On The River

Sitting here in Iquitos at the Yellow Rose of Texas, I have time to reflect. Plenty of time, really. I’ve given myself 3 weeks to soak up the history of this city and to find a way for explaining to myself just what Lima was all about.

My 4 months in Lima slipped by in a blur. After a number of false starts I finally admitted to myself that I was standing too close to events while still caught up in them to be able to recount anything accurately. This opportunity for a bit of geographical separation permits a chance to place those months in context. Here at the Yellow Rose, where I generally breakfast, I can more clearly look backwards and a bit forwards as well.

Also here at the YRT, “where the beer is colder than your ex-wife” you can find a Margaritaville style sports bar, restaurant and cafetería (what they call a coffee bar in Latin America rather than what we call a collection of steam tables back in the US of A). It will also host a TV broadcast of Super Bowl 50, so I expect to return and fight for table space this next Sunday as well. The staff is bilingual and the tables are plentiful with an unhurried feel to the place

I got to Iquitos by floating down 2 rivers after spending several days in a jungle reserve with an indigenous family. Now I’m here, where one of the rivers, the Marañón joins another, Rio Ucayali, to become the Amazon. And I’m trapped. There’s a vaguely Golden-ish Retriever asleep on my right foot and I haven’t the heart to disturb her from her snores.

Even as auspicious dates play a major role in traditional Chinese culture, so too I saw no reason not to incorporate them into my own life. A week ago, January 23rd, marked the day one year past when I landed in Ecuador on a flight from Miami. I commemorated this day by saying goodby to Lima and boarding a flight to Tarapoto. I have 5 months left on my Peruvian visa. On the surface that seems to be a lot of time, but Perú is a big place with much to see and do. And if I hadn’t left Lima when I did, I might never have done so. Yet since I accomplished most of what I set out to do there, I can view the time spent as time positive.

Primary among my goals was the important one of personal physical well-being. Traveling full-time I had fallen into the trap of many who live on the road: I was eating a lot and doing little about it other than to eat some more. Compared to my “sedentary” lifestyle before I started flexing my passport, my new habits included virtually no time to maintain any sort of muscle tone. This turned out to be a dangerous and eventually a life-threatening practice which I realized far too dramatically in September.

Once visitors arrive in the Galapagos (always, of necessity, by air) they need to board a ferry and cross a small channel between the flat rock that hosts the landing strip and the main island of Santa Cruz. As I was hoisting my bag, too big and too heavy, to heave it onto the top of the ferry, I almost landed in the water between the dock and the bobbing vessel. It was a dramatic reminder that in 9 months of travel with no proper physical exercise, I was woefully out of shape. I already knew this from earlier experiences, but there is nothing like a close call offering potentially great bodily harm to drive home the point.

An extended stay in Lima would offer the chance to rectify my physical decline and it did. Shortly after settling in at SAE/Lima I enrolled in classes at Ashtanga Perú. This type of yoga is a highly energetic form which requires the practitioner to balance on one’s hands between poses and expects the neophyte to have already attained middling level of flexibility. It kicked my ass.

But now, with the knowledge of Ashtanga gained, I can be holed up in even the smallest of hotel rooms, and have enough space to roll out my yoga mat and pummel myself into keeping up a modest level of muscle tone. By far I haven’t incorporated all the poses or asanas, but I carry a plasticized chart of them and slowly move forward, learning new asanas over time. I owe a deep thanks to Fernando, Pedro, and the rest of the staff at the Lima studio.

El Enano, Miraflores, Lima

Pulling this feeling of gratitude forward, I’m also deeply indebted to the folks at “El Enano,” which is Spanish for “the dwarf” though I never once saw one. This outdoor eating establishment, open virtually every day of the year from 6am to the next day is hugely popular with Limeños. El Enano was half way along my path to and from the yoga studio, so after practice each day it was my sole choice for breakfast with none of the other nearby eateries coming close.

Posted along the inner wall of the seating area (26 bar stools bolted to the concrete) and up near the ceiling was a menu of nearly 200 items. By far the majority of these were fruit juices, offered either singly or in combinations of 2 or more fruits. There were simply not enough days in the week, nor weeks in the months I lived in Lima for me to try them all. Though I did mark off my choices on a take-away menu I carried in my backpack just for this purpose.

