LAST WEEK I RAN out of space while I was telling about our adventures in Peru. We had met up with our friend from Jackson who was working there. He had done a great job of guiding us and getting the four of us started finding our way around the mountainous region. We began heading farther and deeper into the Andes after we had bid him adieu. The area we were moving around was averaging around 12,000 to 14,000 feet with much higher snow-covered peaks always all around us. The views in this area were more vast, not as steep and rugged as where we had been traversing during the earlier parts of the trip. This area was very dry and full of agricultural activity.
As we walked along these rocky roads, we crossed paths with lots of families farming their land. It looked like such a peaceful lifestyle. We heard about a hostel way up on a peak that would be a few days walk to get to. Because of its remote location there was no way of contacting them to see if they had space for us to lay our heads down for a couple nights. We decided to go for it. Surely it would somehow work out.
We walked in this high desert area on a dirt road that didn’t seem to be made for cars but maybe for horses. It would have taken some mighty stout four-wheel vehicles to make it up there. In the distance we could see we were approaching the oasis out in the middle of the endless Andes. As we approached, we could see a group of people that didn’t all look like Peruvians, some Europeans and some Americans. No matter where they were from they all looked very tired and kind of sickly. They were lying around in hammocks very quietly, it seemed like the day after a three-night run of Grateful Dead shows.
No one was talking much so I eased myself closer to one of the more lively ones and asked what kind of place this was. She told me that everyone there was just coming out of a four day ayahuasca ceremony. We didn’t know it but we had stumbled into a ayahuasca retreat. There were people there who, for all kinds of reasons, had experienced ayahuasca for mental treatment of PTSD, addiction therapy and some were their just to keep in touch with their mental well-being.
Ayahuasca is an ancient ceremony from South America that has been used for rite of passage ceremonies, treating mental illness and vision quest ceremonies. This group was led by a shaman utilizing a daily routine of fasting, introspective meditation and finally down the dark and scary unlocking and peeking into your own inner core. I’m sure that can be a very scary place. Some people go back to their childhood memories or trauma to unlock that thing that grips them and prevents them from ever moving on and causes bad decision after bad decision.
Many people have had positive results from participating in these ceremonies. This is not a drug to be used recreationally but a plant based, highly toxic, hallucinogenic tea that requires the coaching of a trained shaman or someone who knows how to guide the people in need of help down a path towards recovery. I don’t know the science behind the tea but what I learned was from one of the guests who was not there to participate but was there to study the results and the reactions of those that did participate.
APPARENTLY ON THE night the tea is ingested there is at first a reaction that causes the person to become violently ill causing them to purge everything in their body followed by whatever vision may come along to this person. This process takes six to eight hours along with lots of crying, laughter, realization and hallucinations that are hopefully not too scary. Each person has a guide assigned to them to keep them on track and each person has a bucket with them for all that physical and mental purging. I know it has probably helped many people to get on a healthy track, but it sounds like my idea of a nightmare.
The folks who had participated looked completely mentally and physically drained. They’d have to figure out how to get back down the mountain. As we were hanging out quietly with this group a man who I could best describe as Tarzan approached my family to introduce himself and see what we had in mind. We noticed he was wearing the same hat with a hawk feather in it we had seen some of the men in the villages we had passed through in that region wore. Turns out he was the owner of this special place and he was the shaman who conducted the ceremonies.
I told him a little bit about ourselves and how we had wound up there. He and I connected immediately. He said he had a place for us to sleep. He would give Mimi and me his room and the kids could stay in one of the now vacant rooms since this group was leaving. It looked expensive and he could tell I was worried that it might not fit into our budget. He put his giant arm around me and told me it wouldn’t cost us any money but wanted to know what skills we had to offer. He knew, as I believe, things will always work out in the end.
I told him we could help him with his garden or anything agricultural he may have going on. He had some very cool things going on agriculturally. His garden and small strips of green grass around the retreat were getting irrigated by a source of water that was filled with trout. The trout poop was the source of fertilizer and really made everything very healthy looking. I didn’t see how he could use our help. He could teach us a thing or two about a thing or two.
