Don't know if this is done on blogs, so if I'm off base, clue me. I guest-blogged on nprophet.com a couple of weeks ago. Actually, he ran the A Primer on Shamanism in Northeast Amazonia piece and it got a lot of hits there. And then he wrote me a few days ago to say someone did a podcast of it, reading some of it and discussing some of it. The part involving A Primer... begins 20 minutes into it but the whole show is pretty good.
The link is http://mysteriousuniverse.org/?p=620, the guy who read from the story and discussed it did it so well that it was a thrill to hear it. Ego, I know, but it was a kick and a half anyway.
So check it out.
Saturday, March 31, 2007
Don't know if this is done on blogs, so if I'm off base, clue me. I guest-blogged on nprophet.com a couple of weeks ago. Actually, he ran the A Primer on Shamanism in Northeast Amazonia piece and it got a lot of hits there. And then he wrote me a few days ago to say someone did a podcast of it, reading some of it and discussing some of it. The part involving A Primer... begins 20 minutes into it but the whole show is pretty good.
I've been trying to collect and clean up a number of stories for the petergormanarchives.com and recently got to the "Interviews" section. I don't think this one has gotten up yet--and there's some words from Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, Tim Leary that havn't made it up yet either (can't find the darned things; they must be buried in one of the old computers)--but I think it's a pretty interesting read.
Bear in mind that this was done in late 1995 or early 1996, and that the great Richard Schultes died on April 10, 2001. I have not changed the verb tenses to reflect that; I'm putting it here as I edited it from the tapes we made then.
ETHNOBOTANIST AND PSYCHEDELIC PIONEER
by Peter Gorman
Often called the Father of modern ethnobotany, botanist, explorer and author Richard Schultes is the Director Emeritus of Harvard’s famed Botanical Museum. Beginning in 1940, Dr. Schultes spent a total of 17 years in the Amazon, mostly in the remote regions of Colombia where he investigated and collected the medicinal, edible and toxic plants used by the Kofan, Witoto and other indigenous groups. He is the recipient of dozens of awards for his pioneering botanical work, among them the Cross of Boyaca—Colombia’s highest honor—and The Gold Medal of the World Wildlife Fund, presented by Britian’s Prince Philip. Additionally, he has authored and co-authored numerous books—including two written with LSD synthesizer Dr. Albert Hofmann—among them Plants of the Gods—Origins of Hallucinogenic Use (Schultes and Hofmann; 1979, McGraw-Hill, NY) and The Healing Forest: Medicinal and Toxic Plants of Northwest Amazonia (Schultes and Raffauf; 1990, Dioscorides Press; Portland, OR).
Now 80 years old, Dr. Schultes, the father of three grown children, continues to work at the Botanical Museum two days a week, is concentrating on finishing several book projects, and is hoping to make one more trip to his beloved Colombian Amazon.
HIGH TIMES: Let’s start with how you came to be an ethnobotanist?
RICHARD SCHULTES: Well, I’m from an old New England family, and when I was growing up one of my uncles had a farm up in what was then a small town, Townsend, Massachusetts. I spent the summers up there, helping in the haying, and I began to collect plants. I don’t know where I learned that you pressed them, but I pressed them in big encyclopedias. Then I began to learn what the vernacular names of the plants were and as I got older I learned that they had Latin names—which didn’t mean much to me until I studied Latin. So I always had an interest in plants.
HT: What did you study in school?
RS: Well, I did my undergraduate thesis on peyote. I went out to Oklahoma with an anthropologist, Weston LaBarre—who was then a graduate student at Yale and later became famous writing several books on peyote—and attended four or five all night ceremonies and tried peyote with the Indians. We spent time with three or four different tribes, mainly Kiowa. Anyway, I collected some peyotes and brought them back and did a little chemical work on it.
HT: Were you the first to do chemistry on the peyote cactus?
RS: No. But I’d had several courses in organic chemistry and I just became interested in it. I’m ashamed of it now because it’s very complicated and I was just a beginner at chemistry.
But in writing my thesis I became interested in a misconception that had taken hold in relation to peyote and the sacred plant of the Aztecs, Teonanacatl. William Safford, an ethnobotanist—I think he was with the Smithsonian—had said in 1916 that the Aztec’s Teonanacatl must have been peyote. Which did not fit in with my knowledge of botany because peyote is a cactus and cacti do not grow in high wet forests, while Teonanacatl was undoubtedly a fungus, a mushroom which doesn’t grow in deserts. And so I went to Mexico hoping I’d be able to see this plant, Teonanacatl, and I ended up doing my thesis on the useful of plants of the Mazatec Indians.
HT: Did you ever find Teonanacatl?
RS: Yes. I was able to bring back one identifiable species of this mushroom they were using, Panaeolis sphinctrinus, and in 1941 I published a paper in the Harvard Botanical Museum Leaflets identifying that one species as Teonanacatl. Of course, thanks primarily to the work of Gordon Wasson and the Mexican mycologist Gaston Guzman, we have since learned there are about twenty-four species used by the Shamans of Oaxaca.
HT: Did you get to do the magic mushroom with the Mazatec’s?
RS: No. I hadn’t tried it. I only had a couple of specimens.
But I fell in love with Oaxaca and thought I’d probably work all my life there on the flora.
HT: What changed your mind about continuing to work in Mexico?
RS: Well, after I’d gotten my PhD, I had two jobs offered to me: biology master in a private school in New England and a grant from the National Academy of Sciences to go to the Amazon to find out what plants the natives used in making their curare .
HT: Why was the National Academy of Sciences interested in curare?
RS: Because in late 1930s, scientists had isolated a chemical from one of the plants used to make curare called tubocurine, which was just becoming very important in medicine. It’s a muscle relaxant that’s now used in any good hospital before deep surgery. Now the Indians make many different kinds of arrow poisons so the Academy wanted to know as much as possible about the different plants they used. So that was the job I took. I took a plane down to Bogota in 1940 and worked out in the field on that project.
HT: How did you first go into the jungle?
RS: I first went in with Indians who lived along the base of the Andes mountains in Colombia, some of whom spoke Spanish. So I had an entree. And as I went farther inland I got Spanish speaking Indian boys who spoke the language of one or two of the tribes and that way I got in among them.
But they certainly knew I was there before I did, because the grapevine from one tribe to another is much more efficient than Western Union. So even some of the people who hadn’t had any contact with outsiders knew I was in the area and what I was doing.
I spent a lot of time with the Witotos. I did quite a bit of work with them and also with the Kofan, both of whom make a number of arrow poisons from different plants.
Later when I heard about the outbreak of World War ll I thought I would be conscripted, so I made my way back to Bogota and went to the US Embassy there. But instead of conscripting me they told me to go back into the jungle and try to stimulate the production of rubber. This Bostonian who’d never cut a rubber tree, but I’d been with the Indians nine months at that time so they assumed I had learned all about that.
HT: And how did you do?
RS: Well, I gathered a lot of material from species that had been known from the last century, and I also discovered one new species of dwarf rubber tree. It’s an endemic species, only found on one mountain in the Amazon, a mountain that has many unique plants on it. It’s recently been made a protected biological area. This is the mountain that’s been named for me.
HT: I didn’t know there was a mountain that had been named for you. What’s it called?
RS: Mesa Schultes. Mesa means table. So it’s Shultes’ Table. Before that I had a cockroach I collected in the Amazon named for me, and I thought that was a great honor. Its the genus called Shultesia. But I’ve come up from cockroaches to mountains.
HT: There are a number of plants with your name as well, aren’t there?
RS: Oh, yes, about two hundred and ten species. Plants are frequently named for the collector. A number of my plants are also named for the Indians who use them. That’s also very common among botanists, to use geographical or tribal names.
HT: What’s the process of collecting a plant?
RS: The first thing you do is take a cutting of the plant and press it between sheets of newspaper in a plant press so that you can identify it later. Fruits and flowers are very helpful here, we always try to get them. Without this, what we call the herbarium specimen, you have nothing.
The second thing you do, if you want to later analyze the plant’s chemicals, is to take a wide mouthed plastic jug and put some 70 percent ethyl alcohol into it and then cut the plant in half-inch pieces and put the pieces into the alcohol. The alcohol—provided you use ethyl, and not methyl or booze—will not change the chemical composition of the substances. If they are leached out, they will be in the alcohol which the chemist will have. Actually it’s much more easily worked with that way than if the chemicals are in the actual plant material. That’s the only way to collect.
HT: And how did the Indians feel about your collecting their plants?
RS: The Indians are wonderful natural collaborators, because they are so interested and knowledgeable about their flora. Everyone was always interested in why I wanted this plant or that plant. The fact was, I wanted it because they used it. If they asked me why I wanted something, I made up a disease we use it for—I’ve invented more diseases than we ever had, so they think we’re a good deal more decrepit than we actually are. And then they’d often say "You can’t use that plant for that. That plant is for treating earaches," or something like that. That’s how I’d find out how they used it, you see?
HT: How many medicines have been made from the plants that you’ve taken?
RS: Very few. There’s one that’s called yoco which has a very high content of caffeine which is now used to reduce obesity. I also have a couple of things in Sweden that are being looked at, and several that the American company Shaman Pharmaceuticals are looking into. But American companies, until recently, have looked down their noses at plants chemistry. They have no interest in it.
I’m glad some of them are starting to take notice because when you consider that the Amazon has 80,000 species of higher plants—and Indonesia, Southeast Asia, or Africa have at least that many as well—well, this is a tremendous chemical storehouse.
HT: Did you ever need an indigenous medicinal remedy?
RS: No. I really never got sick in the Amazon except for malaria and I always had chloroquin for that. It was always the first thing I put in my briefcase.
It’s generally very healthy there. There’s tuberculosis and leprosy, which is very common, but that can be controlled if you have soap with you.
