The Bishop Family's "Most Excellent Adventure" in Peru
In the spring of 2002, as a result of our success with the Amazon Herb Company, my son and I were awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to the Amazon Rainforest and Andes Highlands of Peru with Amazon John Easterling, the founder of the company. My daughter, Reyna was also able to join us for most of the trip.
It was an incredible journey – the best adventure we have ever had together as a family. More importantly, we learned that the Amazon Herb Company not only "talks the talk" – they "walk the walk". It really is a mission-driven company that is accomplishing all the positive things they are committed to doing. As Amazon John recently said:
"The secret to our success is having a commitment to something larger than ourselves. We have formed partnerships with the indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest to really work hands-on at the village level. Now their land is being preserved and protected, and they have the resources to make their own choices about the future. "
My son and I are proud to be a part of this mission. Here is the story of what happened on our journey. I hope you enjoy reading it.
LIMA: THE CAPITOL CITY OF PERU
We arrived in Lima on Wed evening, June 12th. The next day, we toured the city of Lima, which is the capital city of Peru, and once was the center of the Spanish Empire in all of South America. In the historic central square of the city "La Plaza del Armas" we witnessed a massive public demonstration against the Peruvian President Toledo and his attempts to privatize the public utility industries of Peru. This is the same disastrous strategy that caused the recent economic crisis in Argentina, and the Peruvian people have united in their opposition to this.
In actuality, this day was the beginning of a wave of demonstrations occurring all over the country while we were there. In fact, for two days (June 19-20) the ENTIRE country went on strike to protest. This was an historical precedent that happened only once before in history – in Argentina. Fortunately for us, the protests in the places we visited were relatively peaceful, and we were not threatened in any way. Our travel plans were disrupted, but the end result was better than we had hoped for.
From Lima, we flew to Pucallpa, a frontier town on the Rio Ucayali (a tributary of the mighty Amazon river). We were greeted in the tiny airport with dancing children, who immediately took each of us by the hand to join them.
As this experience was repeated in other more remote places, we began to understand that this is a way the gentle tribal people of the Amazon basin welcome honored visitors into their environment. Civilization "ends" in Pucallpa, and from here we entered the vast Amazon basin wilderness.
Early the next morning, from rustic jungle lodging near Pucallpa, we journeyed upriver 5 hours by boat, far away from any signs of modern civilization. We left at 5 AM before the sun was up. The river was wide, flat and strong, making for a smooth and fast ride. Spectacular beauty surrounded us as the sun came up.
The river water was shining like a mirror, and reflected the broad expanse of the sky above. At times, smaller tributaries intersected the river, forming slow gigantic whirlpools, playfully rocking our boat, and reminding us that in this immense, wild place, man is not the ultimate authority.
The clouds expressed themselves in a universal language of shape, and form and color, more wondrous than I have ever seen before. Some formed billowing whirls with plumes trailing into space against an intense blue sky. Others formed low flat bands of gray with streaks of showers falling into an endless, unbelievably green forest.
Shoreline vegetation, taller than three or four men, often shielded the forest from view. We wondered what mysteries and treasures lay there beyond our view.? Life pulsated and abounded. Birds – white egrets, storks, giant tropical geese, kingfishers and scores of songbirds took their perches or flew around us as they pleased. One strikingly beautiful bird seemed to lead us on – going ahead for a while than circling back for us and going on again. We were part of it all for a time.
We arrived at our destination seemingly faster than anyone expected – the remote and beautiful Shipibo village of Porveneer, nestled on the edge of a magical lagoon. As we rounded the last bend in the river and crossed the lagoon, we could hear the jungle drums begin to beat, and see the Shipibo tribespeople gathered on a rise to greet us in their beautiful and colorful celebration dress. It was a sight that I will never forget.
As our boat reached the shore, the entire village rushed down to meet us. Beautiful, laughing people took our hands, pulling us up the river bank to their village where music played and we all joined the welcoming dance. Here we were, a small group of "strange", North Americans – being welcomed by our rainforest brothers and sisters who obviously loved and cared for each of us.
The village Chief served all of us "masato" (a traditional fermented drink made from yucca) to welcome us. We were told by Amazon John that it was a particularly excellent brew. We passed around overflowing earthen bowls shaped like animals and fish, decorated with beautiful Shipibo designs. We emptied our bowls each time - only to have them filled with masato again and again, until we could drink no more. Each of us was given a necklace made from painted seeds, beautiful fish scales, and crocodile teeth. In turn, we gifted the Shipibo people with things we had brought from the USA.
