The Ungraceful Guide | Budget Travel Guides

Peru: Welcome To The Jungle 

It’s 7 am. I’m wide awake. An unusual reality for such a proud night owl and an anti-early riser, with a long-standing history of groggy awakenings. Like every morning, I feel fresh and well-rested. My thoughts are quiet. My head is clear. I inhale a large breath, sucking in the lukewarm, light breeze that fills the jungle air. The sun sneaks through the trees, casting shadow lines that dance across our treehouse or better yet, our ‘casita’ (little house).

A wooden work of art; man-made using skinny bamboo sticks that hug each other as they rot in the natural weather. Overhead are large palm leaves stacked to protect the dweller from both the beating hot sun and the vicious jungle rain that San Francisco de Yarinacocha has to offer.

We’re high up, hence the treehouse. Although not technically built into a tree, it stands proud among them. A rectangle frame laying gently on four wooden stilts, stolen from trees the width of four men’s legs. We have forgotten the concept of four walls and a door and have grown accustomed to the green mesh wrapped around the entire casita. Our first sight of the day was the vibrant green jungle, our last, complete darkness.

Peru: Welcome To The Jungle 
Our “treehouse”

The voice of “God”, or a local news anchor rather, interrupts with repetitive “halo, halo, halo.” A sound heard more than five times a day. A local voice booming over an intercom, he’s here to share the day’s news and events. There is no internet here. Smartphones aren’t exactly popular, or needed. There’s an internet cafe out of town, with what seems like dial-up. Even the Google homepage takes an age to load. There is no local village newspaper, sure who would foot that bill? It’s all down to two men i.e. “God”, our nickname. These guys gather and deliver all the village information and news. They then cycle through the dusty streets with a microphone. “There is no school tomorrow, the roads are flooded, oh and ‘your one from up the road is selling her tuc tuc'”. Notices, news, adverts. It’s the aural ‘Northside People’.
The jungle is long awake, and loud. Birds of all colours compete for the stage, ruffling leaves and snapping branches as they do. Some birds are traditional in their song. Others cry out with loud booming shrieks, all in different tones and pitches. Mockingbirds take the piss out of them all. The R2D2 birds, as we call them, never fail to catch the ear. A large black beauty painted yellow under its body, the colour only seen when it’s in flight. It sounds digital, communicating robotically from up high. We’re convinced George Lucas knows of these birds, the sound is too uncanny.

Two woodpeckers face-butt the trunk of a tree, ignoring the orderly queue of the large leaf-cutter ants who pass them, hard at work. The thousands of insects are all in sync to create a constant hum or buzz. A two-second recording would pick up sounds you’ll never dream of hearing. We discovered the owner of as many as we could, but every day there is a new sound and every day there is a new bird, animal or insect. We are the guests here, and I don’t mean the guests of our hosts, a beautiful family that we now call our own.

Dorian, a kind, helpful and oh-so-busy French woman who has many stories of travels and expeditions. A fascinating woman, we never did find out how she found herself married to a Shipibo tribesman; living between the Sacred Valley in Cusco, and the depths of the Amazon Jungle in Ucayali. A story worth a book no doubt. Her days are spent doing chores, chores like no other, studying and completing her thesis for her PHD, oh and seeing to her three (wild) daughters.

The eldest is Lila, a confident and ridiculously smart chica. At 10 years old, her intelligence exceeds the standards of any other girl her age. Eager to learn, with an inquisitive nature and such enthusiasm, Lila can already speak three languages fluently; Spanish, Shipibo and French. Then there is Pía, the middle child, the quiet one. Her memory is outstanding. A sponge. Tell her something once and she’ll never forget it. She is wiser than her 8 years, always watching, always listening, and always wanting a hug or a cuddle. A natural beauty, she’s the double of her Dad and can speak fluent Spanish and Shipibo. She can understand every word of French but rarely speaks it. She instead answers her mother in Spanish. Camila, the baby and my little princess. Wild in nature, nothing or no one can or will tell Camilia what to do, despite being only 6 years old. Dorian admits her struggle to control this little dynamite, and we were warned about her behaviour from the get-go. It’s not that she’s a bold kid, she’s just too independent. Something that will stand to her one day, but for now, we even got involved in disciplining her. Her big brown eyes sparkle as they look up at you, and her baby teeth create a cute and shining smile, she had us both wrapped from day one. Camila speaks fluent Spanish but unlike her sisters, she speaks with a Shipibo twist. Her sentences always end with “di”; an accent to suit her sassy attitude.