HT: There’s an African shrub called Iboga plant, which is used, among other things, to stop people from obsessive behavior. It’s currently being looked into by the National Institute of Drug Abuse as an addiction interrupter. I’ve heard stories that ayahuasca is sometimes used similarly to treat alcoholism. Have you heard that as well?
RS: No, I haven’t, but I’m convinced that some of these so-called drugs will have side effects that can be used in certain diseases or conditions. For example, one of the big problems that exist among American Indian tribes is that so many of the young people become alcoholics. Many of these people stop drinking when they go to these peyote ceremonies, and I’m sure its not only religious teachings in the ceremonies, but the weekly taking of peyote that’s helping them as well.
But most of these things have not been properly looked at by medically oriented people. Some of the chemicals in them have not been investigated at all. And chemists take the chemicals that we get out of these compounds and change them to make semi-synthetic compounds. The possibility of making something that may have a special effect is enormous. That’s what i think when I see these forests burning up or being cut down in Brazil. It’s a crime against humanity.
One of the best Brazilian botonists has written that he calculates less than one percent of the Amazonian flora of Brazil has been even superficially looked at by chemists. And so imagine what we are destroying in the Amazon alone! Thousands of species that we’ll never be able to analyze and many of them we don’t yet even have botanical names for.
HT: What can be done to save this knowledge of the people’s whose native regions we’re so quickly destroying?
RS: Civilization, our culture, is advancing with every road, every airport, every commercial company after wood. And with missionaries, tourists and others who are coming into contact with primitive peoples and, while not purposely maybe, certainly destroying their cultures.
This is one of the things I’ve argued for: ethnological conservation. We’ve got to preserve the knowledge of these peoples. For example, one of my former students and best field men, Dr. Michael Ballick, is taking as much time as he can from his job at the Botanical Gardens in New York to work in Belize where there are three or four old medicine men; if they die all the knowledge of what they’re using is gone. He has a woman there who speaks their language who works with these medicine men and he goes down three or four times a year and she gives him the notes. It’s a wonderful thing. All that will be saved.
HT: Once we’ve saved their knowledge, how do we make sure that the indigenous people from whom it comes get their fair share?
RS: There’s a lot of discussion about that and many drug companies have agreed to see that some help, whether its financial or some other way, gets back to the tribe. Where I worked, money would be useless, absolutely useless. They don’t need money. It would have been much better for me if they had since I had to pay them in things and had to carry all the stuff down into the jungle. But in many other places where they can use money, money can be given to the tribe or some representative of the tribe.
In the case of Shaman Pharmaceuticals, they have set up a special sub-branch of environmental conservation, The Healing Forest Conservancy. And they’ve agreed that if they make any money from any of the things they get from the Indians, that they will give back to the group in some way or another. Either by sending a doctor there, or sending money if they can use it, or sending a bright young boy out and giving him a year or two in school somewhere. There are many ways of doing this.
HT: And how do we save the environments of these peoples?
RS: This is another thing I argue for: botanical and environmental conservation. In many places, especially in Brazil, commercial interests are bringing in all sorts of mechanical material and cutting not only the trees they want, but taking down every twig. The pictures that you see from Brazil are horrendous. I’ve seen them cutting everything down and letting it dry and then setting it afire, and then, of course, nothing else grows. What we’ll have is a great extension larger than the United States, of desert scrub, small plants and trees. You’ll never get the forest taking over.
HT: Is the same true in Colombia?
RS: No. Thanks to the lack of much white penetration and thanks to the rapids and the rivers which make navigation with boats impossible on all but the Putumayo River, the destruction is only by Indians with axes. They cut enough to get their food, period. They don’t take down a thousand acres at a time.
They work those clearings for five or eight years until the land doesn’t give any more crops, and then they move. And in those small areas the jungle takes back over. Which it doesn’t when you cut large areas.
HT: Isn’t a large part of the problem the population explosion, particularly in the Third World?
RS: I have long thought that the number one crisis facing the world is population. For every child born it means a few inches less soil for food. And the way we’re destroying the forests and agricultural land, we no longer have the luxury to procreate the way we have. You have to make people aware, particularly in a place like Colombia, that after two or three children they have to stop.
Now the Colombian government was doing this with medical advice, and then the Pope comes in there, the first stop of any Pope in the New World—and Colombia is a very Catholic country—and he berates the government for this. He should stay over in Rome and leave governments alone. But he said this was a terrible thing to do and most of the ordinary Columbian people, being so strongly Catholic, believed him. Fortunately the government didn’t. They’re still doing it.
HT: Let me ask about your vision plant experiences. Tell me about using ayahuasca and virola snuffs with the indigenous people. You must have had some extraoradinary experiences...
RS: I wouldn’t call them extrordinary. With virola snuff you don’t usually have same effects that you get with ayahuasca. I have taken peyote in ceremonies with the Indians, and ayahuasca, and with both of these I get color reactions. But I never had visions and I don’t see things, although I know that many people do. With peyote, for example, or mescaline, many people see things from our culture. And the Indians, with ayahuasca, see huge snakes and jaguars and in some cases, if they have been indoctrinated to think they can, they see other-world spirits, or the spirits of their anscestors. But I have never seen anything except color. If you remember Walt Disney’s Fantasia, the first thing is a color interpretation of Bach’s Tocata and Fugue. That’s the closest I can tell you of my experience with peyote and with ayahuasca. I see vague things like clouds or smoke of different colors going across my field of vision, but I’ve never seen anything concrete. I think this is mostly a psychological difference; that these people expect to see those things. As a scientist, I don’t expect to see them.
HT: You’ve had a long relationship with Dr. Albert Hofmann. How did you two meet?
RS: I met him in a conference in Berlin. I knew that he was interested in the work of Mr. Wasson on the intoxicating mushrooms. That was when Wasson was just beginning that work. So I said I’d been in the Oaxaca area and knew a little about them. And that struck up a friendship. We boycotted a lot of lectures and just sat and talked. And after that we wrote two books together. We’re great friends.
HT: Did you ever do Hofmann’s LSD?
RS: No. I always told him I didn’t want to because it wasn’t a natural thing, it was a synthetic. And because of that I had no interest in it.
HT: What about Gordon Wasson, the mycologist?
RS: Well, I went to the Amazon right after Mexico and I hadn’t been home for two years during the war—I was getting rubber out—and when I finally got home this banker called up from New York and said "I know of your paper in which you identified one species of mushroom as Teonanacatl. I’m going to go down there because this is very interesting to me. Can you give me some names?"
Well, I didn’t know anything about Wasson, and I told him it had been several years since I was last in Mexico but gave him the name of a doctor, Dr. Reko, who worked in Oaxaca and who’d been interested in these mushrooms too. So Wasson went down to Mexico and got in touch with this doctor who set him up with names of people to see.
HT: Wasson and yourself later became good friends, didn’t you?
RS: We became very close friends. He even had an honorary appointment in the Harvard Botanical Museum, because even though as far as science goes he was an amateur—in the best sense of the word, a lover of knowledge—he was doing research that no one else had done. And publishing it. He published I think six or seven books in the 22 years he had an honorary appointment.
HT: Did you ever get to use the mushrooms?
RS: No. Because I never went back to Mexico. I would have had I been with Wasson on one of his trips, as Albert Hofmann was.
HT: Is there any truth to the stories that Wasson kept them around for his guests....
RS: I don’t think that’s true. He gave most of his specimens to the museum here. You can see them in our lecture hall in bottles.
HT: What about datura? Is that something you’ve used?
RS: There are six species in the Andes of South America, and a number of the Indians do use it, alone or with other hallucinogens. But I would never take a solanaceous plant.
PG: Why not?
RS: The scopolomine and atropine which they contain are very very toxic alkaloids. And not only that, the concentration of these alkaloids in a single plant can vary from one season to the next and very often from one day to the next. In any event it’s too dangerous to fool with. I wouldn’t do it.
HT: What are your feelings about drug use in our society?
RS: I am concerned with the excessive use of drugs like marijuana and cocaine, but I don’t know what you can do about it, especially cocaine. Coca, you know, is harmless when used by the Indians, who chew the leaves of the coca bush. But that’s quite different than processed cocaine. I’m sorry about what Colombia is going through now, with their drug problems. But who’s responsible? We are. If we didn’t buy the cocaine or Europe...well now Japan is buying it. They’re having a terrible problem there.
HT: I’m not a fan of cocaine either. Marijuana, you and I might disagree on...
RS: I don’t necessarily disagree with you on that, except I think it’s got to be controlled in a motorized civilization. The effects of marijuana differ with different people and at different times with the same person. But there are two things it always does, and in the beginning when you don’t feel too woozy you don’t recognize them: It distorts the sense of time and of space, both of which you absolutely need when you’re driving.
But I do think they should decriminalize it. I have been to court many times to testify for these young kids who were caught sharing a marijuana cigarette with a friend and they want to put them in jail and make a real criminal out of them. What a travesty of justice.
PG: You’ve joked about being the guru for the psychedelic generation. Did you and Wasson and Hofmann ever sit around and laugh about being the trinity of psychedelia?
RS: Well, yes. We were all in a meeting some years ago which Jonathan Ott put on in San Francisco, and he had all sorts of experts on hallucinogenic plants there. The peyote man, Weston LaBarre was there, and Albert Hofmann and myself and Wasson and many other people. And we naturally thought it was funny, all of us there in our suits and ties, not looking like gurus at all. Well, I’m not a guru and never thought about myself that way.
I used to lecture down there in California during the hippie days, and I think many people were disappointed when they saw me. They thought I would look like Allen Ginsberg or something.
HT: Despite your conservative appearance you really did usher in the psychedelic revolution, the three of you. Shultes, Hofmann, and Wasson...
