DON’T TELL MY MOM I’M DEEP IN THE AMAZON
Date Published: May 5, 2013
Rain was falling as I danced along the slippery path following Lucho. He carried my backpack on his shoulders and I did my best to cover my guitar with my green poncho. It was the middle of the day but the thick jungle and the low clouds made the path shady. Twice I slipped and caught myself before being covered in mud.
We raced along the river for twenty five minutes, aiming for the last tambo, I would be sleeping there for the next 11 days. We stopped at number 19, just one before the last one, I had a faster neighbor!
I slid the door’s latch and stepped inside onto a cement floor. It was a wooden structure with a tin roof and green mosquito netting walls with a few holes I later covered with crumpled up candle wrapping paper. There was a single bed with a white net above it, a hammock in the middle of the space, a drawer to put my things in, a bright green plastic chair and table, and a 20 liter tank with fresh drinking water. Just up a steep path, behind a wall of dried palm tree leaves was my private cement toilet, sitting royally over a hole in the ground. Home sweet home. It immediately felt cozy and I looked forward to my time there.
I travelled to Peru for a ‘Dieta’: an intense physical and spiritual detox for 9 days, following old shamanic traditions of the Amazon. Life went back to basics, way beyond my imagination: a simpler way of being and yet a more profound and unbreakable connection with nature. Swimming and bathing in the river with leaves, two bland meals a day, drinking plants, exposed to nature and our selves. All the distractions (tasty food, internet, TV, alcohol, people, Facebook, toiletries) were banned and we came face to face with our reality. Days had a certain rhythm to them and I was always busy, even when I was relaxed and peaceful. I would always exercise, bathe, read books, do my meditations, journal my inspirations, go on an adventure, wash my clothes and dishes, sweep my home, sing along with my guitar until my fingers were sore.
Every morning I would stay in bed for a while, trying to get a sense of where I was. Lush green forest surrounding me and the sound of insects brought me back immediately to my current location. My home life seemed so distant and I questioned reality. Did I really have a life back in Miami with two amazing children, surrounded by family and friends, working on exciting projects and living in a fabulous island?! My mind was so rooted in the present, it was hard to grasp that notion. At the same time, it made me appreciate it all much more and I embraced ideas to make it an even more amazing on my return. Sometimes I would begin the day by doing some exercises on the bed and stretching as I meditated and listened to the symphony around me. Birds and insects made different noises throughout the day and night, not once playing the same melody.
At some point footsteps would approach me to leave fresh cut wayusa and basil leaves just outside on a pile in the floor. To detox, we weren’t allowed to use any chemical products: toothpaste, soap, shampoo, or perfume. This would allow our body’s perception of smells, sounds, touch and vision to be enhanced. When I was ready to get up, I would put on my bathing suit, shorts and the black boots the local men lent me to protect my legs from snake bites.
My private bathroom was actually not that private. I had to share it throughout my stay with the local spiders, flies, and a couple of frogs. Each time I went there I would first look around for snakes and then keep a close eye between my legs in case something decided to jump out. There was a spider spinning it’s web and I would spray it every time. I was impressed with it’s determination to remain there. One frog was an expert at camouflage even though I could see it, he looked like an aging crisp leaf. In the middle of the night things were slightly different, if I woke up with a full bladder, I would put on my headlight and squat just outside my tambo. I felt it was a wiser decision and the jungle puddles make it easy to forget.
With a hiking stick in one hand, a bucket with the fresh leaves in the other and my backpack with a towel and camera on my shoulders I made short hikes to the river. We were told to tear the leaves and let them soak in river water; after ten minutes, a delicious aroma burst out of the greenish liquid. I scrubbed the leaves over my body, legs, arms, chest, face, with extra attention on the armpits. Green drops and broken leaves stayed on the surface until I rinsed off swimming in the river. My body felt clean and refreshed. The only thing I wasn’t too comfortable with was my hair. It was moist most of the time and the leaves couldn’t clean it. When there was enough sun, I would let it loose and air dry to perfect glossy amazonian curls.
One morning I was scrubbing pants that had gotten dirty the previous evening. Distracted by my conversation with a fellow ‘bather’ suddenly I couldn’t find them… they had floated downstream!! The military green pants I had owned forever decided to part and didn’t show up after my dedicated search. It reminded me that we were here to let go of the old to embrace the new. I was ready to do that without resistance and with gratitude.
Getting wet to wash was a great way to be ready to explore the river with my water shoes. In the first few days I discovered an amazing pool with a double cascade falling into it. I felt it was a magical place of fairies and inspiration. A few times I ventured upriver for an hour walking carefully in the muddy water to avoid bruising myself against the large hidden boulders. Tall trees engrossed by lush vegetation, rotting trunks, dancing butterflies, schools of small fish, birds flying high above, cascades, long roots hanging and reaching towards the water. It seemed surreal to be leisurely walking in the Amazon, so far from civilization. What about the anacondas!? Crocodiles?! Wasn’t my life supposed to be threatened by now? The locals seemed at ease and I accepted their explanation; we were in the Peruvian amazon, with quickly moving water.