Suddenly, at one point, there was a sharp cry, and a half-dozen women rushed out of the ceremonial area, disappearing around the corner of a nearby village hut. We soon learned that a baby had been born in our presence. The village was elated, and Amazon John was asked to name the girl child. He named her "Carolina" (after North Carolina, the state where he was born.)
Later, the Chief went on to honor us for all that we had done to benefit their village (In fact, the Amazon Herb Company has been responsible for legal assistance that resulted in the people of Porveneer obtaining legal title to 80,000 acres of virgin rainforest land, securing their way of life for all time). Amazon John also honored us Associates, who were supporting the future of these people by sharing their remarkable botanicals with the world-at-large.
Then, we were served a celebration meal of fresh paiche and yucca fired in banana leaves. The paiche - likely the fastest growing fish in the Amazon – grows to a length of six foot in only 6 months. The Chief explained that he had speared the one we were eating from his canoe the day before. It was eight foot long and weighed over 300 pounds. Paiche is an exquisite tasting fish, and the entire meal was delicious, thoroughly enjoyed by all.
As the shadows began to fall, it was time for us to return to our encampment. We finished our paiche and masato. Then, the entire village escorted us back to our boat and waved goodbye as we pulled away from shore.
The friendships forged during our brief visit, and the warmth of the celebration we had just shared, remained glowing in our hearts as the Porveneer village riverbank faded from sight. The return trip was beautiful. We arrived in our encampment after darkness had fallen, and the sky was ablaze with a million stars.
The next day, we arose very early again, and journeyed by boat to the Amazon Herb Land Preserve where thousands of acres of rainforest have been put into perpetuity trust, and preserved in their natural state for all time. We hiked out from a small settlement on the riverbank where we were welcomed to a breakfast of fried Piranha fish. Although quite dangerous when alive, these nasty little critters sure taste good when cooked on an open fire.
On our jungle walk, we were accompanied by a local Peruvian shaman who offered his blessings and gave each of us a ceremonial spoonful of the powerful plant medicine – Ayahuasca. This amazing plant is considered to be the "mother" of the rainforest, and ayahuasceros (tribal healers) use it to directly perceive the medicinal effects of the many herbal plants that are used in their powerful and effective healing techniques.
As the Ayahuasca was being received by each of us, a soft rain began to fall. And for the reminder of our walk, it never stopped. The rain was warm and gentle. It felt like a blessing. Trees and bushes and plants of all kinds abounded along the way. Animal noises could be heard from time to time.
At one point, I stayed back from our small group of explorers, to experience the forest in solitude. In doing so, I felt the awesome power and vastness of this place, and knew that here I was just a small part of one species in the great circle of life. I sensed that I could easily be taken out for lunch by some predator – perhaps a Jaguar, an Anaconda, or a Cayman (Amazon crocodile). But, I had no fear. Instead, I felt only a sense of wonder and mystery, and humility in the midst of this vast creation of God.
Later the same day, we journeyed again by boat to another Shipibo village, Rio Destino. We were expecting a small and simple reception, but the residents of this village had somehow heard about the welcome we received
in Porveneer the day before, and decided to outdo them. As we approached their village, hundreds of Shipibo tribespeople were waiting to greet us. Once again we were taken hand-in-hand up into their village – the traditional welcome dancing, gifting, drinking of masato, and feasting took place. It was completely wonderful. We were very moved by the friendliness and hospitality we experienced there. One young tribal beauty took a fancy to my son, Chorus, and I wasn't sure if he was going to leave Rio Destino (ha,ha).
When we said goodbye to our Shipibo friends - we all felt the same warm and loving feelings we had when leaving Porveneer the day before.
That night we flew from Pucallpa back to Lima, where my daughter, Reyna was waiting to meet us. After re-organizing our belongings for the highlands, and getting a few hours sleep, we were off again early the next morning by air to Cuzco, the ancient ruling city of the Incan Empire, 12,000 feet high in the Andes mountains.
