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La Casa Buena

La Casa Buena

By Pamela Livingston

Deep in the Amazon forest, there is a house which for now I will call La Casa Buena, because like a new baby I know it is good and special, even before it has a name. It sits up above the little river Aucayacu, at a great bend where the currents spiral and twist, lingering to suggest possibilities, like transformation.

Above the water, in the very same place, another house once stood-where a great healer lived and worked. His name was Don Julio LLerna-vegetalista, palero, ayahuascero and teacher of many-he was renowned for his goodness. Two years ago, when he died I was in ceremony with his son Jairo, who took his father’s place. Since then I’ve continued to learn and to grow and be inspired by certain rare qualities which inhabit the most natural people and most loving of hearts, I have learned that the medicine of Ayahuasca loves best the simplicity and freedom of nature, a ceremony pure and positive as the song of a bird-humble, yet powerful and without doubt.

I have gone hunting with Jairo, and have seen how he sets his intention and simply fulfills it-one shot between the eyes-to feed his family.

The medicine is strong here, where peace and kindness surround it with family, cooperation-people taking care of people. I’ve often thought about this place that it is the most civilized place I know.

My archeologist friend tells me, and I can feel, that there have been high civilizations here for thousands of years, without even a pebble to show for it. I’ve often thought how interesting it is, that the mark of a high civilization is not jewels and gold, which more often suggest something else: excess, collapse, and violence-but something simple and invisible which lives on. Ayahuasca shows this harmonizing factor, makes it visible-seen, felt, and heard, to help us learn again to be free human beings, to be able to survive as our ancestors have survived through challenges which are given anew to each of us in different ways.

It is a privilege to know these sparkling people, who recognize that Life is the jewel. It is a privilege to work lovingly with the medicine of Ayahuasca, and to be able to welcome you, if you are interested to come, and to heal or to experience for yourself, La Casa Buena, in Aucayacu-one days journey away from Iquitos Peru.

La Casa Buena

If you enjoyed reading La Casa Buena, you might also want to read another great article by Pamela titled;

Magical Things, the Cloths of the Shipibo Indians

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Magical Things, the Cloths of the Shipibo Indians

By Pamela Livingston

Shipibo Woman with her cloths and bags

Shipibo Woman with her cloths and bags

Magical Things are the Shipibo cloths, made by the beautiful ladies and girls who you see sitting in the shade at the Plaza de Armas, Iquitos Peru, their fingers quietly working with the colored threads, casting spells. Don’t walk by too many times without looking, as there might be something here for you, and you are so close!

Nowhere else in the world will you find these designs, made by hand with the patience of centuries; if they look familiar, it might be because they speak to you of a deep current within your own heart or memory. More than visual, they are energetic and are known to be the expressions of healing songs, used in ceremony by the ayahuasceros, or lullabies of the Mother. Wrap yourself in the healing colors and patters.

I think every house in the world would benefit from a bit of this ancient code on the wall or bed, from where an unraveling of the magic would occur; a movement of healing energy would enter.

Each artist with her bag of beautiful things has much to show, and it’s worth looking. It’s as if the earth herself was revealing treasures to you from under the soil, one after another, just for a minute, and then they disappear again. So if one speaks to you, buy it! You might never see it, or hear its song again.

Beauty brings health; so bring some of this beauty home with you. It teaches a freedom which is orderly at the same time, in the highest way-a natural order, recognized since ancient times by people in the jungle to help them live in peace and kindness and balance.

They are still here, smiling and offering these gifts. They come up from Pucallpa with their babies and bundles, hoping to sell, so that they can go back to loved ones, a long, long ride away on the riverboat, with a bit of needed cash. The cloths often take a month or more to make but you will enjoy the living quality for your whole life.

So a big Thank You, to these lovely people, may they continue to be able to make and to share their magic!

Magical things, the cloths of the Shipibo Indians

Magical things, the cloths of the Shipibo Indians

Magical Things, the Cloths of the Shipibo Indians

If you enjoyed reading Magical Things, the Cloths of the Shipibo Indians, you will also want to read another great article by Pamela titled; La Casa Buena

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You Should Visit the Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm When Visiting Iquitos Peru

By Gart van Gennip

Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm

Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm

The official name is the Amazon Animal Orphanage and Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm, which is appropriate enough, but the locals know it as Pilpintuwasi, which means “home of the butterfly”.

