Chapter 10


1990-10-10, Villcabamba

"There's  a Hell of a Scene going for you, Bub, out here in  EDGE CITY. "

         'The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test'     Tom Wolfe

A thousand spiders crawling out in the night, big river Rat eating his way through the wall, into the room, toward me and food. Thunder, lightning, rain, another Triple Limpia. Trying to get an old Indian to see a modern Optometrist. Demons, Brujos' Brew. Trying to find the door (It isn't where I last saw it!).

A crazy self-abusive masochistic drunk Indian, screaming, yelling, swinging a sharp machete, chopping wood, metal, and slashing violently through bodies and demons alike.

All this and more to come. Stay tuned ................

Misahualli is a small village on the banks of the Rio Napo. Quiet, clean, with a careless cleanliness - that is to say, noone goes out of their way to make it dirty. Tourists come here looking for guides into the jungle. It is a frontier point for the Selva.

Embarking from Misahualli by local canoe, I spent five days traveling deeper into the Selva, past Coca, stopping by Indigenous huts on the banks of the Rio Napo at night to sleep.

The natives would feed me cooked rice and Yucca, an occasional Bagre, or river Catfish. During the day, I hiked into the jungle, following trails and discovering small villages under the Amazon canopy.

Relaxing, exploring more of the Jungle, meeting some of the Indigenous and passing time, knowing I was soon headed back to Puyo. Last visit there, Don Emilio Guateca expressed a need for glasses. He works with clay, creating pots, bowls and jungle animals.

Said his eyes were getting old and it was becoming difficult for him to see and paint the finely detailed lines and images he imbued the pieces with.

The Shaman Artiste. I had watched him work on his sculpture before. A study in patience like a fine surgeon or Zen archer. Using human hair he carefully, skillfully paints lines, shapes, patterns on the brown clay with natural plant dyes. He calls the dyes simple names like Tierra Blanco or Tierra Negro.

I had promised to return in a little more than seven days to take him to an eye specialist. Never realizing what this means to an old Curandero.

Returning to Quito briefly, the plan was to gather Wolfgang, a friend of Emilio's, then Dagmar and Patricia and return to Union Base. As events unfolded, Wolfgang had to cancel at the last minute, I left two days early to set everything up with the Shaman.

Being the bearer of bad news is an unenviable position. Did not realize till days afterward the significance of it all. Returning to Union Base early, relating that Wolfgang could not come, then requesting that we perform the ceremony a day early, and explaining that if he was willing to go then to an Eye Doctor, I would take him.

I learn slowly from my mistakes. Emilio was looking forward to seeing Wolfgang, and was put off by his friend's non-appearance. These Indigenous People move in the world to a rhythm they set themselves, not to others.

The most disturbing thing to them though, especially to the Curanderos, is contact with Modern Medicine!

There is a very uneasy feeling between Curanderos following a traditional medicine path and others involved with modern therapies. The university-trained doctors don't believe in plant remedies nor the psycho-somatic-spiritual methods practiced by the Curanderos.

For their part, the Shamans believe they would be giving up their power, and admitting inadequacy were they to visit a doctor for anything. They believe that their special status within the community would be eroded and as well they would personally lose face.

Even though Emilio expressed a desire for glasses, he refused that day and the next to visit the optometrist, making excuses about time, the weather, the crops, etc...... Possibly with Wolfgang there, he and I could have been more persuasive together. I felt frustrated and disappointed.

I met Dagmar and Patricia in Puyo the next day, and brought them to the one-room shack on stilts by the river late that afternoon. This encounter continued to unfold into the strangest one experienced yet working in the land of the Night.

Emilio had been up since early morning, working all day, cooking for a crew of workers near Union Base. Returning after sunset, he looked tired. Weary and relaxing in a chair, he began to drink Traigo from the outset.

I waited on the porch chatting with a group of locals and playing with the children who would come by, timid and curious, to see our unusual white faces, while the Shaman prepared his Mesa, the table of ceremonial objects. Donning leather and metal chain necklaces, head-gear of silver, leather, beads, teeth and feathers, he calls for us to enter the ritual sanctum and begins with Patricia.

