Legends of Last Week

27 Aug

I’ve been looking forward to saying this so much:

THANK YOU ♥, all of you, for your overwhelming responses to my Backpacker Poem Project. ♥ Thank you ♥ for your videos, for your sweet words of support, for the laughs. I’ve had such a great time watching your videos – it was exciting to see how & where you chose to make the video, who was in the shot with you, and, of course, which lines you chose to recite.

To be honest: when I began mapping out the project, I wasn’t sure, not one bit, if anyone would want to participate. Your enthusiasm, your videos, have overjoyed me! Thank you for sharing the project with your friends, in your tweets, facebook, etc. It’s been great fun receiving videos from around the world, proving that we exist in a collective of equally minded and artistic people, and I would very much like this to be the first of many collective projects to come. I hope we can collaborate on something again… How does that sound to you?

Here’s a beautiful image I stumbled over last month – and you know how I love to share beautiful things with you:

It’s 7 more days until the set deadline, but if you miss the deadline and would still like to participate: hell, send your video over. I’ll let you know if you were too slow, or if you made the cut on time. Deal? Deal.

I’m filming my bits of the poem too, in every place I visit. I’m on the road again, and the following video was shot on a ship sailing up the Amazon River. This is just a small Thank You for all your videos ♥ – and so that you can see that I’m also doing my bit… even if I do forget my own lines:


After initiating the Backpacker Poem Project, I spent another week in Lima, saying goodbye to old and new friends. Some who will continue travelling – some who are now returning to Europe, hereby closing their backpacker chapter. We shared a good road, my friend. I hope your highways continue to lift you and teach you. Thank you for the smoothies, for feeding me while I was writing, for the crazy, CRAZY adventures – and for everything we know.

But all those people I met on the road… we’re still in touch. We still make plans (and fulfil them) to see each other again. Even though some of us only knew each other for a week, a month, a year, we shared the turbulent, beautiful road – and that’s one hell of a bond! To this, I believe, the Backpacker Poem Project attests.

Middle of August, I prepared to leave Lima and set back on the road again. Here is something I wrote at the time:

When you’re about to go on the road, turning off a hot shower becomes similar to saying goodbye to a lover. You do it slowly… wistfully… And you wonder when you’ll ever be so lucky again.

Here is my plan for the next two months. Or rather, my challenge:

the plan / the challenge

I’ve made it to northern Peru: to Iquitos! And the next couple of posts will be dedicated to this mad mad journey. I can’t bore you with the details, so let me baffle you with the pictures. I left Lima for an 8 hour journey to San Ramón. I had been here many, many years ago, fallen in love with it, and wanted to return ever since. For this journey, I crossed the high mountain passes. It never ceases to amaze me that in Perú, lakes only happen in the altitude.

San Ramón and neighboring town La Merced are on the so-called “eyebrow of the jungle”. You can enjoy a tropical heat but maintain your eye on the Andes.

And ride my absolutely favourite mode of transportation: the mototaxi, or tuc-tuc.

More impressions around La Merced:

hot dog on a tin roof

“I have written many pretty words on paper, but the most beautiful thing I have ever written is your name on a wall.”

with an insatiable machetero

Bayoz Waterfall

My mototaxi friend Juan: “I can’t smile for your photograph. I’m worried. I have no wife.”

to give you an impression of the size of Bayoz! Can you spot us?

From there, it was a 16 hour bus ride to my next stop: Pucallpa. When I went to buy my bus ticket, the boy behind the counter said: “Someone’s just cancelled, so by chance, we have one free seat. It’s alright, you don’t have to pay me. Pay the bus driver when he gets here. Also: you won’t get a bus ticket. That’s alright too. Nothing to worry about.”

I thought: “That can only mean my free seat is in the storage compartment with the luggage.”

It wasn’t quite so bad: I was to ride beside the bus driver for 16 hours. There’s a space between the assistant’s and the driver’s seats, where the clutch is, and he said: “Princess, if you get tired, this is where you can sleep.”

That was when he discovered he, too, had been lied to. The bus company told him I was only going to Tingo Maria, which is approximately halfway to Pucallpa. When he discovered the truth, he asked his assistant how many free seats the bus had. Eight. So I was sent to the back to a proper seat, after all. In the end, everyone was wrong. There was no sudden cancellation. I wasn’t going to Tingo Maria. The bus wasn’t sold out.

It broke down twice. We got locked in the passenger compartment. A baby had to pee, so the woman opened the window and held her baby out. In 16 hours we climbed the Andes to over 4000 meters at Junín, and then descended into the heat, heat, heat of the jungle.

I’ve been trying to get to Pucallpa for 4 years now, but everytime, everytime, something happened and I couldn’t go. What with the mess of buses, I feared it’d be the same this time around. But 16 hours later, I arrived, smelly and happy, and met up with Almuth, who had arrived the night before and was waiting in a ventilated hostel room.

Our first tourist stop in Pucallpa was to visit the Amazonian Art School, founded by the Pucallpa artist, teacher and ayahuasquero Pablo Amaringo. I’ve spoken of his beautiful paintings many times on the blog. Of the few I know, this one is my favourite:

Finding the art school was slightly difficult: no one reacted to the virtuous name “Pablo Amaringo”. That came as quite the surprise, considering his fame abroad, and what I would have imagined to be a great tourist impact on Pucallpa. The school is on the outskirts of Pucallpa, a neighborhood I felt was the “real” Pucallpa. Simple wooden shacks, people sitting on rocking chairs outside their houses, chatting. The sun setting between the wooden planks of the houses. Children playing on the dirt road. Men fixing their mototaxis. Young girls strutting in tight pink leggings, flaunting puberty.