Food lost its appeal and became just something else I would do, like an errand. Back home, my day revolved around meals, meeting people to eat or have coffee, cooking at home. Several locals would hike the path twice a day carrying a large pot filled with bland, saltless and sugarless food. We would pull out our white metallic dish and spoon (which we washed in the river water) and watch the same food being served: crunchy quinoa, oatmeal or white rice, accompanied by plantain (boiled, baked or mashed into a soup). Every other day we would get a treat! A meditation fish that had about 139 bones per serving and a head with inquisitive eyes. I was happy to have a warm meal, served to my tambo with a big smile. Cold clumpy rice without salt was hard to swallow so I tried to be ‘home’ for meal time.
My hunger diminished dramatically… Probably because I naturally don’t need as much food as I usually consume. In our societies, where food is always available, it’s not necessary to store fat until the next available meal. I clearly understood that our eating is driven by a desire to taste something delicious, a social habit, the need for a distraction or as a way of meeting and quelling anxiety. Nevertheless, I almost always ate all the food that was served on my plate, afraid of being hungry later and unable to rave a refrigerator or pull a snack out from my bag.
Along with food, a vital part of the ‘Dieta” was drinking a teacher plant, which opened the gates of perception. It was like drinking an ice tea, provided every day in a large jar to be consumed in the day.
Everything molds in the forest and my toothbrush was the most affected. Unable to use toothpaste or have running water, the taste of the dirty brush was repulsive. I lit a candle a few times to burn and kill any bacteria. Finally, I had a great idea! I put drops of peppermint essential oil in the glass of water and left it soaking there. I felt like I was in heaven brushing my teeth until I realized I was probably bending the rules of the dieta. It was already close to the end so I wasn’t to harsh on myself. I listened to advice given before the trip and took extra plastic bags to keep my clothes (two pants, two shorts, 6 t-shirts, pajamas) sealed and protected. For a few hours during midday, I would get direct sunlight just outside my tambo to dry my clothes. Jet black ants about the diameter of a quarter would crawl all over my things. They were coming up through the trees and along the wire. The first few times pangs of anxiety and disgust took over me. The more I shook the line with the clothes, the tighter their grip; pushing them away with my stick just made my clothes dirty again. I twitched imagining the ants biting holes into my underwear and leaving eggs soon to become larvae. I quickly learned to relax and encourage them to jump back on the line, let go and move on unharmed.
I was respectful of the jungle and in that energy I felt protected and safe. Insects were amazing and I honored and admired them; yet there are always exceptions in life! One night I came back to my tambo and jumped as my headlight caught sight of two large creepy spiders! With no apparent thought process or hesitation, I crushed both of them with several violent swings of my hiking boot. They had been about the size of the palm of my hand and crumpled up they were still significant. There was no way I could have fallen asleep with creepers around me. The following night, I found a big grasshopper and gently grabbed it with toilet paper and escorted it outside my safe haven. Another critter reacted by poking a hole and releasing some liquid (venom?) through the paper I used to grab it. I was impressed with it’s tactics and surprisingly I did not scream like a girl. I continued on my mission to take him out. Alive.
By 6pm I needed to light a candle or put on my headlight. I found myself turning down for the day as night fell. A few nights I stayed up writing in my journal or reading a few more chapters of a book. My deep faith and trust allowed me to fall asleep quickly regardless of the jungle noises: insects and birds, rain, falling branches and knocking on my roof. I asked my spirit guides to take care of me and let me know if I needed to react and do something. Also, I had neighbors who could hear me and would come to my rescue if I called out for help. Nights were restless or deep journeys into the subconscious; every time it was different. Once I felt I was detoxing all night, another I heard the sounds of the jungle as if they were icaros, guiding my body’s healing. A few I was knocked right out.
As the days went by, my stillness increased. My mind slowed down and as I became more present I began to see and sense more. Amazing butterflies, dragonflies that looked like helicopters, a leaf poking right through another one, a fox running up a path, silver beetles, raindrops on spider webs, red roots growing out of a tree, vines growing up another, seeds starting to sprout on the ground. Inspiration came in my dreams and in my waking state. As the noises, smells and sounds permeated my body, I lost the sense of separation between me and the jungle, Oneness prevailed. A deep appreciation for my loving family took over. Gratitude for the gift of being able to share the journey of life with amazing people. Gratitude for those that don’t make it so pleasant and constantly push me to grow. And those two little men I adore?! I was excited to get back to share the whole experience and bring nature even closer to them.
This is a glimpse into my jungle experience and I haven’t talked about the amazing people that were part of the magic that took place in the Amazon. There’s always some green around to remind me of the importance of Mother Nature in my life. A wise tree told me it’s simple: “Just ground and aim for the light”.