Peru: Welcome To The Jungle 
Mis Amigas

My favourite story of these three musketeers is the ‘night of the fire’. It was our fourth night here and Dad ripped off on his motorbike, to join his friends and clink some beers, while Mam was buried in her thesis. The air is smokey, and the crackling of a fire is hard to ignore. Directly across from our casa is a blaze. The neighbour, also an uncle to our Maestro, tends to his garden. Clearing it for building most likely. It’s a controlled fire. These people are experienced. But as the heat rises and the night goes on, it seems the fire is spreading a lot faster than normal. It’s now unattended.

Mesmerised and hypnotised as we sit on the steps of our casa, Dorian and the girls enter my peripheral. They approach the fire, and we grow concerned. They disappear and we relax a little, surely there’s nothing to worry about?! The girls then reappear, without Mam. Lila, with a large stick in hand, closes in on the fire. Her younger sister followed suit. We call out, but they don’t hear us. I’m in a dilemma. Surely Mam knows the girls are back at the fire, but the danger has my nurture senses tingling. They’re so close I’m uncomfortable. Do we step in and get involved, is this normal, is this OK, is the family used to this or is this the first time?! Black smoke bellows from their silhouettes. The noise of the sticks smacking against the ground. Burning amber is all that’s left and the three fearless angels move down towards the other end of the blaze. After 15 minutes or so, the fire is out. Just in time for dinner. When we head to the house, Man isn’t in her hammock and the girls dance around the kitchen, celebrating their success. The fire brigade doesn’t have a patch on these three.

It wasn’t until we heard the rumbling of motorbikes, did Mam and Dad appear. Dad, a little intoxicated, the girls admit the fire is out. “But how?!” asks Mam. “We put it out using sticks, ” Pía admits. They’re in trouble and we’re embarrassed. We did nothing to stop them. The girls dance towards their Dad, sticks in hand “We saved the day! This is the stick I used” admits Camila, “and this is the stick I used” chimed in the other two. “Wow. Oh, girls. Wow, just wow.” Drunk Dad is speechless. “You know tomorrow, we’re going to have a long talk about this. But you know, tomorrow. Wow. Just wow girls.” Myself and Luke snigger at his reaction. Too shocked to say anything, too drunk to do anything. Mam is angry and rightly so; especially as the girls dance in circles, sticks in hand singing “We saved the day, we saved the day.” Dad tells Mam to chill, fires are OK and never a concern here. He’ll discipline the girls in the morning until then he had to go explain to his uncle why the fire is out. His uncle was not too pleased, as we overheard later that night from our casa. We agreed we’d bring up the danger of their actions in the following day’s class. But sure look, it’s like talking to a wall or in this case, a fire-bashing stick.

We enjoyed our two hours a day, every day, in their incredible presence. Teaching and learning in Dad’s studio, the workshop turned classroom. It is our favourite hut on the land. Built similarly to our casita, without the stilts. The room is long and large, decorated with Dad’s bright and colourful paintings; all of which represent his different Ayahuasca experiences. To the left, Madre Tierra (Mother Earth) faces the sun as she puffs on a marijuana joint. To the right, Pacha Mama (Mother Nature) speaks with birds under the beating sun. All around us, paintings of bright green eyes watch us while the souls of men and women cry. Each painting is deep, with stories and hidden meanings. A psychologist’s dream.

A drum kit sits by the entrance, accompanied by pan pipes, an acoustic guitar, and other percussion instruments including bongos that are fitted onto an old car engine. This is a creative space, full of energy and happiness. It seeped into our class time.

Here, we made the classes fun, putting our CELT qualifications to good use and making our TEFL queen Gillian Cooke proud, we hope. From the basics of ABCs, numbers and colours to greetings, introductions, expressions, feelings, songs and so much more. There were many proud moments shared between us all. Especially considering we had no resources, only a whiteboard. We got creative, making our own rich media; bingo cards, join the dots, find the letters, dress the teacher using anything at hand. Candy crush to help with colours, selfies to drill faces and feelings. The bond created between us all in that classroom will live with us forever.

