Have you ever been on the cusp of some dramatic change in your life, where even as you look forward to the change, there is that niggling feeling of doubt and fear? Let me tell you, it’s even worse when you are 34,000 feet in the air in an uncomfy economy seat whilst surrounded by the screaming offspring of fellow travellers.
My flight to Iquitos, my final destination, was gruelling. From Kuching, I flew to Kuala Lumpur and stayed a few days. From KL to Heathrow. Heathrow to Miami. Miami to Lima. Lima to Iquitos. You get the idea. I wasn’t the happiest of campers. Anxiety had wormed its way into my already fragile mind. I was feeling restless the whole time and wanted nothing more than to get it all over and done with. So many questions kept popping into my mind. I was fearful of what lay waiting in that crazy little jungle town of Iquitos. I wondered if I would even come back alive. This certainly wasn’t helped by the fact that before I left, both my mother and sister forced me to get my will done, as well as took photos of me when I said my goodbyes. “Just in case you go missing” they said, “we’ll have recent photos of you.” Fucking reassuring.
Throughout the journey, I was a bag of nerves and at times, anger. I questioned myself how life had gotten so complicated that I was flying half way across the world into the jungle to partake in this weird plant medicine that speaks to your soul and knows your deepest darkest secrets. “Yep, you’ve gone off the fucking deep end now, Dan.” I was particularly rattled during my Miami stop due to the rather hostile and quite frankly, subpar intelligent passport controller, who in my opinion needed immediate surgery to remove his badge that was firmly wedged up his arse. I’ve never liked the way America treats the rest of the world. The American people themselves are fairly innocent, but I tell ya, I have NEVER been a fan of the way it is run and the people that are in charge.
Arriving in Lima was chaotic. I was tired. My arse was completely dead from all the sitting down in lumpy shitty seats. I got my bags and walked out of the airport only to be assaulted by some of the most aggressive taxi drivers I have ever encountered. Maybe they could just sense my bewilderment and fear, but I even had two follow me down a street. I had to drop my bags, spin around, and shout NO rather aggressively at them before they got the hint. Lima, for the inexperienced traveller, is a huge city. It takes ages to get around. Don’t make the mistake I made on that fateful night, of booking budget accommodation nearby the airport. I was whisked off in a taxi to what can only be described as an absolute ghetto. My rationale was that my flight was only in a few hours time, and so I just needed somewhere to clean up and rest my head for a few hours. Big no no. The place I stayed had me on edge. The whole neighbourhood smelt of cat piss and rubbish, and you could barely make out dodgy looking dudes doing their best to blend in with the shadows of the surrounding buildings.
The hours passed by achingly slowly, but finally my taxi arrived on time, and took me back to the airport. Onwards to Iquitos I went. I landed in its small airport; one that reminded me of many of the airports I have been in while backpacking South East Asia. It kind of felt a bit comforting. I breathed a sigh of relief as my boot clad feet hit the tarmac, with the humid Amazonian air rushing through my lungs. Yes… this kind of felt like back home in Sarawak. Except it wasn’t. I was 20,000 kilometres away on a continent I had never been to before. I looked to the skies and saw vultures lazily circling around, riding the thermals. Okay… no vultures back home. None that could actually fly, at least.
I was greeted outside the airport by the usual frenzied barrage of taxi drivers. I must say, they’re pretty relentless. Even when you’ve settled on one, the rest will still try to barge in and snatch you off their hands. Life must be tough for them. I ended up going with this rather interesting Egyptian cabbie, who upon seeing my Malaysian passport, greeted me with an extended hand and the words, “Salaam brother.” An Egyptian? Living in Iquitos? Okay, he piqued my interest and spoke good English, so I decided to get into his cab. As we were waiting in line, he started telling me a bit of his life story; about how he left Egypt because of all the political turmoil over the years. He told me that he came to Iquitos because it was about “love and peace” as he put it, flashing a massive smile that showed extensive gold teeth.
