Published in the Border Crossing issue (Arthur No. 18, Sept. 2005). All the good photography is Simon Lund. Bad photos taken by author Dave “David” Reeves.
I’m not bragging, but I had a little skin cancer. I walked around L. A. trying to generate sympathy with it, maybe get a free beer. Nobody cared. Everybody has a disease now.
A friend of mine insisted I come to a rainforest clinic near his hotel in Iquitos, Peru. “There’s no cancer here. This is the where big pharmaceutical companies come to crib traditional medicines from Amazonian witch doctors for a ‘healthy profit.'”
Three derelict 727s lay off the runway in Iquitos, all with the same story: “Crash landed one night, full of coca paste. The pilot ran off into the jungle.”
The Iquitos airport is at the southern border of the cradle of cocaine. For years the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had a rule called “Fly and Die”; one of the program’s outcomes was that a reported 60 civilian aircraft were downed by DEA agents between Iquitos and Columbia. This program lost funding last November when agents blasted a Cessna full of missionaries out of the sky. Consequently, the DEA is now gone from the area, and continuous flights north make up what is known as ”The Air Bridge”—the route by which Peruvian coca paste is flown to Columbian processing labs, yielding two thirds of the world’s cocaine.
Iquitos runs on unmuffled mopeds racing from red light to red light at full speed. It’s fun at first but after awhile you feel like you live in a wasp’s nest from the insistent buzzing.
“The Venice of Peru” is tacked together from the continuous stream of balsa rafts floating down the Amazon. Harvesting balsa is profitable only when used to hide the great bulks of coca paste sent down river. All day and night saw blades shriek in the mills lining the river, giving the air a fresh piney scent. It is in this way that the world loses its last rainforest to gain another slum.
The population of Iquitos is estimated at a half a million people, but there is no way to parse the burgeoning chaos of the floating ghetto called Belen. No one starves here as fruit falls out of the tree right on your head. If you can’t hook a fish, just wait for one of these ugly bastards to crawl up on land.
When the food comes in Peru they say, “Let’s eat a little of life and death.”
Back when the Soviets had money they provided Peru the bulk of its economic aid. In order to sabotage those godless Commies, the CIA exponentialized the cocaine trade by facilitating the formation of cartels that moved coca from the cradle of cocaine to labs in Columbia and then to American ghettoes where it was wildly popular and generated enough profit for a lot of really wonderful covert CIA operations.
This was a blow to the Soviets, and so they started a great rumor that has apparently killed more missionaries than the DEA. The rumor goes like this: The Americans have a squad of silent glider planes that land at night and harvest the fat of children, which is used to fuel our rockets to the moon.
These glider pilots are called “Pellacarres,” which means “Facepeelers,” after their habit of cutting the child’s face off to pry out the valuable eyes from their little heads.
Soon after this picture was taken a group of women started screaming “Pellacarres!” at us. Walter Saxer, our host, knew the quality of their fear from experience and got us out of there.
“They get hysterical about this shit,” he said. “If you are white, you don’t go back in there.” So we got in our stealth gliders and flew back to the moon.
We bobbed over to the relative safety of the witch market. It’s more than a pun to say that here lie the “roots of modern medicine,” as these women actually sell roots and shoots to be taken to your garden and grown into a plant, the leaves and stems of which are then boiled to make a tea. Planting the shoots is the first step down the slippery slope toward “Brujeria.”
The Bruja on the left offered to sell us a root which, when applied intravaginally, would lead to intercourse so stimulating that a man would never be able leave the woman who applied it.
Amongst the skins and bones of endangered species, jars of “Boa oil” and bottles of purple viagra potions labelled “Fuck Her Seven Times”, there are lengths of Croto Chupa vine, covered in a soft brown moss like a monkey arm, used to cure bladder and prostate problems; the antidiarrheal Pampana root; a parsley called Chaka Piedre used to flush kidney stones; and bags of CutiCuti for diabetes.
We shunned the dubious roots for “justice” and the little red bulbs for birth control (the population of Iquitos has trebled in the last twenty years), opting instead for the root “to make a man open his hands and not be stingy.” The root proved itself when we opened up our hands and bought the ugly thing.
Here we also found skin cancer remedies, a lotion marked “Copacba” that smelt like sun tan oil and a red seed which is crushed up, boiled and pressed to the cancer. I bought them both and they sit now in my medicine cabinet, largely unused, as the reek of suntan oil reminds me of malaria medication nightmares.
This is the government-run Instituto de Medicina Tradicional where they openly claim that they can cure cancer and alleviate the symptoms of AIDS. They charge twelve dollars per visit. Simon Lund didn’t take this picture and that’s why it sucks.
