Chapter 12


1990-11-12, Villcabamba

"It's a ..... road map!  ...... That ought to have been issued, 
about how to reach the Edge of Time ..... "

         'The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test'     Tom Wolfe

He's an old Coyote Trickster who sits with a Buddha's compassionate heart. This old man, this old cow. Don Emilio.

I leave Quito for Puyo with my partner, Jayme, the day after she had her first experience with Ecuadorian healing practices: a four hour candle reading and Limpia with the urban Shaman, Don Celso.

After a bus ride lasting forever, bus packed with passengers, we arrive in Banos. We take a short rest stop to relax and visit La Salada, the hot mineral baths a short distance out of town.

We prepare to journey into Puyo for another encounter with the Curandero and Maestro of Union Base.

After hitching a truck-ride from Banos to Puyo, heading east through the Cordilleras, through a rainforest full of cascading waterfalls, we arrive and catch a jungle taxi for Union Base.

Don Emilio is more effusive and more excited than ever to see me again as I climb up the log to his porch, hugging and kissing and full of warmth. The last time I was here he was trying to persuade me to marry his niece who lives just in the next hut!

More and more I'm feeling welcomed and accepted into the community. Indeed, I have this sense that already I'm a part of this small village of Shuar. This has left me a little uncertain. This openness and invitation that feels so genuine stirs desires in part of me to become even more a member of this society, yet another part of me knows that one day I must leave.

We make arrangements for a ceremony the following evening, then return to Puyo to pick up supplies.

I always feel a sense of hesitancy, a little shyness and perhaps some fear when returning to the Curandero's home. I never know what to expect, what mood Emilio will be in, how he will behave, and especially, where the Vine will carry me.

The teachings given by the medicine Ayahuasca, and this journey, prove to be the most profound yet. A revelation of the deep trance space, visions filled with meaning, incredible clair-sensual activity, an enlightenment on the nature of the vine's enormous power, and more.

I'm in that ants-in-the-gut space the next day, as we ride on the back of a truck out to his home. Midway there, the driver looks in his rear-view mirror.

A man in faded cotton tank-top and loose surfer shorts painted in fluorescent colors, printed with large bold letters declaring 'WILD BOYS!' is frantically running down the road, yelling in a high-pitched voice for us to stop.

The driver looks at me with a weird grin, stops the car and motions: "La Señorita, La Curandera!"

The effeminate Don Emilio, pink comb holding his hair in a high ponytail, comes rushing up, grabs my arm, begging me to look in his eyes, imploring me to loan him money to purchase some food. He tells me that he will return to the house soon, I should wait there.

As we proceed, the driver with a snake-like sly smile inquires about my relationship with the Shaman. Then he whispers conspiratorially: Tome Ayahuasca? "Do you drink Ayahuasca?"

We are greeted at the door by Venencio, a cousin, and José, Don Emilio's brother, who are hanging around passing a jungle siesta afternoon with nothing more to do than watch the pigs root out in the field and drink Chicha. Tomas, the young son of José who lives with Don Emilio is busy breaking up the vine and I proceed to help him prepare the pot for cooking.

I've brought the usual ritual condiments: Full Blanco cigarettes, bottles of Jockey Club cologne and Traigo Puro.

The two men, in their sixties, immediately request a cup of Puro. I can tell it's going to be one of those days. Or nights!

By the time Emilio returns, the old squatters are well into the brew I've brought for the Shaman, as other members of the community, young and old, come by to sit and smoke and gab. I bring Emilio a gift, photographs taken of him.

I feel a tug throughout my body pulling me like a rope in a tug-of-war as he accepts the pictures with tears in his eyes.

The Medicine Man is feeling playful tonight, wants to entertain and be entertained. Music, as usual is blaring from the old radio in his room, thundering through Union Base. The Shaman begins dancing to an Indigenous beat. Soon he rouses José from a chair and whips him up to dance. José can barely stand.

The Curandero dances with José as a woman, holding his hands, swishing his hips, at times putting his arms around José, pretending to kiss him.

Emilio winks in a coquettish sly summoning, flirting with his brother who continues to stomp more from an attempt to remain standing than to follow any sort of rhythm. If he has any intentions to make José respond they are all lost in a haze of Traigo. José is a dancing stone.

Emilio drops José and grabs Jayme to move with him. In a shift around some unseen corner in the middle of that open porch the female Indian disappears, replaced by a fully masculine caballero.