RS: I don’t think I did, but altogether I suppose you could say we did. Actually, I think Mr. Leary did more than any one of us in ushering in that.
HT: Do you regret your part in bringing the idea of vision drugs to the Western world?
RS: No. I don’t. Not at all. I never have.
Posted by Peter Gorman at 7:30 AM
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Okay, you guys. I've been nice. I'm still gonna be nice. I've proposed sending me thousands of dollars via the Gorman Foundation, a 501-C3 tax-deductable thing that will save you taxes and get me to the Amazon with my own boat to do some important research.
Hmmm...I still don't have the $50 grand seed money I need.
So this time I'm gonna make it real easy: Will each of you please press one sponsor button for just a second? Won't take a minute and might begin to generate the
funding I need for the genuine earth-changing projects I should be doing in exploring some of the things the Indigenous Matses/Yagua/Auchino say I should be doing. See the previous post for details.
But if you would all press a button or two each time you come here I'd be getting ad revenue and it wouldn't cost you anything but a few seconds--which is a decent trade off to read my crazy rants.
So please do that.
As incentive, here's the last column I wrote for Skunk Magazine (skunkmagazine.com), an anti-drug war mag that has me running a column every issue. The column is called Drug War Follies and it's a joy to have, but a horror to write as I've got to stay much more involved in the War on Drugs than I'd like. Just today, for instance, I got four letters from inmates and one from an inmate's wife complaining of unfair jailing. And they're probably all being honest. This drug war knows no honesty on the part of the police or politicians. I am not talking about individual police, I'm talking about the collective mindset.
Anyway, here's a taste: my most recent published column, which probably came out about a month ago, so it might be a bit dated.
And while you're reading, just pause when you go to take a leak or go grab another cup of coffee and punch a sponsor button, okay?
DRUG WAR FOLLIES
There’s libel to be heat coming for this, but if I had my druthers I’d take a moment to celebrate LSD. And I do, so I will. Screw ‘em.
By Peter Gorman
Okay, before y’all go out and do something stupid then tell the local police that I was the one told you to do it, let me make something perfectly clear: I’m not gonna write a column telling you to go buy, try, get high and then get busted with LSD. Ain’t gonna happen here. Much of what I’ve seen passed off for LSD in the last several years was really rotten, second rate, or not LSD at all. There only ever were a dozen or so chemists making good acid in the whole world, and the chances of having the angels descend on you if you don’t know someone who knows someone are slim and none. If you’re meant to get it some day, you will. If you got to go asking for it you probably aren’t going to find it. But she’ll find you when it’s time.
That said, I was thinking about LSD recently and then WHAM! Out of the blue someone sends me an August 8, 2004 story from the London newspaper the Mail on Sunday celebrating the life and death of Francis Crick. Crick, who had died 10 days prior to the paper’s publication, won a Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1962—along with his co-researchers James Watson and Maurice Wilkins—for the 1953 discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA—the closest we’ve got to the secret of life.
And he did it, it seems, while under the influence of LSD.
Then in 1993 Kary B. Mullis won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his invention of the polymerase chain reactor, which allows DNA to be replicated in the twinkling of an eye. And Mullis also credits LSD for allowing him to think outside the box.
These are real scientists at the very top of their games thinking better, more clearly, in a more visionary way than most humans. And they’re doing it in part because they used LSD.
Here in the US the DEA has LSD on its Schedule 1 list of drugs, where other nefarious substances like iboga, peyote, magic mushrooms and cannabis also reside. Can you imagine? Where on earth would we be without these wonderful, eye-opening, soul-searing, alchemical medicines? There would never have been a peace movement, or a civil rights movement, or a women’s rights movement or an environmental movement or any other movement toward decency on this planet if not for these wonderful things. So of course, we ban them and slap you in the big house for 10 or 20 years if you’re caught giving them out to people to try to make the world a little better, a little more human-friendly, a tad more wonderful.
And the whole stinking world pretty much goes along with us. With us, the US. The DEA, which isn’t even 35-years old—that’s not even as old as the Colombian civil war for fuck’s sake—and is manned by some of the dumbest, meanest, stupidest humans ever to fall out of a womb, though I have known some decent but misguided agents as well, gets to set this political agenda which suggests that enlightenment is a bad thing and everybody just buys into it.
Well, I don’t. Instead, I want to take a moment to say thank you to every chemist who ever put his freedom on the line making LSD. I want to say thank you to every papermaker who ever made good sheets of blotter. I want to say thank you to the hippies who handed it out and thank you to those who suffered and are suffering in jails and prisons because of their involvement with it.
And I want to say a particular thank you to my friend Norman and his wife Ellen, who thirty-five years ago in Sugar Grove, West Virginia sent me out to the cold cellar to their secret stash to grab three hits of windowpane. It was Ellen’s birthday—Ellen was a catholic nun who’d left the nunnery to explore the world and her own spirit—and we were going to celebrate with it. But on returning to the house I discovered them gone. A note let me know they’d decided to take a day in town instead and so I ate the three windowpanes and went for a walk in the hollow in which their farm sat. Within half-an-hour the trees started dancing in the wind and the rolling hills began to actually roll. Clouds clustered and decided to rain on me, to refresh me: understanding that the clouds had made a conscious decision to come together to refresh me was a fantastic moment. In an instant I learned—realized—how small we humans are, existing at the largesse of natural forces so much bigger than we. What a wonderful thing to learn. I’ve never forgotten it except for times when I’ve been drunk and stupid and full of myself and shit.
LSD taught me a great deal more over the years, but if realizing that I was not the most important part of the universe was the only thing she ever taught me, that still would have been more than most of my teachers have imparted.
Okay, enough sentimental crap. There’s a drug war going on motherfathers and you ain’t doing your part to stop it! Which means you’re part of the problem. So change already and let’s end this thing!
In Morocco, United Nations officials say that the hash-making cannabis crop has been cut by half in the last three years. The only impediment to eliminating the crop altogether, says the UN, is getting the farmers of the Rif mountains to quit as well. Good luck. I’ve spent a little time in the Rif and those are some crazy mfs. The Jebala tribals, who have inhabited the region since neolithic times, are independent, fearless and have been at odds with the rest of Morocco for centuries. They staged a major revolt as recently as 1958, and there are nearly annual confrontations with Moroccan police over the amount of cannabis they grow. And grow they do, about 100,000 hectares a year, enough to supply most of Europe and much of the former Soviet Union with all their hashish needs.
And they’re very insistent about selling it. You head up to the Rif, you better be looking to buy some dope. Last police check point is at Bab Taza, and the police are nice enough to warn you that they are not permitted beyond that point by the Jebala, so they can’t protect you. And with the aggressive sellers, you actually need protection. If it wasn’t for the hash oil that spilled all over my hands—which I licked off and which gave me a sort of superman ability to drive that day—during a photo shoot with the great Stick E Roken, my car would have been pushed off the mountainside by numerous cars full of Jebala who thought we were Interpol and actively tried ramming us off the road on the way to Ketama.
They make a special treat up there called majoun. According to a fellow at whose home we photographed a dozen types of hashish and where I spilled the hash oil, "We make it by taking all the leaves off the bud while it’s on the stalk, and then we put olive oil on our hands and rub the bud on it. Then we cover it with sugar and barbecue it over a wood fire. You can talk to Allah if you eat majoun."
I’m guessing the UN isn’t going to see cannabis growing wiped out in the Rif anytime soon.
Da Bush, da Bush, da Burnin’ Bush. Up in flames again but not imparting any wisdom at all, da burnin Bush has just asked the US congress for a 31% increase in funding for the utterly failed anti-drug ad campaign that’s bespoiled our newspapers, magazines, airwaves and television programming for several years now.
The problem with the campaign, aside from being built on raw lies, is that it’s ineffective. A five year study conducted at the behest of the Government Accountability Office for the Office of National Drug Control Policy—which funds the anti-dope campaign—was released a couple of months ago, after the White House sat on it for nearly a year and a half. The study concluded that the more 14-16-year olds were exposed to the ads, the more they went out and tried illegal drugs.
So Bush sees it as vital to not only continue with the failed campaign but increase the campaign budget. Which will increase youthful drug experimentation. Makes you wonder if he’s got any stock in Mexican cartels or Colombian finishing labs.
It would all be funny if people weren’t dying and the prisons weren’t full.
Posted by Peter Gorman at 5:59 PM
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
During my time in the Peruvian Amazon, I've done some legitimate exploration work: I collected artifacts for the American Museum of Natural History in New York--several of which are on permanent display in the Hall of South American Peoples. I was the first person to record using the indigenous Matses' medicine sapo--a frog secretion burned into the skin--which has opened an entirely new field of study in Western medicine: The study of the use of amphibian peptides as the basis for new pharmaceutical medicines. I collected plant medicines from the Matses and Yagua for Shaman Pharmaceuticals. With my wife/ex-wife Chepa I discovered--actually, it was the indigenous who discovered it, I was just the first white man they showed it to--the first fossil bed in northwest Amazonia. There were some other things too. And while I understand that it wasn't me who did the discovering here, it was always the indigenous, I was the one who listened to them and took them seriously, and so was the one who gets credit for the work.
Now on one plant collecting trip, while I was out with the headman gathering medicinal plants, Chepa stayed behind and spoke with the man's mother, an elderly woman. She told Chepa the story of how she was born in the city of Iquitos, a non-Indian, and had moved to a remote area of the river with her husband, a fisherman. One day several Matses men came on their hut and killed her husband and children--except for one boy--and they were taken to live with the Matses. She eventually married the headman who had stolen her and bore him more children. Her own son was raised as a Matses man and became the headman of his village.
As Chepa told me the story, and then had the woman repeat it with a tape recorder running I realized two things: the first was that we now had verbal proof that the Matses stole women, including non-Indian women, in years past, which coincided with stories about them but which were difficult to pin down.
