As many of you know, I am a huge proponent of going off the grid in regular intervals. There is something magical about leaving the iphones, computers, and any and all other means of electronic communication behind for a while. When living a very fast paced, highly connected life in New York City (or anywhere for that matter), going off the grid gives you a chance to stop, slow down, breathe deeply, and look inward without any distractions. It is a gift and I highly, highly recommend it if you have never done it before.
The last few years I have been going to Burning Man fairly regularly which is definitely an off the grid event–but also a very active event. When I found out about the opportunity to take a trip to the deep Amazon Jungle, to live and meditate in a hut for 10 days far away from any semblance of civilization—I was like, “HELL YES! Sign me up!”.
When I traveled through South America in 2007, I spent a bit of time in the Amazon in Bolivia. I did an intense wildlife tour in the Bolivian Pampas and did a three day trekking and repelling excursion near Rurrenabaque. None of these Amazon excursions were anything near as remote or removed as this trip.
The idea of no communication, no electricity, no alarm clocks was just what the doctor ordered. Not so much as an escape, but as an opportunity to deeply focus on, for lack of a better way to describe it, “my shit”. To breakdown “my shit” further: my goals, my future, my relationships, my career trajectory, my family, and my life direction. These things all need consideration from time to time, and deep in the jungle seemed like quite an amazing, and deserving place to give them my 100% undivided attention. So, I packed up my hammock, safari hat, 3 books, my journal, and my little nigerian bubble drum (called an Udu) and headed back to Peru. This is my third trip total down there. I went on a magical mystery tour to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley not too long ago–and spent 6 weeks traveling overland in 2007 in Peru.
From September 13th to September 23rd I spent my days in a hut (called a Tambo pictured above) which was located three hours by car, and another three hours up river from Pucallpa, Peru—seriously deep in the Amazon Jungle. The idea was to eat, diet, meditate, and focus. To slow everything down to a halt.
Pucallpa is in the east and located on the banks of the Ucayali River, which is a major tributary in the Amazon there. There is NOT a lot going on in Pucallpa outside of the timber trade. Looking at this map, it is much closer to Brazil than I realized when I was down there.
This is the last tiny town we went through on our three hour car ride. When we reached our destination, we unloaded all of our gear into boats.
For the entire 10 days we participated in a deep cleanse. We were served either rice, quinoa, or oatmeal twice a day along with an extremely tasteless plantain. In case you were wondering, the plantains were terrible. Most of the time I threw it deep in the jungle in protest. For the first two days I had an INTENSE caffeine/sugar withdrawl headache. It is wild how unconscious I had become on the amount of coffee I have been drinking to fuel my daily adventures in the big apple. Much of this cleanse brought awareness to my regular eating habits and to what I put in my body on a daily basis. Clearly there is a ton of room for improvement.
For the 10 days we were not allowed to use any commercial products. The idea is to become one with jungle—and to leave all other unnatural smells back in the real world. No toothpaste, no deodorant, no soap, nada. We were told that we needed to deeply assimilate with the surroundings of the jungle. Every day we were provided with minty leaves that you would put in a bucket of river water. We would then sit this bucket out to bake into the sun. You could brush your teeth with these leaves as well—and they did a great job. I was way less stinky and gross that I thought I would be.
You had to be super careful while bathing as you need to contend with camian (we didn’t see any), territorial river otters (we didn’t see any), and deadly poisonous snakes (people in our posse definitely saw some of these guys). Most of us would head to spots with rushing or moving water to bathe–as you wouldn’t have to deal with the dangerous animals or the fish as much. Those little bastard fish would relentlessly go after nipples. Seriously! One of the guys was bitten by a fish and it drew blood. Sadly, I’m not sure what the real name is for the nipple fish–but I highly advise guarding your nipples if you venture into the Amazon.
I spent A LOT of time chilling in my hammock. I finished two books and wrote at least 6 pages in my journal. At night I definitely slept under the mosquito net. It got dark at about 6:30 PM and light at about 7 AM. Aside from when meals were served, that was pretty much how we kept time.
The facilites were very luxurious, as you can see from the above photo. The most advanced feature of this model is the big stick that sat next to it. You definitely, definitely, definitely want to use that stick to knock out a host of wonderful amazonian insects that really seem to like it inside there.
There are a lot of big ass trees in the Amazon. But sadly more and more ground is being cleared by huge oil and mining companies. It was very evident in the area that we drove through to get to our camp. Logging and mining is big business down there.
