A New Day on the Amazon

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4th December 2017

The Amazon River, somewhere near Iquitos, Peru.

 

It’s quiet. The Sun has not quite come up yet. The sky is overcast and back-lit by the pre-dawn light. It’s cool, and I slightly regret not having brought a jacket.

Victoria and I descend carefully down the muddy embankment into the waiting boat. The boat is something like an oversized canoe, with a cushioned bench running along either side, and a roof thatched with palm leaves for cover. Freddy, the boatman, sits at the back, ready to man the outboard motor.

Julio extends a hand to each of us as we come down, worried we’ll slip into the water. The embankment is eroding, and even where we have been standing long cracks running the length of the bank are widening where the next layer of soil will soon crumble and fall.

I’m not used to being assisted by men – which I realise is a kind of First World Problem. I place my hand in Julio’s to acknowledge his gesture but place no weight in it, as I descend the steep muddy path carefully. A First World Princess, I think to myself wryly.

I sit down near the prow of the boat, opposite Victoria. Julio pushes the craft out into the water from the embankment, stepping in as it breaks free of the thick mud and starts drift out into open water. Freddy wraps a cord around the shaft of the motor and pulls a few times before it splutters into life and pierces the silence like a lawnmower on a Sunday morning. We’re off.

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Welcome to the Jungle

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3rd December 2017

The Amazon Jungle, Peru

 

There is something beautiful about a man who lives close to the Earth.

Not in the odiously acquired way of the colonialist, nor of the culturally defensive way of the career farmer, but in the way that allows a man to talk about his grandmother, his language, his medicine and his land all in the one breath.

Julio is such a man.

Victoria and I, cameras in hand, follow close on Julio’s heels as – machete in hand – he navigates our way through the jungle.

“Don’t grab the spiky thing,” he tells us, half turning back to be sure we see the hanging vine he is referring to. Victoria got caught in one by the hair before and had to be cut out by machete.

“Walk slowly through the jungle,” he tells us. “Look,” he points to the ground, which is quickly degenerating into a swampy morass, “find a stick… and step… find a stick, and step…”

We start moving again, doing as he does, placing the soles of our rubber boots carefully on fallen branches and compliant undergrowth so that we don’t sink knee-deep into the decomposition.

It is late afternoon, and there is thunder in the sky above us, but with Julio in front of us it sounds like a big cat, purring.

“Hold my machete,” he says to Victoria.

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First Times

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3rd December 2017

The Amazon Jungle, somewhere near Iquitos, Peru

 

What the fuck am I doing here? I think to myself, not for the first time.

I look down at my feet, in my Chuck Taylors, their edges encrusted in the drying grey mud of the jungle floor – a floor which is now 25 metres below them. I’m about to walk onto something that looks like a slippery 4×4, with a thick steel cable on each side to hold onto. Why hadn’t I thought more about this before deciding that this would be a nice Sunday activity? And why hadn’t I worn proper shoes? I’d slipped down grassy knolls at Thorndon Park catching Pokemon in these shoes.

Behind me was Antonio, a tall, pale middle-aged man with a thick Spanish accent – the adult supervision for the day. Behind him, three Peruvian girls waiting for their turn. In front of me, already on the other side of the one, two, three suspended 4×4’s, Manuel and his brother.

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Riders on the Storm

Iquitos, Peru

2nd December 2017

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The rain comes down hard but doesn’t last long. When it subsides, it remains silent outside, and dark, the café lit dimly by its emergency lighting.

“Let’s go, let’s go,” the Spanish girl next to me urges her Australian crush. They get up hurriedly to pay before they leave, the Spanish girl fussing around the white-skinned Australian, who with her frizzy blond hair and crumpled floral dress looks like a kind of bedraggled Ayahuasca fairy. The two open the door and disappear into the night.

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Dawn on the Amazon

2nd December 2017

Iquitos, Peru

Flashes that broke the darkness and cast their reflection off the surface of the Amazon quickly escalated into distant rumbling, and then whip-like cracking in the sky above.

When the rain came, it came suddenly, unleashing fat droplets of tropical rain that came down, diagonally, from the direction of the river. I took the rest of my açai smoothie inside. The Spanish girl and the white Australian girl who she was clearly trying to seduce hurried in after me with their speakers, music, and the unwanted hippie who was trying his luck on the Australian.

The street vendors on the boulevard hurriedly packed up their wares, carts and umbrellas and rushed for shelter. The terrace where I had just been sitting quickly filled with local lovers and families who, out for a walk along the banks of the river, now sheltered – somewhat in vain – from the downpour.

“Dawn on the Amazon”. It’s the name of the café where I’m sheltered. It’s one of two cafes in Iquitos that cater directly to the Ayahuasca travellers who are drawn here from all over the world.

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