Sitting in his chair, back straight, face a beautifully stern study in concentration, Don Emilio takes a sip of Puro, leans his head back, lurches forward with a geyser-like Soplado and sprays the ceremonial stones and bones.

Taking her hands, placing thumbs on her wrists, he listens quietly to Patricia's pulse. Nodding his head, the Curandero smiles, mentions that the last Limpia and Ayahuasca session, and her adherence to diet, have had beneficial results. He takes a large stone, a mouthful of cologne, Soplado; the stone and Patricia.

Handing her the flat black rock, he instructs her to Limpia, clean, rub the stone all over her body.

The Shaman places a small octagonal gray stone in her mouth. Grasping a bundle of leaves he begins to shake the bush around her head. Chanting in old Quechua, shaking the leaves and chanting more, on and on, as a subtle vibration like a tuning fork can be felt shimmering in the atmosphere within the room.

Another Soplado, more shaking, Removing the stone from her mouth, studying the moistness, the imperfections in it, nodding. Emilio calls me over and points out the changes in the color and texture of the saliva-soaked thermometer.

More soplado, standing now, front and back. Licking and sucking at the top of her head, another Limpia with stones. Sitting back in his chair, he declares her clean.

I move up to sit before him on the hard wood floor. As I go through the cleansing, he explains the significance of the stones, how they are used to purify, which ones are male, which female. He takes time carefully showing me the changes of color and texture in the stones.

Although the ritual for me is similar in form, he uses the bones. Jaw bones and tibia. I am male and different objects must be used. I can feel the different energetic qualities of the bones against my skin and sense in an unfamiliar way a kind of wavering shell being stroked, pushed, pulled, excited around my body as he brushes leaves over me and sucks Malos Objectos, bad things, from my crown.

With mine finished there's only one left, Dagmar, then Tomar Ayahuasca. The Limpias take about 3 hours. At the end he asks for 1000 Sucres from each of us to 'Feed the stones', then another amount for the Trabajando, the Work.

Taking the drink this time, I start out with a larger portion, 1/3 cup. Wanting to wash the bitter taste down with water, Don Emilio grabs my hand and forbids me, insisting that I must use Traigo. He claims that water lessens the effects.

Sipping a shot of Traigo makes me nearly gag. Not as bad as the Ayahuasca, still heavy duty strong. I realized only long afterwards that the Traigo really is the best thing to wash down that awful brown taste.

We start at 11 p.m. Dark, rain, more thunder and lightning. In forty-five minutes, Patricia and I drink another cup. I am feeling the physical effects, yet not the psychic ones and wondering how much of this drink I really need.

Emilio is funny. Asking him for more, he looks at me with a big grin and repeats my question.

"I want more, Don Emilio."

"What?" A look of curiosity slowly emerges across his features.

"Mas! I need to drink more Ayahuasca."

"What? Are you sure! You want more Puro!" Emilio looks confused. "No Senor, Por Favor, I want more Ayahuasca!"

"I cannot find the bottle, what are you feeling?" He grins, sitting still with hands in lap, studying me. "I feel very little, I feel almost normal and I want to go farther."

"O.K., A little more. Be careful."

This game between us of asking and repeating, each time changing tone, as I become bored, aggressive, beseeching, passive, and he just keeps questioning and looking at me, frequently laughing for what must be half an hour.

Darkness envelops the small room, one small glowing candle up on a shelf next to a glitter-wrapped little figure of Jesus, coming to the end of the wax and wavering on a final flame and as even that recedes into fading blankness I begin to see glowing objects.

Alive creatures, little bugs on the walls that emit a soft luminescence, crawling haphazardly about, helter-skelter leaving trails of pinkish orange mist. They must be some Amazon insect ........ nothing more!

Through thin cracks in the boards surrounding our cell, soft green and blue light filters in like eyes with a blackness in the middle, perusing a still-life landscape of farmers hardware, chain-link, barbed wire, broken glass and dirty old soiled blankets used as carpets and beds on the boarded floor.

There is a quiet lucidity that can be misleading in this altered realm. I have experienced profound truth and comical deception all within the umbrella of my jungle vine consciousness. I feel myself wanting to lay down, slip into a trance state. The Curandero admonishes me.

