Peru – May 2012

Wow Huanchaco, this beach town is everything one can ask for. The sunrises and sunsets have just enough cloud coverage for brilliant colors, while the day is always clear. The dryness makes it feel less hot than it is and there are no bugs. The locals are friendly and inviting, especially in the beautiful little open food market. A beach a few miles north is known for having the longest left hand surf wave in the world. Huanchaco’s waves are nearly as long and surfers can be seen riding challenging waves for several minutes, flying across the whole horizon. A $.50 bus ride gets you into Trujillo, a big enough town to find anything, but not too big to be polluted and dangerous. Huanchaco was a recharge station, and where I met two of the coolest gals ever. Sisters from Canada who were ready for extreme adventuring. I mentioned in passing that there was a boat we could take up a tributary of the Amazon to the largest city in the world with no road access, Iquitos. They jumped on the idea like i was already planning on going. Well, I didn’t correct them of coarse, and said let’s go. We started preparing after one day of knowing each other and left after four.

The first stop along the road was Cajamarca, known for its Manjar or dulce de leche. This smooth caramel like sweet came in many flavors and the shops were liberal about sampling. Before we even made our way to the cheese shops we saw two other backpackers who were getting off the bus just as confused as we had been a few hours earlier. We ran straight up to them excited to see the first other backpackers in the whole town since we had arrived. We merged crews and celebrated St. Patricks day with the guy from Canada’s pro skills at facilitating drinking games in a huge hostel room we rented for $15. Three beds and a balcony looking over the city square and its pouring rain.

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After Cajamarca was a gruelling 18 hour bus ride, known as the most dangerous in the world. The road twists and turns thousands of feet in the air on one lane roads with no guard rails. At the end of that road is Chachapoyas the gateway to Kuelap. Kuelap is the unknown Machu Pichu. Built with more stone and wrought with even more mysteries. Some believe the egalitarian society was partially Norwegian from Vikings that landed long before the Conquistadors. Still some ancestors have blond hair and light skin colors. We highly recommend this unknown ruin, there is very little traffic and it only costs $20 to get there and take a tour. Compared this to Machu Pichu which will costs upwards of $1000. Just beyond Chachapoyas is the Gocta waterfall, the 4th largest in the world.

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We continued on our way to Yurimaguas the gateway town to the Amazon and Iquitos. There we were hurried along from our bus  to buy a hammock, some food and catch the boat (the boat feeds only rice and platanos and the occasional chunk of chicken). In the end we were the first people on the boat and waited there two days as they loaded up before leaving. After the standard fee of $50 was paid, we had two extra nights of free sleeping to explore Yurimaguas and meet four more backpackers for the river ride. Normally the backpackers bunk in the lower level with all the locals, their goats and chickens. This new boat had an upper floor and since we were first we claimed it and made it the hang out spot for all the cool locals who wanted to party with us backpackers.

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On the boat we met a taxi driver who offered to host all eight of us. He had as many children and lived in a very very poor neighborhood. Everyone was super friendly but we started to feel like he was only doing it because he was expecting money from us. When we decided to leave the next day he begged us for money and when we gave him some he asked for more. That doesn’t take away from the wonderful time we shared, especially going down to the swimming hole with all his children and playing with his parrots in the backyard. He did come back at one point and yell from the street up to our balcony at the hotel he dropped us off at that his daughters birthday was that day and that he had no money to get her a present. The hotel manager had to call the police to get him to leave.

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Iquitos, on the amazon is notorious for its illegal poachers markets. Taking pictures in these markets is very dangerous. They sold everything from monkey, ape, boa, armadillo, sloth, and puma. Another famous thing is eating larva, this we tried.

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Iquitos is also the capital of Shamanism and Ayahuasca. I had taken ayahuasca once in Norway and was supportive of the Canadian guy who had began his journey to Iquitos specifically for a shaman experience. One of the troubles of shamanism in Iquitos is the tourism and how many shamans are fakes just looking for money. The taxi driver we had stayed with took us to one our first day in town, and when I started asking him questions it seemed my little knowledge was even greater than his, and when we told him we didn’t want to do it with him he got angry. This man was definitely not a shaman. We were a bit disappointed at the situation thinking we would never find someone legitimate. The next day we met a friendly homeless guy on the street I ended up talking with for hours. We all went to a restaurant and bought him a meal. We told him about our troubles and he told us that his “father” shaman would talk to us. Even if we didn’t want to work with him, he was an elder in the area and could introduce us to many other shamans until we found someone we trusted. He took us to the shamans house, we met him and his family and immediately felt at home. He told us to fast for as long as we could (at least 24 hours) and to come back in three days in the morning and we would leave.

