Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Gift of Taking People to the Jungle

You know, I spend a great deal of time thinking about what it is I am doing when I take people to the jungle. I wonder why I do it and I wonder whether the people who come on the trips with me get what they paid for. More than that, I wonder if they get the point of what I was trying to give them out there during our short time together. I wonder if I even know what I'm trying to give them.
I worry that I am doing the trips for selfish reasons. Money? That would be a good selfish reason. But I never end up making money. I look at a trip and break it down and no matter how many people I've got, by the time I get home there isn't much. I think the most I actually ever made from a trip was $4,200, with which I bought my second Ford Ranger two years ago. And that was for a month of planning--at least 2-3 hours a day, every day--then flying to Peru, spending three or 4 days getting things ready, then 22 days with people, then three days cleaning things up, then flying home. And I'm generally useless for the first few days when I'm home. So for a month of prep and a month of work, during which I'm on call 24/7 (even if I get drunk someone is sure to find me at my hotel at 4 AM to tell me they can't sleep and can't I wake up and talk with them about a bad dream?). So $4,200 isn't a lot. And that's the most I ever made.
So I guess I'm not doing them for money, even though I wish I could make money.
I do need the breaks from writing and the trips definitely afford me that. And I have had girlfriends in Peru sometimes, and since I haven't had any here in Texas, that's a plus when it happens. And I do get to spend time with my friends there, many of whom are on my work teams, so that's a plus.
So I'm definitely getting something out of it on a selfish level.
And I worry sometimes if that's what I'm really about: Do I really do the trips just to get my own vacation, and if I do will my guests see through me and realize how selfish I am?
And then other times it seems to me that I do the trips because people want me to. They want to see what the jungle is like, and they want to try ayahuasca, the wonderful healing and visionary vine of the Amazon. , and they want to spend a night on an Amazon riverboat packed to the gills with people and goods and hammocks hung like spiderwebs--even if they don't know it when they sign up. They may think they want to climb around Machu Picchu--and I'm not going to diminish that--but they really want to clamber around Sacsayhuaman, the huge stone structure above Cuzco, at dusk and into the night when it's freezing cold, having eaten some magic mushrooms. Again, that's what I think people want sometimes, and so that's what I give them. I also tell them stories, some bawdy, some warm, about the river and its people. I teach them how to shop in a Third World market, teach them how to eat grub worms, how to make trying on boots a fun experience rather than a drag. I teach them how to puke and shit themselves and let me or my team wipe them off and clean them up, how to trust other people in a way they have never needed to trust people. I teach them to try new things and face little inconveniences with a certain amount of anger that can quickly be turned into joy.
But you know, I still don't have confidence that people really want that. Who the heck am I to think they needed any of it? Why do I have to do the trips when there are dozens of good outfits who have better equipment, heck, they've got screened in lodges while I take people out into the middle of nowhere and eschew screening altogether except for mosquito nets at night.
So why the hell do these people wind up with me and do they all feel ripped off? Do they all want better hotels? Do they walk away thinking I cheated them? I guess some do. Some ask for financial breakdowns to see how their money was spent. Some hate me and still write me notes, months, even years after their trips, telling me what a sorry son of a thieving bitch I am.
And then, like this week, I get a couple of notes from people who have been on the trip. One former client said she'd had a breakthrough of such immense proportions she still can't describe it--and that's more than a year after her trip. Another wrote this week that every day is more joyful now than it was before. Another wrote last week to say he was thinking of coming to Texas just to give me a hug.
And when I look at it objectively, I think there are a lot more of those people than there are the ones who walk away cheated.
And when I get those notes, when people realize that their lives have been changed, not by me but by the trip or some element in the trip--and not always something they can even put their finger on--then I realize that though I still don't know why I do these trips, it' still important that I do them. And so I do, even though I often tell myself I'm through with them, that they're too much work, not enough return.
I guess I'm saying that I'm very very glad that the spirits are generous with my guests in ways that move them. And I'm glad to be able to put those people in a place where they get out of themselves enough to hear those spirits. And if I have my druthers, it's gonna happen for the people on my upcoming trips too. I sure hope it does.


clown princess said...

Look at the title of this post. There is your answer. Sure, there may be selfish reasons that play into the why of your ventures, but it is a gift you offer to others as well as yourself. If everyone you take into the jungle does not see value in the gift, the fault may possibly be within them. I believe there is a lesson to be learned in every experience, just sometimes we don't always get it.

Morgan said...

Peter, I think you know my feelings about the trip. But it was just last night, had not yet read this post, and I was standing outside of the 97 year-old log cabin I'm living in, looking at the melting, cracking, rushing river I now live by, lit by a clear sky, dazzling stars and a bright moon - in the middle of forested foothills with coyotes howling somewhere beyond, and I'm sure a few cougars and wolves somewhere unseen.

And I was immerssed in all this, thinking "Damn! Lord Almighty that trip, that whole opportunity, was so tremendously special"

Recently someone asked me: "what made you want to move out to a log cabin?"

and I told them, "I've been living in big cities for awhile and just getting sick of them. For a few years now I simply wanted to get back out to more natural places, close to trees and animals and rivers. Then last year I spent some time in the Amazon - and that pretty much sealed the deal."

Before we went out there, I remember you saying "there will be enough medicine to keep you on your toes for at least a year..."

still flyin', still soaring..

We Love You Peter!

many, many thanks

Morgan said...

by the way, I don't want to portray some kind of selfishness here. It seems there is always a helping hand and benevolent guard against self-indulgence.

Soaring yes.

But the time since the jungle has also been one of Family, Health and Good Honest Work.

Very special indeed. To me at least.


Peter Gorman said...

Fantastic. Thanks.

daisyduke said...

No te preocupes.
You make the trips because you make the trips; while you're on them, that is your purpose, as you write, that is your purpose, as you make the bacon, that is your purpose...Please smile, because the very moment you do, that becomes your purpose.
AND make sure you have several more of those life changing/cheating trips on your horizon...I MUST go on at least one.