Just being in the jungle (and leaving in one piece) is an act of meditation in itself. You have to be in a constant state of awareness, watching where you walk, and being alert to what could have crawled into your tambo or clothes. To say that there are animals that need to be watched out for would be a bit of an understatement. There is crazy shit everywhere—and it’s all alive. Poisonous (more or less deadly) snakes top the list of scariest creatures to contend with. I didn’t see any but they were most definitely in the area and other people had close encounters with them. There are jaguars as well, but they are not as dangerous as one would think in areas inhabited by humans. Apparently, in the open jungle they are way more dangerous.
We thought that we heard a jaguar on a few different nights, but who knows. From dust until dawn, the jungle becomes a symphony of sounds as thousands of creatures big and small come together to contribute their unique songs, cries, hoots, and howls. It is hard to tell a frog from a cicada, or a jaguar from a monkey. And it is so unbelievably dark you’d have to run smack into one to really know what you were hearing. We saw a shitload of tarantulas and they are little bad asses. They hang out in holes and then jump on their unsuspecting prey when they walk by. Their bite is actually pretty similar to a bee sting from what I have read. Everyone had to contend with some animal or another, but mostly spiders and lizards.
In the beginning of the trip I was having a great deal of trouble stopping my inner dialog. Maybe it was the buzz of New York City still integrated into my being, or maybe it was the whirl of travel—but regardless of what it was, it was really hard to get my meditation practice going. You can imagine that going from the vibration of New York City to the vibration of the deep jungle is a pretty significant adjustment.
I was down at the river bathing one morning, and trying to piece together what exactly the problem was. I sat on a rock next to the rapids and attempted to meditate again with mixed results. As I returned to my tambo I was greeted by a Praying Mantis. It had gotten in my tambo and was hanging out on the screen. Luckily Praying Mantis’ are about the best bug to have around as they eat all of the other pesky annoying insects.
I decided this Praying Mantis could stay and named him “Fred”. He looked like a Fred for sure.
I’ve been reading this super trippy, awesome nature reference book called Animal Speaks by Ted Andrews, and brought it with me on the trip. The book is an encyclopedia of the archetypal qualities associated with hundreds of animals. If you had a pack of raccoons break into your garage, you’d look up raccoons and it would provide you insight about what the “racooon qualities” were and how they would be applicable to your life. If you run across a snake in the woods, you’d look up snakes, etc,. From my experience with the book the synchronicities have been wildly serendipitous. I highly recommend checking out this book if you are in to this kind of thing–especially if you seem to be having random run ins with animals.
So, naturally after running into Fred (immediately after my difficulty meditating in the river), I looked up praying mantis in the book and the following are the highlights:
Praying Mantis: The Power of Stillness
From Animal Speaks: “The Praying Mantis epitomizes the power of stillness. Through learning to still the outer mind and go within, we can draw upon a greater power—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. It is this ability for stillness that makes the Mantis a great hunter and enables it to survive. It will wait motionless , blending into its surroundings. Then at the most opportune time, it will suddenly grasp its prey in its long forelegs which fold over its victim like a jackknife closing upon it”.
It goes on to say that the Praying Mantis can be called upon to help people with meditation. After reading it, with a big smile on my face, I sat in my Tambo to give the meditation thing another shot. Every time my mind would drift I would looked up at Fred and he would just be sitting there praying like a little Buddha, looking right at me. Not surprisingly, from that point on I found my flow on the meditation tip. Fred chilled in my tambo for a day or so and then went on his way. We definitely had a good hang while he was there.
Our first meal after the 10 day diet broke was chicken soup and it has never tasted so good. To go through 1o days with no salt, eating food with no taste, is not an easy task. We would sit around at night and more often than not someone would start talking about their favorite restaurant back home, or a recipe their mom used to make. Needless to say this is a cardinal sin, and major offense, when dieting in the jungle.
This trip was intense, unbelievably deep, and a very powerful experience. A simple blog post can not begin to sum up what happened down there. Back in civilization now, sitting on my couch in the West Village, I am filled to the brim with gratitude. I have such appreciation for my life and to be surrounded by such beautiful love on all angles. To be able to take trips like this is truly a blessing–and I am so very grateful.
I have found that when I have gone off the grid in a deep and meaningful way, I always come back on the grid with a hell of a lot more appreciation for life, and especially the people close to me. I came back with six pages of journal entries, more new ideas that I can even get my head around, and answers to questions I have had for a long time. If there is one word I can use to describe this results of this trip, it is progress.
The long walk out of camp, and slowly but surely back to reality.