This photo-blog is designed to work either as a standard blog with images or - by clicking any image - a photo-album. To see an image in full resolution click to the left or right of an image in blog mode. The images were generated from video to give the best possible view of the journey.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Tripping out in Pucallpa

The Ucayali now supports deep draft barges and large river boats.

We arrived in Pucallpa just after sunset. The entry was like Atalaya up a side arm of the river which was again infested with vultures on an even larger scale. Because of the wide fluctuations in river level with the seasons, the whole port area is a muddy makeshift affair that moves out into the marshes in the dry season. The river bank is lined with untold river boats and floating huts that can rise and fall with the water.

Panoramas of the boats at the dry-season port lining the Pucallpa foreshore.

Interminable vultures hovering, waiting!

There were a number of barges that were gasoline stations ...

We passed a teeming produce market on the makeshift docks ...

Vultures everywhere.

Untold vultures on every lamp post

The Yacupato docked in at the produce markets, so we didn't get to see the actual port until it was time to depart on the next section of our journey.

Google Earth map of Pucallpa with Yarinacocha lagoon upper centre

We picked up a taxi truck and caught a ride out of town to Yarinacocha lagoon, an oxbow lake off the Ucayali with a number of Shipibo villages surrounding it.

The road down to Yarinacocha waterfront.

This was where I had stayed in 1980 on a previous visit and was a much more pleasant place to stay than in Pucallpa itself which is a muddy frontier city and the fastest growing one in Peru.

Everywhere there were Shipibo women selling jewelry bead trinkets and woven items. Shipibo or "monkey people" are a matriarchal society with expertise in the hallucinogenic drink ayahuasca and have a profoud tradition of psychedelic shamanism, which pervades their weaving, pottery and other crafts.

Since I had been here in 1980, staying in a small thatched guest house, with poisonous snakes under my seat and a toucan, and a German whose toes had been bitten by piranas for company, the Shining Path had terrorized the region and burned down many of the tourist enterprises. Now this threat had receded the whole face of the lagoon had changed.

Views of Shipibo women selling crafts at Yarinacocha.

The Yarinacocha waterfront.

The ubiquitous float plane.

In 1980 I had journeyed to Pucallpa to come to sample Yage or Ayahuasca, the Vine of the Soul or Rope of the Dead. I had journeyed for days and nights, picking up information from other travelers. By the time I arrived, my time had nearly run out, and I had to seek a session through a canoe operator on the slummy back streets of Yarinacocha at two days notice. The shaman was crippled with leprosy. In a macabre gesture beyond belief he had to crawl across the floor to get to the ayahuasca bottle and because he had no fingers, he had to pull out the cork with his teeth, holding it in the stumps of his hands. He poured me a vial of brown liquid. I simmered this briefly under a kerosine lamp and drank its pungent contents like varnish. He sat talking to his friends spitting volubly in every direction. Bizarrely he had a son or nephew who he was caring for very tenderly and keeping well protected from mosquitoes. It could be he was now in remission! After some thirty minutes when I hadn't begun to feel that terribly nauseous I asked for a second cup to make sure the vision quest was accomplished.

Shipibo skirt showing ayahuaca vision motifs (San Francisco, Yarinacocha)

After this I began to feel the need to lie down. I returned to my room at the Mystic Society on the edge of the lagoon. I was lying flat in the night feeling really nauseous with the sounds of the lagoon and the insects weaving through the night air. The surroundings were alive with Shipibo art. The moving patterns moved with waves of nausea. I turned desperately to vomit and found a host of Shipibo vases stored there each yawning at me waiting to receive my offering. I then felt slowly better and began to settle into the visions in earnest. The zig-zag bed covers were running with flood waves of Shipibo energy. The force of the ayahuasca became all-consuming. Everywhere I tried to look, it was pulling me into its vortex like a whirlpool, so I would become lost. The mere shock of trying to step backwards seemed to add a toxic intensity. All my previous visionary experiences came apart like a stack of cards. Above all I wanted to know how consciousness was realized in space-time. I posed the eternal question as a koan and sat in stillness of death in the tropical night 'seeing' the answer with my quantum-mechanical brain, revealing its secrets of precognition - how conscious experience is able to reach both forward and backward in time. The Orphic experience from the world beyond.

La Senora and Trinico at the end of the 1999 ayahuasca session

On this journey in 1999 we returned to Yarinacocha and again sought out an ayahuasca curandero to convey the Amazonian rite of passage to my companions. After a chance meeting in the street with a middle-aged woman, we were directed to Senora Trinico. After some searching in the slum area of the back streets I finally was greeted in a small shanty by a rheumy-eyed middle-aged man with a walking stick who was not a senora but certainly claimed to be Trinico. The moment I saw his fingerless hands, I realized this was the one and same person, echoing from the deep past. This time four of us had an evening cramped in the dark in the small shanty room while Trinico, sang ayahuasca songs whistling softly and eerily connecting us all in an infinitely spacious chant, watched over astutely by the senora throughout. I was the only one to hold my stomach throughout. We each took one larger but less concentrated draft. The first onrush was very strong punctuated by a quiet period after midnight. When we came to take our leave and seek the solace of fresh pineapple in the local Hospedaje los Delphines, we desperately cut piña to assuage our tettered stomachs. Holding the medicine had an interesting sequel. With each round of sustenance, came another flush of visions as the stomach unwound and began to ingest the remnants of the alkaloids.

Two paintings of ayahuasca visions by Pablo Amaringo

Traditional hallucinogenic ornamentation with the two ingredients
Psychotria viridis and Bannisteriopsis caapi.

We also took a trip along the lagoon to San Francisco at the far end, a Shipibo village grown into a small settlement with a road connection to Pucallpa.

The island of love.

Jane and I each bought a Shipibo skirt with halluconogenic motifs, mine disconcertingly covered in Christian crosses as well as the kaleidoscopic zig-zag designs.

More forest fires in the distance

In the evening the motel like Hospedaje los Delphines was deluged with one of those tropical downpours which leave the entire landscape flooded.

Not only did we have geckos and frogs coming in but a huge toad and a giant tarantula walking in the door to escape the deluge.

The place overlooked a small private zoo consisting of a fenced off swamp complete with a couple of Tiuus the giant storks which pervade the Amazon and Pantanaal, blue herons and small wading birds and the giant guinea pig capybara.

As well there were enclosures with an ocelot, spider monkeys, a toucan and running here and there a strange wild Amazonian pig.

Everywhere the vultures perched on the telegraph poles.

We also made a trip to a commune on the outskirts of Pucallpa having met a guy on the Yacupato who beseeched us to come and visit and pay our respects to his wife who had a serious and possibly terminal illness.

The commune grew sugar cane which it made into drinks as well as growing a diverse array of fruits.

Insects and flowers at the commune.

Strange fruit we had never seen before.

Sensitive mimosas.

Tending the sugar cane.

Pucallpa is a busy regional city filled with motorized rickshaws.

It sits on the edge of a flood plain full of makeshift shanties on stilts to accommodate to the rising flood waters in the wet season.

Panoramas from the 'promenade' overlooking the flood plain and the shanties below Pucallpa.

A day before we left we took a walking trip down through the shanty town to the dry season port on the banks of the Ucayali, a mud infested journey to secure a departure time and boat for the next section of our journey.

Panorama of the makeshift port on the Ucayali.

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