Saturday, January 30, 2010

Saturday Morning, Feeling Good, Freaking Out

It's a cold last Saturday in January. I've set the thermostat at 74 but it's reading 62 in the house and that's chilly. But it's beautiful because it's Chepa's baby, Sierra's birthday. Well, birthday was yesterday but the party is today. She's 4 years old and fantastic. The way she can talk you'd think she's mine. Madeleina hasn't stopped talking since she was 2 or so, and hell, I haven't stopped either.
I'm pitching in with the food: cooking some bar-be-que chicken legs, a nice pasta salad with red peppers, garlic, onion and a touch of balsamic vinager; a potato and egg salad and beans. I soaked them, they're pintos, overnight, then got garlic, onions and salt pork sizzling. Added water, when it boiled I added the beans, and when they've been on three hours I'll add diced tomatoes and the Peruvian seasonings. Effortless.
Now Chepa, my wife/ex-wife, called yesterday morning. After reminding me what a great job she did cutting my hair a couple of days ago, she grew serious. "Carachama, I need your advice. Here's the problem. I have only $64 for the food and balloons for Sierra's party. The balloons are going to be about $20. Then I need three gallinas--wild chickens--and since you won't give me any more of yours--I gave her one for soup last week and only have 6 grown ones left--I have to buy them at the Spanish grocery store. So that's another $25. That leaves about $19, and I need gas and more food. So what would be your advice in this circumstance?"
I thought for a moment, then deadpanned: "Well, if I were you and I was in this situation, I'd probably call Mr. P Gorman and ask him what to do. He'd probably offer to cook more food and give you money. Hell, that plan has worked for you 10,000 times, it'll probably work once more..."
"I hate you!!!" she screamed. "That's not what I'm doing here..."
"Darling, who are you kidding?"
"How dare you know me like you gave me birth?"
"The problem is I can only give you $20 until I get to a bank. But if cook more food, that will save you another $30-$40."
"Okay. That's a good plan. I'll be going that way then, to get the money."
She'll always find me easy when it comes to things like money. If I have it, I just as soon share it.
The problem is that I don't have it now. There's a perfect little tornado flashing through my life that's left me with no dough for a couple of months. I used up the reserve and might have to resort to credit cards this week. I weaned myself from them years ago, so don't want to fall into that.
Not looking for sympathy here--a lot of you are in the same boat--just noting that things change when there's no money. Mortgage due in a couple of days. Don't have it. Electric, television, phone, car insurance, water and the rest...don't have it.
In my case not so bad because editors owe me and that will come, along with a tax return, in time to save things. But when you got it, you don't need to think of it. When you don't, you spend a lot of time mentally scrambling with ways to come up with it and with which bills can wait and which can't and that's an awful lot of wasted brain space, eh?
It's that indigenous hunter thing: You only really have one or two main jobs. You put food in the pot, and you protect the people around you. And if you can't put food in the pot, there won't be people around you to protect, so that makes hunting the real number one job.
For us modern day hunters it's the same story. And when we hunt and come up short, we feel like failures. Or feel like we didn't do enough.
And that's a lousy feeling.
But don't worry Sierra. Mr P Garman will still find a cookie jar with enough dough in it to take care of bunch of birthday presents. And if I got to credit card the mortgage, no sweat, cause my editors have promised me that the checks will be in the mail shortly.
Ah, living. Ain't it grand?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

More Matses, Sapo, Spirituality

Okay, so the fellow doing the research that I mentioned in yesterday's post has written back, asking a couple of things. First, he wanted to know which Matses would be best to talk with about the Matses world view. HA! That's a good one: Hunt, eat, sleep.
He also wondered about people utilizing sapo, frog sweat, in England who all discuss spiritual elements related to it that allegedly come from the indigenous.
So, hope I'm not boring you but here are the answers to his questions.