His look is stern and magnetic, chin jutting slightly, hips cocked forward and a strong presence of dark animal maleness surrounds the two as they move around the balcony for song after song.

He gazes at me sitting on a log against one wall and demands that I join him up on that small porch. What was to be a casual social visit has turned into a tribal party and an energetic experience.

I get up to dance. Emilio immediately transforms again in an energetic way that confounds perception, like being jerked from the rear with no warning, and becomes a woman.

As I move with him, he puts an arm around me softly into my spine, takes my free hand with his, swaying his hips in a slow provocative swish. He winks, a seductive grin on smooth beardless face, then explodes in a cackle.

Another subtle yet pronounced shift. He has become Macho. Sweat is glistening on my face and I feel an urge to compensate in some way. To what? Our dance becomes a different thing, a different energy.

Two males searching for ground between them, confronting manhood with manhood in a music-filled invisible arena. Testing the waters, and testing strength as well. Through his strong masculine façade, the Curandero is watching me closely.

The dance is a ceremony in itself with more villagers joining in or sitting by the side drinking and clapping.

The Maestro is subtly controlling activity, shifting the dancers urging, encouraging. The movement, even when accentuated by the Puro we are drinking, is traditional, filled with some obscure meaning. The partners shift, I'm with Emilio, then stumbling José, then Jayme.

The night keeps forward momentum unerringly rolling from shadow to darkness as Don Emilio steps away to prepare the ritual objects for the Limpia, or Purification. Finally, he invites Jayme and me into his small bedroom parlor, greeting us in headgear and necklaces with a smile and a look of intention in his features.

This is Jayme's first Limpia with the Curandero. After feeling her pulse, he states that she needs to return twice more for complete curing. He proceeds with the Soplado, shaking the leaves, rubbing the stones and bones of Ancients over her body. Blowing smoke and chanting.

I follow, preparing myself for the bath in Traigo. The Curandero's Limpias are always different in the order of process.

Of course there is the ever-present bottle of Jockey Club mixed with herbs to be sipped, the stone readings, the bones rubbed against skin and leaf shaking. He chooses the objects organically.

I'm beginning to believe totems, or ritual symbols, solely contain the power and significance we invest in them, irrespective of the traditions they originate from, whether Shuar, Native North American, Buddhist or Christian.

Emilio believes in them. Through his investment so do I. They work.

It's now 10:30 p.m. The Ayahuasca has been cooking for five hours. He pours some and I drink my first cup, followed by a sip of Traigo. Next, Jayme, with squenched face and fingers to nose, takes hers. We sit and wait. The men outside are drunk, loud and boisterous.

Emilio immediately leaves the room, goes out into the party and demands silence. He does this once more. The festivities are now over and he is now concerned with our vision session. Eventually Venencio, and the others stagger to their houses to collapse into bed.

José can barely move, but summons enough motivation to lurch out of the house, down the log, and sways drunkenly down toward the other end of the village, past six riverside bungalows, toward a neighbor's hut a good three football fields away.

I feel the juice coursing through my body, yet don't feel myself in an altered state. After forty-five minutes I drink another cup. Shortly after going out to stand on the porch, a new Reality emerges.

I feel that old clarity descend like some awesome presence materializing out of nothingness. An extreme lucidity. Like a meditative state, quiet, a deep void. This enormous peaceful silence, like emptiness waiting to be filled, yet not needing to.

It's like being in a waking dream, with intention, fully aware and calm like a quiet pool.

And again I begin to question just how deeply I am being affected. I go back in and sit down in the small room, making a conscious effort to sink deeper within. I'm curious as to whether I can use this space creatively.

All of a sudden surreal activity coalesces from the void. Images begin to form like a movie, flesh out like a stage production, eventually it's a whole arena.

People I know, have known, slowly pass before my awareness. Vivid colors and movement fill every available crevice and corner of my internal panorama.

My parents are traveling across my vision in a slow-moving comic car out of Saturday morning cartoons, all pink with purple fluorescent tail fins and red wooden spokes for wheels.

There's Dad wearing a funny fishing cap, pipe hanging out of his mouth, trailing a thin line of smoke, wearing an ugly comic green plaid polyester jacket. And Mom on the passenger side with some kind of wrap-around loud yellow scarf covering her hair. Viewing the scene with amusement, a wave of affection gently caresses my heart.