The Butterfly Farm is one of the favorite day trip destinations in Iquitos, but it isn’t actually located in the city.

I took a mototaxi to Nanay Bellavista, which is worth a visit in itself! I found a lively, colourful market on the banks of the Nanay River, right at the point where it joins the Amazon. What a beautiful view! I arrived during the “high water” season, which is mistakenly believed to be a “rainy” season. It is not. It merely means that the water level of the rivers is high and it actually offers much better river travel possibilities than during the “low water” season.

A short boat ride took me to Padre Cocha, a small river community on the Nanay River. Despite the many unsolicited offers of private boat rides, which can cost up to 10 dollars, I travelled by “colectivo”, which is public transportation. It took up to 20 minutes before the boat left. It’s just a matter of economics; they were waiting for enough passengers to make the trip worthwhile. So I relaxed and enjoyed the scenery of the harbor and checked out the locals who slowly filled the boat to capacity. After all, the trip only cost 1 sol.

Upon arrival in Padre Cocha I soon discovered that this friendly village offered the peace and quiet that Iquitos often lacks. No traffic here; just narrow walkways and wooden bridges, and small wooden houses whose owners sell groceries, fruits and vegetables, as well as some souvenirs and remarkable pottery.

The Butterfly Farm is just beyond the village, a 10-minute walk from the harbour. The locals pointed me in the right direction, but I decided to ask one of the children to show me the way, for an appropriate tip, of course! A small, bright-eyed eight year old volunteered to be my guide and led me through this quaint little town that immediately stole my heart.

Arriving at Pilpintuwasi, I noticed that the owners cheerfully discriminate against foreigners. Gringos pay a $5 dollar entry fee, while the locals just pay S/ 5 soles, which is only about one third. I found out that this is not to take advantage of the rich gringos, but merely to allow more locals to come and visit as well. The local community had protested the “high” entry fee, because it simply wasn’t affordable for most people.

I said goodbye to my young guide and continued on my own. Walking into this peaceful place, I got my first impression of what the rainforest must feel like, with the hot, heavy, humid air below the canopy, the sounds and the smells of the jungle, the cries of monkeys and birds in the distance. I stopped for a moment on a narrow walking bridge, taking it all in. What a beautiful place. It still took quite a walk before I reached a small pond, where I encountered a few parrots and lo and behold, was greeted by a small but loud group of monkeys!

I had already heard that one must take care of one’s belongings and the welcome signs at Pilpintuwasi warn you of the same. The monkeys are friendly, curious, funny and delightful, but with their tiny hands they will empty your pockets and your bag in an instant. Even though I thought I was well prepared, one of them got a hold of my repellent and ran up a tree with it. I didn’t feel too silly; another one grabbed the cell phone of one of the caretakers and threw it into the pond. Now they should know better!

I was startled by a deep, growling roar, which seemed a little too close for comfort. Then I heard two of them at the same time. What a booming sound! I was surprised to see that it was a pair of howler monkeys that produced this noise. They seemed far too small to warrant such a disturbance!

I met Gudrun Sperrer, an Austrian zoologist, and her partner Roblar Moreno. They started the butterfly farm years ago and made it what it is today. Apart from being the home of the butterfly, it became a refuge for abandoned animals. Living with the monkeys and parrots I had already met, there were several caiman, water and land turtles, a tapir, an ant-eater, a sloth and –OMG!- a jaguar named Pedro Bello. No worries; Pedro does not run around free. He lives in a very large enclosed area, reserved just for him. Rumour has it that there is a manatee in Pilpintuwasi, but I didn’t get to see it. River cows are very shy.

Gudrun showing a Blue Morpho

Gudrun showing a Blue Morpho

Gudrun was kind enough to show me around and she gave me a tour of the butterfly ‘flight area’ and the adjacent breeding area, where you can see the entire life cycle of various types of butterflies. Although Pilpintuwasi breeds over 40 species, usually only twelve species are on display at any given time. There is still so much to learn about the 200 different sorts that live in the wild. Most butterflies depend on just one particular plant for their survival.

life cycle of butterflies

life cycle of butterflies

My favourite was a giant moth with little windows in its wings. The poor thing only lives for four days. If it’s lucky! But mating takes 24 hours, which comes down to a quarter of its life. So maybe it’s worth it!