The man to talk with regarding the Matses world view is Pepe, the man who serves the sapo on my trips. Other than that I would have said Pablo, but he recently died. Pablo was brilliant.
As far as Matses heirarchy goes, even headman is only my term. The only word I know that intimates one is "curaca"--a Spanish word or might be general jungle idiom-- since I forget the Matses word for it--which signifies a man with several women, or wives. The man with several wives, the curaca, is always powerful because he's the man who can provide for all his children and wives; in Pablo's case, there were four that I knew and at least one other had died. Pepe has only one. My friend Wilfredo, two. Papa Viejo had six, and Pepe's wife Irene is one of his children. The curaca must be brilliant in the jungle in order to feed so many mouths, and must know medicines to keep his children healthy. So generally the curaka is the village headman, not a result of voting or whatnot, simply because he's got the biggest balls.
Now as to talking with the Matses: it's difficult to get the truth out of them as most have been browbeaten by missionaries and will give you the answer they were taught to give. For instance, missionaries say it's very bad to have more than one wife, so a Matses man will say he has one wife, as a rule, even if he has two or three.
Now, with more government intervention into the Matses lives--like having to vote these days, and having identification cards (except for the few old antiguas still living who are exempted because no one can get them to do anything they don't want to do), each village has an official representative and there are other official positions as well. But those are imposed positions, not traditional ones. So the guy who's an official representative these days may not be the real head guy in the camp at all; he's just the one the Peruvian authorities can most easily deal with. You'll know the curaca when you see him. (Of course, it's really the women who are in charge, but no one will ever admit that to you. A man who has four wives is considered powerful, yes, but he also has four women telling him what to do and how badly he's getting it done.)
That's one problem. The second problem is that you'll be talking with them in Spanish and when they learn spanish they learn concepts that don't exist in Matses. So it's very difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Just be aware of that.
As to the've got to remember that prior to my writing about this stuff it was entirely unknown. Other tribes might have used it but there is no record of that happening. My suspicion is that the tribes near the Matses utilized it as well, but when we talk about northeastern Brazil....well, I'm thinking that's more recently introduced. And gringos, who misread 99% of what they see and are told--and I made and make my share of errors on the same count--are likely adding a layer they would like to see there. I can't even imagine what that spirituality would be. Are they saying that they're taking the spirit of the frog into them? If they are, they should probably modify that to say they're taking the spirit of the frog's protective poison into them, not the spirit of the frog, unless they'd say the same about being bitten by a poisonous snake.
On the other hand, if they're really talking about taking it very seriously, and if giving it a claim of spirituality helps them get that across to newcomers, then it's probably a good little invention. Because this is not a substance you should be taking on a whim. It is serious business. Won't kill you because it's all bioactive, but will scare the daylights out of you.
Does that help?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Matses and Spiritual Beliefs

Someone researching a documentary on sapo--the misnamed frog-sweat utilized as a medicine by the indigenous Matses/Mayoruna of Peru and the Bralian border, asked me what spiritual value the medicine had among the Matses, and what spiritual value it would have when utilized by a non-Matses.
The frog sweat--misnamed because the Matses call it "sapo" which means toad in Spanish, and the actual material comes from a tree frog, the Phylomedusa bicolor. The mistake occurred because in the not too distant past few Matses spoke much Spanish.
The medicine itself is the protective slime given off by the frog in the instant when a snake takes it into it's mouth: the slime, or sweat, is so instantly painful or uncomfortable to the snake that the reptile opens its mouth and the amphibian climbs out, unharmed. That's what's supposed to happen, anyway.
For human use, the frog is captured--or actually the branch on which the frog is found is cut and the branch, with frog, is placed on the ground. Four twigs are placed in the ground; thin vine sections, like thread, are attached to the four little posts, and when that's done the frog is very gently tied to them so that he looks finally like a green trampoline, all stretched out between those four twigs, body suspended by the vine on its four legs.
The frog is then bothered a bit until it gets rankled and begins to produce its protective "sweat". That sweat is collected by scraping the skin with a flat stick. The collected sweat is then transferred to a piece of split bamboo about the size of a tongue depressor. When the frog has given up all of its sweat, the animal is untied and realeased unharmed. Shaken up by the experience, no doubt, but unharmed.
The collected material is then dried to prevent molding in the humid rainforest.
When used for medicine, the Matses spit on a small portion of the material--which looks like dried varnish--and scrape a bit of it into the spit until it's liquified. Not really liquified but the texture of wasabi, or some other type of mustard.
The recipient is then burned with a piece of red-hot tamishi--a particular type of vine that's also utilized to tie house beams together--two, three or four times, generally in the upper arm or chest. The burnt epidermis is scraped off, exposing a subcutaneous layer of skin and the frog sweat is dabbed on those areas.
In 15 seconds the body heats up, the heart begins to race, there's some puking and shitting generally involved, a bit of fear of death by your heart or head exploding from the speed at which your blood is racing; there's a lot of sweating and mucous elimination...very unpleasant experience. HA!!! Much worse than unpleasant!
BUTTTTTT....when you are through the most acute minutes, about 15 or them, and your body begins to normalize, you find yourself cleansed of toxins, and discover that all of your senses are functioning at a higher level than normal.
In short--if this can be said to be that--it's a great medicine for tuning up the body in a very intense but short time.
Anyway, this was my answer to the fellow's questions and since I wrote it I thought I'd share it.

