At six months Ma and Pa whisked me in a laundry basket on the back seat of a ´ 40 Mercury from New York to California. Before preschool they whistled me to supper from under the porch or out a cardboard table draped by blanket walls where I spent long hours thinking about what to be if I grew up. Dad banged together a fort one summer to fend off Indians next to a hole that Mom provisioned for China. A dog house instead led to Michigan State veterinary school where I dwelled in a dayglow splashed basement to lure girls, and a follow-up attic that burned to the ground and left me in standing in clinic whites, a bowtie and smile.
A turn West after graduation led to a tin hut, closet, and laundry room all to squirrel cash for travel. I hoboed a hundred boxcars caked in sweat or with a beard of frozen spaghetti before landing in ´85 in a simple pine coffin lined with electric blankets against the blasting mid-west winds. I won multiple national championships in racquet sports inside a 20´x20´x40´room, and self-published two books from a tiny porch. Later, three-day seminars in ´crossbar hotels´ for challenging police errors inspired garage Nirvana on a Michigan lakeshore where I knocked together a 6´ wood cell and sat for 24 hours supposing. I broke out and wheeled the Interstates in a ’74 Chevy van with a 7′ stuffed rabbit named Fillmore Hare riding shotgun searching for intellects to improve my own, and Fillmore waved them down coast-to-coast with an invisible fishline on one arm.
The search extended into a 18-month world tour like a hermit crab under a backpack only to land penniless on the stone manor doorstep of a New York speculator who rented me a basement stairwell for one year to write in mirror image a 1000-page autobiography. I needed more material and walked to Canada, the lengths of Florida, Colorado, Baja and on to Sand Valley, California.to dig and carpet a 10´-cube hole 2.5 miles from the center target of the second largest bombing range in the world.
Lizards, snakes, rodents and tarantulas tunnel to the rug where I´ve learned we are part of each other´s subconscious. I began to think like them, liked it, and three months ago traveled to the world´s most fecund toenail, the Peruvian Amazon. Yesterday i tapped the final nail into a retirement shipping crate in Iquitos Peru.
It was cheaper to hire a carpenter for $10 per day than to rent tools, and he lumbered me to the Belen wood yard where hired hands sweat sawdust for $5 per day and notch
samples for the bouquet. ´Rich!, ..Hard!´ until i smelt a sweet 2´x12´´white Aboantilo plank floated five days to here that runs $3 per 4-meter board, and bought 10 for a platform and 10 for the box. The gross 400 pounds was piled on a trike-cart and pushed by a dwarf and me 6 km to a theme park that I call Ayahuasca Central.
I fired the first carpenter the first day for stealing, the second carpenter the second day for not returning from lunch, and on the third day rented tools from a third with a tip to scram. It rained the fourth day and the wood swelled 20% in my blistered hands before the sun shone again.. On the fourth evening an electrician strung 40 meters of 12-gauge wire ($.25/meter) through trees to three plugs for a light, laptop and razor, but he cut the wire short in order to return the next day for more work where he found the job done and himself fired.
I´m looking at a giant 4´x8´x6´ shoebox with an invisibly hinged door, sans windows, a thin mattress, and loft that is both home and storage on a 10-square platform raised on two-foot legs next to a fish, turtle and frog pond under a spreading tree . It cost triple Thoreau´s $28 for Walden cabin except his didn´t unbolt to disassemble and transport down the road for a land deal.
The Peru Government understands a mobile home is not for everyone and offers a special retirement visa for foreigners on social security or with other proof of retirement that paves the way to a coveted resident visa. I´m not retired but own a resident visa under a work contract as a naturalist guide.
The first night the light switched on conjures an entomologist’s dream as neighbor bugs cover the door net, frogs romance, crickets sing 70F, mosquitoes find knotholes, and 99 turkey buzzards alight in a plotting rookery over the platform.
The grounds is Ayahuasca Central with a 12´ red brick wall that one enters through an electromagnetic door into a hectare of Graceland Amazonia within Iquitos There are two large houses, swimming pool, fruit orchards, two boats on blocks, a fleet of 90cc motor scooters, Jacuzzi, collection of 2000 pressed medicinal plants, massage table, pregnant German shepherd, groundsman, secretary, accountant and live-in maid.
Elvis is Al Shoemaker who doesn’t stand out in the ring of ten hard-driving American ex-pats. He´s come a long way from Mr. Harlan (Kentucky) High as the most likely to
succeed in the ´71 class of a handful, from Kentucky U with a degree in criminology, Cambridge, England in theater, and with a design to be the next Clarence Darrow. Instead, he tried out behind Johnny Bench for the Yankees, headed west and invented a rock climbing chalk that leaves no mark. One night in ´91 over a campfire bottle of rum he vowed to go the Amazon, and the next day began a lifelong study of the use of medicinal plants in psychotherapy while carrying a legless Dutch lover like a backpack to ceremonies. He specialized for two years on an Iquitos dirt floor in ayahuasca, the most potent psychotropic, learning to brew, administer and shake the chacapa leaf rattle with the best of the native shamans. It propelled an eighteen month seeding tour of North America and Europe in the mid-90´s, and an export business. Ayahuasca tourism, the national leader, was born!