Back to Iquitos after a morning well spent. I decided I would come back for a second visit and take more time to get to know Padre Cocha as well. After all, you can also walk to the Bora and Yagua communities from there, as well as a small, hidden village called San Andres. Don’t forget to tip your jungle guide!

You Would Enjoy the Butterfly Farm When Visiting Iquitos Peru

Gart van Gennip is also the publisher of Ikitos.com Tu Comunidad Virtual

If you found this article to be interesting, you might also enjoy reading Our Amazon Tour to the Butterfly Farm, Iquitos Peru, and Butterfly Farm, Iquitos Peru

For more articles by Gart van Gennip click the links below;

Why I Stand Up For Animal Rights;

Otto and Kimba Need A New Home;

Proposal: An Ayahasca Organization For Iquitos;

Save The Rainforest: The First Battery Recycling Program In Iquitos Peru;

Allpahuayo Mishana: It Ain’t Disneyland;

Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve Revisited;

A Trip Into The Pacaya Samiria Reserve;

The San Pedro Lodge;

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A Trip Into the Pacaya Samiria Reserve

By Gart van Gennip

Gart, in Pacaya Samiria Reserve, with caiman

Gart, in Pacaya Samiria Reserve, with caiman

Using a reliable travel agent, a friend of my friends in Lima; really paid off on this trip. She put me in touch with Ricardo Arbildo, a licensed jungle guide who runs Green Travels, a small tour company in Iquitos. I decided to go on a jungle excursion by myself, without any other tourists, a wise decision.

Ricardo turned out to be a reliable, knowledgeable guide, who spoke excellent English. He took care of the organization of my excursion, including a boat with a crew of three, food and beverages, transportation to Nauta and all the equipment and supplies we needed. His advice regarding adequate preparation was very helpful.

I really had no idea what to expect and soon found out that the virgin rainforest is not a theme park. I was grateful for the long-sleeved shirts, the long pants and the rubber boots we bought, not to mention the insect repellent. Money well spent!

Ricardo picked me up at nine and soon we were on our way to Nauta, a small town 100 kilometres (about 65 miles) from Iquitos. I was surprised at the excellent quality of the road. It only took two hours to get there.

In Nauta, our boat with supplies was waiting at the junction of the Marañon and Ucuyali Rivers, the birthplace of the Amazon. After a short stroll across the market, we were ready to leave. A four-hour boat trip up the Marañon River took us into the Pacaya Samiria Reserve.

By nightfall, we stopped at a small village called Arequipa, with about 70 inhabitants. Wherever I walked, a small group of children followed me. They didn’t speak, but just stared and laughed at everything I said.

By 7.00 PM it was pitch-dark. There was no moon and there were no clouds, so the conditions for a night canoe trip were excellent. The light of billions of stars proved to be sufficient to light our way. The Milky Way was draped across the sky like an enormous, brilliant, white cloud. The only other time I was able to see a starry night like that was in… Peru!  That was during my hike along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

With our flashlights we discovered a number of animals by lighting up their eyes. This included a young female white caiman, several birds and even a pair of mating dragon flies!

There were several more night time canoe trips, day trips and jungle walks, searching for the local wildlife to enjoy the view of river dolphins, turtles, flocks of parrots, monkeys, and even a young tapir swimming across the river.

When I was thirsty, my guide cut down a piece of a giant vine and held it up straight. Much to my surprise, even though it looked like a solid piece of wood, water started to run out. And it kept coming! I could have taken a shower! The water was clear and tasted fresh. Delicious! If you ever get lost in the jungle, this vine might prove to be a real lifesaver.

We went fishing for piranhas, which was so easy it was like taking candy from a baby! A little piece of chicken on a hook and the piranhas all but seemed to fight over which would finally take the bait. In a short while we caught ourselves that night’s dinner.

Fresh Piranhas cooking over a camp fire for dinner

Fresh Piranhas cooking over a camp fire for dinner

I was most impressed with some of the fish we ran across, not in the river, but in the jungle! A four-foot electric eel in a mud pool, for instance, or a couple of pre-historic looking fish that actually walked on their fins! Considering how many fish there are in these rivers, it is hardly surprising that some of them decide to walk instead of swim. Evolution at work!

Ricardo’s crew did an outstanding job. They worked hard, took care of our belongings, set up camp in the jungle and cooked three meals a day. We slept in tents and under the open sky, protected by our mosquito nets, taking in the unspoiled air and the sounds of the jungle.