I've never heard of any spiritual beliefs of the Matses. In the series Handbook of South American Indians, in the book related to the Forest People or Lowland Indians--rare book room, NYC Public Library, series published around 1946, and based on the earliest contact with tribals in the lowland forests--early explorers describe them as not only having no spiritual beliefs, but no song, no dance, no ritual at all.
My experience, running into them in 1985 was slightly different. At that point, the Matses would not eat jungle deer because the spirits of their ancestors became deer when they physically died.
But that was about it.
On the other hand, their ability to make it stop raining on their camps was extraordinary: It could be raining all around the camp but they'd tell the rain not to bother the camp and they would stay dry--most of the time, anyway. Funny to see.
Whether that sounds believeable or not isn't important; what it represents is important. The antiguas, the old-style Matses, still believed in talking with the spirits of clouds, trees, animals and so forth. Moreover, they appeared capable of doing it. I'm not gonna swear to that but do know that each village depended on the chief or headman--though there was no designation for that as such--for the answers that "contact" with those spirits brought. Maybe they were just so excellent at reading natural signs that it appeared they were in contact with spirits.
But that was not considered a spiritual belief; that was just something the antiguas could do--no more or less important than hunting or gathering.
That said, there was a certain spirituality about them: They never hurt the frog when taking the frog sweat, if kids were around they always waved it goodbye after it was freed to leave. If a close relative died, his/her parents/spouse would cut their hair short and be in mourning until it grew back full length. And if a baby died at birth--or was subjected to infanticide because it was born with a physical problem--the parents would make a clay container, put the baby's corpse in it, then seal it up and put it over a fire for three days. When the corpse was reduced to ash, they would make a hole in the container and consume the ashes so that the baby--presumably the baby's spirit--could grow again and come out healthy next time.
So a level of spirituality existed, but I don't think they would have defined it that way. Again, it was just part and parcel of living.
Much of that has changed, of course, as they become more heavily missionized.
So back to your questions: I don't know what spiritual elements a non-Matses would derive from using sapo. And I don't think that concept came up within the Matses culture at all.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Oy Vey...More Gringo Complaints About the Amazon...

On a board I sometimes post on, someone wrote a note saying that they felt ripped off when they went to a well-known ayahuasquero and offered $100 and labor in exchange for several weeks of being taught about ayahuasca. He was smart but naive. I was probably harsh, but here was my response to his general letter of complaint, in which he explained he got several days at the ayahuasquero's compound, two unfulfilled ayahuasca experiences and then was asked to leave.