My favourite times were post-class when the girls would race up the dirt track to their house and share all they’d learned. Hearing them speak English, practising and even teaching their Dad. The sounds of Annie’s “Tomorrow, Tomorrow” would clash with “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” as the girls cram to gain attention. Word spread and a three-student class became five. By the end of the three weeks, we would have seven students.

Peru: Welcome To The Jungle 
“Profe” Luke

It’s now not even 8 a.m. The sun hasn’t hit its peak yet, far from it. Giving us and the locals time to do our morning work. The breeze is delicate and cool. Peeling myself out of bed, the night’s sweat outlines the shape of my body. Our sheets are gross but not enough to change them just yet. An expression used commonly is “What’s the point?” since the feeling of sweat, filthy with dust and embedded mud is as normal as wearing deodorant. As I climb out from under our mosquito net, my ears perk.

Every morning I wake to the sounds of nature, and every morning I also wake to the sounds of Filder. That same cool delicate morning breeze carries his talents for all of us to hear. The perfect pitch of pan pipes, mixed with the light bounce of bongos. He sings traditional Shipibo songs; the contrast of his throat and nose singing is so calming, so gifted. I call it my alarm tone. Something I’ll never tire of hearing.

Filder, or ‘Wïsh’ his Shipibo name, the name he’s known better by, is truly one of those random ‘you-couldn’t-write-it’ kind of people. Merely being in his presence is some form of a learning curve. His vibes are nothing but positive, and his face is never without a smile. Now, you could say it’s down to the fat blunt joints of marijuana he smokes regularly but honestly, he’s just a one-of-a-kind person. A well-known shaman based out of Cusco, he retreats to his native San Francisco community to grow the medicinal plants used in his ceremonies. He’s a healer, has many patients and has an impressive record of successful ceremonies. He followed the footsteps of his Grandfather and at the young age of 11, started his shaman training.

Every day is a new story from his incredible life. The things he’s seen, the things he’s done, the things he’s heard; I would need a publishing deal and a working laptop keyboard to type all his stories. I’m fascinated by him. We call him our ‘Jefe’ (boss) or ‘Maestro’ (master). He’s been up since 5 a.m., sometimes even earlier if he’s Piranha fishing in the local lake. The same lake the girls swim in I should add. There is no fear here.

Peru: Welcome To The Jungle 
The local fishing spot

Bed is at the early time of 8 pm our Maestro told us. The Shipibo usually sleep early and wake in darkness. They rise to eat a large breakfast, their main meal of the day considering they only eat twice a day. A large bowl of fish, and chicken soup with rice. Even the thought of a heavy meal first thing in the morning turns my stomach. But here, there is a lot to do and energy is needed. Far from the average 9-5 job; all land is owned, self-made and self-built using the jungle’s resources. The basics of survival are what’s most important. Fishing, growing or gathering food, making clothes, clearing roads from the torrential rain, and controlling jungle fires used to clear and create land for building. Cleaning the local lakes, and retaining water; it’s a busy community. And while we know how to sit behind desks and earn money in order to survive, these people use what Pacha Mama has given them. The gift of the earth in exchange for life. An inspiring way to live really.

As the sun shifts higher, the air turns hot. It’s stifling in the jungle, and still not midday. After a night’s sleep, a shower is badly needed and the thought of a cold splash is heaven, enough to make me skip down the five plank steps and crunch onto the dried-out leaves. A shower, or any little task that involves water is a luxury really, considering it’s a limited resource. I head towards the toilet, it’s about 100 metres away from our casita in the shape of a tall wooden box, covered in black burlap. There is a door but it doesn’t close and instead, the burlap and green mesh help cover your dignity. Two small logs are dug upright into the ground to form steps up into the toilet. There is a toilet seat, but no toilet. Instead, the toilet seat sits, you guessed it, on a wooden box that opens to the ground beneath. Think of those weird Electric Picnic toilets where you can see the ground and other people’s excretions. OK, so this isn’t as bad as that. Definitely doesn’t smell like it *shudder*. Instead, it’s a toilet seat that leads into a big black hole, creating a compost heap. Stepping into the small room flies the size of birds whizz past. I spend a few seconds shooing them away. Not something that would usually bother me, but since I was recently stung on the lip by one of these black buzzers, I’ve got a slight fear. No one wants a free lip job, courtesy of a jungle fly.