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We walked for miles along one plank thick pathways through Belen, luckily no one fell. The water was ripe from the local fauna (people), swimming, washing, dishes and shitting directly through holes in the floors of their houses into the water. At the end of the path was a little dug out canoe, somehow we crossed the rapid Amazon river to the other side where multiple cabins sat just above the water line.  The cabin was basically an open platform and two partially enclosed bedrooms. He told us to act at home and we felt it.

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Three shamans (one was in training) attended the four of us. In Norway everything was so official, this ceremony was completely laid back. He encouraged us to sing along and make up shaman songs from our heart. While my other friends were deep in the spiritual realm, I was not lost in a hallucination, I was seeing between the physical and spiritual realm at the same time.  That night the elder shaman taught me the ways of a Shaman. I helped my friends through their difficult inward journey with soft words, loud exclamations and song. Two of my friends had very difficult times. They could not stop puking and crying. They were deep inside the spiritual realm facing their fears. I learned to use my hands and mind to pull poison from them and vomit it into the Amazon to take away their physical discomfort. The other shamans could not help us, they were too weak on their spiritual path and ended up cowering off to the sides with their own troubles. The head Shaman and I joined into my friend’s spiritual journeys to help pull them out. We came to them as animals, to make us easier to follow. I carried their suffering and turned it into joy. They came back to the physical realm with a smile on their faces. They told us of the decisions they had made in the journey to change their life forever in those few hours. Even though it had been so painful and terrible they asked to go again. The second time for both of them was smooth. We didn’t have to help them at all, they did it all on their own.  After 4-5 hours we all felt cleansed, peaceful, light and free. The ladies slept in the bedroom while the Canadian guy and I stayed up most of the night listening to jungle sounds in the hammocks. The bathroom was a gap in the planks with a little grass curtain. At one point while the Canadian guy was using the facilities he realized there was a window just level with his head looking into the girls bedroom. This led to copious laughter. We bonded forever that night.

The next morning the Shaman pulled me aside to compliment me on my spiritual fortitude the night before. He offer to give me my own cabin to train under him for a short time, then preform ceremonies on my own. He believed I would be ready within a year. I hesitantly declined. I was honored when he said I could be a Shaman, but I felt that this was not the end of my path in the search for truth.

The next day the older sister and I rented a motorcycle and went to a wildlife refuge, while the Canadian guy and younger sister rented a boat on the Amazon. My camera had been lost on the ferry, most likely kicked off the edge, so there are no pictures. We decided rather than reverse the two weeks it had taken to get from Trujillo to Iquitos to book a flight one week later for only $100 to Lima. From there I was suppose to go home because I had no money left. I decided to push my limits and joined the girls onward to Cuzco (the gateway to Machu Picchu), our other mate stayed in Iquitos to continue his shaman journey.

We met up with two Swedish friends in  Cuzco. Luckily one of the guys was also too broke to take the “adventure trek” that the sisters planned to do for $700. He joined me on the “homeless trek” hitchhiking and sleeping and eating where ever we could. The other guy decided to go with the gals. Hitchhiking and taking cheap local buses when we could, we stopped in several ruins and famous towns including Pisac, a famous market at the bases of Inca Ruins.

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Next was Ollantaytambo, a valley with terrace ruins on either side over looking the city.

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In Urubamba we ran into our friends on their tour. They were staying in Urubamba for one night before ziplining and biking the valleys the next day. They told us about hot springs they had gone to the day before a few miles hike away. We went there and also found a daring cable line bridge across the river.

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The next day was the longest hike of the journey, following the train tracks from Hydroelectrica to Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu.

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Aguas Calientes was a very over tourist-ed town. As I had said earlier I was very broke. We had met other travelers on this Machu Picchu Hobo Route as we all called it. In Urubamba we crashed in one big room with 10 people and made huge pots of spaghetti to save money. In Ollantaytambo we stayed in a homeless shelter. We found out that Macchu Picchu was $120 entrance fee which was the money I planned on using to get home, I bought the ticket anyhow. Later I found out some of my friends had snuck up to Machu Picchu in the night and hid in the ruins until it opened to get in for free. Next time I say. This time we had to rent the closet of a hostel for $2 and shared it rather than pay $20 for one room.

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We climbed up Machu Picchu in the morning. It was so crowded we only stayed a few hours and rather than sleep in Aguas Calientes started hiking back right away. We made it back to Cuzco and celebrated with our friends the crazy adventure we had. I was so broke I couldn’t buy a bus ticket back to Lima to fly home so I sold food on the street. I took a huge plate from the owner of our hostel and made a bunch of Avocado, cheese and onion sandwiches using my last $20. Over 3 days I turned that $20 into $80 and bought a bus ticket. I gave kisses to everyone as I hoped on the Bus via Chicago.

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