Well, I'm sorry you had this experience, but it's a good BEWARE sign to other gringos. No one in the Amazon needs your help. Not your physical labor, at least. So if you think that's something of value, you're very mistaken. Labor is inexpensive there so you offer nothing when you offer labor.
Generally, and as a gringo who has had a bar/restaurant there, have kids from there, bought land there, constructed houses there, take people out to the woods there, my feeling is that you need to be aware that if you don't have money you are worthless. You are like an indigenous man who cannot hunt. What's your purpose? If you can't hunt it's time to put you out to pasture. Or poison your soup. Just as simple as that. Unfortunately, few gringos grasp indigenous culture, from which mestizo culture springs, and so don't get it.
Lots of gringos go to Peru thinking they can trade things. The reality is that if you can't hunt--produce food or money--you have no value among the locals. And that's a good thing. They don't need you cluttering up their lives telling them you can help build a house and then not knowing how to weave leaf sections together for a rain resistant roof or even how to find the right leaves. Heck, by the time they teach you that they could have built 100 houses.
And if you think you've come to an agreement, it's only because you don't speak river speak. It's Spanish, but then not. Very few future or past tenses. The agreement is generally for now, not tomorrow or the next day, regardless of what was spoken, because the Panoan language group did not traditionally have past or future tenses. So the agreement made with Rolando, in this case, was for today. Not tomorrow.
Our arrogance as Westerners who imagine other people think like us, is astounding. It's not wrong, because we don't know better. But it is astounding. Your money got what it was worth. You spent some days in Rolando's house or compound, you ate, you drank medicine twice. No effect. Tough luck.
He wasn't necessarily cheating you, he was just being himself. When dealing with indigenous or riberino mestizos, you must give gifts daily. The day you are out of gifts you are no longer welcome.
That's just life, and most foreigners don't understand how that is. Same as giving all the gifts to the headman and expecting his wife or wives to teach you something. Why? They didn't get gifts. Gifts are not shared in that culture. So you paid one guy and no one else, no matter how much you gave.
This is the problem with foreigners in a strange land. It takes years to learn to navigate other cultures, not weeks.
I'm not coming down on you; you didn't and couldn't have known better. But the thought that a gringo would offer labor to a Peruvian has me rolling in the aisles. You think you did; you're sure that's what was agreed on, but that concept is so outside the Peruvian mentality that they can't be held accountable when you call them on it. It simply is not a concept on any level.
Peruvians who deal with gringos, at least people like my team, expect at least $20 a day, plus $15-20 US walking around money. Plus a hundred bucks a month for the months they are not working. Plus all emergencies taken care of, maybe $1000 a year for each team member.
Why? I'm the poorest man on the planet. But the why is because for the remainder of the year, when not working with me, my team makes 10 soles a day when they work, maybe two weeks a month if they're lucky.
So my $2000-2500 US a year is their bread and butter and nut much more than that.
I happen to pay my staff well. Few people pay what I do. No matter. The point is that you arrived at Rolando's place, gave him $100 and then another $30 and thought that would take care of you for several weeks. In real time, despite what you thought he said, or what he actually said, that takes care of 3-4 days work, at a maximum. Remember that he is paying people too. So while it's not your fault, you must understand that if you brought him $50 a day it barely would have covered expenses. Maybe twice that and you would have gotten the time you wanted with him.
And I don't know Rolando. I don't know how many people he pays. But I will venture to guess that the two local people who came to drink ayahuasca with him on your dime didn't pay him anything, or, if they did, it was a chicken or some rice: which meant Rolando, if he has family, had to get paid elsewhere. That was you.
I am still sorry that you had a rotten time. I wish the world were different. But it's not. We Westerners need to open our eyes and see what is there, not what we want to see there.
I've a friend who was a guest on one of my trips a couple of years ago. He recently went out, without telling me, for a 30 day hike with a couple of my team members and went to the Galvez river to spend time with the Matses.
While he wrote me, after the fact, that he had a fantastic, if difficult, time on the hike, he was bored to death in the Matses' villages. And in the end he threatened to file a denuncio--a report of being ripped off with the local police--in Iquitos.
I love the guy but had to laugh. What the hell did he think the Matses would do in their villages except be themselves? They go out hunting at 5 AM, return when they have food enough for their family, and then lie in hammocks for 15-20 hours till it's time to hunt again. And my friend was bored. OF COURSE he was bored. He wasn't used to a lifestyle that took care of business in an hour and then rested for 23 hours.
If he had told me beforehand I would have clued him. I've spent months with the Matses and 99 % of the time was eating or resting. Women tend the chacras, the fields, not men. Women fish, not men, traditionally. Women clean the camp, not men. Man's job is hunt and protect. And if he can do that in one or two hours a day, he's good as gold. So my poor friend found it boring. But my friend was wrong to think he was being cheated. He was in the reality.
And the reality, very often, like your experience with Rolando, is a far far cry from your imagination. The reality is not wrong; your imagination is simply a size too big for it.
Thanks, gorman

The Chicken, the Duck, and the Eggs

This morning started off just fine: cool temp, promise of a clear day, a good night's sleep and a wild night here last night with all the kids over and laying waste to everything in sight, particularly the huge box that came with the new washing machine.
This morning Chepa, the wife/ex-wife, came over with the babies again, and I knew she was coming but couldn't remember why.
"The gallina," she said, reminding me that when she left last night she had said she wanted a chicken to make soup with.
"Right. Vamos."
So off we trooped to the chicken coop. All the chickens and ducks were locked up inside their houuse so I let them out to get some sun, picked a nice fatty for Chepa and we tied her up.
But there was only one duck. Where the heck was the second duck? It was locked up with the others last night, there's no way in or out for anything larger than a snake, and no way for a snake that ate a duck to get out of the house or the coop.
I'm getting frustrated losing all these birds. When we don't lock them up I realize the owls come at night--or at least they will till I make a chicken wire top over the whole coop--but this is getting silly. And two of the little chicks were gone as well. Damn, this is getting confounding. Not a single feather anywhere. From inside a locked chicken house.
And then I noticed one of the chicks that was still there had a cut on its head; a bad one. We'be brought her to this house till she recovers enough for us get put vaseline on it. I'm told the other chickens won't peck her to death if we do that.
So with Chepa taking one hen and three of the ten new ones gone, and three of the ducks now gone--we have one duck, seven chicks and six hens. And we started out--or I've bought altogether--about 34 chickens and four ducks. That's not good math.
But then, while I was looking for any hole in the coop that might have been exploited, I saw five eggs. Our first.
So I brought them in and made two over easy for Italo.
"I'm not eating those! I eat eggs from Walmart!"
So I had one. Wow!!! Now that was an egg. We already eat eggs from chickens that supposedly eat natural food and are not locked up 24/7 in tiny pens, but this is a whole 'nother level of flavor. This baby is the product of bread, rice, corn, broccoli, oranges, celery, carrots, tomatoes, onions, garlic and the ends and left overs from every other vegetable we eat around here. This was good.
Guarantee that Madeleina will never eat one, so I guess I'm just gonna give them all to Chepa. She don't care. Right this minute she's at her Amazon Indian best, breaking a chicken's neck, dipping it into boiling water, pulling the feathers, manhandling the guts. And if that chicken has a huevera, egg making apparatus full of eggs in it, well, she'll be in heaven.
And that's the morning report from this chicken-buying, chicken-dying, duck-disappearing, egg-laying corner of the world.

