Sunday, May 30, 2010

Well, I'm Off. See You in Mid-July

Well, I'm nearly done with the to do lists and ready to hit the road to Peru. I've got two lovely groups to take out into the deep green--and the first will also see the high Andes at Cuzco and Machu Picchu and Ollantaytambo. I hope they're geared up because I am. And I'm not quite ready to slow down yet. The last weeks have been wonderfully hectic. List of twenty things to do every day and nearly every day they get done. Today was a simple couple of short pieces for the local alternative--just 1.600 words total, then find the type of backpack a friend wants in Peru--three stores but I did it, and I have to because that woman guards my entire stock of jungle gear down there--then find a place to board the goat and get the goat there, write the last couple of checks that Italo can mail for July bills, check the medical kit and fill in anything not in there, buy soap, shampoo, toothpaste, razors and so forth for Madeleina and I, get me a pair of sneakers and one more shirt for Madeleina, buy a seven week supply of dog and cat food, clean the house, do all laundry and write to you guys. AND I DID ALL THAT AND IT'S NOT EVEN 5 PM YET. Except clean the house. And pack. And do the other 5 things on the list that I didn't mention. Oh, and somewhere in there, Italo insisted on taking a new picture of me for the facebook page, and I spoke with my sister for an hour, and got some papers notarized for Chepa, and so forth. See what you can do if you get up at 4:30 AM, and drink a LOT of coffee?
So now I'm thinking about you guys. I hope you miss me. I hope you come back and start reading again when I start writing again. I might post a couple of times from Peru, of course, but I'm generally into the trips there full time and this life just isn't part of that life. Neither is Chepa or Italo or Marco or Sara or Taylor Rain or Sierra or Alexa, though I'll think of them often. But I won't call them much. I'll miss them to much and take my eye off what is happening with my crew and my guests, and if I do that for a second, all hell can break loose. Don't ask me why or how. It just can. Because with few exceptions, none of the guests have been to Iquitos, most don't speak Spanish and some have very limited travel experience. They need my crew looking after them--just keeping an eye out that this or that pickpocket isn't cozying up to them to sell them some little jewelry while actually stealing their camera, that sort of thing. So I watch the crew and the crew watches them and it all works. But it leaves me not available for you, so you guys watch out for yourselves, okay?
And wish me luck with the trip, cross your fingers I make some money AND give the guests more than they asked for. And wish me luck traveling with Madeleina. She's a great road tripper but I've never had her alone in Peru--she hasn't been there for about eight years--and now we'll be sharing a hotel room till mid-July, and she's going to get to see me how my team sees me, rather than pretty much just with family and a few friends. So that will change us. I hope that changes us for the better. Because she is one hell of a human.
Alright fellas and gals. I'm signing off before I start bawling. Time to put the next load of wash in and begin to get dinner ready.
A lot of love to you all.
Peter G

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ayahuasca: Medicine or Recreation?

My friend Mike from Iquitos posted a short piece on Ayahuasca on The Captain's Blog, a blog run by another friend out of Iquitos Peru (there's a link on the side of the page somewhere to that.) In it, Mike was asking whether ayahuasca was a real medicine or was it becoming more a recreation or holiday drug due to the number of visitors Iquitos gets who come primarily for the ayahuasca experience.
Well, I answered. Not exactly on point, but still answered. Here it is.