More importantly, I realized that what I thought was the most important event of the day--collecting medicinal plants--was not. The story the woman told was much more important.
Which led me to realize that the way many things are studied is inadequate. When a new archaeological site is discovered, archaeologists guard it protectively. But perhaps there is a flower growing at the base of the site, a flower the archaeologists will kill in clearing the site, that might produce a vital new medicine if only anyone took the time to study it.
In other words, to have just one scientist with a single, narrow perspective, studying something limits what we learn about it. So I thought that if I ever did genuine exploring again I'd like to do it with a cross-diciplinary team, so that we might glean the most knowledge from a single site or event as possible--and not go trampling the flower, or ignoring the old woman who might prove to be the most interesting find, in our quest for a particular goal.
So this year, a couple of friends and former clients, realizing that I didn't have the funds to do some of the things the indigenous have urged me to do decided to start a tax-free foundation that would raise the funds to do those explorations.
Among those explorations suggested by the indigenous would be to follow the fossil bed from the mouth of a creek where the fossils appear to the headwaters of that creek where the fossils must have come from. Then there is a series of pyramid shapes in the jungle that several tribes have said are very important for me to explore. They havn't said what I'll find, just that I should explore them.
So far, we havn't even tried to raise funds. But I have begun putting together a great team of scientists for the advisory board. Rick Strassman is one of them. So is Mark Plotkin the great botanist, and Rom Whitaker, the great herpetologist, and Dennis McKenna, a chemist/biologist with strong roots in botany. Robert Carneiro, who is the head of the Department of South American Ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History is on the advisory board as well, as are several other scientists from different disciplines.
Some of those scientists would come and do the explorations with me if we ever raised the funding we need. Others would send their graduate students.
Imagine what information we could collect with the fossil bed, for instance, if we had a paleontologist running the physical dig, a paleontological zoologist categorizing the type of fossils there (the bed has already produced identifiable fossils from two giant sea turtles and a giant crocodilian--along with several other fossil shards that are too small to be identified as yet). Add to that team an anthropologist who would collect local their lore about the fossil bed, a geologist who could study the creek bed back to its headwaters, probably 100 miles to the northeast in the foothills of the Andes, and then me and my small crew to coordinate that information.
Anyway, that's the intended plan of action of the Gorman Foundation. And if we can actually ever get it up and running I believe we'll begin doing a new kind of science because of the diverse interests of the teams doing the field work.
So that's the short-version of what the foundation is.
I would love to be out there exploring again on my own boat with a rich and diverse team of scientists, following the leads of the indigenous, who so far have given me so much but whose knowledge has hardly been tapped.
Posted by Peter Gorman at 10:00 AM
I was recently asked two questions by two different people that both relate to ayahuaca. The first was whether ayahuasca, or the spirits of ayahuasca ever talked in biblical-like prophesies. The second had to do with telling the difference between general hallucinations or visuals and genuine visions. The first question I've never been asked before; the second I've written on but not in this space, I don't think, so I'll include that here too.
Remember, of course, that how spirits deal with me, and how I'm able to perceive them dealing with me is only my experience; they may deal with other people in a very different ways. So take these answers with that in mind.
On the question of spirit making biblical-like prophesy, I think the plants deal with different people differenty. In my case, a hard-headed New York Irishman, they're often very direct. And with me often needing help of the simplest kind--"Take the love Peter. Stop making people have such a difficult time giving it to you..." or the bit about "drink less, write more", well, for me that's appropriate.
There are other things as well, of course. In a recent ceremony I was taken places--places inside the DNA of DNA--that so overwhelmed me that I would hardly know how to write them.Heck, I am not even sure tht humans are supposed to know those places exist.
But in terms of prophesy of the biblical type, no, the spirits have not yet dealt with me on that level. They seem, in my case, to either deal with basics, like trying to fix my heart and the things mentioned above, or they show me things that there are no words for among us humans. Not necessarily bad things but things so inexplicable they can only--by me at least--be experienced, and even then the experience occurrs in dimensions I was previously unaware of and so don't know how to communicate.
Every once in a while, though, the spirits will make a request. The last couple of years I've been shown some things I'm to find in the mountains of Peru. I'm not sure to what end, but they are things I'm actively exploring for as I think they'll prove important to someone or on some level somehow. And in that sense I think there is a bit of prophesy, though it's not a case of "Find this and that will happen" so much as simply: "Go there. Move that stone. Something important will occur. We'll let you know what you need to do once you get there."
I have enough faith that these spirits are genuine that I'm trying to find these things; what happens after that, or whether I'm just crazy or dreaming, I won't know till I get there.
The second person started their question by saying they'd had ayahuasca and seen a line of soldiers marching. Dead soldiers who were bleeding and blind but still marching. The person wanted to know what that meant or if he was just having a strange hallucination. My answer follows:
I'm not going to even try to comment on a vision you had. But I do want to say that I think all the Master Plant Teachers produce both visions and hallucinations. The hallucinations, which come from our conscious or unconscious, from things we've seen or read or things we're dealing with are quite valid--it's not bad to have things brought to the surface for us to take a closer look at them. But I don't think they are the real heart of what the plants can offer. Those are the visions.
Problem is, how can you tell the visions from the hallucinations? The way I came with to be able to recognize the difference is relevant to me, and might be to someone else as well.
Years ago I was headed to Peru. Shortly before I left New York I had a dream in which my father, dead several years, asked me to find my mother, also dead several years, and ask her why my father couldn't be with her anymore.
Several days later I went up the Amazon to Julio's and the next night we drank. During my dream I remembered my father's request and thought I'd better try to find my mom, though I knew, even as I thought that that it was a ridiculous undertaking.
But surprisingly, suddenly, I found myself shooting through blackness. Deep deep dark cold. There was no wind but I felt I was moving through space at an incredible speed. And then suddenly, inexplicably, I was stopped by what I can only describe as a cotton gauze wall. It was white and bright. I tried to go over it, around it, under it. No luck. I wa just stuck there and wasn't getting any further. I wondered--feeling crazy--whether this might be the world of the dead, and began to call out to my mother. "Mom? Mom?"
And in a few minutes the gauze in front of me began to congeal into a shape and that shape was my mother. (The image you should think of is Arnold Schwarzennegger congealing out of air in one of the Predator movies, but then remember I saw my mother do that 10 years before the movie did it.)
Any my mother looked me straight in the eye and said: "Peter. You've got to stop calling me like this. It's so hard to come together in a shape you can recognize as me."
I was floored but asked about what dad had asked me. She said that was just a dream and that my father knew where she was and so forth.
There was more to our meeting but that's not relevant here. What was important is that the next day I was trying to figure out if I'd just made that all up, if it was just an hallucination. And then I realized that if you had given me endless paper, pens and time and asked me to write down all the things my mother might possibly say if I ever saw her again, that what she'e actually said would never have come up.
And when I realized that I realized that I'd had a real vision, rather than an hallucination. And that's been my baseline for separating visions from hallucinations ever since. I've modified it a little. I now say that if something wouldn't have come up in the first 10,000 answers then it was probably a vision.
So were the soldiers with no eyes and bleeding just a chemically-induced hallucination or a genuine vision of something happening somewhere or something that had happened somewhere at sometime in some reality. That one is for you to answer. If it's something you saw in a comic recently or a movie, or something like that, it probably wasn't a vision. But if it's something that's never crossed your mind, never entered your conscious, never been read in a book or seen in a movie--something that wouldn't have been on a list of 10,000 things you might see while under the influence of ayahuasca, then it might very well have been a true vision.
Posted by Peter Gorman at 7:54 AM
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Okay, so this is what it feels like when you've put a cover story to bed. It feels like making a great play at shortstop.
In all my life, even after 100, 200 cover stories, there have never been enough of them and each one has scared me to death. So today I finished one today for a paper with a staff full of prize-winning journalists who take their cover stories pretty seriously.
Anyway, despite all the deadlines I've had and deadlines I've made on cover stories over the years, each time one approaches I get cold. I start to sweat. I realize I have to clean the kitchen or feed the goats or give some quality time to my kids: anything but face a deadline on a cover.
Why? Because if you fuck it up you may never work for that mag again. And every person you work with at that mag or paper will move on and wherever they land they'll tell everyone that you blew a deadline and left a mag or newspaper with an empty front page they had to fill at the 11th hour with some drivel and so you're not to be trusted.
So I was fretting it again today, my stomach empty and aching the whole time I was going over it, filling in the blanks, making the last phone call interviews.
And then, maybe at mid-afternoon, I suddenly flashed on playing shortstop for the High Times Bong Hitters, our softball team in the New York Journalism League. I'd been with the magazine as an executive editor dealing with drug war issues for maybe 10 years before we put the team together. We had a couple of bad years, and then went wild in our third, going 17-0 and we followed that with either 16-1 or 17-0 again. In any event, we kicked ass against Playboy, Penthouse, The New Republic, The Nation, WBAI Radio, Fortune, Money and a host of other teams who had staffs of 100 or more to cull their team from. Us? We had a staff of six or so and then some part timers. We filled out the squad with pals who came to the games to drink a little of the lightly dosed LSD punch that somehow magically and frequently appeard on our bench, or smoke some weed that always seemed to appear at the right moment.
Anyway, after the first year with the Bong Hitters, Steve Bloom, our music editor, and a great one still, decided to manage and turned shortstop--where he was very good--over to me.