New York City Night

Good morning, everybody. I was thinking about New York today, about when I was growing up there. I was born in Queens, but with my father a Broadway actor, Manhattan was part of our back yard, and I started going there on the train when I was maybe 12-13, and then moved there just as I was turning 19.
In any event, I remembered this story I wrote a long time ago and thought I'd share it with you. If I've printed it before I don't remember, so forgive me if you've seen it.

The first time I ever smoked pot and hash was at Woodstock. It was an event that I mostly remember as a blur. It was the summer of 1969 and I was 19-years old. But something had happened there and when I returned from the festival I was different. I hadn’t had the greatest time in the world there, hadn’t done acid yet, but I had gotten high from the hash and pot, and I had changed. I suppose it started a year earlier, when I’d hitchhiked to Kentucky and worked on a tobacco farm for a couple of months. But Woodstock had cemented it: I was a long-hair at heart and in spirit.
Shortly after I returned I started college in New York and in the first semester still lived at home. My friend Bruno and I used to go into the city on Friday nights all through high school and drink Benedictine and Brandy, and we still did, only now while he still drank his B & B, I smoked marijuana. We’d take his car to Flushing, park on the upper level of the open air public parking lot and take the subway in. Most nights we headed to the Village, where we walked around, him drunk, me stoned, Alphabet City or the St. Mark’s Street area. He’d usually start drinking on the train; I’d wait until we arrived at the Bleeker Street station to light my joint. In those days I’d get so high and start laughing, and he’d be laughing and we’d just be two kids from Queens walking down the street laughing at everything. Street signs were funny; the people on the street were a scream; trying to walk up and down parked cars was hilarious.
The village throbbed in those days. It was 1969 and hippies were everywhere. Art was a way of life and psychedelic posters announcing shows at the Fillmore East jumped out at you from every inch of building wall space.
One of our favorite things to do was wait until about midnight then go up to the bookstore/poster gallery on the second floor of the old Dom, a hall for live music. We didn’t really have the nerve to go into that place—everyone seemed so grownup, probably 21-years old or so—so we’d go upstairs to the poster store and listen to the The Fugs play Kill Kill Kill for Peace! or the Mothers of Invention wailing away downstairs. You could hear it pretty good from upstairs.
One night we’d finished with the concert and were back out on the street and for some reason we bumped into a couple of other fellows. They had something to drink and some smoke, so we teamed up and walked around Alphabet City for a while. In those days, before gentrification, anything east of Avenue A was pretty dicey. So what we were doing there stoned way over on Avenue B and C is a good question.
In an effort to ward off what we supposed to be the muggers and the thieves, Bruno, who’d done some karate, began to ki-ay! as we walked. That’s the karate focus-shout you hear people make just as they lower their hand onto a stack of bricks. Bruno was just doing it in the air. And the two guys we were with thought that was cool so they began doing it as well. I did a few, but since I was stoned and not drunk, I thought it was rude and uncool, considering the hour—maybe 2AM—and that people were sleeping. Too, everyone on our side of the street was running for cover, thinking we were the bad guys.
Except this one group of about five guys way in front of us. We were headed out of Alphabet City, back to where the avenues had names when we first saw them. They were walking in the same direction. We noticed them because when Bruno would ki-ay! we could hear them respond with a similar ear-splitting cry. Bruno and our new friends thought it was the funniest thing, and I thought it pretty funny as well, like a human echo. They kept walking in front of us and we kept following them, slowly catching up, until we weren’t 50-feet behind them by the time we got to Bowery. Then Bruno really laid it on them. He reached down into his brandied guts and began to put on a ki-ay show. Six, eight in a row, each louder and more menacing than the last, and by his last we were no more than three-feet behind them.
At that moment, the biggest guy in the group turned and hit me in face as hard as he could, absolutely flooring me. My nose split and blood began spurting out wildly. I got back up just as the new group got their belts off, all of which had those heavy, knife-like pointed buckles, and began belting me with them. I went down again. I had no idea what was wrong, but within seconds I was back up, this time on the attack. It wasn’t much of an attack, but the best I could muster considering my nose was broken, my teeth ached and I had a couple of pretty good belt cuts across my face.
To his credit, Bruno was jumping into the melee as well, as were our new friends. But the thing that caught my eye was that the fellow who’d hit me was covered in dried blood. I mean covered. His nose was broken as well, but he had also been bleeding from his mouth and swollen eyes.
Something had obviously happened and I tried to get everyone to calm down. It didn’t work, and we ended up in a free-for-all that was partly running after each other, and partly catching each other and beating each other up. It wasn’t pretty, but nobody got killed, and by the time we were all too beat up to fight anymore and had fallen into something of a heap on the street, we were semi-friends—or at least too tired to be enemies.
"Why did you hit me, man?" I asked the guy who’d broken my nose.
"I thought you were them."
"We were out tonight and got jumped. They got me good. When you guys came up on us I thought you were them and I wasn’t gonna let it happen again."
"You look awful."
"I was pissed off, man. Sorry if I blindsided you."
"Laid me out."
"You got in some licks."
Bruno suddenly interrupted. "What are you talking to him for? He’s the mother who broke your nose!"
"He didn’t mean it."
"Well I’m not talking to him. Fuck him. Let’s go."
I got up reluctantly and headed off with Bruno. In that instant I had a real insight: pot forgives, drinking stays pissed off. And all that night on the ride home Bruno couldn’t let go of the fight. I relived it with him and thought it funny, even though I still hurt, but he stayed angry and maybe even got angrier. He wished he’d have killed those guys.
After that we didn’t hang out too much together.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