Hello, Mike. To me it's a no brainer. What with the puking and pooping involved, recreation ain't going on with ayahuasca. Not that that implies that everyone utilizes it for the same reasons, but I think most quickly come to understand that this is serious medicine.
And medicine it is. It's what the people on the rivers still depend on to cure a host of ailment, from the physical, to the spiritual and the emotional. The curandero I worked with for so many years, Julio Jerena, was simply the country doctor on the river on which he lived. And for several nearby rivers as well. Every day people would come to him to seek his remedies. And many of those remedies he acquired via his relationship with ayahuasca.
Now what's changed with the influx of outsiders is the way in which ayahuasca is done. Traditionally, or at least in non-indiginous ayahuasca traditions, the guests don't drink ayahuasca. Generally that is left to the curandero. You bring him the problem, he drinks, searches other levels of reality for the problem's source and the remedy, then returns and gives you the information you need to solve, or start solving your problem. My mother-in-law and my father-in-law, both grew up on the rivers outside of Iquitos and they attended ayahuasca sessions in Iquitos every week. But they rarely drank. In fact, I only saw my mother-in-law drink once over a several year period. But she still attended ceremonies weekly, along with going to Catholic church on the plaza on Sundays. And I think that's standard among a huge segment of the populace of elder folks in Iquitos. A lot of them are only 3 generations removed from genuine tribal life and still have a very intimate relationship with the plant world and the forest even if they now life in Iquitos. I'd dare to say there are hundreds of curanderos in Iquitos who tend to people like my in-laws regularly but who have never had a gringo at their ceremonies.
Now we westerners arrive and suddenly we're wanting to drink the medicine. And it's been good for an awful lot of people. But it is definitely a new modality and one that surprises a lot of traditional curanderos who are asked to come to Iquitos to serve the medicine. At least until they get used to the concept.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Just saying....

Okay, you guys, this time it's for real. The prepaid books came to my house and I'm in the middle of smoking them/signing them and Madeleina is addressing the envelopes. Now that they're here I realize you will all know way too much about me and that's a pretty scary thought. On the other hand. what the heck do I have to hide after all I've already exposed? Well, you bought the books so you'll find out soon enough.
Fortunately, I'll be in Peru when you do so I can ignore the slings and arrows you'll be sending my way. And the book is freaking gorgeous, so you can't fault me for that.
Just letting you know that life is proceeding. Enjoy the book. And then be jealous that Madeleina, Chepa, Sierra, Alexa, Sara, Italo and Taylor came over last night. And I made the standard potato/egg salad, cucumber/red onion salad, fresh corn, marinated beef, homemade barbeque beans, rotini with 4 cheeses, grilled chicken, sausages, corn/red pepper salad....and we bought a little pool for the girls and they had a great time and Chepa was getting high on champagne and we were laughing and we set off $100 bucks worth of fireworks to celebrate my book being published and we had a great party that only would have been better if you had all been here.
So next time don't be so formal. I don't send out invites. Just be here and the party will happen. Cool? Cool.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Pat on My Own Back

Ya know, this has been a pretty good week. We got the book up, Madeleina and her sisters, Chepa's new babies, have been over several times--even though it's not my week with Madeleina--and a friend of mine put up a facebook page for ayahuasca in my blood. And after one day, that's got 60 people on it. Holy Mackerel! Who are these people? Do I really want total strangers reading my book and finding out all about me? And if they do, will I just be taking up their brain space uselessly? Yikes! It's all pretty scary, tell you the truth.
But then another nice thing just happened. The Houston Press Club, which gives out the pretty prestigious Lone Star Awards annually for the best journalism in Texas, named me an official finalist in the Print Journalist of the Year, Government/Politics and Public Service categories for my work with the local Fort Worth alternative newspaper. The worst you can do as a finalist is bring home a third place trophy. And yes, selfishly, I love getting the awards. I especially love getting first place awards. They might not mean much to anybody else, but to journalists they mean that a pool of your peers considered your work and judged it to be outstanding. And considering the amount of work that goes into a 5000-6000 word cover story, it's nice to get the feedback suggesting it was worth the effort. It means a writer worked hard and produced insightful, honest work.
And you know what else was great? Nearly every other writer on our small staff is also a finalist in one category or another. The paper has an amazing pool of talent and we're driven hard by our editor who pushes us to make those last last phone calls even after you've made what you think are your last last phone calls. She won't let anything slip by her.
Six years ago, two years after I moved to Texas, I first hooked up with the paper when the editor bought an unsolicited story on Plan Colombia from me. The payment saved my house for a month and put me on her radar. And I have loved working for that paper this whole time.
I hope all of you are having fantastic days/weeks/months/lives as well.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Three Things of the UTMOST Importance

