Don Francisco, the Shaman
As the ground fell further and further from underneath my seat as I sat on the ancient Boeing 747 (realizing where American planes end up when they "die" in America), after waiting for 3 hours for the  departure, I prepared myself for whatever it was that I would face in the next segment of my trip. 

For now I was about to embark on the aspect that I was the most excited about- spending two weeks with a Peruvian Shaman.  I didn't know what to expect, except that I would be in the Amazon, and that there would be Ayahuasca ceremonies, which is a shamanic medicine
made from a root, that gives you spiritual hallucinations, and makes you vomit and crap your pants.  Lovely.  But, I wanted to experience this type of earth centered ancient spirituality, and see what it had to offer.

I arrived in Iquitos, a noisy, bustling town crouched on the Amazon, at about 10 o'clock at night.  The heat and humidity washed over me, as I walked across the tarmac to meet whoever it was that was going to pick me up.  Being the only white person in the crowd, it was very easy for the man to figure out that I was the Gringa he was supposed to meet for Sachamama (the name of the place I was going). 

I smiled, and tried to be quite friendly with this guy, who seemed rather off-putting and he left me to wait for my bags while he visited with some of the other guys working at the airport.  I began to get
concerned, if this guy was from Sachamama, I had hoped he would be open and helpful. 

We collected my bags, and him and another guy pushed my bags over to a phone, where he told me to give him money to make a call, and that I was supposed to tip the guy who had pushed my bags 20 feet.  I hadn't asked for the help, and certainly was capable of maneuvering my luggage across the room.  I figured the culture was different on this side of the Andes, and felt like I had to trust this guy from Sachamama to help me adapt to it.  So, not knowing how much to tip, I pulled out 3 soles, which is about $1, and is the price of a cab ride, so I figured it was enough.  The guy looked at the money disgusted, and then looked at my guide.  I looked at my guide as well, and asked him how much I was supposed to tip?  10 soles, he told me.

10 soles, whoah, that seemed like a lot of money to me, and began to grow wary.  I handed it over, as the guide continued to try call Sachamama to let them know I had arrived.  Not getting an answer, they finally gave up, and ushered me outside to a cab.

I sat in the taxi, crowded full now with three men, as they discussed where they were going to go, since they hadn't been able to get a hold of Sachamama, and we zipped off into the night, passing motorcycles and beat up buses.  I felt a little odd, being the only woman in this car with 3 men that I didn't even know, and how safe was this, but had no choice but to trust that I would be all right.  At least, I was happy to
be in the Amazon.

The guide quickly told me that he needed a tip, as we pulled up to a gas station.  20 soles he told me.  WHAT??!  20 soles!  In Peru, that is like 20 dollars!  I thought that was a bit crazy, and had certainly figured out that this guy was NOT looking out for my best interests.  They began to hustle me out of the taxi, pointing that I was supposed to get on this bus/van that was waiting, and had other people in it.

Now I was a bit freaked out.  Why do I need to go on a bus?  Now your dumping me on a bus??!  I didn't know what to do, and had to just trust in fate that I would be okay.  I got on the bus, that had two women in it, who smiled at me warmly.  I prepared to get my 20 soles out for the guy, and one of the women quickly told me that I didn't need to pay, that they would take care of it.  When he said 20 soles, I noticed she
did not agree, and handed him 10, which I believe was to pay for him and the taxi.

The men got back in the taxi, and now here I was on the bus with these women, and I didn't know what the hell was going on, but at least realized they seemed to be more trustworthy than the last.  The younger one introduced herself as Don Francisco's daughter, and then things began to fall into place, as they apologized for being late.  It seems that they had someone from the airport meet me, as my plane was late, and the guy who met me had nothing to do with Sachamama.  That was a relief.  I still was a bit pissed off though, that he was trying to take advantage of me.  If I had been more aware of the situation, I would have been able to figure out that 10 soles was the "stupid gringo" price.

Ah well.  In any case, I was brought to my rather rustic hotel room (where I would spend the night before heading out to the jungle the next morning), with mildew on the walls, a ceiling fan over head, and
a bathroom where the shower was just a shower head in the wall of the tiny bathroom- no curtains or marked off area in the floor-, where I could essentially sit on the toilet while taking a shower and brushing my teeth in the sink.

The next morning I left my room to continue on my journey to Sachamama, and was met by Don Francisco, the Shaman.  I was surprised, as I was expecting an 80 year old man, but he was about 45, thin, wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  Before we left, he said wait,
you have to pay for the room.  Oh no, hear we go again, ripping off the gringa, I thought.  I told him I thought the hotel was included in the price.  After all, I said, I didn't pay for the hotel in Lima.  He looked a bit confused, and then said, oh, okay, and paid the 30 soles himself.

We jumped in the van, and he told me we had to take a stop in the belen market, to buy somethings for me.  We ended up purchasing some hand rolled cigarettes and some Florida water, both of which I was to offer as a gift on the altar during the ceremony.  That was fine
with me, and only about 10 soles, but when he told me that I needed to buy a hammock too, I was a bit disturbed.  My defenses were already up from the night before, and why did I need to buy a hammock, weren't there beds?  So he said, no, I didn't have to buy a hammock if I didn't want to.  So we made our way out of the crazy market, and continued back to the van.

After an hour ride away from Iquitos, we pulled over next to a sign that said "Sachamama".  Out they pulled the bags, and begain to make their way down this wide trail that lead off into the jungle.  I followed,
realizing that I guess the van didn't go to the buildings.

And we walked, and we walked.  Up hills, down hills.  I'm not sure exactly how far, but I'd say about 20 minutes, which was far enough for me, with the heat of the day beating down, and the humidity trying to choke me.  Eventually we came to some boards which formed steps up the dirt hill, and ended up in a few steps into a very Amazon looking building.  I saw a few other white guys standing around, drinking tea, and realized I had finally reached Sachamama.

Me in the Amazon!

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