There were games where I was fine. We had one game where I was involved in 14 of the 21 outs in the game. There were also a couple of games where I blew a grounder through my legs or my arm froze with fear and I threw the ball way over first baseman David Peel's head two or three times. (Peel was a hippy/yippi/zippi who did some work with John Lennon and penned our Take Me out to the Bong Game song, written after Take me out to the Ball Game. (Take me out to the bong game, take me out to get stoned; buy me some reefer not crack or smack, I don't want that monkey on my back; and it's smoke, smoke, smoke for the home team, everybody get high; and it's one, two, three tokes your high at the old bong gaaaammmmeeeee!!!)
Anyway, I loved being part of that team and I loved that every magazine in town was coming at us with ringers, and I loved playing shortstop and in the middle of the action, tested constantly.
So today, while I was facing my fear of another cover story I could potentially blow like a missed popup, I remembered Peel's song, and then thought about the team, and then remembered how, in close games, at the end of close games I'd find myself thinking:"God, don't let them hit it to me. Please don't let them hit it to me." And on the heels of that another me would roar: "WHAT ARE YOU THINKING? YOU'RE THE SHORTSTOP. IF YOU DON"T WANT THE BALL WHAT ARE YOU DOING THERE?????" And then I'd catch myself, and ask for the ball, even silently demand the ball.
And it always seemed to come my way. And those last two outs or that last play would always come at me in slow freaking motion. I nearly always pulled it off. And it felt great.
And so I remembered that today and finished the damned story and it's as good a story as a good play at shortstop.
After all, if you're gonna play shortstop or write cover stories, it's not expected that you won't be scared, but it is expected that at the last moment you will be praying to let it come to you. That way if you lose, you have only yourself to blame.
Ain't this a great life to be living? Even with all the junk? It's still the best.
Posted by Peter Gorman at 9:12 PM
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Twenty years ago I did my first story for Penthouse magazine. I only did a couple altogether, but this was big because it was my first piece with a major magazine. Laugh if you want, but the magazine used to do two non-girl features a month, generally on drugs or sharks or strange and wonderful places in the world, and here I was, walking into their 65th Street and Broadway offices in New York City and showing them pictures of an indigenous group I'd spent a month with called the Mayoruna (I now call them the Matses, as they prefer that, with Mayoruna being an anthropological name given them) who lived on the border between Brazil and Peru in the very deep Amazon. They had tatoos around their mouths, wore bamboo splints in their upper lips and used achote pigment to color their faces, giving them the look of a jaguar. I'd immediately dubbed them the People of the Jaguar and I had these great photos my brother-in-law Steve Flores had taken of them on the trip we'd done together and I was in the Penthouse office with the head of Editorial and she was asking me if I'd be willing to go back to Peru with a photographer they'd pick. Despite loving the photos I had, she said, she simply couldn't be sure they weren't faked, so wanted photos done by a guy they used named Jeff Rotman. I said okay. My brother in law Steve has probably been angry with me ever since but nothing I was going to do was going to make them use his photos. They wanted their own guy taking photos in their style and that was that.
So they bought me a ticket, had Jeff flown in from Isreal, where he was shooting deep in the Dead Sea, handed me $4,200 bucks in expense monies and off we went. Jeff, whom I later learned was one of the top three or four underwater photographers in the world--and with whom I'd later do several other fantastic stories--took brilliant shots of the Matses, including the now-pretty-famous one of me, my teacher Moises Torres Vienna and two Matses men struggling to hold up a 21+ foot anaconda the Matses had just killed.
In the "coming next month" section of the issue that hit the newsstands just before the issue my story was to be in Penthouse referred to me as "The Real Indiana Jones." I wasn't of course. I was doing some pretty spectacular work in the Peruvian jungle at the time--I'd found the phyllomedusa bicolor and I was the first guy to use frog sweat and I was collecting Matses artifacts for the American Museum of Natural History and such, but it really wasn't Indiana Jones stuff. Actually, it was Moises Torres Vienna stuff, since he's the one who got me in and out of that green heaven/hell in one piece on a regular basis. Nonetheless they used the term.
Bob Guccione killed my story because he was hoping for human-eating indians and I didn't deliver them, so it never ran in Penthouse (it later ran in Shaman's Drum), but still, the term had been used on me in print and I've been failing to live up to it ever since.
And then, this morning, my friend Johan, a former client of mine on a trip to the Peruvian Amazon and one of only five or six people to whom I've ever awarded the Peter Gorman School of the Amazon's Soul Pilot's Licence, writes me to say that dailygrail.com has just described me in a link to a story I guest blogged for nprophet.com as "the real Indiana Jones". Unbelieveable, right?
So untrue. I mean, I'm just me. I'm a pretty cool middle-aged dad who happens to be a former editor in chief of High Times magazine, someone who'd been to some very wonderful places and done some pretty exotic things, and who has a pretty good reputation in northwest Amazonia, which I've criss-crossed on boats, on foot, and in small puddle-jumping aircraft a couple of dozen times. Still, it all seems pretty regular to me--with a few exceptions. One of those was being bit by a baby bushmaster in my bar The Cold Beer Blues Bar on the Port of Mastranza in Iquitos a couple of years ago. Another was being bitten by a member of the hobo spider family last year, which caused some pretty strange flesh eating in the muscle of my lower left leg and more strangely opened up nearly two dozen sympathy flesh-eating holes in my arms and legs when it all got septic. And I have been lucky enough to collect botanical specimens for Shaman Pharmaceutical, and really was the first to use the Matses' frog sweat and really did collect quite a bit for the American Museum of Natural History and find the first fossil bed in the region of Iquitos and so forth. But then all that was just part of me living my life, right? Nothing special about it to me, just the way I picked to go about living in this body.
But here's the thing: the Matses, and other indigenous groups have been so generous in sharing their secrets that I don't think I've really done anything except listen to them and take them seriously. If they say I should follow them into the woods, I do, without hesitation. There they show me the anaconda; or a group of large white collared peccary or fantastic plant medicines. And over the years I've done everything they've asked of me but for three things. One of those is to follow the fossil bed--which is located at the mouth of a creek that can only be seen in extreme low water season--to its source. Another is to follow the Yakirana all the way up into the Andes mountains, which is where the Matses say they came from; the third is to explore some pyramid shapes in the jungle that they tell me are very important.
And if I could do those things they really would be sort of genuine Indiana Jones adventures. They would require all the guts and gumption I've got coupled with using all the things I know about the jungle to pull off. They'd require some time, planning and funds. I am willing to make the time. I've already done the planning and could manage any of the three. But all of them would also take funds, and once you're raising kids, there simply are none. So some friends started The Gorman Foundation last year, a tax-deductable foundation, in the hopes that people would contribute and I could go do these possibly important explorations. Unfortunately, I don't know any people with money they don't need for next month's mortgage or rent. But I will. Someone must have more money and curiousity than time and experience and if they will give me some of the money I'll go take the time, utilize my experience and satisfy their curiousity. And when that happens, maybe, just maybe, I'll be worthy of the title that's been put on me not once, but twice in the last 20 years.
Posted by Peter Gorman at 11:21 AM
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Someone asked me about San Pedro, as they hadn't seen much on it in the literature. I've never really written about it, as I have ayahuasca, I thought I'd just give something brief.
Regards San Pedro, hmmm. I've been putting off writing about it for 15 years now, though Don Victor E. has been my teacher for that long and it is an extraordinary medicine. At the most basic level I'd say that San Pedro is a joyful spirit of vibrational change. In other words, if you're willing to drink three or four cups of the slimy stuff--like all master plant teachers she makes it difficult to take her physically (avoids accidents and abuse, I suspect)--she will lengthen and shorten the vibrations of things. Now put that in perspective of the basics of Wave theory--that all things are one energy moving in more dense waves or less dense waves, which causes us to perceive things differently: dense waves are seen as a rock for instance, while less dense waves are perceived as air. I'm not a physicist, so you just got the full extent of my knowledge on that one. But what I'm talking about is changing the way we see things. Shape-shifting. The only two master plant teachers I know who specialize in that are San Pedro and Peyote--and they're closely related. So what's to know about San Pedro? That in shifting your vision you will see things differently--and I don't want to go too much into that right now--but more importantly, Victor--like other San Pedro curanderos-is able to shift his vision to see where you need healing and then be able to go about healing you.
And if you're lucky, you'll be able to see that the rock he looks like he's running gently up and down your body is really a scalpel--in another reality--with which he is operating on you.
Don't let that last scare you, it's just quite an amazing thing if you get lucky enough to witness a psychic surgery.
Anyway, I'm not sure what else to tell you about it. San Pedro is an extraordinary spirit and teacher.
Just in case you were curious.
Posted by Peter Gorman at 12:10 PM
You'd think that after being involved in the War on Drugs as a journalist for the past 20-something years I might be able to retire from it. Wouldn't that be nice. Yes, but not realistic. Not so long as hundreds of thousands of non-violent people are being busted every year for choosing to relax with something other than alcohol. And truth be told, if I'd have been better at my job we might have legalized the illegal substances by now.
So I guess I'm stuck in this becase I havn't succeeded yet.
There are still times you just want to throw up your hands. Like in Philly last month, when they banned Blunts. Not that you can't by cigars, you just can't buy them singly. And you can't by them in flavors. Is that ridiculous or what? Is that gonna keep someone, anyone, from smoking a bit of weed? Is that going to reduce crime, give you a little more take home pay, or do anything that will improve anyone's life?
And now in Minnesota and Michigan there are new bong bans in place. More than that, they're really bans on all drug paraphernalia. But to what end? For three months, until someone successfully challenges the new bans--which they will, because they always do--kids are going to have to make do with the bongs and rolling papers they already have. Or they're going to figure out how to put a piece of silverfoil over a glass filled with water and stick a straw through it to make their own pipes. But again, the ban isn't going to do anything but put a few hippy glass-blowers on hard times for a couple of months. And the people enacting these laws don't make any pretense that they're being enacted to stop pot use or crack use or whatever. They freely admit they enact these laws because it "looks bad" to have shops openly selling products that cater to people who might use illegal substances when there are laws against the substances themselves.