There are some moments...

There are some moments that are worth living for. Madeleina was with Chepa, the wife/ex-wife last week, and the last I saw of them was Friday morning, when I came to pick up Madeleina for school because Chepa felt ill. I brought oranges for Chepa's babies, Sierra and Alexa, kissed them good morning, then headed off with Madeleina for school.
That was the last I saw or heard of her till this afternoon. Seems Chepa went to visit a pal in a nearby town--a woman I knew years ago who had married a friend of mine who she subsequently dumped. (There's a pattern if every Amazon Indian dumps every freaking gringo they marry. It may not be an ABAB pattern, but it's a pattern nonetheless.)
I'm sure everything was fine but it bothered me that Madeleina was taken to another town, to an address I don't know, without a contact phone number or even a phone call to say it was happening and then she was gone 84 hours. Simple consideration, eh?
I wrote Chepa an email saying that and have not heard back. I'm sure I'm on the no-call list for a few days for my transgression. So today I was taken aback when Marco came over and said he was cleaning Chepa's garage. When he needed money I wasn't surprised--I'm dad, after all, and presumably rich (HA!)--but I was surprised when he said Italo's future in-laws, pregnant Sara's parents, were coming to mom's tonight and Chepa insisted the whole house and garage be spit-polished.
I was sort of surprised because they never came here while she was living here for three years.
Still, if she's going to have a baby at Chepa's, maybe that changes things.
So when Marco left, complaining of all the cleaning he had to do, I went out to Italo, who was sitting at his makeshift beautiful desk on the back porch basking in the sun, and said, "So, you've got quite a night coming, eh?"
He looked at me quizzickly. "What do you mean, dude?"
"Sara's parents at mom's...cheque, cheque, eh?"
He looked at me for a moment till the light dawned, then he laughed.
"I just lied and told mom that so she'd clean the house. I'm tired of it looking messy."
"You made it up?"
"Well, you bought mom a new stove and it's being delivered tomorrow as a surprise, and I'm not going to be embarrassed when the delivery guys get there. So they can clean the house, alright?"
I laughed. "You got style, boy. Balls and style."
So for just a minute there, my family felt like my family again. Needs, desires, selfishness, selflessness, love, anger, angst, all that jazz that makes life worth living. And I've not had enough of it around here lately. So it was a fucking refreshing jolt.
Thanks, you guys.
PS: And then how is this for the first two of three people I asked for a back of the book quote?

"Unlike many writing about ayahuasca, Peter Gorman knows this plant and these forests long and well. Explorer, ethnobotanist, writer and raconteur – Gorman is uniquely qualified to tell this incredible tale. A wild mixture of adventure, horror, spirituality, tenderness, and insight, "Ayahuasca in My Blood" is most highly recommended!"
Mark J. Plotkin, Ph.D, President, Amazon Conservation Team and author of A Shamnan’s Apprentice.