Peru: Welcome To The Jungle 
Shitting like cats

I’ve come a long way since our arrival. When I first saw the toilet my bowels seized up. Not a chance it warned me. But now, I’m comfortable. Sure, I’m home, aren’t I?! The view from the pot is beautiful, you can see all; Filder digging trenches for a new fence, Dorian cleaning dishes in the distance, but no one can see you. Once finished, it’s important to dig the small metal bowl into the large bag of sand that slumps next to the loo. This is where our term “shitting like a cat” comes in. I sprinkle the neon orange sand into the black hole, hopefully covering my poo and pee. This prevents any smell and helps it dissolve. A simple but important task. I hear a slight scratching on the burlap, thankfully it’s outside. It’s a bat. Upside down, clinging on for dear life. Yep, it’s broad daylight. Stereotypes don’t exist here.

Peru: Welcome To The Jungle 
Bat Mam, making sure we wipe the seat.

Feeling lighter but sweating more, it’s time for that shower. Fingers firmly crossed that there is water and better yet, pressure today. Walking towards the main house, I watch my step. Everything and anything lives here, seeing a snake during the day isn’t unusual. And the fire ants, well sure they could pick me up and carry me to their queen if they really wanted. Thankfully, they decided to just sting me as I walked through their line of work.

The main house is impressive. Like everything, it’s built from the trees it replaced. The house is one large square room, where the entire family sleeps. Four beds sit in each corner next to a number of bags and a small fridge. The front door swings out onto a porch where two hammocks hang lazily. The kitchen is an open-air area complete with sandy dirt floor, covered by a thatched palm leaf roof. Shelves sit corner to corner, suspended from chicken wire. For a simple kitchen, Dorian has it well equipped, probably the best kitchen we’ve had in months.
Facing the kitchen is the shower. Similar to the toilet, but without a roof. Four large buckets are lined across one side, all filled to the brim with water, the unsafe kind. A shower head hangs above, next to two more taps. One tap is used to fill the buckets and the other, is an installed filter system for drinking water. The water here is a parasite’s heaven, illness upon consumption is guaranteed. I step in to turn on the shower. Nothing. There’s no pressure today, which means no drinking water. Thankfully, we filled up four 2 ltr bottles the previous day to keep us hydrated until the water returns, which could be later or two days from now. It’s the luck of the draw. If there is any water, it’s usually before 10 am or after 5 p.m. and won’t last long. A necessity for survival, oh how we take things for granted at home.

Thankfully, a shower is still possible. A small purple bowl sits on top of a filled bucket. Taking great care not to pollute the water in any way; fallen leaves from the tree above or dripping soap from my face. I dip the bowl into the bucket and close it immediately. I throw the bowl over my head and repeat the process until I feel somewhat sweat-free. There’s a small frog in the corner, watching, being a creep. Eyes watch from the trees above, and the sun, well she’s also having a nice peep now. Floating directly over the shower, I can feel my skin burn as I drench myself. It’s like I’m cast on ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Outta Here’ minus the bikini, big boobs and sexy sultry ‘Herbal Essence’ hair washing. Only, I don’t want to ‘get outta here’.

My towel and “clean” clothes hang from a wire. Thanks to the sun, I’m dry in less than two minutes and proceed to get dressed. Stepping out of the shower, and directly into the kitchen; breakfast of porridge and coffee is on the menu, our usual. I’m sweating already, and our breakfast menu doesn’t help. Since we use the retained bucket water to cook, boiling everything is so important. But even our coffee cups are only half filled, leaving room for the lukewarm water taken from our water bottles. I sweat profoundly as I eat and drink. Another shower is on the cards.

Adjacent to the shower and kitchen is a small covered area complete with three buckets and a tap. Since there’s no water, we use the buckets to wash our delph. Again taking great care not to pollute the water with blobs of porridge, and taking even greater care not to use too much water. The family needs it. At night, after dinner, it’s the same process, only darker. So dark, that I need Luke to stand beside me shining a torch after he checks overhead to scare away the child-size spiders. Our ritual.