It was hot and humid. My clothes stuck to my skin like wet filthy rags. Clouds of mosquitoes seemed to follow me around, waiting for me to stand still for a moment, so they could get their share of that sweet gringo blood. They stung me through my pants and shirts. The repellent I had brought was a cream, not a lotion, and was not water (read: sweat!) proof. Only the canoe trips brought some relief, as the mosquitoes preferred to stay under the canopy.

So I learned that the jungle can be a brutal place and anyone with ideas about living in the wilderness and surviving on what the forest has to offer should probably think twice. But the excitement of being there in the beauty of the rainforest, among the awesome birds, animals, reptiles and insects you come across, with the call of the howler monkey, the horned screamer, the hoatzin, and the sight of pink river dolphins coming to the surface of the black waters to breathe, away from any evidence of the industrialized world, made the discomforts worthwhile.

Not once did I feel afraid. Not even when I was taking a bath in the river and a fish decided to nibble at my upper arm. Nor when we went searching for tarantulas and instead came across a scorpion on a tree, which jumped when we shone our lights on it. Not even when my guide was startled by the Jurassic Park sounding groan of a monster-sized caiman coming from the forest.

We stayed in the rainforest for five days and four nights. Though I was relieved to get away from the mosquitoes, this trip turned out to be a life changing experience for me. I returned to Iquitos the following year and I still live there now.

A Trip Into the Pacaya Samiria Reserve

Gart van Gennip is also the publisher of the Virtual Community of Ikitos.com

Read other articles written by Gart. Click the links below…

Why I Stand Up For Animal Rights;

Otto and Kimba Need A New Home;

Proposal: An Ayahuasca Organization For Iquitos;

Save The Rainforest: The First Battery Recycling Program In Iquitos Peru;

Allpahuayo Mishana: It Ain’t Disneyland;

Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve Revisited;

The Butterfly Farm Is A Must See When Visiting Iquitos Peru;

The San Pedro Lodge;

Other links you might find interesting about Pacaya Samiria Reserve;

Pacaya Samiria National Reserve

Our Adventure Apprehending Paiche Poachers in Pacaya Samiria National Reserve

Observations about Our Study of Pink River Dolphins in Pacaya Samiria National Reserve

A great photo gallery about Pacaya Samiria National Reserve

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Magic and Misery in the Amazon Jungle
My Two Months Living With The Matses

By Anna Kovasna

This must by far be the craziest thing I have ever done, I thought as I, after 8 hours in a dugout canoe, climbed up an impossibly slippery riverbank under the intense scrutiny of 40 Matses Indians. After waiting through two weeks of flooded landing strips and crashing planes, I had finally arrived to Estiron, a Matses settlement on a small tributary to the Yavari. I was there to do fieldwork for two months, and I came alone. My host and interpreter had suddenly left me at a military base the day before. In addition, the goods I had bought in Iquitos to trade for food, lodging, and information was on a boat still safely anchored in Iquitos, at least a week’s travel away from me.

matses-chief2

After a few days, just as I was starting to find my bearings after nearly being kicked out because of a rumor that I was a Petro Peru agent, the village chief woke me up at dawn and asked whether I wanted to go to a hunting camp for a week. Twenty minutes later I was on my way to a very close encounter with real life in the jungle. Contrary to Estiron, which looks like most villages in the Amazon the hunting camp consists of a small traditional longhouse. To my great joy and sometimes fear, I thus got to string up my hammock next to everyone else’s and enjoy a week of true communal living, which also meant getting over a certain amount of squeamishness and learning a lot about the killing, singeing, skinning, plucking, gutting, and cooking of a whole range of animals I only had seen at the zoo before. For the rest of my stay with the Matses, the story of how I started to cry when a sloth was singed alive and then politely refused its head for dinner never failed to elicit hearty laughter. A real jungle icebreaker!