"I have known and traveled with Peter for almost a decade and was present for a number of the events he included in this book as well as many others. Don Julio was the most "powerful man" I have ever had the privilege of knowing. Further as a trained scientist I believe the plant medicine truly offers a doorway to a rich world that needs to be understood in our post modern lives. This is destined to become a must read for anyone who is serious about understanding the world of the Shaman."
Lynn Chilson –Former NASA scientist and CEO Chilson Enterprises, Inc.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Cost of Aya Ceremonies in the States

There's been some discussion on a board I occasionally post on regarding the cost of an ayahuasca session when done in the US, as opposed to Peru. The initial poster in the discussion was horrified to learn that someone was charging $350 per person for an ayahuasca ceremony. Other people chimed in that that was way to much. Some people said they wouldn't pay more than $100, and someone who has an ayahuasca retreat outside of Iquitos said the fee there was only $50 a ceremony, and included sleeping quarters.
So I added this to the fray and will no doubt be excoriated soundly:
I don't do ceremony here in the States, but I certainly can look at the math and see where people get their prices.
Let's say you fly a curandero to the US for two weekends of ceremonies.
His flight will be $1500.
Let's say you pay him or her $1500.
Let's say it costs you $500 to feed and entertain the curandero while in town on days when not doing ceremony.
Let's say you use 8 kilos of caapi and 3 kilos of leaf to make 2 quarts of medicine. At $50 a kilo, 20 portions (2 quarts) will cost you $550. If you have 10 people a night for each of the four nights that will double that to $1,100.
Add an extra hundred bucks for toilet paper, mapachos, Agua Florida, and your total for serving 40 people will come to $4,700.
So you would be into it, not counting any time or profit, for $117.50 each.
Toss in maybe breakfast for the people following ceremony and you'ld be up to $125 a head.
Toss in extras, like gas to pick up the curandero at the airport, blankets for people, cushions for guests to sit on (then washing everything after they puked all over)...your basic costs would come to near $140 a guest.
What your time was worth to put the event together would be what you charge over that.
So I could see where putting on such an event would cost a good deal of money and take a good deal of time: getting 40 participants could take a few weeks work.
I guess the point of this post is just to remind people that flying people to foreign countries, paying them for their work, buying the medicine, and taking care of the extras really does add up. It's a very different thing than having people come to your established space outside of Iquitos, where the vine and leaves are free, the curandero doesn't cost as much to feed and so forth.
Personally, I like heading up the river and into the deep green for my medicine, but for those who want it delivered, well, there's a price to pay for that.

PS: Full Disclosure for Blog readers: I have done a couple of ceremonies here, but never utilized a curandero who had to be flown in, housed, paid, etc. Even then it's a long way from inexpensive.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

More Chickens, More Chicken Scratch

So the darned red-tailed hawks and an owl or two wreaked havoc with my chickens and ducks. I think I've mentioned it, but in case I have not, I had about 16 chickens and 4 ducks. Then one chicken stuck her little neck through the fence and had her head cleanly bitten off a few months ago. And then last month we lost another, and a couple of days later, another. Until last week we were down to 7 chickens and 2 ducks! I mean, that hawk was probably looking down on my critters and thinking I'd opened a delicatessen just for him. Sure, like I'm blowing 10 bucks in chicken feed and 10 bucks in good Coastal hay and 10 bucks in the bread they like ever week so that the hawk can have a fat meal.
I've looked for netting to cover the pen, but man, good netting ain't cheap. So Madeleina and I have taken to locking up the birds at night--okay, I tell her to do it and she does it because the birds won't listen to me--in their little house and that's made things better. We haven't lost any this last week or so.
And stubborn as I am, I went ahead and bought 10 more today. They're only about 5 weeks old, but they're feathered out and the guy at the feed store says the bigger ones shouldn't mess with them too much. HA! They're probably writing little signs right now for the hawks and owl that say things like: "The little guys are much sweeter then us old birds!" and "Eat the babies, not us!" that they're going to hang around the yard.
Madeleina doesn't know I bought the birds yet. I did it in a moment of feeling like a hayseed today, just after I took a truck load of garbage out to the dump. I have those moments of activity generally when I have a story on deadline, which is now. But it's coming along: there's a time when you've got so much information on a story in your head that your head needs a little while to sift through it, ruminate to figure out which is the best material and which stays in the notes. And that's what's happening now. Great topic; way too much info collected and too many interviews done to use half of it--I think I've got more than 10,000 words of interviews for a 2,000 word story--so I'm just letting it sort itself out. And when it does, bang! out comes the story as if it was easy. Ha!
So that's the report: Dead ducks and new chickens.

PS: Johan, who's designing the book, says he thinks the cover, which I already thought was great, is freaking fantastic. And I'm looking for a few little sketches I made to add to the mix. I've also asked a pal to make some sketches for me: Just things like Julio stirring the ayahausca while he's making it; people on the ceremonial hut floor, the things used in ayahuasca ceremonies, stuff like that which I think would be a real nice touch to the book.
And of course, here's the reminder for those of you who didn't buy one yet: Get it while it's still being done! Be part of a noble experiment! Get yer butts over to and send the $25 via paypal and buy one. BUT....if you only have one $25 bucks to spare, give it to someone who needs it before you spend it on the book. The book is good, but there's awful shit going on down in Haiti and probably at the local food banks where you live. So those come first. But if you do that and still have another $25 burning a hole in your pocket, then I'm a pretty good second or fourth choice.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Letting You Down, Letting You Down