The girls are all at the local school. From 8 am to 12 pm, the school is primarily taught in Shipibo, their second language is Catalan. As unpredictable as a teenager, on some days, the school is closed due to worthless excuses, and on others, the teacher doesn’t show. We held back a smile the day Lila explained why she wasn’t in school “The teacher drank too much” she said innocently while squashing cookie dough in her palm. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays our English class starts at 3 pm. At the earlier time of 1.30 pm on the alternative days, since another teacher pops by in late afternoon to teach them maths etc.

Peru: Welcome To The Jungle 
Watching the Maestro at work

Our pre-class hours are used to relax on the hammocks, write, edit, hang out with Maestro, chat with Dorian or explore another corner of the community. We stroll the streets, replying to every hello. Once, we bumped into a group of young girls who asked if they could sing for us. A Shipibo song, they giggle their way through it, embracing our applause. I asked them to do it again, only this time, I wanted to film it. All smiles, they perform again but this time, a little more cunning, our claps and thanks are met with their open hands. We filmed it, so cough up. It was the best 5sol we spent.

Peru: Welcome To The Jungle 
The Singing Shipibo Sisters

The Singing Shipibo Sisters

We step into the pitts of the Jungle to find sloths and take a break from the sun. Local men hack at the trees with machetes, while the women carry the large logs across the jungle, always working. We stopped for a chat, the first question being “Who are you here with?” We tell them we’re guests of Wïsh, and that we’re teaching English to his children. Arms open, we’re embraced and welcomed. At times, we’re even blessed. Literally blessed. They take our hand and hold tight, while their other waves over us, some Shipibo is mumbled and we’re sent on our way. En route home, we pass the shops, three wooden shacks stand side by side, all doubled as homes. Some families even sleep on the floor of their shop. It has limited supplies, and shelves filled with the same stock. Dogs swarm the doors seeking shade and half-naked kids run barefoot, excited to see us. We now know all the kids by name and love to sit and chat with them.

Although the majority of the community no longer dresses traditionally, the elder women refuse to let the Shipibo attire die. Long black skirts hug their dark, leather-like skin topped with a purple and green silk top, wrapped in gold and black beads that hug their neck a number of times. They don’t wear shoes, people rarely do. The bottoms of their feet are as hard as stone.

Peru: Welcome To The Jungle 
Just one of the many local house huts

We return home, and our Maestro is in the classroom, sucking on a joint and finishing one of his paintings. He tells us more about the medicinal plants he uses, and stories from ceremonies he’s performed. He explains the meaning of today’s painting and delves into its origin. A new tradition that snuck into all our lives. On one occasion, after expressing my love for one specific painting, he gave it to me. A gift. His gift arranged so beautifully across a canvas. Something I’ll always cherish.

We tell him about our day, and he’s pleased we’re enjoying the local life. We originally found Wïsh through our previous volunteer host in Colombia. She urged us to visit the Shipibo tribe when in Peru and kindly introduced us. It’s still hard to believe we’re here, despite two weeks already passing. I never want to leave. A proud Shipibo man, he loves his community. A crime-free village with no police, everyone knows everyone, that’s if they’re not already related. The locals are the police, nothing happens here without someone knowing about it. What a wonderful life to live.

Peru: Welcome To The Jungle 
Exploring San Francisco

There’s a loud screech outside, and the trees shake viciously. I love this part and excitedly flip out of my hammock to run outside and look up. The large family of tiny monkeys are out on a hunt. Each following the other, they swing and jump dramatically from tree to tree. There’s never a dull moment.

Screams and child-like giggling are heard, as perfectly as in the movies. The girls are home. It’s lunchtime. Our wise Jefe takes one last long pull, holds his breath and coughs violently. He then stubs out his joint, and whistles strong and clear, as if it was playback. The whistling fades as he joins his family for his second and last meal of the day.

It’s 3 p.m., and the sun is starting to back off a little. Despite it being daytime, the room is dark so we plug in a small lamp for class. Our students, fully fed and giddy, arrive a little late. As usual. “Profe, Profe, what are we learning today and what games are we playing?” they ask with enthusiasm. We start with revision of previous classes; role-play, questions and some board work. Our class, as always, is productive, fun and successful.