A group of friends pass by, riding the seats of a cartoon psychedelic bus, wheels turning in nothingness as the bus moves from right to left through the air and up into the clouds. They all stare out the windows toward me, some faces with smiles of recognition, others blank.

Old lovers in an old-time coal and steam locomotive whose large bell-shaped smokestack billows clouds of gray-blue thunder as the train slowly climbs a snow-covered mountain on a steep incline without rails, up beyond the tree line, eventually rolling into sheltering clouds near the peak.

They all smile warmly at me and as the train ascends I catch a notion that I want to hop aboard. A few fond reflections float by as wisps of clouds that leave trails of memories and remnants of desire. Who were they, then? Who are they now?

Now come further intimate friends riding within an oblong wooden canopy held like a puppet under a glowing pink and green balloon. Floating lazily along, standing around the banisters waving at me with big smiles as they rise ever higher on a journey into the heavens.

It's like a movie of my past, significant acquaintances all moving on. As they pass, more of that sense of affection wells up inside, I sense a stream of tears just at the gate and a tingle of gratitude for all they have given me disturbs an even breath, making me choke.

Where did they come from? Where are they going? I'm fascinated by this unending procession of my past that goes on for hours, sensing in some obscure place that there is a message here for me. I'm so totally absorbed in the novelty, at the same time swimming in the current of emotion, that I can't quite discern the meaning.

Even the sounds of the vehicles are clear, filling my being with CHUGs, CHEWs and VROOMs.

Opening my eyes for the first time in what seems like days, I notice Emilio crouched over me shaking a branch of dried leaves, a serene smile upon his lips.

Later around three o'clock in the morning lying quietly inside the closed bedroom I notice an insistent tug on my consciousness that is scratching at my reverie from someplace ...... Out There. I know what it is, yet I disregard the commotion until Jayme asks me what that barely audible sound is.

"It's José, that damned fool, staggering out of a house, dead drunk and heading for his horse tied to a post outside. He wants to go home, to the next village." My answer is immediate.

I became aware when he woke up, 'saw' him roll out of bed falling on the floor, and lurching toward the door. I could even 'hear' his footsteps. That's what was bothering me and I was trying to avoid it, nothing made sense. How did I know?

I'm in total darkness, lying in Emilio's cramped bedroom and can 'see' José staggering down the path. He fumbles for the reins at the post and unties the horse. I can't believe he wants to ride. The animal is skittish and bucks José off twice before he is able to climb on, swaying in the saddle.

Out of nowhere a strong gust of Traigo fills my nose and I know it's José's breath as he tries to mount the animal. The smell is overwhelming, disgusting me and the horse both. He falls off, tries again.

Much later, lying down on the porch, head on my daypack, I sense a small animal foraging below the hut, in silence, somehow knowing in an obscure corner beyond comprehension that he wants to climb the stilts into the hut and will, and believing that it is all an illusion.

After a few minutes the animal steps onto the porch, I catch a glimpse of round dark fur and a tail as he skitters away behind the woodpile.

Toward sunrise, still deep in darkness sitting outside on the porch listening to the night sounds of the jungle, clouds drifting darkly through the trees, illuminating shadow, branches and hills distilled in eerie glow, a moist coolness on my skin, singing and composing in that strange peaceful setting.

A realization strikes me concerning the nature of this Medicine. I began to understand what I had been looking for. Other Psychedelics, other types of Medicines I tended to view as ego-busters. The slow or fast ability to break up an ego-controlled consciousness and identity.

Ayahuasca, on the other hand, is sublimely subtle. I never lose a sense of identity and it is just that which has been so confounding. Instead, the powerful Medicine sneaks around behind, underneath, coming in from the side, under the carpet through a crack in the window, and winds its way through the ego-shell.

Ultimate seduction. And once it's there, it won't let go.

I now see how incredibly powerful Ayahuasca is. Clair-auditory, Clair-olfactory, extensive Psi experience. Sensing tonight that I am just beginning to establish a mutual relationship with the Vine as well as beginning to direct my consciousness while under trance. And it strikes me - the importance of a good teacher.

Emilio is still in the room, sitting in that chair he has occupied most of the night. He has a bush of leaves in his hands, occasionally shaking them, summoning images and unseen spirits and chanting in that odd sweet voice as he has done most of the night.

While still under the influence of the vine, I begin to compose:

"He's an old Coyote Trickster who sits with a Buddha's compassionate heart."

Copyright 1994 Steven Gilman

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