Thursday, December 24, 2015

Super quick visual tour of the last 9 months: part 3

This is the third and final quick tour of my time in S. America seeking indigenous community. Here is part 1, and here is part two. I didn't take the pictures, but they represent things I saw.

Visual tour part two ended with my decision to experience a full, extended fast in mid-late July. I first looked for a site on the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) in Lake Titicaca between Bolivia and Peru.

Isla del Sol

Red circle shows where the Lake and Isla del Sol are between Bolivia and Peru.
The Isla was a no-go for the fast. Back into Peru I went, and back to Satipo.

Late July, Satipo/Atalaya again
Now I go crazy for a bit, considering going deep into actual wild jungle to do the extended fast and pitching my tent somewhere no one else is. To hell with mosquitos, natives, marxist revolutionaries, peruvian military overflights, miners, loggers, and other obstacles; I wanted to fast in the wild.

I do another round-trip between Satipo and Atalaya in a pickup for 8 hours, looking for a place to just get out and walk into the woods for the fast. I get super sick. A really nice family, whose father I met on the truckride, takes me in and gives me food and a place to sleep for a few nights, saving me from a hostel.

Back in Satipo, I decided to play it a little safer and met someone whose brother owned a chakra, a small farm in the mountains with an unused shed I could stay in. I last a week there fasting before the ants get to me, and I head back into the friendly hostel in Satipo, continuing the fast there. I felt great but weak; I've never packed my gear so slowly before in my life (instances of extended procrastination aside).

Early August, Satipo: The fasting was wonderful. I had nothing to eat nor drink except filtered or boiled water for 2 weeks, and never felt hungry once. 2 years earlier I wouldn't have thought it possible, now I want to fast again and truly finish it. Unfortunately I chose to cut this one off early.

On fasting day 12, after much reflection, I decide to end the search for natives and return to the US. I planned out a way to learn lots of practical skills in Peru in the remaining 2 months before my visa expired, and with a feeling of catharsis, went to bed feeling excited and relieved with my new plan.

Next morning, I met a dude who promised to take me into a real native community. Change of plans again! I'll write more about this guy, Mike, and our time together. If you want a preview, watch a video of him here. He'd visited and supported the Ashaninka for over 3 decades with a deep humility and love for them. We got along great and are still in touch.

But for now, I had 1-2 weeks before he would help me enter an Ashaninka community. Having met a lot of locals in Satipo, I heard lots of complaining about pollution, corruption, crime... you name it. And everyone described a feeling of helplessness. So in my last week, I tried my hand at political/social organizing and create an event, "Neighbors improving their community" (Vecinos Mejorando a su Comunidad). More in a later post, but I invited bunches of restaurants to contribute food/drinks, got free fliers donated, invited probably 200+ people... interesting time. Even had a meeting with the mayor, which roughly corresponded to the start of a 2 week period with, um, flatulence issues. Either I successfully quieted them or the mayor pretended not to notice.

Separately, I got back into knitting, and spent a lot of hours at it and learning from others. Super interesting, more on it later.

Mike gets back to Satipo early with a new friend he'd made, Darlene. The three of us become quick friends during a pickup truck ride to Oventeni, a native community but not the one Mike planned to take me to. We become friends in part because I had uncontrollable flatulence as we traveled in the pickup cab together, and this resulted in much suffering and laughter. Oventeni, like Infierno, had a heavy colonized presence. The natives there seemed in rough shape, having been pushed out of the fertile valley and high into the mountains. Mike, Darlene and I were invited on a 3 hour trip into one of their villages where I got to witness them discussing financial difficulties. They wanted funding to help build a path they could use to get their cacao to market, but only one bank was available and wanted to charge 11% per month for the loan.

Too much to share here in a small recap. Beautiful time and wonderfully generous people; this was my first visit to an uncivilized native community. I ate yucca and wild hunted animal of some sort baked in the ashes and dirt under the family fire and had my first peorentsi, their fermented yucca drink; a rich meal indeed. The community was Ashaninka, similar to the groups I stayed with later.

It also was the first time I met Ashaninkas wearing their native robes. Most were a grey base color with colorful vertical stripes, but a few wore a deep forest green and I found them incredibly attractive. 
The pin shows Satipo; to the NE is Oventeni; east is Puerto Ocopa and further NE is Atalaya.

Late August, into the Ashaninka territory:
While not social organizing, and while not knitting or learning Ashaninka vocab or meeting other Ashaninka or aggressively practicing my Spanish or or or, in that week before entering, I bought tons of gifts for the Ashaninka. Machetes, files, fishing gear, cloth and thread, sling shots, etc.

I won't even try to do the time in native communities justice here. I went in, it was great; exactly what I hoped to experience going to S. America. Mike and an old friend of his Gillian entered with me but left after 1 week, leaving me there for another 1.5-2 weeks with no other non-natives. It was the real deal. I love those people.

Words can hardly describe how powerful this experience was, but I've already started drafting some essays about it. More to come.

I traveled to/from the native Ashaninka territory in a longer version of a boat like this.
Mid September, Atalaya: I start feeling feverish but don't think anything of it. I leave the natives by boat for Puerto Ocopa, weeping repeatedly for the beautiful community and wilderness I'd found and relationships I'd made, and for how that experience reinforced my vision for the human community and natural space I seek for myself and others.

I enjoy a 5 hour bumpy truck ride to Atalaya which includes a 3 hour intensive debate between myself and a Christian missionary. More on this later. I get sicker...

...and sicker. Mornings are great. Afternoons I get a ridiculous cold sensation; I literally bundle in several layers of shirt, sweater, jacket, then bundle into a blanket and go out into the jungle sun, and I still shiver strongly from cold. This lasts a 1-2 hours each afternoon starting between 12:00 and 3:00 PM and is followed by a bad tension headache until 11:00ish PM. I get diagnosed and treated for malaria and a liver infection when I finally go to the hospital 4 days later. Checkin' all the boxes on the jungle experience.

A mosquito. One of'em got me! Actually a lot bit me, but one of'em had a special surprise in store. I'm surprised it took 10 months to get a nasty bug.
I start recovering and head back to Satipo, said goodbye to my friends at the hostel and elsewhere, and head back to Lima to stay with my friend Darlene for a week. Darlene's work kept her too busy to spend much time with me sadly. Only remarkable thing here was that I experienced several minor earthquakes, including one while reading an article on earthquakes.

After 11 months in South America I fly home and arrive 10 days before my family expects me due to a communications mistake. Whoops!

I'll fill in the gaps in these visual tours in future essays.The time inside and out of the native communities was a period of intensive study, introspection, dreaming and growth. More on all this, as well as what's going on now, in future posts. Thanks for sharing this with me.