Sunday, October 9, 2016

09.23-24.16 DAY(S) 1

I awoke on time and got on my way to the airport two hours early per my friend Dan’s advice.  Dan works at the airport.  My girlfriend, Toni, stayed the night and drove me… what a sweetheart!  At the airport I learned that my first of 3 flights is delayed 1hr or so, which concerns me as I’ve never had to deal with this before, and I really didn’t want to miss my connection in Houston.  An hour turns into an hour and a half, so I get a little more worried and reach out to Dan and my friend Adrian (a seasoned traveller) for advice.  They both reassure me that if I missed my connection United would take care of it, and that it was out of my hands so no point in worrying.  We finally get going, and as a mea culpa they gave us free access to their in flight films.  I watched most of Captain America: Civil War, which I’d been dying to see.

Arriving in Houston the captain implored the passengers without connections to remain seated so those of us with connections can get off first. Almost no one listened, or maybe everyone had a connection.  As soon as I got to the terminal I asked the first United employee I could find where I was supposed to go, as I’ve never been to George Bush airport (*spits on ground*) and my boarding pass didn’t have the gate on it.  Luckily I didn’t have far to go  and I got to the gate just as they started boarding.  

The flight to Lima was about 6 hrs, and was the longest I’ve been on since I was a kid.  They had a free selection of films, TV, audio books, and music to keep us busy, so I finished Captain America: Civil War, then watched Jungle Book and Whisky Tango Foxtrot before trying to get some sleep, as I know sleep will be tough in the Lima airport.  The in-flight meal smelled really good, though I couldn’t have any due to the incredibly restrictive diet I had to follow leading up to my ceremonies.  I packed some shredded wheat cereal and apples, though.

We get to Lima without any complications.  Now I’m faced with a 6hr layover.  They passed out customs and immigration paperwork on the airplane.  I didn’t see anyone filling it out, so I thought that since I wasn’t immigrating and I had nothing to declare that maybe I didn’t need to do it.  Wrong!  After disembarking we get herded into the customs checkpoint.  Luckily while the plane was clearing out I took the time to fill out the paperwork.  The clerk I got mumbled and may have had a speech impediment.  On top of the language barrier, it was a frustrating exchange for both of us.  We made it work, though.

Once past the expansive duty free area I saw a currency exchange so I decided to convert my money.  As I approached, the guy manning it just took off!  I just kinda stood there like, “What the hell”?  Fortunately he came back after not too long.  I brought $200 with me as advised by the folks at Nihue Rao, though Adrian suggested I wouldn’t need more than like $20-40 worth.  I ended up splitting the difference with $100.  I was a little worried they wouldn’t accept my bills as they weren’t brand new and I was warned that because of counter fitting they may not take them if they were less than perfect.  It went fine, though.  A little further down the terminal there was another exchange booth, only with slightly better exchange rates, so I decided to convert the rest of the $200 I brought.  I mean if I have a lot left over I can always change it back, right?

The Lima Airport international arrivals dumps you into a relatively small area and I couldn’t figure out how to get to the domestic departures.  The only way out seemed to just go outside. Turns out that’s exactly what I needed to do.

Immediately outside the doors was a gauntlet of pushy taxi drivers.  They were relentless!  Finally I was approached by an information guy who told me that I needed to go down the sidewalk a ways and re-enter the building to get to domestic flights.  After he found out how long my layover was (5hrs) he got real excited to tell me about nearby hotels and that he could take me there.  This was a taxi driver disguised as an airport information clerk!  Very clever.  I told him no thanks, as I had planned on just hanging out at the airport for the duration, and proceeded to the terminal.

Surprisingly the lead in to the terminal was filled with american chain restaurants.  I found that a little disappointing, though it got my stomach going none the less.  I hadn’t had a proper meal in 18hrs or so.  I read online that the Starbucks had the best wi-fi in the joint so I headed over to buy a bottle of water and get the password.  I spent a while texting with Toni which was nice.  I also sent messages to other loved ones to let them know my progress.  I really wanted to keep chatting because I was feeling pretty isolated and really bored, but Toni needed to get to bed, so I let her go.

A couple weeks prior to leaving I started watching Robotech, and my big plan was to get on some wi-fi and watch it for a few hours.  Starbucks was small and uncomfortable and I didn’t think they’d put up with me taking up space for the remaining 4hrs.  I noticed that the cafe across the aisle had (along with many delicious looking pastries and pies) a long padded booth-style seat.  I noticed a few people laying on it so I decided to set up camp too.  Unfortunately one of the employees came over and started harassing some of us, so I decided to move to the food court.  