Well, don't mean to be letting you down like this, but man, I'm pooped. I've been working on cleaning up the book, trying to get some sketches done for it, working a huge cover story for my local alternative paper, and working a cover due in three days for a business magazine. I've been getting up at 5 or 5:30 AM, reading a couple of papers on the net and then diving into work. I'm forgetting to shave, not getting the kitchen cleaned from the night before till the afternoon, and haven't vacuumed the house in two weeks.
Yeah, that's work mode.
So I have not had any great stories to tell you. I feel dry as an old bone right now. Juiced in some quarters, but still dry for looking coming up with great blog pieces.
I apologize, and think that in the next couple of weeks the air will clear and I'll have some good inspiration again.
But I think the work on the stories and the book will pay off. The guy I've got editing the book is my old parterner from our days editing the Highwitness News section of High Times, Bill Weinberg. He hates things like my book. He really sees the world in almost exclusively political terms. He also has a great web page
So an experiential book on shamanism is not up his alley at all. Which is what made him the right choice as copy editor. He sees something he thinks is the least bit phony he's gonna be all over my ass.
Which made it a nice surprise when we spoke yesterday and he begrudgingly said "I'll admit it's a great read" before noting that I should be talking more about Peruvian politics and the plight of the indigenous. I told him I've been writing politics for 25 years and that this book wasn't the place for it. "Well, I can see that, but I like political context..."
"Bill, it's about my experience with the spirit world while under the influence of ayahuasca, and how that gets translated back into this reality."
"Moving on," he said, "I don't know why you're publishing this yourself. You should have a big publisher handing you lots of dough for this."
"You really think it's a book? I mean..."
"Stop fishing for compliments. It's a damned good book and one that could even be better with politics in it, but be that as it may it's still a damned good book. You would have no problem getting a big publisher."
So I'm gonna let that be my fix for the next couple of days. He hates the subject but still thinks it's a real good read.
That said, I'm glad I picked him to be the editor. At least until I get his edits back.
And now that I've managed to get this piece into the "book" idea, why don't at least 20 of you go to the site or paypal, drop me $25 and buy a copy. I mean, imagine if Bill is right and it is good. Imagine if a publisher does want it. Then what? Those of you who bought these copies will have the only copies of these available and who knows, you might be able to sell them for $35 on ebay and make a couple of bucks. So get to it while the getting's good. Don't miss this chance of a lifetime.

Sunday, January 03, 2010


Yeah, well, I've used Ta-Da! before, but who cares. Today I finished the damned book. You heard me. Finished. Coming in at a cool 90,000 words, I think it's gonna be okay. I hope it's a lot better than that, otherwise I might have wasted parts of each of the last 25 years that it took me to live it and at least a year in actually writing it.
I am still in the zone so forgive me. Just wanted to let those of you who actually paid for it know that I have done the work. Needs editing--I've already sent it to a former partner who's a great editor--and tweaking, but the text is done.
Good for me. I hope good for you all as well.
Peter G

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year, Everybody!

Well, Happy New Year, everybody! I hope it's full of joy, wonderment, great surprises and lots of love and laughter.
Here we had a pretty good New Year's Eve: Chepa brought the babies, Italo brought his girlfriend Sarah, and I supplied a good beef soup and a good good steak and broccoli and nice cheese melted onto fresh Italian bread. Lip smackin good.
And then we did the fireworks. Sierra and Alexa had a great time with colored sparklers; Madeleina graduated to lighting packs of firecrackers; Chepa and Italo did the big stuff--rockets and fantastic shells that exploded over the neighborhood.
I supplied the stuff and tried to keep everyone from getting hurt.
And this morning the front yard looks like a battery range and I suppose I'll have to go clean it up.
But I'm not sweating that now. Right now I'm listening to a tape of my late teacher Julio singing a beautiful ceremony that he made for me when my son Marco was deathly ill in August, 1996. The man had a very gentle way but boy was he powerful.
It's a good way to bring in the New Year.
I hope you're having a good time as well.

BOOK NOTE: Book is advancing toward the end. And what a way to bring in the New Year! Just go to, punch the "new book' button and buy a few copies. What could be easier? Heck, if I had to pick your pockets to get your money, now that would be a lot of work, traveling all over the world and having to learn how to be a pick pocket.This way, you not only supply the money, but you do the work to get it to me. I'm loving this whole thing. But I'm way way short of selling 1,000 copies. Which could have me feeling like a failure. You guys want that? Heck no. (Everybody now) HELL NO MISTER P GARMAN! WE DON"T WANT THAT AT ALL SO WE"RE BUYING ALL THOSE BOOKS YOU'RE PROMSING!
See how easy that was?