A student of the school opened the small gallery for us, and was kind enough to answer all our questions. The art school is for children and adolescents, as an after-school, holiday and weekend program. The students learn to paint Amazon landscapes, but no visions, because for this, they would have to drink ayahuasca. Our guide spoke in a respectful and beautiful manner of “Don Pablo’s” talent and vision. We enjoyed our visit very much.

at Usko-Ayar, art school founded by Pablo Amaringo

The market in Pucallpa had other things to boast:

stuffed sloth in the market

The next day we took a boat to visit Lake Yarinacocha, and San Francisco, a nearby Shipibo village.

Lake Yarinacocha

from the lake to the village, the walk is over a 5 meter high bridge, and this is what it looks like

The Shipibo are a matriarchal people who live off their beautiful crafts work. They are also the people who drink ayahuasca, a psychoactive infusion of various hallucinogenic plants. It is called “the vine of the souls”, and is meant to let you see the world as it really is; all illusions fall away. That is a really simplified definition. Please read more on it on Wikipedia, because it’s truly a fascinating subject – one I have often spoken of, and will surely continue to.

Here is a brilliant clip from an unlikely source: “Blueberry” (2004), a Hollywood film based on a French comic, which has abundant ayahuasca scenes – beautiful graphics strongly reminiscent of Pablo Amaringo’s work! A brilliant adaptation, I think – thanks to director Jan Kounen’s appreciation of the Shipibo culture.


Scenes from San Francisco:

a Shipibo house

the hot roads of San Francisco

We arrived at noon, a terrible hour to be out. I heard Germany had a pretty hot week. My friends keep trying to compete. Sorry, gang, this was hot.

Walking around the plaza, I asked the people sitting, sweating in the shade for a place to eat and a place to sleep. The one hostel in San Francisco looked like it had been abandoned months ago. Finally a woman stood up and offered her house and some food. Grateful, we followed her in a procession of ten women, ranging from two to thirty years old, all following and curious to see what was going to happen.

On her land stood six houses: one where her family slept; the kitchen house; the bathroom / shower house; two guest houses; and the last I’ll explain in a bit. We discovered that she was housing 4 other gringos (white tourists) but she didn’t explain why. Thinking that the Shipibo people are famous for ayahuasca, we didn’t really have to ask why.

where we slept

The sixth house was the maloka, the place for ayahuasca ceremonies:

the maloka: house for ayahuasca ceremonies

In the center of the maloka, the trunk that holds up the roof had been painted in the colour and with the leaves of the main ingredient of ayahuasca: banisteriopsis caapi. Personal mats were spread out around the room, decorated by the owner in the manner that made him/her most comfortable. The inside of the maloka felt safe, comfortable, and it was were some relaxed during the hotter hours of the day. The father of our host, Don Matteo, was a highly respected curandero, healer. Everyone spoke very well of him in the village.

We came there literally by coincidence. We weren’t looking for ayahuasca or a curandero. Had I asked someone else on the plaza for a room to sleep, we never would have been there. With my great fascination for ethnobotany and hallucinogenic plants, I was delighted, and asked as many questions as I could.

The Shipibo give ayahuasca to their children, for protection, and to help them grow strong. Walking around the local market, I spent some time chatting with Erica and Lilla, two Shipibo girls, who taught me some shipibo. I’m phonetically guessing the spelling:

hauskaremia:  how are you?

nuquhane reike ritti:  my name is ritti

Erica and Lillca

Shipibo statue at the market

Shipibo women sewing clothes with ayahuasca patterns

an example of Shipibo textile art

It was exciting to be among the Shipibo – a tribe I have read about for many years; for whom I have a fascination and admiration comparable to towards the Q’eros in the Andes. They were very kind towards us, such friendly, honest people. A simple chat with Marco led to a small tour of the beaches, where he told me about piranha fishing, and afterwards organised a car to drive us back to Pucallpa. Don Matteo and his family were kind hosts, and I had very interesting conversations with the other boarders about their experiences with ayahuasca. The boarders had come from all over the world to live with Don Matteo for a few months, and do spiritual work. They told me of their experiences, fears and joys during “the work”, but never went into personal detail of their visions.

In all these experiences, I managed to do some writing for Munay. She creeps back into my journal every now and then, and I am grateful. I wish I were writing more, but it really is difficult to write & backpack at the same time.

I leave you with a short, short extract from something I wrote in San Francisco. It’s been a fascinating week! My next blog post will come soon, because I still have to tell you about sailing up the Amazon River. Yet I leave you now, because this really is long enough.

This is a scene from Munay, shortly after Anahata has left the caravans to run into the jungle (notice anything?). Here, she is haunted, tormented – but that means she is face to face with her demons.

After a while, these bare feet that had so rarely touched the earth before, took on the colour and texture of the skin of potatoes. I became pale, like a ghost, from the shade of the jungle, from my ambling only at night, and from my ramblings about clouds.

I felt their memory rise to my skin and cover me in a vague shroud of nostalgia, as I missed these old lovers of mine – but at the same time, I hoped that my skin was their last barrier, and that from here, they would seep through my pores and finally leave me.

I imagined all of them suddenly leaving me one day, leaving at once: my skin suddenly exhaling clouds. Standing somewhere in this jungle, clouds rising from my body, one after the other, in an exorcism of the sky, of what had been taken from me – of what I had loved.

What colour would my skin take on then? What is left of me when all the clouds are gone?


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