And of course, none of those laws have ever kept anyone from using those substances either.
So sometimes I just want to throw my hands in the air. Just nonsense. And a waste of your tax dollars. And a waste of human life for those caught in the gears. And a horror for a country that professes to value individuals and individualism and freedoms.
And then, once in a while, something good happens that makes me want to shout YES!
And that happened just last week, when Tyrone Dwayne Brown, serving life in Texas, was given a pardon by governor Rick Perry. Brown, known on the street as T-Baby, was a hell-raiser and a thug as a young teen. Regularly sent to special schools and juvenile jails for car-theft and a host of other crimes, at 17, he was busted for aggravated robbery. He got 10 years deferred for that, one of the conditions of which was peeing in a cup for drug tests. Two months into the program he failed and had his probation revoked. At his court date on the probation violation the judge decided he’d had enough and sentenced him to aggravated-life. Though it wasn’t marijuana that caused his initial problems, Brown may well be the only guy in the whole country ever sentenced to life for failing a urine test.
And just last week, after serving 16-years of that sentence, he walked out of prison a free man.
About fucking time.
Anyway, with all the other people in prison and jail and whose lives are ruined over pot and other essentially harmless substances by laws meant to put the screws to anyone who doesn't tow the status quo line, and with legislators coming up with lame ass paraphernalia laws not intended to stop crime but to be window dressing on a failed war on drugs, well, I guess I just can't quit yet. So I keep plugging along, running a column called Drug War Follies in Skunk magazine and writing features for Marc Emery's Cannabis Culture, and the occasional piece for High Times.
But I sure wish we'd legalize and I could get onto other things.
Posted by Peter Gorman at 10:12 AM
Monday, March 19, 2007
My friend Phoenix, who suggested, then pushed, then insisted I start this blog--and when I wouldn't set it up for me--came up with the idea of putting some of my stories on line in an archive. I resisted, of course, probably because I'm lazy and falsely modest. But then I thought about it and it was, in fact, a good idea. Over the years I've covered stories in India, Morocco, Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Canada, the US and much of Europe. I've had the good fortune to have interviewed a couple of dozen of the most interesting people, from Albert Hofmann to Richard Schultes to Wade Davis to Brownie Mary Rathbun to Dennis Peron. I've covered the War on Drugs for more than 20 years--primarily for High Times magazine--from political, social, economic and personal angles. I've written about sharks and plant medicines, cocaine factories and missionary plane shootdowns. I've done ceremony with the Southern Utes and the Matses Indians and Julio Jerena and other ayahuasqueros, and San Pedro in the Andean Highlands.
This isn't meant to be bragging: every journalist, if they hang around long enough, winds up covering a lot of territory, and each time you hit a new topic you've got to learn about that topic deeply enough to be able to explain it--briefly--to your readers, in a clear enough fashion that they will be interested in what you've got to say about it or report on it.
And some of those topics you only cover once: You write one story, a feature piece for some magazine, and it runs, and then it's gone. You might have spent weeks on it and it's on the newsstand for all of a month.
So Phoenix suggested that it might be fun to put up some of those stories in an archive and let readers access them--in some cases 20 years since they've been in print.
I agree. So Phoenix has begun putting up the first couple of categories of stories on a page with the url petergormanarchive.com
So far he's got about a dozen stories from Peru and maybe half-a-dozen from India. I'm still searching for several more from India: they, like all of my work prior to 1992 were written on an IBM typewriter and so are not found on my disks. But I'll find them and slowly get some of them into the computer. And in the next several weeks Phoenix will post some hilarious stories about taking exotic drugs in exotic places, some stories about working with ayahuasca, some interviews, the stories I've been doing for the Fort Worth Weekly the past couple of years, drug war stories and a host of others that don't quite fit into any category.
In any event, if you like reading--though not all of these are brilliant writing by any means--I think you'll find some good material at petergormanarchive.com
And if you don't find anything interesting up today, go back in a week and see what else has gone up.
And tell your friends.
Posted by Peter Gorman at 6:09 AM
Friday, March 16, 2007
This is one of those odd stories that only happen in New York. I was reminded of it just yesterday when we were in the midst of an oppressive rain here in Joshua, Texas and my daughter, 9, asked me to recount it in all its lurid details. I did and she laughed her head off. Then she asked me if I had put it on the blog. I told her I hadn't. She suggested I should. So here it is--and forgive me if you can.
Couple or ten years ago in New York City. It was a day in late Spring. It started off chilly and rainy, so people throughout the city were wearing either winter coats and carrying umbrellas or their Burbury rain coats. As the day wore on the rain continued but the temperature rose, so that by the evening rush hour everything and everyone in Manhattan--and probably the rest of New York--was damp to the bone. The whole city sort of smelled like a wet dog.
I left the High Times office and headed down to Union Square to catch the Lexington Avenue express subway; three stops and I'd get off at 86th street and walk on home to our place on 90th and 3rd.
The subway platform was crowded: the winter coats and umbrellas had people taking up twice their normal space. Worse, the dog-hair smell of wet wool and dampness was worse down there under the city streets. It was all just sort of thick and I just wanted to get on home to my wife and kids, make some dinner and then take Chepa out for a couple of beers and a game of darts--you know, give her an hour away from the kids, catch a buzz...
The train came into the station already crowded, but none of us were going to wait for another so we pushed into the cars like self-motivated cattle just itching to get into the slaughter house. To my surprise, the door I got into, the one at the front of the car, had a small open space in it. In the corner seat, a seat meant for two, there was a street guy. He was filthy. I mean, looked like he'd rolled around in someome's muck, his nose running into an untamed beard, his clothes foul. No one sat next to him, the only square inch on that train that wasn't overcrowded.
Well, I thought he probably felt bad about that so I pushed my way through several people and took the seat. I never sat on trains, but I thought it better if I lent this guy a hand: he probable already felt so estranged from the human race that having an empty seat on a train so crowded you couldn't breathe next to him only made him feel worse. So I sat.
It wasn't a great move: He smelled like urine and vomit. I wanted to move, of course, but since I'd been so freaking high and righteous about taking the seat in the first place just to make him feel less disincluded I couldn't then get up and leave.
The train was moving slowly, partly due to the normal rush hour train-traffic-jams that happen in New York, but exacerbated by the rain and the time it was taking people to get on and off with their thick coats and all those umbrellas. We made 42nd street, took on as many new passengers as we dropped off, then headed for 59th. Same thing: as many new people as we lost. The train was simply packed. Except for the area directly in front of me and the bum, a little buffer zone which the fancy dans gave us because of the stink of my seatmate.
Inexplicably, just as we left the 59th street station we came to a halt. We sat probably for three minutes before the conductor said there was a holdup at the 86th street station and we'd be stuck for several more minutes. Not pleasant, given the wet-dog smell in the car and the guy next to me.
Another minute went by and then a new smell entered the car: it was as if someone had passed gas, but it wasn't just a little fart. This was something thick and malodorous, something from the bowels of a vulture. This was rotten meat and sickness, a revolting mix of dead animal carcass and human intestines that hadn't been cleared for years. I nearly threw up. And worse, it didn't go away. It rose like a heavy fume and spread like a stratus cloud from my end of the car down to the other, malevolently poisoning the already damp and thick air with the fumes of hell. People began to turn to look for the source. One by one, three by three, ten by ten: as the foetid cloud spread throughout the car everyone turned toward the little corner in which my associate and I sat, until nearly 200 pairs of eyes were staring at us, glaring at us, wondering why we'd done what we did to them. It was, perhaps, the thickest, worst stink I'd ever known.
The people nearest us covered their noses and mouths with the lapels of their coats and pushed back to get further away from us. Others began to open the car's tiny windows. Still others, deeper in the car, began to openly ask: "Who the fuck did that?" and things of that nature. People were angry.
And then, in a moment when the stink reached its apex and no one in the car dared breathe, when the car grew perfectly silent as people debated ever breathing again, the man next to me suddenly turned in my direction and broke the silence. In a deep, resounding, clear voice, he suddenly said: "I don't know what you had for lunch, but that is awful..."
And in that moment, all eyes shifted from our corner to just focus on me. I'd never felt such animosity. I wanted to stand and shout: "That wasn't me! I tried to give this guy dignity and this is what I get??? You all can't believe this foul foul odor came out of me, can you?"
I couldn't, of course. It was too late for that. It was tag and I was it.
The train began to slowly move. No one took their eyes off me, as if they were afraid that if they did I might do something even worse. It was one of the longest 3 minutes of my life, waiting to reach 86th street. And when we did I didn't dare move until all of the others were off the car; several waited and hit me with umbrellas. Others called me names. I turned to look at my lying former companion just before I reached the stairs. He was looking right at me. He winked.
It's been a couple, ten years and I still havn't forgotten him.
Posted by Peter Gorman at 5:25 AM
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
In case any of you might ever want to join me on one of my trips to the Amazon--and some people actually do, if you can imagine that--this is part of a letter I just wrote an April group and will give you an idea of what to bring and what the basic rules of the trips are.
As to things to bring: I'll send the official list in a couple of days. I've been told that it's hopelessly male-oriented, so I'll try to correct that and suggest a makeup mirror, and other girly things--though I'm sort of lost because I am not a girl; anyone who can help, help--otherwise, just know when you get the list that some women have complained they miss certain things and then add them as you know how.
But the key is that this trip does not require you to buy 500 bucks of jungle clothes. Mostly I want loose, comfortable shorts and shirts; a windbreaker, a couple of pairs of old sneaks, a flashlight, personal hygene kit, one long sleeved shirt and at least two long loose pairs of pants, socks you can tuck your pants into during ceremony, a hat, any food needs you have to have (like your own stash of pistachios or fruit roll-ups). Keep it simple and know that we can buy anything you need in Iquitos pretty cheaply so if you come without a bag we can probably outfit you for the whole trip for 100 bucks.