I´m a made guy by association with Al in the ayahuasca community, among premier shamans, the German shepherd, and ex-pats. In return I´ve suggested an alternative newspaper, started a catering service, offer exercise tips to tourists, and diagnosed pannus in a pet squirrel monkey that claps hands on moths.. The Graceland workers in oversized shoes shout strings of nouns and stumble as if poisoned, except it’s the same outside the thick manor wall. . Murphy’s law cut teeth in Peru, and now I understand the tradeoffs of early world colonization.
Two days ago, some expats, tourists and I (watching) sipped rum and chatted spirits when suddenly Al raised his glass and yelled, ´Someone´s poisoning me!´ and put a match to the meniscus that leapt blue flame. ´Paint thinner!´ sniffed an ex-pat. The maid testified she saw the electrician pour something into the bottle, he was collared and ordered to buy more rum because you can’t fire a thinking man in Peru.
My problem is staying sane in a place where all evangelize the spirits, elves, clowns and other dimensional doctors that walk the grounds to heal and are invisible only to me. The tourists I’ve met include a Croatian snail farmer on a paranormal bent, Irish transsexual with a jaw tumor, Navajo anthropologist, Indian filmmaker, Hollywood soundman recording chants, Canadian artist with medicinal muses, computer programmers, psychologists, academics, wannabe ayahuasqueros, vacationers escaping stress , and gypsy thrill seekers. A revolving door of ten tourists spend evenings with outlying jungle shamans and afternoons splashing around the pool they admit may be illusion sharing paradigm shifts to determine where to drink next.
As the in-house naturalist guide I led a group an hour from Iquitos to strike a rooted shaman´s trail and bumped into ten lost gaily clad gypsies from eight countries searching for the Peru Rainbow Gathering, They had been banned by the Iquitos mayor for looking
odd and smelling bad during street performances of juggling fruit, making balloon animals and swallowing fire. I led them straight to the temporary camp of 60 who hugged and kissed us like ants in line sharing feelers and shouting, ´Welcome Home!´ Beautiful girls wore nothing but mosquito bites and anxious smiles for there were proportionally few males in utopia. I dropped off the gypsies and then the tourists at a shaman´s, and returned to Ayahuasca Central.
The tourists arrive in small daily batches from a dozen countries, but predominantly USA, Canada, Australia, Spain, England, Germany and Holland. Many are hangers-on from last month´s 5th International Amazonian Shaman Conference on these grounds with 20 hand-picked shamans from the Upper Amazon.. Shamans are tribal persons who navigate between the seen and unseen worlds to help others, and are sometimes called witchdoctors. Ayahuasqueros are healers who employ ayahuasca. Curanderos heal with ayahuasca and other medicine like Sapo, mushrooms, tobacco smoke and San Pedro, All purportedly cure, all are positive in their work. For simplicity I call them all shamans, and eschewed the conference glitter, pretty translators, five-course meals, and dancing Bora to trail the shamans to evening ceremonies.
Ayahuasca is not a spectator sport. There is projectile vomiting and demon wrestling by candlelight until the wee hours. I have omitted these ceremonial descriptions until Halloween.
Ayahuasca Tourism Is the tour people take to the Peruvian, Ecuadorian or Brazilian Amazon where they drink the legendary visionary medicine ayahuasca. It’s the only reason most people go to the Amazon, particularly Iquitos where about 50 ayahuasqueros await you within an hour rickshaw taxi and short jungle hike from the city center. The ceremonies used to be free, and a slap in the face of the river shaman who accepted money to heal. Now some old timers still take donations while the newbies charge $20-$95 per night. Indeed, curanderos- the river pueblo doctors- are being lured from their communities for opportunities to ply tourists for big bucks. In balance, the curanderos on the cush note that 15 years ago interest in the medicine was waning on the rivers and few had apprentices. Now there are hundreds of legitimate apprentices and ayahuasca tourism has preserved an ancient heritage.
The U.N. 1971 Psychotropic Convention Treaty rules ayahuasca illegal except in Peru where it is Patria de la Nation– the nation´s history. The constituent vines and leaves are legal to import into the USA, but once they´re made into brew containing the active DMT it becomes a felony drug. I believe in 20 years the main Peruvian import will be your sons and daughters for ayahuasca tourism and the leading export the medicine itself. We catch
a glimpse of this future as I see it daily in H.G. Wells’ Time Machine where the time traveler journeys to A.D. 802,701 and meets the Eloi, a society of teeny, androgynous people who live in small communities within large slowly deteriorating buildings.
