PERU Palma Real -“Progress of Industry”
It is no secret the bleeding of the Western and material mentality has seeped into the fibers of traditional culture and living. There are a number of key components in factors that are integral in understanding this. First off, is the element of exposure, the ease in which the world has become an open source of information and communication through technology. I remember my travels to South America, Peru in particular. The adventure it was one I would soon not forget. Traveling up the long and wide expanse of the Madre De Dios River in Puerto Maldonado, I recall the damp and rainy conditions in which we faced as the motor boats cut through the brown murky river, and the stories that were re-counted by outspoken and charismatic fixer JJ.
JJ was explaining, rather yelling, over the loud rumbling motor, a story about an uncontacted tribe deep in the Amazon off the banks of the Madre De Dios. His friend had recently been shot to the heart by a giant monkey arrow a few days before JJ received his assignment to guide our group. Apparently, the tribe was curious as to the appearance of an unknown entity in their region. As JJ explained, most of the un-contacted tribes respond violently out of curiosity or fear, rather than the thirst for the kill. He warned, however, that the rainforest was very dense, very unpredictable, and very dangerous to those not acquainted with its many mysteries. As much as I wanted to explore, I was advised, rather scolded, to remain within the confines of JJ‘s lead and direction.
A half days ride up the river and we were to set up camp off the shores of the Madre De Dios. Again, the rain was unrelenting, an endless downpour of pelleting drops of water smashing into the roof of the long boat. The wind was sending the cross fire through the awnings, and blasting us from all angles. The murky water was turning an undulating mess of brown and splashing white foam.
I asked two questions at this point, “why was the water so, well, the only word that my short fused brain could muster, Brown..?” And, “why are we not traveling after dark?”
JJ replied, as he turned to me in his drenched windblown parka, that the natives believe this river was brown because of all the gold deposit runoff and that its magnificence was only exacerbated by the wealth lying meters below. We have all heard of treasure hunters and gold diggers on a quest to be the next Exxon mobile of precious metals, or the pioneers who swear by the location of such illustrious legends as El Dorado, but JJ was quite adamant that gold was indeed out there, somewhere.
People often get lost in the dense foliage of the Amazon, an endless sea of Greens and
muted browns that blanket the mainland of the rainforest, however, JJ was an expert and he was keen on making quick headway towards Palma Real. The night was crawling in on us. The slithering shoreline was alive with hungry cayman crocodiles. Because visibility was getting scarce, JJ explained that it was imperative to make way for a safe landing and spend the night off the banks of the Madre De Dios in the Amazon.
Using a flashlight I had handy, and a few of the headlamps we had stowed, JJ made his way to the bow of the small motor boat. He proceeded to shine the lights in a back-andforth pattern along the dark water below. The night had set in, and it was getting dangerous to continue any further. The darkness was blanketing and concealed large tree trunks that tended to clog the waterway during high rain season. There were two boats heading to Palma Real, one was mine, and the other held the camera team that was accompanying us.
The pitch blackness consumed more of the light, save for the illumination that JJ was able to muster from his headlamp. To make matters worse, the sky broke, and an onslaught of cold rain rattled the roof of our speed boat once again.
I glanced behind, scurrying to cover valuables, and noticed the second boat was nowhere in sight. I called to JJ, who seemed to already have a keen sense of the predicament. He spotted an embankment along the river where we could dock the boat. Whistling and flashing his lights toward the bank of the Madre de Dios, we had selected the campground for the night, where I supposed we would station ourselves and wait for the others. The howling cross winds and rain that crashed in through the speed boat made it hard to get a proper glance of the area JJ was pointing to. As we drew closer, I could see a wall of greens and tall trees that made it hard to envision a proper staging area to dock our vessel. It seemed to me, by the look on JJ‘s face, there was no other choice.
The crew secured the boat and assisted the rest of the team up the muddy banks of the river. The constant thought of caymans crawling below us seemed to be the number one concern on everyone’s mind.
It wasn’t long before the other boat reached us. The crew, slipping and sliding on the steep muddy bank, lead to a clearing in the jungle where we would stay that night. Before I continue much further, I must assure the reader that there is an explicit point to such an antidote, which I will return to later.
As the night continue to set in, I checked my cell phone, using a rain shell jacket as a roof to keep the screen dry; No service and very little battery remaining. In an clearing recently cut by machete, JJ was about to give an announcement. The team gathered. He explained that the area was likely home to many poisonous snakes, spiders, and dangerous animals.
It was advised to be extra cautious and stay within eyesight of the camp and clearing. Well, that was reassuring. I grabbed my machete and made a proper camp for myself by a tree to pitch my tent. I was supposing the foliage from above would afford some protection from the onslaught of water that was pouring down on us. The rest of the team was quickly tucking away gear and electronics. JJ informed us know that the cooks would have dinner prepared back at the boat within the hour. Our destination was a few hours further up river. Tonight we would enjoy the damp protection that the jungle canopy afforded.