NO NEED to buy fancy boots: In the jungle we use highish rubber boots for walking in muck and I'll provide those. I'll also provide flashlights for those who forget them, hammocks/mosquito nets, towels, soap, blankets and so forth. So don't get carried away. IF you want to, that's fine, but it's not necessary. You want a machete? We'll pick one up for you in Belen's market. So you're covered.
If, on the other hand, you've got something you love doing, like bird watching, then bring your own binocs. I've got a group pair but it's not meant to be hogged by anyone. If you're an artist, bring your own sketch pad as Iquitos doesn't have good ones. It doesn't have good sketch pencils either. Fair warning. But Iquitos does have good, cheap internet, phones, wonderful things to buy (so bring a few bucks of mad money), inexpensive emergency cameras/ film, batteries, medications, shampoo, rain ponchos.....so don't sweat the small stuff.
Now: Four quick rules for those who havn't heard them. For those who have, I apologize for boring you.
Rule #1: There is no requesting, teasing, buying cocaine. You do it you are off the trip. I've lost too many friends caught in the middle over that one down there. It's available but not if you're with me.
Rule #2: No asking about marijuana. I'm much too hot a political character down there, or fashion myself that, to have my rotten reputation further ruined by having shoeshine boys tell the US DEA that my groups smoke pot. I can handle what you need but go through me. We will already have more medicine than you need, I promise, and you can smoke a joint at home. Please go along with me on this one.
Rule #3: NO sex with anyone/anything younger than 18. I'm not going to go to jail for you, okay? Iquitos is a very hot place, very sexy. In my world you should be able to do anything you like with any consenting dog, cat, crocodile or whatever so long as you are both adults. In my world adult is 18. That's a fixed rule.
Rule #4: If I do anything you don't like, or anything sucks in your opinion, or if something, anything is bothering you, you must tell me. You may not keep it in and bring us all down with a seething, bad attitude. You can simply tell me or, if you're shy or not full of words, just come up to me and punch me in either arm, between the elbow and shoulder, as hard as you need to get my attention, and then tell me what's wrong. I promise to try to rectify it. But no stinking pouting cause you don't like the rice. Just punch me and the next night I'll have spaghetti instead of rice, okay?
The opening and closing of the missive was directed at this group in particular and had to do with medications, diets, special needs, arrival times and so forth and wouldn't have been interesting to those not on a trip. But I think the rules are legit and should steer you well regardless of where you travel.
So get out there and see the world, won't you? It's all messed up but still so very very wonderful for the most part.
Posted by Peter Gorman at 5:32 PM
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
I live in Joshua, Texas. That's right smack in the middle of what's called the Barnett-Shale. What that indicates is that I live atop a 5,000 square mile area of shale that's packed with natural gas. I only live on 1.39 acres of it, but still, I'm there. When natural gas was going for $2.50 a whatever, nobody wanted to drill here. Now it's near $7.00 and the landsmen came around and signed us all to leases of our gas rights. Everybody in the region--from Hood County to Parker, Denton to Tarrant to Wise to Johnson--got about $500 an acre in a signing bonus and a piece of the action. Politically correct, you could turn that down but they could still collect the gas from under your land--having to pay you a small piece of it--but you'd simply miss the bonus.
Now here's the crazy part. The Railroad Commission in Texas controls gas and oil drilling. They set the standards of how the drilling, collecting and transmission is done.
But the RR Commission is a state wide thing and the Barnett Shale is only a half dozen or so out of more than 100 counties in Texas (though I think we're bigger than Vermont), so the RR Commission doesn't pay much attention.
So here's the deal: Statewide, there are no regulations as to how far a well has to be from an inhabited building. There are no regulations in place that force a pipeline company to produce a record of where its pipes are except to the Railroad Commission and to the property owner. The first responders, the firemen and HASMAT, the people who will come to your aid during a gas fire/explosion, have no idea where the pipelines are. I'm not just talking about the pipelines from the well to the well head. I'm not just talking about the lines from the well head to the collection lines. I'm not even just talking about the transmission lines that are interstate that carry the gas. I'm talking about all of them. There are no regulations in place.
So when you ask HASMAT what they would do as first responders in the event that a well placed two hundred feet from a housing development explodes they say "Put your finger in the air, figure out where the wind is blowing, and go the other way. And don't start your car if you think the leak is near you because the spark will set the gas off."
That's the official word.
And when asked if lines can run under an apartment complex, they say, "Yes, but we wouldn't know that because there is no need to register those lines."
Sound's incredible for something that can blow a football-field- sized hole 20 feet deep in the ground when the wrong spark hits the gas, eh? And sounds incredible that someone digging a new well doesn't necessarily know where someone else's pipelines are.
Just yesterday, a fellow digging a ditch for a new natural gas line hit and ruptured an existing propane gas pipeline, which sparked, exploded and set off explosions in two other lines that no one knew were underground in the area--an area not far from Fort Worth proper. Fortunately, it was farmland and no one was hurt. But if the same thing happened under a condo with 300 families living in it? Baked beans, baby, and lots of human sausage.
And no one is working on the possiblity of it happening. Yet there are more than 600 gas wells within the city of Fort Worth and maybe 1,400 more will be drilled in the next few years. We are the hot bed area of natural gas, after all. And if someone in the Railroad Commission, or if a mayor or governor hasn't got the guts to demand that pipelines be laid deeper than two feet underground and that they not be near habited buildings and that the local fire department and HASMAT have a computerized picture of where these lines and wells are, well then we are just waiting for a human fish fry.
Sounds like it would take about 10 minutes to fix, eh? Just pass out blueprint gps's of where these things are and make the people laying them go around buildings.
But nobody is willing to say the Chief is running around town naked because they're all so in awe of the monies these wells are bringing in.
So when you read about 50 families being blown to kingdom come, and I hope you don't, but I think it's inevitable, well, remember that they could have avoided it at a very very little cost: The cost of a couple of copies of their information and the occasional cost of going around a building instead of under it.
Aaaarrrrrgggggghhhhh. All for money, right honey?
Posted by Peter Gorman at 5:01 PM
I've been writing about Texas corruption for the last couple of years, and it's got some friends of mine worried that might end up finding myself on the short end of the stick with the local police one of these days because of it. I hope not. I generally like to think that if you're in the open and honest, you'll be too visible to bother with. Smuggle in plain sight, is the phrase. Of course, other people say that's silly: That if you're in the open you're just an easier target.
In either event, twice in the last week things have come up that have sent shivers up my spine a bit. One was that someone I interviewed on one of the corruption stories I wrote has a problem involving her husband. The basics of the story was that recently he was working late, forgot to bring any cash with him, and when he knocked off he called a friend to borrow a few bucks. The friend, according to the woman, said he was at a certain house and so the guy went there. Must have written the address down wrong because the woman who answered the door called the police--it was night and she was scared--and the husband, who already has a record, was charged with "burglary of a habitat". Despite there being no burglary, no break-in, no nothing but a knock on the door. Unfortunately, but tough break of the worst kind in Texas. Burglary of a habitat carries 2-20 on a first offence in this state; with his record it'll be 25-life and this is one time I believe his story.
So the wife calls and asks me to go over to talk to the woman with her, to ask her why she made the charge--the police bullied her, she thinks--and to reconsider it.
And there I am, hair curling, thinking, I'd love to help out here but this is a woman who's husband is in trouble. I'm a journalist who's not on anybody's favorites list here in this state, and she wants me to go to the home of a woman so cowable that she can be talked into leveling burglary charges on a man who knocked on her door at 10 at night. She certainly, by extention, could level charges against us for threatening...so it smelled bad and I had to refuse to go there. Feel sort of chicken but think this one is too likely to land me in hot water in a place where at least some people would love to see me scald.
And then this week I'm getting emails out of the blue from a woman who admits she's been in drug trouble for 30 years and claims she's now being forced to have regular sex with an undercover DEA man under threat of her being charged with a crime she had nothing to do with. Again, this is Texas and not impossible she'd be convicted just on her record.
And this woman suddenly absolutely needs to meet with me. I should come to her house and pick her up in my car as she doesn't have one. Again, I'm thinking, just too easy a set up: There's Gorman in the dope dealer's house, or there's Gorman with a dope dealer in his car and she's holding...and the next thing you know I'm charged with conspiracy, which doesn't have to involve any dope or anything substantial at all.
So I'm going to meet her right now, over at a local coffee shop. Outside, in the sunshine. Don't know if this is a good choice, but she might have a legit story.
But I ain't holding no packages for her, tell you that.
COUPLE OF HOURS LATER: Nothing happened. She didn't show. So much for dicey. More like mushy.
Posted by Peter Gorman at 8:30 AM
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Okay, so it's Sunday night and I had a couple of Jim Beams (ice, straight up) at a fairly nearby joint while I watched Kansas beat Texas a couple of hours ago and I wasn't really happy about that because I think Texas has more talent. I was at the joint chewing Buffalo Wings with Chepa, my wife/ex-wife, my daughter Madeleina, her friend Shelby who's been at my house for two days on an extended sleep-over, and Sierra, Chepa's new baby, who at 15 months can raise all the hell I've been trying to raise for 55-years.
And then it struck me: I'm getting two, three hundred hits on this blog weekly, which is a nice, small, but actual number. But none of you are responding to my posts. What's going on? In the last month I've written about ayahuasca and pregnancy, peccarys in the Amazon, Johnson County, my teacher, Julio Jerena's death, my sister's birthday and a couple more things that are not of ordinary significance.
And nobody responds. You all think this is normal stuff to talk about?