He laughed when we told him we had lots of experience with greenhouses. It just so happened he was in the process of building some cold frames to extend his season for growing their vegetables. The place was entirely self-sustaining and off the grid. We helped him finish his cold frames for a couple days while we listened to his very interesting philosophies and outlook on the world from a perspective of someone completely unfettered by the ridiculous direction our “developed” world was careening towards. We met eye to eye on many things and there were many things I couldn’t keep up with him on the subject. He told us about a nice hike we could take that started close by. We wouldn’t get lost because the hike took us right next to a small river that was coming from snow melt high above us.
WE WERE HAVING A pleasant uphill walk next to this river. The kids had taken off ahead of us a little bit as they usually do. Mimi and I were walking and talking in disbelief of this wonderful place and interesting people we had met. Suddenly we saw both kids barreling down the mountain towards us. They were chasing something that was moving pretty swiftly down the stream. Mia plucked it out of the river when she got ahead of it and she was so excited about it. Mimi and I scooted up there to see what the ruckus was all about. One of those hats with the feather came floating down the river towards them. They had been trying to catch up with it for a while.
We wondered how in the world that hat wound up in that river that we just happened to be hiking up way the heck out there in the middle of the Andes. It was very windy up there so we guessed it must have blown off of the head of someone who was farming up there. Mia was very excited about the hat. It was quite a find. I was steadily trying to talk her out of it, convincing her it would look much better on me when “Tarzan” came loping down the same trail they had just come down. The hat was strapped on to the back of Mia’s backpack so it could dry in the sun.
When he saw the hat, he laughed and noted again it was a perfect example of the mystery of how giving is the same as receiving and how things work out in the end. The hat was his and he was pretty sure if our paths hadn’t crossed, he would have never caught up with his hat which apparently meant a lot to him.
We ate together that night after a full day of finishing his greenhouses and he extended a forever invitation to come back to visit if the stars ever lined up for a trip back to Peru. Mimi and I dream of going back but Peru is in a mess with Covid so we will wait our turn.
We all learned many important things in those couple of days but mainly to stay patient and faithful and in the end everything will work out. Maybe not like you might envision it, but in some way you may never guess. I try my best to live by that lesson when I can get my mind calm and focus on what really matters in the end.
I recommend that you check the photos of this guy and his place out on our website. The place is like nothing we’ve ever seen. It’s like a dream spot remotely placed high in these gorgeous mountains.
One of the Peruvians who was in the group up there casually mentioned that when we got back to Lima to catch our flight home that if we had any time to spare we should go to their crumby zoo. She made it sound like the zoo was run down and the animals all seemed sad.
We did have time to go to the zoo while we waited for the day our flight would take us home. I’m pretty sure she had never been to the zoo but was given some bad intel. The plants and the animals were just amazing. Some were from the highlands of Peru and some were from the Amazon Basin in Peru.
Two things from the zoo that I will never forget are both plant and animal. The biggest angel trumpet I’ve ever seen was growing there. I can only imagine its age and it was covered in trumpet blooms. The other thing which haunts me to this day is a gigantic black panther with the coldest blue eyes stared at all four of us for a weirdly long time. I think he was trying to figure out if he were to put all four of us in his bowl if we would make a decent size meal. I got a great photo of him while he was staring us down. I was grateful for the fence between him and us. Again, everything worked out in the end.
THINGS ALMOST DIDN’T work out in the very end of trip. On the day we were to fly out our tickets said we were taking off at 12:30 p.m. Somehow I got in my head we were leaving at 12:30 that night. When we got to the airport in the middle of the night the lady there told us our flight had already left that afternoon at 12:30 p.m.
We had stayed until the day before the kids had to be back in school. I told them they could sleep it off while they went through those first couple days when nothing really gets done anyway.
We thought we were stuck there for another four days when the next available flight would take us home. It was going to cost the same arm and leg the panther had been contemplating about. Out of nowhere, while I was on the phone begging my case to American Express and Delta and anyone else I could think of, this very friendly voice came on announcing there was a flight at the airport with four available seats for us. She said she hoped we didn’t mind but I would have to take the Atlanta leg of the flight separate from the rest of the family. I would arrive home two hours sooner than the other three. I told her that would certainly not be a problem. Just get us to America and we would be happy.
When I landed two hours ahead of the rest of my clan, I went grocery shopping in Brandon and made it back to the airport just in time to pick them up. We went home with food to fill the pantry and time to get the kids ready for their first day of school the following morning. Once again everything had worked out in the end.