Saturday, March 24, 2007

Will the Real Indiana Jones Please Stand Up, Please Stand Up

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 has just described me in a link to a story I guest blogged for 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.


Hummingbird said...

Hello Peter,

I have only recently (as in 'yesterday') discovered your work and writings, and have been... well... how to put it? Somehow I felt more 'grounded' and validated for talking with and learning from trees and plants and animals, which has always been my way of life since my earliest recollection at around two years of age. I learned very early on that-- in our culture-- talking to other living things like rocks and wind and stars is considered weird, or at the very least is considered foolish. It never stopped me, though! The natural elements have been my truest friends (over most people) throughout my life.

I apologize for leaving you a note here on your latest blog entry but did not know how else to reach you. I was moved to write because I noted that your friend Julio left here at the same time on the same night as my mother this year. I have missed my mother so very much, the finality of not hearing her voice, etc. My lifegiver was gone. And the strangest thing comforted me when I learned of Julio's passing-- I 'saw' or 'felt' how lovely it would have been for my mother if he escorted her to her next place... and I swear I saw him chuckle and his eyes sparkled as he took her hand by just the fingertips and began to walk with her. Then he said, "Do it this way", and then they floated above the ground about a foot, then a little higher... and she had the biggest grin on her face that I have ever saw! I saw them just go off in this wonderful light, and fade as they got farther away.

I know that he probably escorted hundreds like that on that night. I just know it. And he had a great time doing it!

Anyway, I wanted to say that I feel for you in your loss. I hope your friend visits you frequently!

Best Wishes,

Peter Gorman said...

Well, welcome to Julio's world. He was pretty generous and He's been hanging around making sure I don't mess up with the new guardians he asked to watch out for me.
It wouldn't surprise me in the least if he escorted your mom to the next level. He loved women and he always had a twinkle in his eye.
Peter G

Hummingbird said...

Very cool, Peter, that Julio asked specific guardians to watch over and guide you... happy thought! Big smile...

She really enjoyed the ride! (My mom.)

Have more wonderful life!