Flying into Cuzco, we watched the sun come up over the magnificent Andes mountains as we crossed from the flatlands into high country. In Cuzco we boarded a bus and headed down to the Pisaq marketplace. I am not a shopper , but this market was incredible – filled with colorful Andean people selling local arts and crafts and things to eat of all kinds. Everyone, including me, bought at least a few things to treasure or give away to friends at home.
After Pisaq, we stopped to drop luggage off at our lodging for the night,a magnificent Spanish villa style hotel with beautiful gardens of flowers. Our group enjoyed a gourmet buffet lunch, but my son and I were not eating, nor feeling too well. We were suffering a little from "Zaroche" (altitude sickness) frequently experienced by visitors to these very high places. However, Reyna, my triathlon-trained athlete daughter was feeling fine.
Prior to my trip to Peru, I read a book entitled "Initiation" by Elizabeth Jenkins. It is the true story of a woman who was initiated into the ancient spiritual tradition of the Andean people. This was great preparation for our journey, since the author described in detail the many places of spiritual power in and around the Sacred Valley, and we were able to visit some of them.
We were also fortunate to have a guide with us in the highlands named
Romolo Lizzarraga Valencia, who was born near Machupicchu, and is also very knowledgeable about the Andean spiritual tradition. He explained to us that for thousands of years, the Andean people have honoring the mountains and elemental forces of nature as incarnate divine powers that sustain them and their way of life.
After lunch at the hotel, some of us visited Ollataytambo, the ruins of an Incan fortress built by the Incas to protect the sacred Urabamba valley from invaders in ancient times. Wind is the element of power at Ollataytambo, and we experienced it very strongly when we were there.
The next day we boarded the train for Machupicchu. The train ride itself is absolutely spectacular, running along the Urabamba river as it flows powerfully with white water rapids amidst snow capped mountains and glaciers. Everyone was busy hanging out the windows of the train, and taking as many photos as possible.
After two hours on the train, and another 45 minutes on a little bus up the last mountain, we arrived at the entrance to Machupicchu. From the entrance, we hiked over a small rise, and there before us was the fabled, sacred city of the Incas.
No prior knowledge or photos of this place prepares one for that first view. It is absolutely breathtaking – the ruins of the ancient city itself nestled below several higher mountains, with clouds and mist swirling around even on a beautiful sunny day. The elements of power here are the mountains and the Sun.
Machupicchu is awesome, beautiful, mysterious, and strangely powerful. Even those who are not sensitive to natural power and spiritual energy cannot miss that which is present in this magnificent place. I think you'd have to be dead not to feel something there. In my lifetime, I have traveled to more than 40 countries, but I must say, I have never visited a place as awesome and powerful as this.
We spent the day here as a group, and later in the week, my children and I returned for another day to climb Huaynapicchu (Young Maiden's mountain) which towers above the ruins of Machupicchu. In ancient times, Huaynapicchu was reserved for high Incan priests and priestesses to meditate and perform sacred ritual in honor of the powerful natural forces that surround this place.
After Machupicchu, the group spent another day in Cuzco visiting some of the incredible Incan ruins near the city – Q'enko, Saksaywaman, and Tambumachay – before leaving for Lima and their return journey to the USA
However, my children and I stayed in Cuzco for several more days. We had planned to visit Arequipa and Colca Canyon where great condors abound, and grace human beings with their presence close-at-hand. However, the national strike against the President curtailed all travel for a couple of days, and unfortunately we had to cancel
But luck was with us. Through a Peruvian friend of mine, Lenka Chuquisana, we made good friends with David Covarrubias, a young man who has lived in Cuzco all his life. He took us on walks through the ancient city, and to places of power in the surrounding hills that are not visited at all by tourists. Peru is definitely the "Tibet" of South America. We were able to see and do things that are not commonly experienced by foreigners. One of the reasons, our mutual friendship took hold is that both of my children and I speak Spanish.
When it was finally time for us to leave Peru, we did so reluctantly. Neither Chorus nor Reyna nor I wanted to go. We felt as if we were just beginning to experience this incredible country, and we would have gladly stayed longer if possible. But we know for sure that we will return there again, and soon. Plans are being made, even now, for an extended return trip to Peru next year. Anyone care to join us?
Many thanks to those of our friends who helped make this journey possible for us. We hope each of you will have the opportunity in your lifetime to experience the wonders of Peru for yourself.
NOTE: For more information on Amazon Herbs, please go the website: www.amazonbishop.amazonherb.net