Tales of Iquitos, Richard’s Story
A work of fiction
A guest post by David Peterson
Iquitos, the capital of the Peruvian Amazon, the jumping off point for “the jungle”. Where everyone has a story. This is one of them. This is Richard’s story. The names have been changed to protect the blameless.
Richard used to be almost normal. He had a life, friends, and more than enough money to support his new bachelorhood. What was love? He had married his high school sweetheart right after high school. A year later he regretted it, when the lover turned into Mom, complete with rug rats always in need of something. Still, he hadn’t cut and run, he frankly stayed for the kids. He had put up with the damn bitch, his pet name for Sandra, until the youngest of the kids hit eighteen. Then it was gooooood bye, call his lawyer golf buddy to file the already prepared papers and get the heck gone. What do you have with 200 lawyers in sand up to their necks and the tide coming in? A good start. He loved ambush by lawyer.
Almost fifty years old, Richard figured it was his time to howl. He partied in his native Canada; he partied in Mexico, in India, and generally trotted the globe. But part of Richard was a true seeker. He wanted to know the meaning of life, why are we here. The word was that Peru was the happening spot, try that ayawaska. So he went to Peru.
Not just Peru, Richard went straight to the forest, Iquitos. Not that there is any forest left within 20 kilometers of Iquitos. But everyone starts there. Iquitos had a certain charm, if you didn’t look too closely. A certain mix of utter brazen forwardness with innocent frank stares. Always reminds me of a nicely done up whore, still a whore but nicely done. A pride, if you will. And no matter what is was truly, Iquitos had yet to shed its pretensions airs left from the rubber boom, when millions were made. The original dot com boom and subsequent bubble burst. After rubber there was petroleum. And now ayawaska. The influx of tourists and their money made once sacred ayawaska common place, available to anyone with a few dollars, and profaned the once spiritual.
And there were unlimited offers of ayawaska. Richard was no dummy; his time served in the military trained him to handle all manner of con men, both in the military and civilians. Richard received the offers for ayawaska, and they were numerous, made note but for a time he continued on with his primary activity: whores and drugs. Cheap, plentiful, and at least mid-grade, both commodities that is. Richard, who was a French speaking Canadian, learned some Spanish before his rival in Iquitos and quickly mastered the language. He was popular with the streets kids who liked speaking directly to a tourist and o run small errands for him. The street kids chased down girls, drugs, food, hotels, you name it. Richard felt like a king, and for not much money.
After talking about ayawaska for weeks, Richard finally made a booking to stay at one of the foreign owned ayawaska lodges, a 10 day 3 ceremony all you can eat stay in the jungle. Prepaid his stay and left Iquitos on his journey. The playfulness out of his system, Richard seemed focused, ready to encounter himself. Now, the foreign owned lodges are nothing more than little factories – money goes in this end, you drink something horrible, and what you get out the other end is bragging rights back home. “Yeah, I drank ayawaska, got really wasted man.” Sure some lodges dress things up to extend your stay – study or preparation or dieta, whatever. More nights means more money. All about business. And the entire basis for the so called ceremonies is the mestizo culture’s use of medicinal plants for natural healing, and occasional use of the powerful plants: tobacco, toe, and ayawaska. Nowhere have I encountered a culture that has ayawaska every Tuesday and Thursday, regular, for the experience. This basically means just drinking because you want to. Would you take thorizine because you were curious? Or inject yourself with insulin to see what it felt like? How about drinking ayawaska in an air conditioned temple? Does that count? Taking ayawaska for “the experience” runs counter from the beginning to the spirit and intention of this ancient sacrament. Just wrong on so many levels. But it is the only access many foreigners have on their condensed rapid visit. “Let’s just try it, who knows what will happen.”