Not necessarily to you, but three things of the utmost importance to me. First off, my book is officially published. Changes have been made, everyone who ordered it has it on the way, those who ordered it and wanted it signed will get it when I get my copies next week. So, if you didn't buy the darned thing yet, it is of the UTMOST importance that you do so immediately. Otherwise, I'm not gonna feel the love. So get to it. Just plunk yer money down at
or go directly to and punch in Ayahuasca in My Blood in the search line.
Either way I think you'll have a good read.
And thank you all for your terrific patience and with putting up with blog entries like this. It just feels like I broke water or something. NOW STOP PROCRASTINATING AND GET THE BOOK! Please.

Second thing of UTMOST importance is that I'm nearly ready for my trip to Peru. Last night Chepa took Madeleina out clothes shopping for the trip to Peru. She came back with two friends, Madeleina, her two babies, Sierra and Alexa at 8:30, looking for dinner. So I whipped up some swordfish, some sea scallops--I've been on this seafood kick for more than a week now and man do I feel good--steak, rice, spinach, broccoli and a nice red leaf lettuce salad with some cool stuff in it. Then I popped a bottle of inexpensive but pretty good Cooks' Champagne from California and Chepa and her friends felt suitably treated.
But while that was happening, Madeleina was trying to give me a clothes's show. And the babies were vying for my attention. And so Madeleina, while she got compliments on her new stuff--first girly stuff she ever got, including a long yellow sun dress that looked gorgeous and will work perfectly in Iquitos before and after we go to the jungle, as well as at the Rosa Nautica restaurant in a mansion on a pier in the Pacific in Lima--still she got short shrifted because of the various demands.
Now this being Chepa's week with Madeleina, they all left around 10:30--long past my normal bedtime as I get up generally at 5 AM or so. Well, this morning I got up at 5:34 AM and all I could think about was waiting till close to 8 AM, just before it was time for Madeleina to go to school, to go over and surprise everybody (Chepa has no phone this week, so all visits are surprises) and tell Madeleina how beautiful she looked in that yellow dress and how proud I will be to have her with me in Iquitos.
At 7:45 I left and caught them just as they were ready to leave the driveway. "What are you doing here, dad?" she asked.
"Well, I was busy and high last night and dont' know if you heard me when I told you how beautiful you looked in that yellow dress, baby. And how proud I will be to have you with me in Iquitos and the jungle. You are the reason this trip is going to be very special to my guests. Just wanted to tell you that before you went to school. That's why I'm here."
She was almost crying and that surprised me. "Thanks, dad. You didn't think it was too tight?"
"I thought it was perfect."
"Okay. We have to go or I'll be late. I love you, dad."
"I love you too."
"Don't forget to feed the chickens if I don't come over tonight."
"Don't sweat it, baby."

And then the third thing of UTMOST importance was that Chepa came over with the babies after she dropped Madeleina off at school. And THIS IS DISGUSTING SO if you think I'm perfect, close this window now. CAUSE I'M NOT! Wish I was, but....
When it's time to go to Peru for me, it's time for Chepa to groom me. That's a Peruvian thing. She goes through my hair looking for bugs (don't have any, but she loves picking. It's a monkey thing that all Peruvians from the jungle do to each other all day long, even here in the US). Last week she was merciless in cutting my two ingrown toenails--and today it was time to cut my hair and clean my sebaceous cyst. Yes, DISGUSTING but you were all warned. I've got this stupid cyst on my back. It's about one inch higher than I can reach, and one inch lower than I can reach, so effectively, I don't know it's there. It doesn't hurt, doesn't make my shirt stick out like a lump of coal, but it's still there.
And so after the hair cut, there I was, lying on my stomach a towel on the kitchen floor and she had surgeon gloves on and two shot glasses to use as squeeze thing and she went at it. These are pretty horrible fatty deposits that really suck to have. I'm glad I only have that one. But then she takes the knife and cuts it open and Sierra and Alexa watch her clean it and the blood starts coming out and they're screaming, "Stop it! Stop stabbing Mr. P. Garman! Stop stabbing, mom!" and I'm laughing, telling them it doesn't hurt, and then Alexa, figuring if a knife slicing a half inch notch on my back didn't hurt, then probably a fork wouldn't hurt either. So she grabbed a fork and began stabbing me with it. "Nada!" she yelled with glee when I didn't wince. "Nada!"
So she started stabbing harder, and her mom was trying to get her to stop but mom was working directly over my spine and I didn't want any accidents so I told her to concentrate, which meant Alexa basically had a free hand and it was only after she drew blood from 16 little punctures--four per hard fork thrust--that Chepa realized things were out of hand.
And when it was all done and I was properly washed with alcohol, I took Chepa and the kids out for donuts.
And that's the story. That was my day. Or at least the first few hours. SInce then there have been car inspections, food shopping (Boots' chicken legs are in the oven as I write this), a nap, lawn mowing, goat catching (as he chewed through his tether) and other life stuff.
Thanks for hanging with me. Now buy that book, won't you?
But darn if it wasn't a pretty fantastic morning.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Here's the Book Deal