Yo! This is Gorman, from Queens, New York. Whitestone, to be exact. 21st Avenue between 149 and 150 street. So start talking mothafus. Let's hear what you have to say about peccarys in the Amazon.
Posted by Peter Gorman at 5:37 PM
Saturday, March 10, 2007
So my oldest son's girlfriend lives with us. Italo is 21 and Sarah is 19 so it works for me. She's a good gal and a great influence on my daughter Madeleina, who's nine--going on 36--but who needs female influence. Madeleina's mom, my wife/ex-wife (separated 9 years, not divorced because we can't agree on me having sole custody of Madeleina, and I am not going to put my kids on the stand and ask them to talk bad about their mom, who is sometimes fantastic, sometimes a rotten egg, but always smart and funny, except to me) lives just down the road a couple of miles, and Madeleina stays with her a couple of days a week, but truth is Madeleina lives with me and my son Italo and Sarah and so Sarah is a great influence. Smart, hep, girly but still a tomboy, it's the kind of day-to-day influence a little girl needs to get comfortable in her skin.
So four or five days ago Sarah, who helps around the house but is anything but a nosy nanny, gets it in her head that the two feet by twenty feet of dirt in front of our front porch but behind the walkway to the big (couple of acres) yard is a mess and needs fixing up. She was right, of course. Our house is maybe 5 feet below the road, which is forty feet in front of it. So when it rains the rain collects directly in front of our porch and kills everything, leaving the two foot patch a stinking mess.
So the other day Sarah spends a couple of hundred bucks and buys maybe four bushes and 20 annuals (mostly daffodils) and a couple hundred pounds of outdoor potting soil and has me soak the clay and then mix the potting soil with the clay there and then goes and does this gorgeous job of planting those flowers like a $300-buck-an-hour landscape artist and the next thing you know that little patch of nothing is the brightest spot in Johnson County, Texas. I mean, I was just flat out thrilled. And then, to top it off, she bought a couple of hanging basket flower pots full of gorgeous stuff and swears she'll take care of it.
I had to ask Italo if Sarah was pregnant. Know what I mean, right? This is nesting stuff and I don't mind being a grandpa but I figure he should let me have a couple more of mine before I get to be grandpa, more or less.
So the next day, Sarah says she's passed a nearby farm that has some baby goats for sale and would I buy one.
After the work she did, how could I say no?
We bought three. I told her to name two and just call the other one meat, so that when I barbeque it we'll be saying: "Meat's good," rather than "Little Babykins' leg is so tasty," which would be unacceptable. I got punched three times in the upper arm, really hard, for that one.
Then Sarah realized that the last two feet of the little garden she'd planted, the part in front of the porch that sort of matches the steps but is past the porch fence, was kind of open. So she asked me to buy her a rock to put there.
So I went and bought a 438 pound rock and me and Italo and my other son, Marco, who has a broken hand in a cast, managed to put it in perfect positon.
Then Sarah realized that our little chicken coop could use some egg laying chickens and borrowed some bucks and went and bought eight little hens, a bunch of straw and some vitamins, along with a huge tank for water as we've no water line out to the chicken coop house (which is very nice, with eight little chicken bunks and a high triple-fence to keep possoms, dogs and other chicken eating animals out).
So our house has been busy and is like perfect for an 80 grand house, what with dogs, cats, lots of cardinals (not ours but they live here) and blue jays, goats, chickens and a flying squirrel (very playful, but only at night). And then this morning, just after feeding the goats and before the final placement of the rock, she suddenly says: "You know, Mister Peter, if we had a cow....."
I cut her off. "Don't think so."
"But I was thinking..."
"I know darlin. But this is what we call a line in the sand."
"You know. A line you can't cross. I can't do a cow right now."
And that was it. You got to draw a line somewhere.
Not in Sarah's world.
"Okay then. I'll just get a couple of ponies. And after you get used to them you won't mind a cow at all."
Ahhhh. Ain't life grand?
I'm lucky to be living it.
Posted by Peter Gorman at 2:39 PM
Friday, March 09, 2007
Okay, so someone asked me if they could buy land in Peru. The answer, just five years ago, would have been no, unless you were a Peruvian. Heck, I bought a house, a motorbike, opened a bar, even a bank account and none of them could be in my name in the old days. All were in the name of my wife, a local Iquitos witch/wonderful woman, depending on how I felt loved/unloved on a given day, or my kids, local locals. But we did buy a house, next to the house my wife/ex-wife mostly grew up in, in Iquitos in 1996 or 7 when my mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer and while in Lima for treatment for her my second, Vinicio Marco, came up with failed kidneys. Both survived, fantastically, and to bond the family I bought this little house. Later, I bought land for my kids, in their names, and I don't think anything can be sold on it till my daughter Madeleina, now nine, reaches the age of consent in Peru, which I think is 16 or so.
Given that, here's the answer to the question I was asked about land in the region of Iquitos and what it might cost.
There is a road that runs from Iquitos to a town called Nauta. Nauta, like Iquitos, has no roads running into it, so this road, which took from 1972-2006 to complete (90 kilometers, and with the help of the US Army Corp of Engineers) runs from river-accessable city to river-accessable city.
The government, in the hopes of people populating the area, began giving away land grants 30 years go. People who actually lived on the land were finally given title.
Several years ago a friend of mine/my families (his name is Chicken Head), who was about 40 years old, lost his dad. But his dad had several properties given out by the government on the Iquitos/Nauta road. When he needed money he asked if I wanted to buy some of his dad's land. I did, and purchased about 600 acres of pristine high jungle 15 kilometers off the Iqu/Nauta road at kilometer 34 for $2,000 US. Paperwork was another $2,000. Making signs that you need for the land was another $500. Clearing a three meter strip all around the land was another $1,000, and building a house/kitchen/bathroom on the property was another $1,500. But all that needs doing or the government takes the land away. So the cost is not high, but in the end it's several thousand dollars. And since that property is in the newly created Mishana Reserve, no trees may be taken from it, and only 10 acres may be cleared for study/living.
The new parcel, a second one I bought yesterday, also came from Chicken Head. This time he's in jail--wrongly accused, I believe--and he was offered a deal to buy his way out after a couple of years inside with no conviction yet. So he got in touch with a friend and passed the word that he had about 20 hectares, near 50 acres, on kilometer 14, just one kilometer off the Iquitos/Nauta road--with two lakes, a year round stream, high jungle, great trees--that he needed $2,000 for. So I paid that, sent another $500 for the paperwork, another $500 for who knows what, and will spend another $2000 on a house, demarcation and such. So what it goes for is about $100 bucks an acre after all is said and done. At least at kilometer 14. Cheaper, a lot, at kilometer 34, which is a very long way from Iquitos.
A house on one of the properties should be done by the time I arrive next month with guests, and after we visit Sachamama for a night I'll invite them all to come spend a night at one of the places. And do ceremony there, if people are up for it. It should be great.
ASIDE: Other land, like in the city, is very inexpensive, but only relatively. I bought a house that's 5 by 8 meters (16 feet by 25 feet) built Brazilian style (high quality: the shutters still whoosh after fifty years in that climate when you close them) for $8,200 in 1996. It's now worth about $20,000 and it's five blocks off the main square on the single toughest block (on the oldest port in Iquitos) in the city--in my opinion. A friend of mine recently bought a house with no walls (both side walls belonged to the neighbors), no roof, no back wall and an incomplete front wall, with dirt floors 18 blocks off the square (5 meters by 20 meters), for $6,000.
And there is a house I want that's 25 meters by 25 meters, all Portugese tile on the two floor exterior, French wrought iron work (done by imported French wrought Iron workers during the rubber boom) with mahogany flooring and huge windows not far from the square that would only cost $200,000. I think for cash they'd go for $160,000. Unfortunately, I'm a $2,000 type of buyer so it's out of my league. But I sure would like it.
Now I said the costs were relative. Here's why. It doesn't have so much to do with the buyer having the dollars. Lots of gringos appear in Peru with a couple of hundred thousand in the bank, or available if they sell their home. What it really comes down to is: How are you, a gringo, going to live in Peru? How will you continue to make money? I owned a bar/restaurant. We did well. We made a couple of hundred US bucks a week, and that's hard in Iquitos. But my wife/ex-wife and the extended family numbered 23. Which meant 23 one dollar meals three times a day, plus clothes, medicines, and so forth. Food alone cost $70 daily or $490 weekly. So what was our $200 bar profit in the face of that?
So how will a gringo make money. Off other gringos? Yes, but there are not many gringos in Iquitos. Most come and go on tours and don't spend a lot of time there. Those that do generally are dealing with their own extended families and so don't have a pot to piss in. And if they make any money at all, like a couple of hundred bucks a week, well, that's living Peruvian style. Nice Peruvian style, but not gringo style. Not taking the family out and blowing $50 US bucks on a meal now and then. Not buying a moped or car. Not having a nice house.
So while the figures appear low, unless you have a source of income that does not depend on Peru--either gringos or locals--you quickly find that all your money has disappeared. And that's without an extended family. Unless, of course, you're one of the few gringos who goes completely native, moves into the jungle, and lives on yucca and plantains.
But if you have a family and if you occasionally buy them sneakers or sox or underwear--which is only decent, after all--and feed them three times daily, you'll find that your basic needs in Iquitos are minimally $1,000 weekly. I spent more than that while living there. Heck, we rented two houses, and staffed them, just to take care of the street kids my wife/ex-wife brought in--all of whom were cousins/friends/orphans who basically lived on the street on our block at the port.
So what I'm getting at is that this ain't Cabo. This is the jungle. And while there are no sharks who will take a leg off in one bite, there are a million piranas who can nickel and dime you till the flesh is as gone as if a shark took it.
Posted by Peter Gorman at 5:51 PM