Friday, November 18, 2011

Pablo Amaringo, Artist and Ayahuasquero

In Pucallpa I visited the gallery of Pablo Amaringo, a painter who depicted his ayahuasca visions in vivid color and detail. The cacaphony of pattern and symbology mesmerized me, and I stared at the selection of paintings for well on an hour. An affable fellow, a student of the late Amaringo and a teacher at the school for disadvantaged children he founded, followed me and answered my questions. One exchange went like this:
"I'm interested by all the centaurs and mermaids," I said. "Did these symbols have significance for the Indians here pre-contact, or did they arrive with the Europeans?"
"When one takes ayahuasca, there are no borders. It is all one big space."
Besides the centaurs and mermaids, there were UFOs, bearded white angels, minarets, onion domes, fantastical cruise ships, an underwater snake with portholes in its side, devils emerging from pots of fire, supine women being healed by flaming shamans, fabulous headgear, geishas, and all manner of forest creatures. In almost every picture there was also a group of people gathered around an ayahuasca pot. Sometimes there was a figure vomiting, and sometimes a shaman blowing tobacco smoke from a pipe. There were many angels.
The human figures were often rough or stylized, but many of the animals were hyper-realistic. The style reminded me of Alex Grey, with whom Amaringo was in contact. Grey sent some of his paintings to Pucallpa as a gesture of friendship.
I left the gallery feeling dazed from my intense viewing of these wild visions. I look forward to learning more about Amaringo in "The Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo Amaringo" from Inner Traditions Press when I can get my hands on it. His life story apparently includes a clandestine canoe trip to Brazil among other adventures, and seems worth reading about.

Mototaxi Brands

As soon as I crossed the border from Ecuador to Perú, I noticed them. The mototaxis. They're everywhere, roaring, buzzing, screeching, teeming! They are a true menace in the cities, their assymetrical shape lending itself to fearsomely chaotic traffic patterns. At the major ports in the Amazon Basin they jockey for position in a great horde atop the bank, anticipating the disembarking passengers; in Nauta one driver got too close to the edge and jumped clear as his machine toppled down the steep 30-foot bank with a little girl inside. She appeared to be okay, and a group of bystanders hauled the thing out of the drink in no time.

During my time in Pucallpa waiting to confirm plans to move farther south, I much of the day scoping the brands of these terrible machines, as emblazoned on their gas tanks. I ended up with quite a respectable collection:
...and, as if to summarize the main idea, Asia Hero.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Marathonian Amazonian Expedition

My intinerary of Yurimaguas - Iquitos - Pucallpa by cargo boat might not count as much of an expedition to Peruvians from Loreto and Ucayali departments, since these boats are how they routinely get to and from the city for supplies or to visit family, but for me it was an adventure and then some. These boats look sort of like giant high-top sneakers or Lego monsters sticking their tongues out; the long part in front is for the big cargo, which on the two boats I traveled in included box trucks, bulldozers, lumber, and giant crates of ice blocks packed in sawdust. Other cargo is stored in the nooks and crannies and farther aft, below the upper decks, and includes sacks of fish, stalks of plantains, motorcycles, pigs, chickens, and roosters who did their best to disturb the tranquillity of Amazonia, but could not compete with the children above them. The upper decks are for hanging hammocks. They are hung densely, so that navigating from fore to aft feels like an initiatives challenge from camp called "The Spider Web." The first leg of my journey took two days and the second took five and a half. In between I spent two days in Iquitos, but still slept onboard in my hammock. So I've now spent 10 nights sleeping in a hammock in less-than-ideal circumstances. However, long naps in the morning and afternoon of each day have kept me spry.

Unfortunately my camera went missing on my second day on the Eduardo VIII. My fatal mistake was to display my camera by taking a picture of a pink dolphin that looked something like this one, put my camera back in the top of my pack, and proceed to wander around the boat like a nincompoop, chatting with people and watching sunsets. A word to the wise: don't be a nincompoop.

So from here on out this blog will rely on pictures selected from Google Images. I also saw a dolphin like this one jump out of the water like this. Maybe it was even the same dolphin.

The method of docking in the big cities is the same as in the tiny jungle villages: beach the boat's nose (aka tongue) onto the bank. No need to tie off! In Iquitos the port is packed; in order to get in the boats often have to spend an hour ramming sterns this way and that until they can wedge themselves in. The boat second from the right was my ride from Yurimaguas.
In Iquitos I was a bad tourist, as usual: I did not go on a jungle tour. I just wandered around this isolated (look at a map! It's crazy!) city of 400,000 (or 600,000 depending on whom you ask). It is a typically earsplitting South American city, but also a pile of trash and concrete mouldering away in the jungle. The tallest building I saw--maybe eight stories--was vacant, with saplings growing in its crumbling windowsills.

The closest I came to being a tourist was looking at the following two buildings: the Casa de Fierro, designed by Gustave Eiffel; and the Casa Fitzcarrald, former home of the rubber baron who inspired Herzog's film Fitzcarraldo. Neither building is open as museum, and the only way I could guess that the Casa Fitzcarrald was the Casa Fitzcarrald, after three conflicting answers from pedestrians, was a tiny plaque on its wall saying only, "This building is part of Peru's cultural heritage." A bank occupies its lower floor, and the upper floor seems to be vacant, which is also the case with the Casa de Fierro.
The ride from Iquitos to Pucallpa was a test of endurance. Babies and the television screamed. The lights were on all night every night. The toilets were never flushed. My hammock was jostled with unapologetic abandon during all hours of day and night. And, horror of horrors, I finished the two books I'd brought by the fourth morning, leaving a day and a half with no reading material. ...Which may have been a blessing in disguise--on the last day I had my longest and most substantive conversations with my neighbors in this floating village. They referred to me as "Mister," pronounced "MEEST-air." Between these sweet people and some lovely sunsets, I managed to retain my sanity, and even enjoy myself for minutes at a time.P.S. Thanks to a lightfingered boatmate of the same ilk that made off with my camera, I arrived in Pucallpa shoeless, which I've now rectified by buying a $12 pair of Converse All-Star knockoffs called "Tigres."