After dinner, which was a hearty portion of traditional cooked eggs and soup, we all
retired to bed. It was in this moment, with the constant buzzing and howling of the jungle around, that I truly understood the meaning of tranquility and solitude. Despite the muddy floor moving underneath me and the rain seeping through my tent in puddles, I felt the most alive I had felt in longer that I can recall. There was no connection to the outside world, no cell service, simply soaking misery. And, in that moment, was born an astounding appreciation for the simplest things we take for granted; warmth, shelter, dry clothes, showers.
There was a peace I will never fully be able to put into words. Perhaps it was the sensation of being caught in the middle of the jungle in a rain storm, or maybe it was simply the anticipation of things to come. Perhaps, it was the feeling of utter helplessness as we all were held firmly in the clutches of the all mighty Amazon. Whatever the case, I was disconnected materialistically, and yet completely connected spiritually. The howler monkeys sang their loud song, the jungle antics persisted, the evening waned on, and the persistent life energy coursed through this place until the days break.
The suns damp morning glow swept over the land, the rain had subsided, and we had finally arrived at our destination, Palma Real. As we docked our boats and made our approach up a steep and muddy slope, curious children puttered up on vintage motorbikes and barely ridable bicycles. My traveling buddy, James Houston, gave me the look. I knew what that meant; Magic tricks.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out a pack of cards. As I began to shuffle the cards and attempt to communicate with the kids, I noticed more arriving, holding out cell phones. Yes, that damn contraption that had failed me long ago on this excursion. They kept saying “magico”, and pointing their cameras in my direction.
I turned to JJ as I shuffled my cards, “They have cell phones?”
He nodded. “Yes of course. No monkey arrows here. They have been westernized, to a degree. The government protects the community and provides them access to basic
The children watched me with smiles and eyes wider than any cell service I’d soon get. After I performed a few affects for the large crowd, we were escorted by elders and JJ deeper into the village center. JJ explained that the community did not have much. Despite having access to very basic cellular technology, most in the village did not have television or other electronic forms of entertainment. There was only one designated area that had such luxury, the local school and community center. And, by no means was this a “luxury” by western standards. This building was no bigger than a single family living room with an outdoor thatched roof porch to provide shelter. At night, it was clear that this was the place to be if you wanted any kind of entertainment, as the TV usually echoed throughout the village well into the late hours. Besides the single convenient store that sold liquor, which again was no larger than a small office, the only other form of entertainment was the large soccer field.
As we passed the area, I noted the large group of children that conglomerated, chasing a soccer ball up and down field. I stopped in my tracks and smiled. There was a simplicity to this place. there was a symbiotic relationship between people and nature, a lack of distraction from what we are otherwise accustomed to. The progress of Industry had its clutches firmly around the neck of the rest of the world, but in places like these, the basic necessities kept people connected. There were cellphones and electronics yes, but in moderation. What drove these people to find purpose in every day life were the simple pleasures, their rich customs and heritage which gave them all a sense of identity away from a world in constant search of it.
From a Different Perspective…
Many cultures have a vast array of principles and beliefs by which they base their lives. As I was sitting in my flooded tent that dreadful night in the rainy Amazon, I reflected on JJ’s discussion of animism, where tribes and cultures hold the belief that everything has a spirit. The rivers, trees, mountains, all have an energy and breath. He also explained how Shamanism was an important part of the indigenous belief system. The Quechua Shamans in the Andes could communicate with Pachamama, (Mother Earth) and make offerings to the mountain spirits that could alter the environment, produce lucrative harvests, and ward off evil entities. The Shamans in the jungle used the Huaca spirits of the jungle to draw from and metaphysically transform the soul through mixtures of plants.
The breath of life lead me to a resurgence of my study in alchemy. I begin to reformulate concepts in my mind that had previously flown over my head. Below is my internal discussion on the Alchemical process of breath transmutation through the human body into power.
In Alchemy, the process by which metal or lead is turned to gold is a metaphoric concept of transforming the body and soul in a transcendence of a higher nature, the lapis, within and without.
As a martial artist, I remind myself, if you are all speed, you are all speed. If you are all power, you are all power. If you are all technique, you are over complicated. If you are all mind, you are too much mind. If you are all confident in one of these you are over compensated. Failure is eminent.
The philosophers stone is a combination of many ingredients transmuted into one, at the right consistency and quantity, and at the right temperature; The harmony of heart, mind, body, soul, and intent. Devastating skill is transmutation at its finest harbored in a burning cauldron of which will produce the lapis (philosophers stone), where no skill and ultimate skill create infinite skill.
The cauldron must burn with the breath of life to allow the “shen”, or spirit, to shine through. All of the universe has a shedding and process of rebirth. The cocoon breaths transmutation upon the worm and reveals the butterfly. This is a microcosmic example juxtaposed from a macro scale of the birth and death of stars and planets that regain their light in a new form. All matter is recycled. What was once me is you and you reborn as is and will be therefore.
And why did this suddenly hit me that damp and rainy night? Because I realized that we are all humans with great potential and thresholds beyond our own comprehension. But, too often we become consumed with one way of life, one way of thinking, one side to the argument, instead of realizing that there are infinite sides in a scheme grander than we know.
Silencing all thought in the wake of discomfort and tribulation, letting things be as they may, is an acceptance that allows us to grow and transmute our own lives. These journeys that place us outside what we supposedly know are what allows us to shatter all notions of what we thought we knew.