Okay, well, I've got the proof copies in hand. Looks good. Two of the three are already in the hands of copy editors who are not allowed to suggest text changes, but can note if page numbers don't match the Table of Contents, if words are misspelled and so forth. We're hoping to have those changes--and we're hoping there are not many--done by Sunday so that I can order the copies so many of you good folk pre-paid for. If that happens, I'll order Monday and get it a week from Monday, then get it out to you post haste.
It looks like a book. Feels like a book. I hope it tastes like a tasty, tasty book.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Have Not Done a Recipe in a While

I've not written about cooking lately--though i've been doing a lot--so I'm taking five minutes to do just that.
Madeleina and I were not sure what to have last night. Before she went to school she asked me and I said, "I don't know. I haven't thought about it yet..."
And when I did think about it, I thought that we'd had roast chicken the night before she asked, nice very very slow cooked ribs with baked potatoes and veggies the night before that, corned beef and cabbage on Mother's Day...I was thinking we'd had enough meat for a day.
So I thought about salmon, and then thought about shrimp, and then thought about both of them together.
So I picked up a nice piece of salmon for the two of us, and 1/2 pound of farm raised medium (31-35) sized shrimp.
First thing was to peel and devein the shrimp, then throw the peels into a small cast iron pot to scald without liquid until bright red--but not burned. To that I added water and a bit of crab-boil (super hot stuff you only add in small amounts), couple of onion ends and a piece of celery.
Then I put on a small pot of basmati rice (starting with garlic soaked in olive oil to get that flavor going, then adding water to that when the garlic was browned but not burnt) and added good achiote because Madeleina was thinking we ought to have yellow rice.
While that was going on, we mowed some of the lawn, fed the chickens and ducks, let the goat free for a while--man, he was loving all the thick vegetation the rains have brought!--and played with Boots, whose ears are so much better since the visit to the vet he's like a young pup again.
Back at the house, I steamed some broccoli florets and asparagus, then dunked a bunch of fresh spinach into boiling water for a few seconds, just to soften it.
When the veggies were near ready, I got out the saute pan and got it good and hot before adding a little of that garlic infused olive oil to it. When that was good and hot in went to salmon. Just a little sea salt and cracked black pepper.
In another saute pan, again with that garlic and olive oil, but this time with minced red onions as well, I put the shrimp.
The shrimp finished about 30 seconds before the salmon, so I removed them and then added to the pan juices the ounce or two of shrimp-peel essence I had left, then diced tomatoes, fresh cilantro, the juice of two limes and a touch of butter, making a simple but tasty sauce.
While that was finishing I sauted the spinach in garlic for a few secs, tossed in a bit of balsamic vinager, then put it on the bottom of the dinner plates. I made a ring of yellow rice around that, dropped the salmon on the spinach, put the shrimp on the salmon and poured the sauce over the seafood.
Somehow, while I was doing that I managed to get a pot of water boiling and redipped the broccoli and asparagus just to heat them up, then dressed the plates with them.
Man, that was good eating. Let's do that again.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Madeleina's Band Recital