So Richard went off to the lodge in search of a life changing moment. He got one. Back in Iquitos after only 5 days, Richard was a changed man. He renounced all worldly possessions and backed this up by giving everything he owned away to the same street kids who flocked around. He maxed his credit card and gave away a motorcaro and two motos, assorted generators and small boat motors favored by fishermen. Someone at the lodge forgot to tell Richard that there is a reason for the dietary requirements of ayawaska. Someone forgot to tell Richard that cocaine does not mix well with ayawaska. Nor does alcohol. The rituals are there for reasons learned from generations of indigenous, distilled to the admixture of the more recent Spanish, resulting in a mestizo ceremony as distinct from truly indigenous. But no one told Richard, anything. They sold him a ticket and showed him where to get on. Not that they were required to. In Peru you are totally free to screw up your own life. Walk the tight rope without a net. What a rush. That feeling of actual danger is marketed in many forms, from paintballs to zip lines. Baby boomers prefer sitting down and soft lights. Change your point of view. Whatever happened to Richard was definitely a life changing moment, just not necessarily for the better.
And Richard didn’t stop giving away his stuff until he was naked. He literally gave the clothes off his back, including some other parts. Richard ended up walking around Iquitos naked, a fakker like he had seen in India but so far not Iquitos. When the police objected to Richard’s self-selected clothing option day Richard was without funds to rectify the situation. Clothing was donated by first police and then the gringo community to at least preserve some dignity for those of us who live in or around Iquitos.
Being free of gainful employment Richard lived from handouts and what he could panhandle. He could be aggressive about it. Panhandlers are supposed to be invisible not in your face as was Victor. He did not willing assume the posture which would resulted in some support, instead he clung to his belligerent way while looking like a poster child for a UN program on extreme poverty. Now in San Francisco you can ask someone for spare change, just not aggressively. There is a law about this. The “be nice” law. Even the bums have rules. Richard did not seem to live by any rules or restraint.
For a while those of us watching Richard waited for him to return to normal. After some time we one by one gave up. Once Ron, standing in the doorway of his shop, called Richard over and handed him money. “See that white mangy mutt over there? Carry her to the animal rescue shelter; leave half the money as a donation and the rest of the money is yours.” Ron returned to his busy lunch crowd and Richard ran to buy cocaine and cheap rum, really cheap. He also saved money on his cocaine by purchasing the low priced drug, pasta, the left over from the first step in processing the white power. Chock full of ether, kerosene, ethyl alcohol and other yummy stuff. Dirt cheap and deadly to the user. Later that day when Ron spotted the white dog and Richard in the same square of concrete sidewalk, he got a bit angry so Richard heaved the dog, mange and all, over his shoulders and ran for the animal shelter. Half way there he heaved the dog off his shoulders and plopped it on the sidewalk. Walked away. In Iquitos dogs have the same rights as pedestrians: none. That was the end of our active concern for Richard. The familiar “end game” to drug using crazies was in play.
One day Richard paused at my al fresco lunch table and asked for a match. Just 2 minutes prior Richard asked me for a cigarette and was declined. Now he wants a match, and if I give him one he will hit me up for a smoke. No match Richard. So he began by insulting my country of origin, my lack of good will, and just got nasty and all in voice decibels higher than the request. I just looked at him, gesturing madly, really mad as in crazy. But he didn’t seem threatening. Maybe it was his choice of uniform. He was without shirt or shoes, had on ripped pants and was noticeably lacking in the basics of personal hygiene. He shuffled away and lay down across the sidewalk, forcing walkers to step around him or walk on him. Dogs seemed to have no issue about walking on Richard. One big male dog even “marked” Richard when he nodded off. Ahhh…the sleep of the brainless.
Richard’s story has a somewhat happy ending. Before he was mugged, killed or lost a limb, some kind person notified the British counsel who got Richard on a plane to Lima. Escorted through the Lima airport Richard was groomed, clothed and presentable. A small scuffle at the security check resulted in Richard’s monkey escaping from under Richard’ hat and running shrieking though the mass of people waiting to clear security. Richard gave chase and was last seen racing for the main entrance calling the monkey by name. Richard gave chase and was last seen racing for the main entrance calling the monkey by name. I don’t know if Richard finally got back to Canada, but I haven’t seen him in Iquitos for months. The monkey remains at large.
May the monkey run free. Thanks Richard. There, but for the grace of God, go I.
Tales Of Iquitos, Richard’s Story, a work of fiction
A guest post by David Peterson
If you enjoy my friend David’s writing, click these links for more…