However grim that particular incident was, the overall experience was beautiful. Like many other people in the world, the Matses have to interact with each animal they eat and thus live life in direct relation to and completely aware of their surroundings and their place in it. To get a glimpse of life with that kind of presence is one of the many treasures the Matses gave me. Apart from that, I too soon shouted with excitement when the homecoming hunters first could be heard and enthusiastically inspected and inquired about the day’s kills. A welcome break from more monotonous household chores, the return of the hunters felt like Christmas every day. I never ate heads though. You have to draw the line somewhere, and mine goes there.

matses

I came back to Estiron full of sand fly bites and monkey meat, stumbled into a meeting of all Matses chiefs, and found an interpreter for five days. When he left, literally leaving me speechless, I decided that the best way to continue working on both language and friendships was to take part in as many activities as possible. The following week I thus learnt how to fish with hooks and poison, harvest yucca and ferment and toast it to make fariña, make two types of fermented drinks, weed fields, gather wild fruits, spin cotton, make traditional bracelets (although that is a skill I never got the hang of), make string from palm-leaf fiber and weave that string into hammocks, ornaments, and fishing nets, weave fans, mats, and four types of baskets and gather and prepare the materials for doing so. Apart from weeding, which not even a machete can make fun, I had a very good time, and as with the hunting, it was incredible to experience a life where everything you need can be found in the forest or on the fields that you make, plant, and tend yourself. The difference between visiting someone and physically sharing all aspects of someone’s life, to really live like someone else, are immense, and to feel so directly involved in and connected to both nature and everyone around you is amazing.

That week, I also did my first frog poison ceremony. Much more than a macho gimmick, giving frog poison is a central ceremony used to throw out laziness and transfer skills, energy, and life force from old to young or the skilled and hard working to the less so inclined. As such, it traditionally played a great role both for the organization of work and society and for the individual Matses to consider themselves, and be considered, a real and good person. Taking part, which means having someone, an old woman in my case, burn holes on your arm and put the toxic secretions of an arboreal jungle frog in the wounds to make you vomit bile and feel as if your blood volume just doubled and all of it tries to fit into your head, certainly gave me more respect among the villagers. By adapting and embracing all aspects of Matses life, it seemed like I, in the eyes of the villagers, became exactly what the frog poison was supposed to make me: a better, more real person.

The week after that, the malaria came, forcing many of my new found friends and their children to travel for a full day just to get treatment, boiling with fever and completely exposed to the elements in their dugout canoes. Despicable in itself, the outbreak also joined forces with some sort of bronchial infection that had me floored for a few days. After giving away some of my supply of gas to transport the sick downstream, I spent most of the week desperately homesick, wondering if my things and my interpreter would ever arrive, knowing very well that their absence was the only thing between me, a completed study, and a quick escape. By the end of the week, just when I had truly given up hope, both interpreter and goods miraculously arrived, only six weeks later than planned.

After the darkest hour comes dawn, they say, and as cliché as it is, that is exactly what happened. The rest of my time in the field was spent together with my host and interpreter, who once there turned out to be immensely helpful and full of good information.

The next morning I did my second frog poison ceremony, feeling like I still had not really experienced what it was like. After doubling the dose from the first time, I instead felt that frog poison is something I have no desire to ever do again. My understanding of Matses Language developed rapidly. My host decided to make me his adopted sister. Evenings were spent with my family or visiting friends and listening to fabulous stories of brave men turning into jaguars at night. I started to feel at home, but more than that, I started to feel as if a veil had fallen from my eyes, revealing an amazing, magical world I had never experienced before. Life in the jungle is not like life in Sweden, and I am incredibly grateful I had the chance to let it seep under my skin however uncomfortable and homesick it sometimes made me. When the day came to leave, I cried. Then I had to bribe a pilot to come and get me.

Living with the Matses for two months was one of the most amazing things I have ever done. It was also one of the hardest, and for the Matses too, life is not always beautiful and easy. Corruption denies them even basic modern healthcare, they are constantly treated badly by people in the surrounding communities, game and fish are depleted as civilization reaches further and further into the jungle, the rivers they drink from become polluted and they live in a country where the president is ready to allow commercial exploitation of almost the entire Peruvian Amazon.

All societies change and we have no right to demand that the people of the Amazon continue to live as we imagine that they always have. They do, however, have the right to change in ways they choose for themselves, to have power over their own lives and situations.

While visiting the Amazon, take the time to really meet and listen to its people, their dreams and troubles, fears and hopes. Let yourself fall into their lives for a while. With small means, we can help the Matses and others like them to find a way forward, and by using the voices we who do not live deep in the forest have, we can try to influence the future of the Amazon in a way that means both them and us can continue to enjoy the immense gifts of the most amazing place on Earth.

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