Well, as a dad I am forced by nature to go to my daughter's band recitals. Just as I was forced to got to Italo and Marco's soccer games through high school.
But here's the thing: Madeleina's band, like Italo and Marco's soccer teams, is fantastic. When they play you think you are listening to the New York Philharmonic. No fooling. The band leader should be leading a symphony for a city somewhere, she's that good. And she's the 7th grade band leader. The 8th grade conductor has the flair for a real orchestra. His kids played an 8 minute piece called "The Duel of the Railroads," whose composer I forget, about an event in the civil war when the confederates got hold of a train and the northerners took a train to chase them. It was so clear, so wonderful at storytelling without a word being uttered, that I cannot believe that man is not conducting a genuine orchestra. But I don't mean to belittle the 8th graders. They were a professional, genuine orchestra. His moves were economical, theatrical, daring, on point. WOW!!! I love symphonic music--my mother made me listen to it for hours daily, particularly when I was sick with rheumatoid arthritis for a couple of years--and while I know nothing about it, I still turn on the classical stations periodically while driving just for the charge of hearing a full symphony work magic.
And tonight I heard that magic performed by 7th and 8th graders. Fantastic. I hope those band leaders, those conductors, get their chance. They deserve it.

No, John, Thank You

Couple of weeks ago I won an award from the Fort Worth Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. It's my second first-place award with them, and it's a nice one because contestants come from all over Texas and Oklahoma. This morning, the Chapter's director, John Dycus, wrote a note to all the winners letting us know that he was proud of all of us and apologizing for not getting his note out earlier. I realized I'd never written him to say what something like an award from the SPJ might mean to some of us. So I wrote him this note. Little things sometimes mean a lot.

John: I just want to thank you for the effort you make to give us reporters a chance to feel good about our work. I appreciate more than you know. For 15 years or so I toiled at High Times magazine--senior, exec and ed in chief--working the hard news end of the drug war. The work was good, it was important, and we were the source of nearly every major national drug war story from the late 1980s through most of the 1990s. But while Peter Jensen's people and the Atlantic Monthly and the New Yorker all came to us for info, background, sources, no one ever mentioned us publicly.
None of that mattered, except to my kids, who always wondered why I didn't have any awards if my work was so good.
We moved to Texas in 2002 and I started writing for the Fort Worth Weekly in 2004. My first award came from the SPJ in 2006. I was at the dinner with my daughter, Madeleina. When I was called up to accept a first prize she ran off to a corner of the restaurant and jumped up and down shouting "We won! We Won!" to the window and the city below.
I've won several awards since, including one with SPJ again this year.
My daughter is a couple of years older now--my sons are too old to make a fuss--but she still jumped up and down when I brought the award home. "It never gets old being a winner!" she shouted over and over.
So just so you know, I appreciate your efforts on our behalf.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Alright, you'se guys...

Well, for better or worse, I just ordered three "proof" copies of my own book. Should have them on Friday, I hope, and then two editors and I will go over them to check for needed corrections, and once those are done, all of you who have bought it will have them on their way. How is that????? Cool, right? Yer patience is paying off, said the doctor's assistant. And I think it's gonna be cool. At the moment the cover is a different color than what was ordered, but what the heck.
So.....I think I'll be having real copies made in about 10 days and you should all have it a week after that. Fair?
And now I am so relieved. Look at the list: Book--Check. Cross that one off.
And it is a beautiful, fantastic, wonderful sunny and windy day here in bucolic Joshua, Texas and I am going out to get some exercise by mowing more lawn. I am gonna get some sun and play with chickens and maybe kick the goat--since he butted me while I untangled him night before last and gave me a black eye--and throw baseballs to Boots who will watch them with utter disinterest.
And for mother's day? I guess I'm feeding Chepa and the gang. They're all headed over to one of her sister's homes today for ceviche, the Peruvian national dish. She's already been here today. She came over about 5:30 AM. Why? Because she's got a nasty case of poison ivy and didn't believe me when I told her that it would spread if she didn't put calamine lotion on it. She didn't and it did. Now it's everywhere, and boy is she mad about how it looks. She looked like a monkey with ticks this morning, just itching terribly, terribly, and not having enough hands to scratch it all at the same time.
Now she's got the calamine so she's okay.
Have a great one, everybody.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Boots, Wonder Dog, Better!

