assistance, education, classes of different sort such as art, music, and dance.
Two clowns with the Patch Adams/john Glick group…
When I travel, as now, I bring with me some basic clown stuff such as knee socks, a wacky pair of loose fitting pants, a long weird tie down to my knees, a hat and noses. John is mostly responsible for this with the encouragement of Patch. So I wander around at times doing this with my introverted self! John said to make sure I get to Lower Belen, and an amazing and interesting market where you can purchase just about anything from the jungle, and wear my nose for sure. The people would love it.
Photos of Lower Belen
Many people told me to be careful in Belen because it is dangerous. I’ve been in some not so safe places, and many markets, in this world and never encountered any difficulties, but after hearing so much about Belen I decided to go the first time with someone from there. Which I did.
Belen market photos. So many all natural products made from natural ingredients from the jungle pharmacy
Walked through basically all of Belen, the market, took a boat on the tributary that runs through Belen……and wore my nose. A great time but not too much interaction with the people because the guy I was with didn’t seem to want to linger.
So after this experience I went back to Belen many time dressed in my complete clown outfit. It opened all sorts of doors with the people. The children were full of giggles and very playful some putting on the nose and posing for photographs. I treasure those and they loved seeing themselves in the photos with the nose.
I like exploring the Belen market and lower Belen. So once again I’m wandering around and happen to look in an open door which was a very humble home for a grandmother and three grandchildren. They were immediately attracted to the nose and the clown costume. Three young kids warmed up immediately and rushed to the door to hug me. After some great hugs and laughter came some photos. We got the nose in on one of the kids but the shape of the nose for the other two just wouldn’t hold….Grandma got in on the pic with her grandchildren and was delightful as well as real proud of them…..
I participated very little with the larger clown group although I was generously invited to. As an introvert I am not much of a groupy person so I mostly went around from day to day doing my own thing. Also the clown group was well organized, as it had to be, with a schedule of events, meetings, times when each was taking place and where. Now look, I’m basically retired and spent many years keeping schedules, times, board meetings, other meetings and all that good stuff we do which now almost makes me throw up! NOW is a place of timelessness, floating, seeing what develops, what comes around the corner presenting itself. If I can’t remember what year it is sometimes, what day of the week or month, how am I going to remember the time and place of a meeting or event? Oh, well…….
It seems everyone here knows Patch Adams. I can’t tell you how many times someone would come up to me and say ‘you’re Patch Adams, aren’t you?’ Of course I said no. They tell me I look like Patch even though he is twice as tall as I am. Tuk tuks would stop and someone would come up to me, say something about Patch, and want a photo taken with me. Hilarious! The entire staff of one of the restaurants asked if I would agree to a time when they all could have a group photo taken with me. They were all attractive women so I was able to live in ‘time’ for a little!!
To be clear, this was not about me, but about an association with the incredible impact that the Patch Adams/John Glick clown group have had on Iquitos and the people here. I just happened to cash in on all their dedicated hard work. Not quite fair, really, but……….
There was a four day Amazonian Exposition here which is a huge event showcasing a multitude of the amazing medicinal plants, products, food and much more which come about as a result of whats available from the Jungle. Most interesting. I spent the 4 days ambling around doing my clowning thing and was so blessed by the people there. More photos of course. Made some very special friends and as a result of agreeing to some photos some of the owners of the booths were eager to send me off with a free gift of their products. Very generous.
My favorite photo of the day at the Amazonian Expo, wearing my clown stuff, was with this little girl who approached me for a photo. She spoke with a marked lisp so it was a challenge to understand her Spanish. We managed! She was helping her father at their Expo booth selling products they made from all natural plants, nuts, and fruits from the Amazon…she was so happy to have a photo with a clown that she came running back and with a big smile proudly gave me the gift of one of their items followed by big hugs and a kiss on the cheek…..❤️❤️❤️
Met this woman and her husband from the USA. Delightful and happy couple into 15 years of marriage…
at the Amazonian Expo clowning around…………..
