As we raced down the Amazon in a small narrow speed boat packed like sardines with local Peruvians, old worn out wooden seats, a couple chickens on my feet and the spray pluming two feet over the side of the boat, I knew that I was recovering from more then just a cultural hangover. When a middle aged woman in the middle of the boat started climbing over people one at a time to make her way to the stern I realized nature was calling. No bathroom here, she just hung it over the side and let it go, Peruvian style, the wind took care of the rest. What a place.
I had spent the weekend with a new friend, David, in his hometown Tamshiyacu. Tamshiyacu is a small river town with about 5000 people, only two gringos, I was number three.
David used to be a successful lawyer in Los Angeles until he gave it all up to move to this little Amazonian village to start a pre-school. I was intrigued with his story so I decided to come for a weekend.
The weekend didn’t start on a high note as we arrived I started feeling bad. By dinner time I was nauseous, had a headache and things were coming out both ends. David thought I had Dengue so we headed for the local clinic, a little ramshackle building with one table and one chair. I was admitted immediately. The doctor asked a bunch of questions, took my blood pressure and temperature. Then the good news, it was not Dengue but Montezuma or Dysentery had stuck, he prescribed some antibiotics and pain medication and then we walked to the local pharmacy, another shack, and then to bed in my “suite” at the Hospedeje (hotel).
I nicknamed my suite ONE; one bed, one sheet, one table, one ceiling fan, one chair, one pipe coming out of the wall for a shower, one temperature, hot for the room and cold for the shower.
In the morning they woke me up to fumigate the room for mosquitoes; Dengue is a real problem here. Not feeling a whole lot better I headed to David’s farm. He has a small compound with a couple of chickens, a pig, a few dogs and cats and a Macaw named Shakira. He suggested that I try some tea made out of Una de Gato (Cat’s Claw), not really from a cat but a tree that has thorns that look like a cat’s claw.
Later we called in the big guns, the Shaman came to do “ceremony”. Darkness had fallen and we sat in a small circle with a candle burning. As the Shaman, Don Jorge pulled out his potion he blew smoke into the bottle then poured me a small shot glass. I was blessed with a bit of flower water on my head and the candle was blown out. It was pouring down rain and absolutely surreal. The medicine I was given is called “the purge” in English and purge I did. It’s been a long time since I have thrown up and sweated that much. By the time the ceremony was over I could barely stand up, my shirt was soaking wet and I looked like a drunken fool. They helped me back to ONE where I laid awake most of the night; the drum of the rain pounding above me. Just when I thought it couldn’t rain any harder, God would turn up the faucet. The sound was deafening.
By Saturday morning I was starting to feel better, it felt like I had been through 10 rounds with Mike Tyson pounding my stomach. I saw the Don Jorge at breakfast and he declared me healed.
In fact while he was at David’s farm he took a look at David’s night guard who was feeling bad, he diagnosed the guard as having a curse on him put there by a witch doctor and prescribed getting the curse removed immediately.
I found this fascinating until David told me that he was at a friend’s house one day who was suffering from a serious unknown malady when they called a Shaman in who said that a curse had been placed on the woman and he had seen the man in his vision who had placed the curse. The family called the police. David was thinking, “This is going to get really interesting when the police get here and take a report that a witch doctor has placed curse on their relative.”
The police took the matter very seriously. They went and got the culprit and accused him of placing a curse on the woman. Of course like all criminals he had the standard response “I’m innocent”. The police informed him if the woman died they would charge him with murder and if he didn’t remove the curse immediately they were taking him to jail. The heathen witch doctor confessed and said that someone had paid him 10 soles ($3) to kill the woman with a curse. He offered to remove the curse for another 10 soles but the police stood firm and said his choices were, remove the curse or go to jail. He removed the curse, the woman recovered and Tamshiyacu was back to normal. Only in Peru!