Iquitos is the most distant city from civilization on earth, and the most laissez-faire. There is no set price and everything is for sale. There are few rules. Nearly everyone sells something from a doorstep, corner, street stall or pushcart and happily works 70 hour weeks for $5-10 a day to forget the steaming jungle. The ten American ex-pats (who prefer to be called patriots overseas- P.O´s) forge ideas into action. One exports discarded tree trunks to USA, another tows a floating hotel to fishing holes, a snake farmer, butterfly exporter, real estate agent, hotel owner, three ayahuasqueros, and my project aside the crate that compresses species of sawdust into briquettes to replace charcoal and save the rainforest. In addition, a handful of retired gringos annually take young Peruvian wives where the street ration is 2:1 female to male. Custom has a bride´s second act to ask her girlfriend to sleep with her husband every other night so she may continue to socialize with her.
Back at the hacienda, the tiny room smells like a sugar factory and I fling open the door to the first Amazon sunrise. Three red-necked buzzards with 6′ wings outstretched model to greet the day, and I snatch clothes from the velcro-like bottoms of 3´ leaves of a Lupuna tree , dress, and climb a hundred-step green tunnel to the swimming pool, sit on an inner tube, and the maid orders a catered liter of squeezed orange juice and five tomato-and-avocado sandwiches for $2.50. Seven in-resident old lady Shipibo shamans tipsy by on hobbit feet beneath colorful dresses with a pitcher of beer and coca-cola pausing to greet, ´Buenas Dias, Senor Bo.´
At midday the tourists have slept off last night´s ceremonies and trickle through the gate to share intelligence on shamans. Most are dutifully employed or students on two-week vacations and miss hardly one night plumbing to find their inner selves before returning home. Their daily reports offer fascinating insights into consciousness, metaphysics, parapsychology and psychology thrown in with comparisons of brown badges of courage from last night´s vomiting and long excretions . I could make a fortune selling toothbrushes.
Forgetting the fifth-dimensional helpers, the tourists´ contention is the medicine purges the body and then places the consciousness in space where the first question pops, Who am I? If the eyes are opened at this juncture the person ´becomes´ his body again with a total amnesia that is shocking. One soul among the hundreds I’ve interviewed resisted the spirit world with open eyes and fought back to physical consciousness, and this ex-pat is built like Bluto the Terrible with a mystery background and a 1625 chess rating sitting next to me as I type playing six simultaneous games of online speed chess while studying handgun schematics between moves.
Iquitos is the world springboard for ayahuasca, Central the pivot, I have the gate key and am a determined seeker to enlarge on two hypotheses of the mechanism. The first hypothesis is the creation of recovered peers- the only practical psychologists- by the medicine within the user´s mind whether you call them elves, clowns, spirits or hallucinations, and these helpers understand the owner´s malady backward and forward to teach cures. A second hypothesis is that the medicine inhibits an overactive First World higher brain while activating the relative virgin brain stem to provide the user instant relief and a choice of a mental or physical reality… until the medicine wears off.
Liquid psychiatrist bubbles on the hacienda kitchen stove. The jungle vine has been macerated and boiled with leaves from other plants with a resulting brew that contains the powerful hallucinogenic alkaloid dimethyltryptamine (DMT). The secret house recipe is pH control throughout the process. I run cold water on an index finger, stick it in the pot, and taste the bitterness.
I am the sole teetotaler in the gringo waves who profess that one ceremony of three ounces of ayahuasca is worth six months of good psychotherapy, First, who needs a psychologist? Second, there are two paths up the mountain: the slow and ayahuasca, and I’m not backing down.. Third, the medicine is the greatest experiment in world consciousness since the rise of that consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind. Flatly, any good experiment requires an experimental and a control group, and I am one of the controls.
The analysis from this old carton is the medicine solves personal problems better, faster, and cheaper than first world psychologists and psychiatrists. Liquid psychiatrist is on schedule as a global transformer. Peter Gorman was ground zero on ayahuasca tourism in1988 with a High Times cover story and the banner ‘Ayahuasca- Mind-bending Drug of the Amazon’ that swamped the Amazon tour companies with requests to add the medicine to their itineraries. Five years later, Shoemaker seeded ceremonies around the world. Then, in ´98 on an initial visit to Iquitos, I observed the lack of side effects and predicted the medicine would steamroll minds, and today it´s fashionable among the well-heeled. I know of ayahuasca cells, clubs and churches in a dozen USA cities where it would be elegant to chart psychologist and psychiatrist bankruptcy- professions as a psych tech I disdain – against the rise of the ayahuasca jar. It´s hand carried by hundreds of new annual tourists, and shipped with bogus labels throughout the world.
One day a visionary will freeze dry or crystallize the active ingredient DMT to make it as efficient to move by the ton as aspirin or cocaine to later reconstitute into liquid form. It will dominate the USA and European illicit drug market that holds youth´s minds, and become the most potent hallucinogen as a culmination of four First World decades of psychedelic mysticism. Then, for better or worse, the brew will be tainted by additives to make it a business drug to form dependence. The great tide of users will reverse to the Amazon to get pure stuff, and I hope they´ll stop by the crate.
The Peru retirement cradle, like earlier models, enables me to read, think and sleep in a quiet place to live a more productive day as a part-time expat in one of the most fascinating spots on earth.