11 May 2010

Peru - Iquitos & Spiritquest

After a very brief stopover in Lima, Peru´s capital city (just another big city really), we took a small plane to the Amazonian city of Iquitos.

Flying over the amazon jungle was amazing.  The city and small towns on the outskirts slowly giving way to masses of green tropical rainforest, as far as the eye could see.  It was only a fairly short flight, about 3 hours total, with a small stopoff before Iquitos proper.  Iquitos is only accessable via plane or boat, coming up the amazon, but as the amazon begins in Brasil, plane was our only option.

We were going to Iquitos less as tourists, and more as travellers...the place we were going to be spending 9 days was in the middle of the amazon jungle, about half an hour by boat down river from Iquitos itself.  We knew that on our plane were going to be 6 other people heading for the same destination - a beautiful little spot in the jungle known as the SpiritQuest Sanctuary.  Tennille and i passed the time trying to figure out who the people might be, which wasnt terribly difficult seeing as most of the passengers were indiginous indians and Peruvians!

We arrived at the aeroporto to be greated by our host for the next 9 days, Howard, a tall american man with long white hair, and around 60 years of experience on this planet.  He was to be our guide and mentor for our stay in the Amazon.

After some introductions (and the customary tipping of the man getting our bags off the carousel), we jumped on a boat to head down river to the sanctuary.
It was a little surreal going down the river on the boat; partly as this was our first taste of Peru, but also because we were a group of soon to be close friends travelling to destinations unknown!  

As it turns out, the Sanctuary was an amazingly well setup little slice of heaven for us to stay.  We were completely seperated from the outside world, with only the sounds of the insects and animals to keep us company (with the occasional passing boat).  Our only neighbours were indigenous Indians who have protected lands near the sanctuary, and for whom Howard and the staff were close friends and allies.

We were all excited about the week ahead, and the challenges and  opportunities that it would bring.  There were 8 of us in total, with Howard and his partner in the ceremons, Don Rober, a powerful amazonian Shaman who was guide us through the healing rituals that we would be partaking.  The 8 of us came from all different backgrounds and locations around the world.  A few Canadians, another Aussie, and an American.

For the most part, we spent a lot of time relaxing in what came to be called the Crows Nest, chilling out in hammocks, reading, listening to music, or talking about whatever.  Over the course of the week we all became extremely close, partly through shared experiences, but also because we shared a common bond by coming here in the first place.

Basically we were all there for a spiritual journey, although our reasons were as varied as our accents; but what it came down to, is that we came for spiritual healing from a true amazonian Maestro Ayahuascero shaman.  The maestro shaman uses plants indigenous to the Amazon jungle in specially conducted healing ceremonis, where the participants partake in a specially construced brew called Ayahuasca, which lets the shaman and the particpants journey to the spirit world, where healing can take place.

We were to have 4 ceremonies through out the week, with time to reflect in between, as well as some trips down river to meet some of the local indians (and buy some of their goods).

During our time at the scantuary, we became quite good friends with a couple of the people who were attending, namely the guy from Australia (and not because he was aussie!), and an American named michael, who it turns out used to be a rock star in a heavy metal band back in the early 90´s.

We basically took over the crows nest (see pic on the right) as our default meeting, and hang out place.  Much laughter and silliness (including an obsession with farting) ensued in the nest.  It was an unusual way to meet people, as we werent necessarily burdened by the normal traveller dialogue, as we already knew something about each others character for being there in the first place.  It was really easy to relax more or less straight from the beginning and just get to know each other an intellectual level (ok maybe apart from the farting thing!!)

During the week we took some walks out in the ´backyard´, which was basically a path leading into the jungle beyond, complete with monkeys, birds and a whole lot of insects, especially mozzies, which you learnt really quickly to dislike, no matter how zen you were feeling.  One day we even encountered a snake up close and personal while we were in the crows nest.  Michael the american rock star was in one of the hammocks, next to a where a part of the covered walkway on the bottom level joined our floor (on the top of the nest), and i was sitting a deck chair facing him.  We were all just relaxing and talking when a movement caught my eye, just underneath Michael, a snake popping its head out from under the walkway roof!!

I perhaps stupidly leapt up from my chair and said, "Michael, dont move!", which of course when he saw my face he jumped three feet in the air out of the hammock turning around to see the snake that had been right near his head!  The snake was just as surprised as we were i think, and it was just trying to go where-ever it was going, and didnt expect to see us there.  It turns out it wasnt poisoness, but we didnt know that at the time, so we were all a little freaked out.  Later on it came back and scared the hell out of the kitchen ladies, but was caught by our shaman, Don Rober, which we all took as a good sign for that nights ceremony - snakes being a symbol of the Ayahuasca plant and all.

The next day we went to visit some of the local tribes down the river.  There were two tribes, the Yagua and the Bora, both who have Don Rober as there local Shaman, and who still live in a more or less traditional way.  We had stocked up on medical supplies and trading items before we got to Iquitos, as these were all extremely valuable to these people.  We had tshirts, medication and nail clippers to trade for some of their hand made goods.  They generally dont were clothes, apart from grass skirts, only putting on tshirts etc when they have to go into Iquitos to get supplies etc, so tshirts were a HUGE deal to them - anyone who had clothing to trade got mobbed fairly quickly.  It was a little disconcerting for sure!  Overall though, it was a great experience, seeing how these people live compared to us, still keeping up their old traditions in a modern world.

Another trip down the river we left our tributary and went down the Amazon proper, which is a couple of kilometers wide at some parts, wide and deep enough for major container ships to come in off the ocean and make port in Iquitos.  We travelled for about an hour and a half down the river, seeing the beautiful countryside roll past, and marvelling at the pink river dolphins (one of two places in the world were there are fresh water dolphins!), as well as the floating city of Belen.  This is a fairly amazing part of Iquitos, where the poor mainly peruvian people, build their houses on stilts or on pontoons, floating on the amazon river.  Many of them have bits and pieces from old signs, petrol station logos and advertising, basically whatever materials they can find to make a wall or roof with.

All in all our time in Iquitos (well the jungle down the river anyway), was a wonderful, beautiful experience.  We meet some fantastic people, who will remain friends for life i think, and we all shared some experiences together that most people wouldnt dream of.

Hopefully Tennille and I will be able to make the journey back to the jungle one day, to again be part of nature for a week without having to worry about the cares and woes of the everyday world.  Until then, the memories and friends we have made on the journey will be close to our hearts...

Click the link below for more photos from Spiritquest:

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