He urges me to sit up. It is difficult. Times before, he would just let me lie there. Now Emilio insists that I remain active. The Shaman picks up the branches of leaves and begins to shake them over and around my head.

The room is glowing, the sound of the leaves like a waterfall, within the cascades I can hear a faint echo of birds and have entered that singular space of pristine sharpness like a water bubble balanced on the razor's edge. The squawk of parrots and the drop-thud and ding of the Bell-bird distant and discernible in an uncanny way, materializing in my head yet not quite following the usual channels.

A song comes from Emilio. An ancient chant partly whistle, it's beautiful, strange and eerie music that carries me to another place inside, a strange land.

Transported, not knowing how, and only am aware that my Awareness has no body, has no shell, has no anchor and has no need. No longer in the shack huddled next to those companions I knew ages ago in another universe.

Now in the middle of some vast darkness, a galaxy of absolute electric stillness like an autumn day touched by the warmth of spring, illumined only by the faint glow of stars, and an occasional large sun.

I feel this Awareness traveling, has momentum that appears forward, yet what does that really mean, only that I am moving from some point to another in a flow, feel totally safe, serene and uninvolved to the extent that the Awareness is witnessing this great traversing as a wind that carries the momentum of transformation, and in that void only seldom yet with insistence an animal like a bird or a large four-legged land- something-or-other shape materializes in a far corner and sails across the senses, transparent and touching in taste and smell and color and vibration and moving on, disappearing back into the galaxy of the void.

For an hour he shifts between the chanting and singing. I stay with him and more than ever want to lay down, to surrender into that singular infinite melody.

Just then a large river rat scampers across the beams in the roof, down the side of a corner wall. He wants to get into the room. I hear him chewing through a plastic covering. Emilio exclaims that the animal wants to eat the food stored in the room, picks up a stick and stabs in the direction of the rat.

Being near the wall, uncomfortably aware that the rat is breaking through and crawling toward me, almost feeling tentative whiskers and the brush of greasy wet fur. Eventually he is scared away.

In a clear space, feeling a desire to explore further, I ask for more Ayahuasca. Again the question and answer period. Finally, the Shaman pours another cup. Taking the offered cup in shaking hands, smelling the disgusting contents, a wave of nausea comes over me. I can't drink it and hand it back.

Much later, sitting down, Don Emilio begins to talk, seeming excited and agitated. It's well after midnight, and he has been up working since dawn, then drinking Traigo through the evening.

Finally, he jumps up from the chair and with an agitated stride goes outside to the porch. Moving about the porch with a lot of commotion and energy, the old Brujo builds a fire, continuing to talk excitedly. The jabbering gets louder.

Now I really want to lay down, ignore him, perhaps sleep. Maybe this impending nightmare will go away.

From the porch, intense anger ripples like a hot wind through the hut accompanied by stomping feet and a Banshee wail. Emilio yelling, scattering back and forth, jumping around with a force that staggers the support beams and sways our tiny ship above ground. He is agitated, frustrated, complaining, cursing.

Raving about his wife and her relatives, how they want to hurt him, have laid curses on him, seek to grab all his worldly possessions, to destroy him, he curses and screams into the night.

I'm beginning to think we have a crazy drunk Indian to take care of. Dagmar is by the door and with a tremor of concern tells me that he is drinking Ayahuasca steadily. Pouring it down his throat from a bowl.

I can't sleep. With a groan, realizing that this journey is sailing rapidly into nightmarish waters, wanting to drift off into my own personal dream-space and now knowing that other events are forcing me to remain consciously focused on the outside.

The crazed Indian runs back into the room, picks up a machete, stomps back to the porch and begins chopping away at pots, pans, wooden beams, everything. A clamoring that would disturb any neighborhood in suburbia. Out here in the jungle not a light or a sound emit from the other bungalows.

It's just another Tequila Twilight in the Realm of Madness.

Shifting between Quechua, Shuar and Spanish, Emilio curses at demons, defying their attempts to inflict harm, daring them to attack. Raising his machete high, swinging in wide arcs, claiming that he is ready to die, they can come to get him if they dare.