Combos like carambola/maracuyá/tuna (tuna’s the fruit of a cactus) or fresa/mandarina/uva (strawberry/tangerine/grape) kept my imagination soaring and always in anticipation of the next day’s selection. Up in the northern hemisphere we keep hearing about “superfoods” and how their concentrated benefits outshine conventional products. Unless you can actually see them, arrayed in their spectrum of colors, it will be nearly impossible to know what we don’t know; thank you Donald Rumsfeld.

Shortly after arriving in Quito, Ecuador early in 2015 I discovered the wonder of such fruits that I had never heard of let alone tasted. More than a dozen years living in Hawai’i had kick-started my love of tropical fruits, but the sheer variety here in South America vastly overwhelmed even the wonderful options back in Honolulu. And now that I’m here along the Amazon, Perú offers even more than I found in Ecuador. Fruits like arazá, copoazú, taperiba, mamey, camu camu, aguaje, gamitana, cocona and many more are exciting elements in my daily life.

Fruit Vendor, Lima

Fruit Vendor, Lima

And if, for some reason, the 4 blocks to El Enano from the SAE/Lima Clubhouse were somehow too far to travel, I just walked 3 doors down to the corner and visited the pushcart street vendor. Pretty much any direction from the Clubhouse and no more than a block or two distant, vendors with their pushcarts offered fresh produce and/or fruits with this dizzying array of options.

The fruit-sellers all had their assigned locations and would set up just after dawn, hawking their freshest of fresh foods throughout every day but Sunday. Life was good and it was easy. Healthy eating, in spite of not cooking for myself, was never a difficult prospect. From weekend organic farmers’ markets to natural food stores, good food that was good for you was never far away.

Also close by I met a slowly roving band of cynical middle-aged expats who moved in circular migratory patterns throughout my adopted neighborhood. Introduced to them by a Canadian SAE Club member early in my stay, I paid my dues and joined the club for a bit. Buying a round for whomever stumbled into whichever bar they fancied that hour of that day made one a charter member. I was in.

After a week or two, or perhaps three, or was it four? (I’m a bit cloudy about those details) I realized that I didn’t want to resurrect old depression-inducing patterns and learned to keep my distance from the gang. They were nice enough guys, at least superficially, but endemic bitterness toward a world that done ’em wrong grew to be too tedious for me; especially after the 47th time of hearing the same grievous injustices.

I did pick up some tips on how to snag the best hookers and score some righteous weed. Great, just what I needed. NOT! Though they did introduce me to my street-smart Spanish teacher and until we had a cultural falling out a few months later, Ely taught me a great deal. However, picking scabs, especially in this tropical heat, will fester wounds, so let’s say goodbye to Ely and the gang and then move on. But before I go, I will say that I benefited from yet another ayahuasca delayed effect that I never would have discovered if not for this group of merry men.

Just like the disappearance of my life-long seasickness through after-effects of ayahuasca, which I discovered during September in the Galapagos, hanging out with the barflies in October taught me that I could, for the first time ever, successfully mix tobacco, alcohol, and weed without puking my guts. In previous encounters over many years I could mix any 2 of the 3 and remain vertical. But try as I might, and yes, I have tried over time, I could never join all three in one harmonious union. Now I can. Ain’t that something real special?

So yes, one could argue that Lima did slow my forward progress. As if I have some defined direction or timetable. But I don’t and if I did, just which direction is forward? And when do I have to be there? I’ve mentioned before that early on, really the first week in Quito, Ecuador a year ago, I learned that I can only make decisions one step at a time because each step opens up the most amazing circumstances and I’m taking my time to feel them out.

Two weeks from today (Super Bowl 50 played last night, I’m a bit slow posting this) I’ll be puking again at my next ayahuasca sessions. This particular retreat serves up a “pre-game” purgative for all the participants before we start with the brew of the vine. Designed to void all the cheeseburgers and fries we seem to accumulate in our “normal” lives, the folks at Nihue Rao believe that no one really practices the proper diet before an ayahuasca retreat, so the purgative will level the playing field. As it were.

So that was Lima, and this is Iquitos, with yet more jungle experiences to follow.

 

 

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