Although the cancer was only present on the part of neck which turns red, the doctor insisted that I remove all of my all clothes so that he could check me thoroughly. After the examination, he asked if I ate a lot of chicken. I tried to explain to him about how I live near the Zankou Chicken stand in Los Angeles, but Doc was immune to soliloquies to garlic sauce and insisted I quit eating there because of the harmful hormones they put in the chickens to make them grow faster.
The Doc wrote me a script for some shots. He intimated that cancer was an American invention borne of tainted food, and further, that I had somehow gotten the wrong skin for my body.
The script for the shot went to the orderly who ran outside and picked the plants prescribed, then brought them to the lab where they were milled and distilled on the spot. The nurse took blood out of my arm, mixed it with the plant liquor and reinjected it into my right ass cheek.
The transfer from plant to blood took an hour. Once injected, I could feel the potion patrolling the confines of my cheap Irish skin looking for the cancer. Later the shots made me feel drunk and unstable, which is like situation normal for me.
This is the famed Ayahuasca vine from which New Agers and “Ethnobotanists” hope to achieve instant karma, whose visions will cure a junkie of his habit because they saw the dwarves who fabricate reality and other total bullshit. Know that Castaneda, Burroughs, Ginsberg were dilettantes all. Yes, if you take ayuahuasca you will puke and shit and see stuff but this will also happen if you drink gasoline. I can tell Simon Lund didn’t take this picture because he’s in it.
Iquitos is full of cosmic cowboys talking all this corny noise about getting in touch with their “plant teacher.” Look past all the romantic white man talk and you will see that the infamous “ayahuasca treatment” comes from a rainforest tribe where the women call the shots. In this tribe, if the boys get naughty the girls take a vote and make them do the brew as a punishment. In short, the fabled “ayahuasca ceremony” is just colonialism for masochists.
Nothing will keep the trustafarian tribes from trying to earn their dreadlocks by ingesting this “Yage.” The end result is that everyone is forced to endure these hours-long nonsensical diatribes where a fool “relates” visions of what he saw while he was puking and shitting his fried little brains out. “And then it was like a snake a mile long and then there was this like…this big dog…and he told me that I was a…Christ…”
We ran into this wastoid Phish hippy who couldn’t stop shivering. He said he’d done the “ceremony” five times over the last five years, and couldn’t really recommend it as a path to enlightenment. He suggested we try some “Special K” instead, adding that it was freely available at any drugstore. We told him that Ketamine is a cat tranquilizer and is favored by gay trance clubbers in New York City. He was, disappointed as it had been sold to him as a “powerful experience.” We assured him that blacking out and feeling like you are stuck in a piece of bubble gum is a powerful experience. Powerful stupid.
The locals love to laugh at the E-tard gringos. Walter Saxer, our host, said a squad of Swiss had adopted a local “Ayahuasquero” who charged them a thousand American dollars a head for an “experience” consisting of a twenty-dollar boat ride and a some tea made of vines that grow all over the place. When the Swiss returned a year later to get some more of that thousand dollar experience they were surprised to find their shaman’s name plastered all over town. It seems their “shaman” had taken their money, run for mayor of Pucallpa, and lost.
The tall skinny boat on the right played “The Molly Aida” in Werner Herzog’s film “Fitzcarraldo.” Her real name is the “Jhulian,” and she sits stripped in the muddy river, still fit to float, and visited on occasionally by German tourists who idolize Klaus Kinsky. Simon Lund had yet to be born when this picture was taken.
Walter built this boat from scratch, steamed through some of the biggest water on the Amazon and then hauled her over a mountain, tasks which few people in the world would pretend to undertake, fewer still would bring to fruition and even fewer still would do for just a movie…actually, scratch all that, nobody else in the world would even try to do that crazy shit for any reason.
Casa Fitzcarraldo is not in any backpacker guide because it’s a secret spot, but those in the know can get a cold beer, the best food in town, swim in a naturally cooled pool and observe triple canopy jungle from the tree house, a hundred feet off the deck.
Walter was Werner Herzog’s production manager for thirty years, which means he’s worked in the Third World so much that he prefers it to the first. After a beer or three he’ll get mad and blame me for America, which is fine, because as a citizen it is my fault that a bunch of idiots were allowed to run the world into the ground.
His voice haunts me even now, insisting that our inaction has led to the judgement of the world upon us.”Do you see what you let your stupid cowboy do? He fucked it up. And to try to fix this mess now will really fuck it up. No, you come down here, buy some rainforest and protect it yourself, or else you see how these corrupt fuckers will do. Let the fundamentalist oil assholes blow each other away. “
I can hear him even in LA, even with helicopters hovering over my house. His voice grows into more voices each day: “Tell me, young man, where are you going to run when the shit in the air right now hits the fan? Canada? What is there? Nothing. And they’re not going to take you anyway. The only thing left to do is come down here, get solar panels and a shotgun. And watch the fucking world burn until the televisions go out.”