While he may have convinced himself that he was a loving and peaceful person, his driving proved otherwise. He would sporadically swerve the car close to any person that pissed him off on the road, wind his window down and hurl a torrent of abuse at them. I was glad I had sunglasses on, lest he could see the abject terror in my eyes. Remember, fear is vulnerability. Or so I had led myself to believe. Driving through Iquitos was interesting, though. The dusty streets revealed a vibrant and bustling city full of colour and curiosity. I liked how these jungle folk put so much effort into illustrating their business signboards. Heck, I did a few double takes when I saw signboards inscribed with Chinese letters!
Keep in mind, the Chinese had been coming to South America since the 1800’s. They began their lives there as coolies, doing menial tasks and sending money back home to their families. Centuries and generations later, they are firmly established members of Peruvian society, quite often owning several businesses, as well as being influential community leaders. Chinese are like cockroaches, and I mean that in the nicest of ways. They are survivors and thrivers. Put them anywhere, and they will find a way. To those of you who are reading this that don’t know me, at this juncture it’s probably best to let you know I am half Chinese, and fiercely proud of both sides of my heritage.
I arrived at my hotel in Iquitos on Friday the 31st of July. My hotel was a cheap one directly opposite the rendezvous point, the Victoria Regia hotel, which we were to meet at on the 2nd. I unloaded my bags and decided to shower and rest for a while, only that… my mind was so tightly coiled up that every second lying on that bed was torturous. I needed some air. I grabbed my camera and took to the streets. Upon first impression, downtown Iquitos is quite a manic little place. Colonial architecture from the Spanish occupation remains for the most part, intact and fairly well preserved. I strolled around taking in the sights, doing my best to allay my troubled mind. The people there weren’t so friendly. While not hostile, they certainly couldn’t compare in hospitality to your average Sarawakian. I got the feeling that the Spanish occupation had left deep scars on their people’s collective consciousness, and anyone perceived as a gringo was just not worth their time or effort. That is, unless they wanted something from you.
I eventually found the riverside, and walked up and down that pretty little stretch. Below street level, right by the river, was a whole network of shanty huts held together by rusty nails and corrugated tin roofs. Scores of stray dogs pounded the streets in the never ending quest for scraps of food and attention from softy gringos like myself. And then I met the hustlers. You can spot a hustler straight away. It doesn’t matter what country you’re in, all hustlers share the same common traits. Smooth talking, dodgy looking men that do their best to disarm you at all costs, and either sell you shit, steal your shit, or both. Conversations with them usually begin with “Hello my friend! Where are you from?” Firstly, get this right, mate. I’m not your fucking friend. I don’t know you. Secondly, why are you so concerned with my nationality? Taking a fucking survey, are we? Lastly, if you don’t stop grabbing my shoulder with your filthy fucking hands, there’s gonna be a bloody stump where your nose pickers used to be.
In case you can’t tell just yet, I’m not a fan of people trying to sell me shit. Nor am I a fan of being touched by strangers. In fact… let’s just say unless you’re a member of the Victoria’s secret catwalk crew, just keep your goddamn hands to yourself. And they kept coming. You’d barely be rid of one of them, you’d walk a few metres before you were accosted by the next one. To anyone thinking of going to Iquitos, this is something you must prepare yourself for. I have spent half my life living in Asia, so I’m used to it, but it doesn’t mean I appreciate nor welcome being harassed.
I found a decent place to sit and enjoy the view; a place recommended by the FAQ email I received from Blue Morpho. The place is called Dawn of the Amazon, and does decent Ayahuasca diet food. Yes I said diet. Before we go further, I think it’s important to note that Ayahuasca requires a time of cleansing the body of certain things prior to its consumption. Definitely no drugs and alcohol are allowed. Most medications are to be avoided, especially anti-depressants. The combination of Ayahuasca and anti-depressants can potentially be fatal. Your food is to be as bland as possible, with no sugar and salt. Spices are also to be avoided. All this is done to ensure that your time with Ayahuasca is as smooth as possible with little to no interference from your diet. Oh. And no sex.
After my meal, I had grown rather tired rather quickly, and decided it best to head back to the hotel, where another night of fitful and unpleasant sleep awaited me.
TO BE CONTINUED