Sunday, July 09, 2006


Did I mention I’m traveling into the heart of the Amazon rainforest in less than two weeks?

Last March, I was in St. Louis, taking care of my sister through a particularly awful patch with her then-chemo treatment. (At some point in history a bunch of doctors sat around trying to brainstorm cancer cures and they all collectively said, “Hey, I know! Let’s try base metals!”) – At the time she was being infused with straight platinum. Apart from being the most expensive piece of bling in St. Louis – it had some pretty horrific side effects.

I was, more than anything, trying to give my sister something to distract her from what she was going through. A friend of mine had given me a copy of the March issue of National Geographic Adventure with an article by Kira Salak, entitled, Peru: Hell and Back. It was, to me, a rather harrowing tale of her journey into the heart of the Amazon rainforest and a series of Shamanic ceremonies involving the drinking of a medicine called Ayahuasca, that has been used for thousands of years in the healing of a number of illnesses – among them, cancer.

I thought her reading about some journalist going into the rainforest and the subsequent harrowing and profound internal journey was a good choice – it had mysticism, ancient ceremonial magic, barfing – the stuff of a good episode of Buffy. My sister read the article.

A couple days later, she says, “Would you want to go and do this?”

“It scares the living daylights out of me . . . But if you want to do that, I’d do it.”

She proceeded to order a few books on the subject; we talked about it more and more, and then one day she says, “I think I want to do this.”


“Yeah. Really.”

“You know it’s probably not a cure.”

“I know that. But it’s the fucking AMAZON! How cool would that be?”

So, keeping an open mind, and not about to deny my sister anything when she’s been handed a truly ugly medical diagnosis – I started investigating. I should probably mention that other than a few vacations to Puerto Vallarta over the years, I have not been anywhere since I went off by myself to live briefly in London when I was twenty one. I don’t get out much.

I first contacted one of the sites profiled in the National Geographic Adventure article. I explained our situation and they said that they didn’t feel that it would be good for her to travel to their particular retreat as they were not set up for medical emergencies.

Meanwhile, my sister had been taken off that particular chemo due to the extreme side effects she was experiencing and had been put on another kind that was in pill form. She started to improve. A lot. She then reaffirmed her interest in going to Peru and talked to her oncologists. They said they would not interfere with any personal healing journey she wanted to take. Okay, now at the time it didn’t occur to us to talk to her OTHER doctors. Oncologists are wonderful people, but they are also dealing with people with terminal illnesses, so they are more than likely to say, “You want to go shark diving? Great! Go for it!” But armed with the blessing of the oncologists, I embarked again on finding a way to do Sis’s Big Adventure. I hit pay dirt. I found an organization that is administratively run through the UK, but the location itself is in the heart of the jungle with the indigenous tribe of Indians that have been doing this for centuries. We would be provided with an interpreter guide and all the amenities that jungle living with no electricity or hot water can provide. They were very knowledgeable about many forms of cancer and had a different approach than the other organization that was, while aware of her possible limitations, making it possible for her to go. Their knowledge of western medications and treatments was extremely vast. They weren’t going to take any chances and said that she might get there and not be able to actually drink the healing medicine, but that the ceremonies themselves had been profoundly helpful to many who were ill.

I’m a native Californian, and therefore have an open mind. I think there’s an awful lot we don’t know about. Sooooooo, I put the deposit down and bought the tickets for sis, my friend (the one who showed me the article to begin with) and myself.

And no. Manpants would not be joining us. This was just us gals.

Well, part of the journey involves shots. Vaccinations. One can’t just waltz into Peru without their Yellow Fever vaccination. Or tetanus, or hepatitis, or typhoid, or diphtheria for that matter. So sis goes to get her shots and is informed that at least two of them are live vaccines. Live vaccines are very bad for people with shot immune systems from chemo. Very bad. Sis can no longer go. Her adventure, her idea, the tickets are bought – and nope.