A few short accounts of encounters in Iquitoes
I’m standing on the street corner watching people and, of course, wearing my clown hat when a young couple walks by. They stop and the guy asks me if I’m a clown. I said the whole world is a clown. Clearly you are. They both had on some clown attire. I said that a friend and colleague of mine, John Glick, a colleague of Patch Adams, encouraged me to wear a clown hat and nose when I travel. John’s name lit a fire. And he introduced himself and said his dad is Patch Adams. The son’s name is Lars. And it went from there. You never know who you are going to meet just standing around doing nothing. Don’t just stand there, do nothing!
I am having a beer and a bite to eat at the Karma Cafe. I pay and am about to leave when the owner of the restaurant, Josh, from France, and probably late 30s noticed that I am a clown. What ensued was a pleasant and enlightening conversation. He has a great appreciation for the Patch Adams clown group and the contribution they make over the years. He too spent some time in Belen in the past. Now he wants to keep giving and supporting the work. So any clown who buys anything in his restaurant from food to art automatically gets a 10% discount. You need a red nose, however!! Your identification!! 🤡🤡 He is hosting the entire group on Friday night as they wind down.
So he said I get the discount. I told him I thought that was very kind but I had already paid. I said it’s not important to me because you need the money too. Then he went on to say that even though I paid he would still give me something at no cost. So I ended up with a very nice banana and papaya juice drink. Interesting. I keep being amazed and blessed by the people here.
Once again, walking down the street on the way back to my room I get waylaid by this group of local men and the wife of the one guy. They were having kind of a party, drinking beer, listening to very loud music, and they love clowns. So I did a little dance on the street and they insisted I come in and have a beer. Since I had had one beer I didn’t care for another so they made sure I had a bottle of water. They had to give me something. And they all wanted photographs.
Another little story which does not contain any stunning information for those of you who have traveled in Third World countries. When I get to a new city, if possible I like to take a city tour to sort of get oriented. Bus tours are often offered at a reasonable price for a person such as myself. I was told there were two possibilities here. I went to check what I thought would be the best possibility, and the bus never arrived. So I went to the other plaza to see if I could find the other bus which took a shorter ride around Iquitos. I found it and got on as the only passenger at that point and the bus driver informed me that he was just going to the airport to take a number of people and it really wasn’t a general ride around the city. I said that’s fine and he said that would cost me 50 soles. Or about $16. The family where I am staying said that little tour should not cost more than 10 soles which is about three dollars. But this guy was taking a different route and saw an opportunity to make a little money from this gringo and I don’t blame him for that. So the bargaining began and I said that’s way too expensive. He came down to 40 soles and I said the same thing and that it should not cost more than 10 soles. So he comes down to 30, eventually to 20 and I politely get up to leave the bus at which time he says 10 soles will be fine. This bargaining is expected and it’s done in a good spirit. So I had a good ride to the airport and back and the driver and I had a good time together.
He good-naturedly complained that he had no time for chicas (women) because he worked every day and was tired. I told him I was sorry I couldn’t help him out! We laughed, and several more times he lamented his lack of time available for chicas. When we got back to the Plaza de Armas, we did a fist bump and we were on our way with a friendly ‘hasta luego’ and a promise to meet again.
Well I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog. Traveling in this manner and never knowing what your next experience might be, or who/what your next teacher might be is rather exhilarating. I hope, somehow, sharing these experiences is an encouragement to some to do more exploring of this amazingly diverse planet, full of crazy people like and unlike ourselves. So much to see, to learn, to observe and experience. Get out of that office as often as possible……..Statistically, people who work hard and plan on traveling after retirement, either die within a couple years or have developed many health issues which either prohibit or severely limit their ability to travel.
Its good to remember, too, there are many kinds of ambassadors in this world, are there not? Hopefully ambassadors spread Goodwill and bring cultures together with more understanding rather than causing division and arguments and hatred. It’s up to each of us to decide…. when any of us travel to another country, like it or not, we are all ambassadors of the country from which we come. I can assure you, as many of you know, people form their opinions of that particular country that we represent by how we present ourselves. I have much to learn about this and I am grateful for the opportunity along with the times I see my capacity for making a fool of myself. Rather humbling!! That too, however, is a gift.
I leave you with one question: Have I learned a little more about love today?