Well, now I can die and know that I might not have to go to hell. For about a year and a half I have been thinking that's where I belong. That's because Boots, the Blind Wonderdog who's not really blind but has sort of inverted eyelids that leave his eyes red all the time--though they don't apparently hurt him and the cornea's are not harmed--has had something wrong with his ears since about this time last year. Not just a little something. Something that made him shake his head pretty wildly about a kazillion times a day. He could still play and run and all that jazz, but that ear thing would get going and he's wince and whine and rub his ears along the hard brush bushes in front of the house to try to clear it.
He wouldn't let us near him to see what was wrong. At least he wouldn't let me look. Italo and Sarah had a little better luck last summer and tried to get those ears clean--they were filled with a pretty nasty ick. I thought it was some sort of worms or ticks or flea infestation.
The hell part for me is because I didn't take him to the vet. The cash flow has been pretty tight and I figured, based on his last two vet visits, that it would run maybe $400 and, well, every time I had an extra $400 lying around I had to fix a car or pay an electric bill.
Excellently, the problem was reduced by 90 percent this winter and he was his old self with little whining and scratching at those ears.
But in the last month bang! it's been back with a vengeance. So he went on the list of things to do.
And then last week, I decided, the heck with it, I'll just credit card the vet. I was feeling too badly about how badly he felt. That's no way to treat a dog.
So me and Italo spent an hour trying to round him up yesterday--he initially came when I called him, took one look at me, smelled something not right and ran behind and under the house. How did he know I was gonna take him to the vet? Beats me, but he knew something was up. Italo eventually got him and off we went.
Boots was shaking like a leaf in the car. I don't know why but he's never liked riding in cars or pick up trucks. Maybe because one of them hit him and broke his hips a few years ago--another time I didn't bring him to the vet, just nursed him at home for a couple of months after I set them (one of my very lucky days).
Anyway, we get him to the vet, she puts him out, gets down on the floor, sticks her face into his ears and says "Yeast. But these aren't bad at all compared to some dog's ears."
"What does 'yeast' mean?"
"Just what it says. He gets it on his paws, scratches his ears, it transfers and then grows inside. It bothers the heck out of a dog. Almost makes them crazy. We have to flush it out and then you'll have to keep an eye on it. "
She flushed them out in five, ten minutes. got them dried, packed them with a medicated vaseline to help heal some of the scratching he'd done inside them, and that was it. Hundred and sixty five bucks.
And now Boots is better, at least for a couple of weeks. But she says he probably won't mind when we flush again.
And that was it. I let that poor guy suffer for a freaking year over $165. I deserve hell for that.
Still, I'm glad he's not hurting.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Book Coming Along

I know. I'm getting to be tiresome here. But I just want to note that as far as I can tell, we really are nearly finished. A couple of photos were sent to the designer, a map is not in place, and I think the designer is damned near done with things. Then we'll make a couple of proof copies, hopefully this week, and get the project done. Whew! I'm pooped from it all.
But with the book and the trips almost on me, it also feels great. It's a mountain of work but worth the pain. Won't it be awful if the book simply sucks? Damn, I hope not.
Now, it's a beautiful Sunday afternoon out here in bucolic Joshua, Texas, and I'm gonna head out and start cutting some lawn. How about that? Sounds good to me. I'm no longer strapped--at least until tomorrow when I've got to get to work on a short piece for my alternative paper and then jump into the fray on a new cover story--to this computer. I hardly know what to do. Except for that lawn that's a'callin'.
And one of those real good barbeques later where I'll get to play with the kids and raise a little hell while serving a whole bunch of good food.
Nice to be alive, isn't it? I hope you're all feeling it too.