She had a great attitude about it however and the next CT results were even better than the ones before – which reaffirmed that whatever it is that she’s doing is working; macrobiotic eating, Fiji water, voodoo, pill chemo – a combo of all the above, who knows - so why mess with success? She was fine about not being able to go, but firm about wanting my friend and I to continue on with the journey.

So we are. We’re leaving July 22nd. We fly into Lima, then fly from there to Iquitos, then hike and boat into the camp where we will be for 10 days of hiking; educational treks learning about the flora and fauna of that part of the rainforest; learning about the ancient culture of an Indian tribe that is in danger of becoming extinct; boating on the Amazon river and participating in nightly ceremonies of a unique and ancient healing art that goes back quite possibly as far as the cave paintings of Chauvet and Lascaux.

It’s very exciting, scary, nerve wracking, exciting and scary. AND I’m going to get to see the Amazon rainforest in person – not just a Jeff Corwin experience. (Animal Planet viewers will get the reference.) Since the Rainforest may be here all of another 15 minutes at the rate we’re going environmentally – I am pretty grateful for the opportunity.

I will, of course be recording everything in a journal and willing to share all when I return.

Did I mention it’ all very exciting and scary?


Blogger Seamus said...

OMG! What a fabulous adventure (color me GREEN!) I'm sorry your sister can't go, but, WOW! what an adventure for you and you friend! Are you going to Machu Picchu as well?

I'm glad there are some successes in you sister's treatments - sounds encouraging.

10 July, 2006 11:39  
Blogger Catharine said...

Will you be putting your hand in a tree trunk, then pretending it has been bitten off by some monstrous, slathering, unseen beast? Isn't that required when travelling to rustic, primitive environments where exotic wildlife abounds? Wouldn't want you to get in Dutch with the local authorities, after all. I don't want to have to come down and bail you guys out of a Peruvian prison, all because you failed to do the "fake arm chewing monster in the tree stump" thing.

Have a wonderful time. Take lots of pictures. No, wait. Let me clarify. Take lots of picture or don't come home. We're living vicariously, and we expect to see many, many photos of this strange and mystical place that most of us will never have a chance to see.



10 July, 2006 13:25  
Blogger R said...

Check out both of Daniel Pinchbeck's book. He did your trip and a few others. They were my favorite reads of the summer and the reason I'm sitting here biting my fist to blood with envy. You can also check out his website at
Which is also the title of his first book. DO read both. I think there was interesting detours in the whole boat, hike there thing, and how the natives handled that and what they forced you to do which turns out to be some sort of test. Good luck girl. You'll never be the same!And I hope to hear allll about it!

10 July, 2006 13:26  
Blogger R said...

"Were" interesting detours. See? I'm so envious, I've lost my ability to talk properly. My ability to construct a sentence was never there. Which could make it a good thing I'm not taking the bark. I'd never be able to describe it. Especially if it involved using a semi-colon. And I concur with Catharine. Pictures! Seriously, read Pinchbeck. You will really really want to read what you could be in for. It could make things much less freaky.

10 July, 2006 13:30  
Blogger I.M. Dedd said...


but that is very cool

10 July, 2006 14:16  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Sounds like a dynamite trip. Scary, but a lifetime of memories. I've traveled all over Asia, but never to Latin America (except for a few Mexican border towns).

Looking forward to hearing all about your trip.

11 July, 2006 00:22  
Anonymous pia said...

Sounds incredible. Just go with it

Pictures are great, but sometimes I remember things better if I just visualise them in my mind

12 July, 2006 07:17  
Blogger Laura said...

Your trip sounds absolutely incredible, the adventure of a lifetime. I can't wait to hear about it, and see pictures. Admit it - you're just trying to make everyone else's blog seem boring, right? ha. Your sister will probably do some vicarious healing just hearing about you guys there. I'm glad to hear that she is doing better lately.

17 July, 2006 07:35  

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