Im not sure if it was on purpose or not, but the food court chairs were ok as long as you stopped sitting in them after 15 minutes of so.  I paid for the airport wi-fi and set up camp again.  I loaded up some Robotech on the iPad only to find out it’s region blocked! I was so disappointed.  I looked online to discover that most of Amazon Prime won’t play outside of the US.  Bummer.  I switched to netflix and discovered region coding in my favor: Regular Show and Gravity Falls were available here!  I was having a hard time staying awake so I shut it down and tried to find a comfortable way to sleep, but it was impossible in those metal torture chairs.

I decided to walk around for a while since I couldn’t sleep.  I found a corridor where many people just laid on the ground and sacked-out.  I didn’t think I’d be able to do that.  The complete lack of any comfortable seating was really starting to piss me off.  I knew that there’d be some in the boarding area, but I was warned by several people that they wouldn’t let you in more than an hour before your flight.  I decided to try anyway, and I only had a little less than a couple hours to go, so why not?  I got in!

There wasn’t enough room to lay down, but I put my backpack on my lap, set an alarm for 5am and put my head on my pack and passed out for a little bit.  I woke before my alarm and saw the line had formed for my flight.  Good timing.

The sun rose as my plane took off.  I slept fitfully during the 1.5hr flight because I was wearing shorts and my legs were cold.  

We landed in the tiny Iquitos airport and outside I was once again harangued by taxi drivers.  It took a few minutes, but the Nihue Rao driver, Marco Antonio, ID’d me.  He took me and a french woman via  motorbike-carriage to the retreat.  

our ride
The scenery reminds me of rural Thailand.  Definitely 3rd world.  Had it been raining the dirt road we traversed would have been near impassible.  The woman who I shared the carriage with told me that on one of her past trips they had to get out and push because they got stuck in the mud.  The drive took an hour or so, but it went quickly, as there was so much to look at… beautiful jungle, dilapidated buildings, shanty towns, other “cabs” with garish paint jobs (including Thundercats).  I was left wondering if there had been an election recently because there were a lot of campaign murals on the buildings.

When we arrived at Nihue Rao we were greeted by a guard with a pump shotgun.  There were several other guards armed with single shot shotguns.  I guess the boss gets the good gun.  My butt was glad to finally be off of the bone-rattling ride here.

We were shown around briefly and processed into the retreat.  Our cabins are very bare bones.  A bed with mosquito netting, a desk, and a shelf.  All made with raw, rough wood.  I love it!

Part of getting us ready for the retreat is ingesting a “vomitivo” to cleanse the system.  I drank down the cereal bowl full of bitter white liquid and chatted with the guy who administered it (Joel) about video games and Phoenix/Tucson until the medicine started to work.  Man, I hate throwing up.  After it appeared I had purged all of the vomitivo (there wasn’t much else in my stomach) I still felt pretty queazy so I took a nap in a hammock until lunch.  After the nap I felt much better so I went to the mess hall.  They had a buffet of a couple different kinds of rice, lentils, beans, and grilled fish.  There were also what I thought were breadsticks, but turns out they were baked or dried plantains.  I did not enjoy them.  
Mess Hall

Being my first proper meal after a day and a half, I went to town.  On my way back to my cabin it became clear that the vomitivo wasn’t done with me yet.  There goes lunch!  I rinsed my mouth out and went back to the hammock outside my cabin to rest and read while my stomach settled down.

I woke in time for dinner and thought I’d try again.  This time my stomach was ok, and everything went down and stayed down.  I met and chatted with some of the other guests and admin.  They all seem like a nice lot and come from all over the world: Australia, Italy, France, New Zealand, Canada, US, Germany, etc.  An admin named Cvita told us more about plant medicine and what I can expect.  For example, each plant has a “culture” around it with specific flowers, insects and people.  When you’re taking it as medicine it infects your dreams and visions with those flowers, insects, etc.  Fascinating stuff.

I was also informed during dinner that there was 24hr power!  The literature said that power would be very limited, so it was a welcome surprise.  Unfortunately the wi-fi was down and there probably wouldn’t be a way to reach my loved ones back in the world.  I hope they don’t worry.

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