Tears of rage, sadness and despair pour across his face glistening like red flows of hot lava as he keeps up a chaotically stomping beat and unearthly wail, spewing anger toward the wife that abandoned him and her brothers who are trying to steal his property and indeed his life.

The door bangs loudly against a wall as the crazed Headhunter stomps into the room, machete in hand, swinging and slashing at the invisible demons in that confined space.

The machete slices down across my body, swishes past my legs leaving a gust of wind and a threat.

The women are terrified. Somehow I am resigned to the inevitable fate of a severed limb, if I am that lucky, and curiously detached, concerned and without much fear. I am now absorbed in that loose machete, my still-attached arms and legs, and all desire for peace and sleep has left me.

This is what's happening. I don't quite understand it, have never experienced Emilio like this, ever!

A thought keeps floating through my blazingly alert frame; "This man is a Headhunter!" I never know how far out I am till I stand to leave the room and purge.

The walls are not where they were. The door is not where it was when I first entered. It has been misplaced, and my legs are rooted like tree trunks, I can barely move.

Trapped inside a glowing universe, perversely twisted beyond recognition, stepping carefully over tranced bodies and shards of broken glass, strips of barbed wire, I don't want to disturb the rat, especially I don't want to disturb machete-swinging Emilio. Alice doesn't live in this Wonderland anymore and I can't find Mr. Toad for directions.

The floor is listing drastically and when I finally reach what looks like an exit, the awkward angle of the entrance, bent like a boomerang curving around in some new form of geometry that makes sense in a warped way, is difficult to grasp. With a momentous effort, focusing on a sliver of light, I can almost make out hinges creaking ...... and ........ Through!

Outside, I catch a glimpse of Emilio holding a bowl in both hands now. Standing, dancing and chanting. He briefly glances over with a strange grin on his lips, a fine glowing madness in his eyes and also what I sense is another kind of recognition. An atomic flash crosses between us and for the crackle of an instant an unspoken recognition, then he is back into the bowl.

I wonder when the sun will rise, if it will ever rise again.

Leaning over the railing sucking air and taking a swallow of courage before venturing down the steps for an urgent visit in the grass, catching hands and hair in silk-like threads and surrounded by spiders and webs woven like a cocoon around the entire shack.

Dark forbidding shapes scurrying around in the air, against the starlight. Minions of sleek scurrying thin legs hastily weaving an incredible silk cocoon to cover this arc. I had noticed before that there were never any mosquitoes here; now the reason is obvious.

Wanted sleep, or at least pleasant Jungle-Juice Dreams, yet the dreams never come, they have been upstaged and I keep thinking that this Curandero has bought the Big Banana.

In the morning, sunrise at five, Don Emilio comes into the room and shakes me. He urges all of us to get up, says that he has to leave quickly. I just want to lay there, he is insistent. Not having slept the whole night, he must run off to work.

Amazingly, he looks bright, energetic and like he had a full night's rest. The Curandero looks like a glowing child innocent of all that transpired before dawn.

Just as he is about to leave he looks at me with a tender smile informing me that when I return, we will go into the forest to look for plants.

Later that day, after a little rest and food the three of us spoke of our experiences. Patricia described her visions. She felt that she was in contact with Don Emilio the whole night, and even more, as she described animal spirits springing into her dream-time.

Dagmar mentioned that he would change languages in his rage and madness, repeating the same rantings and curses in native tongues and Spanish.

It was clear to her and to me, finally, that Emilio was teaching us through his own example. Upon reflection I also realized that much of his teachings before had been through his own personal example as well.

His despair, his emotional baggage, his tears, terrifyingly authentic and real. He held nothing back. Through all that craziness the Maestro released enormous baggage much the way people in the west do in psychotherapy sessions, albeit without machetes.

He was a transformed man in the morning. And yet, I knew he was fully aware of us, even in his ecstatic state.

Having been with Emilio before, I knew he seldom became preoccupied with occurrences outside the ceremonies. He was insistent this time that I remained up and alert, continued to prompt me until he eventually became immersed in his 'trip', and this seemed like an opportunity for my benefit of indicating what else is available with the Vine.

I'm on my way to the south, now. Villcabamba, in Loja. I have a date with another famous teacher: Saint Peter.

Copyright 1994 Steven Gilman

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