With little resources and a bunch of hyper kids, we aimed to bring the language to life and sometimes succeeded. I laughed frantically while watching the kiddies try to find the alphabet hidden around the garden. And laughed too hard at how seriously they took bingo. We taught them different types of clothes through our newly created game called. ‘Dress The Teacher’. And all giggled hysterically as they made Luke wear one boot, one flip-flop, and my dress.

We learned Annie’s “Tomorrow, Tomorrow”, screamed “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” from the jungle depths and learned about faces and feelings through the art of selfies. We drew, we coloured and in the end, the students would become the masters.

Peru: Welcome To The Jungle 
Teaching faces and feelings through the art of selfies

As always, we end class with a song, knowing it’ll be stuck in all our heads for the rest of the day. Hugs, kisses and smiles; the affection is beautiful. A sad reality at home. If either of us were to embrace a student, there would be questions and disgusting suspicions. Whereas here, sitting on laps while we learn and teach, and hugs are encouraged. They’re our family, and we love them. It’s a gift to teach, but little did they know we were the ones truly learning here.

It’s dusk. Time to close the doors, change into long pants and burn incense. The mosquitos are fierce, and this is their feeding time. Between ants, mozzies and every other biter or bloodsucker, a slight tingle on my skin causes me to slap it. Paranoia is a good thing.

The sky rumbles. Rain is due, a prediction easily made when the heat builds to become a painful dead weight, sucking every inch of sweat from my skin. Clouds start to seep over the dark pink sky. The sun burns a violent red as it vanishes into the green exterior.

Peru: Welcome To The Jungle 
Thunder is coming…

The jungle is quiet, too quiet. This is usual before a storm but still, the eerie atmosphere is hard to ignore. The darkness slumps comfortably into its front-row seat. The storm is here. The sky flashes bright, too quick for the eye. Rain hits. It claps loudly, smashing against the trees; almost loud enough to deter the ear from the frightening grumble of thunder. Hungry, we have to be patient. The run from classroom to kitchen is not worth drowning.

Eventually, satisfied with its noisy destruction, it stops. Abruptly. And moves further along, in search of a dry patch. Large dollops of water bounce from tree to fauna, the air turns bitter and it’s time to feed and hide; the good aul fashion Hogan way.

Washing dishes in the dark, while using minimum water, isn’t fun. Feet drenched and muddy, I scrub the delph as Luke hovers behind, torch in hand, looking for any spiders that usually reside in the ‘washing up hut’. Our ritual. He’s sound like that. I dip a small bowl into one of the filled buckets and carefully catch the suds using a weak stream of water. There definitely won’t be any water tomorrow. A sure thing if rain arrives. You would imagine rain should have the opposite, but not here.

I think of the humorous story Wïsh shared with us, about a local man whose ONE job is to maintain the reservoir that connects to the town i.e. to open and close the main supply line. Unfortunately for the Shipibo people of San Francisco, this one man also happens to have a severe phobia of the rain. A problem easily fixed, I agree. Get another guy, part-time, he works only when it rains. Nope! After many years that’s just the way it is and the way it’ll remain, until a successor rises of course. A story that proves we have found the most laid-back place in the world. No water? “Ah, but poor Jimmy doesn’t like the rain. Leave him be. We’ll be graaand.”

Back in our high house, we huddle on the floor, pulling all our belongings into the middle of the room. That storm passed quickly but there will be more, and they’ll be worse. A hint of wind and the rain can sprinkle its way in, only along the sides, thankfully. We play some cards before loading the laptop. The Sopranos, our ‘nighttime-jungle-binge’ choice and Luke’s first time meeting Tony. Her voice interrupts my mob date. These moments are another favourite of mine. A woman cries in song, hitting notes to make your eyes water. Like Wïsh, she’s also a shaman and tonight she’s performing a ceremony.

On our first night here, we arrived with two friends we met in Ecuador. Both were intrigued to take part in an ayahuasca ceremony, the previous week in Lima, we had convinced them to join us and seek out a shaman in Filder Augustine, the Shipibo man whose children we planned to teach English. Fast forward a few days and there we were, two Dubliners, a Galway gal and a Mayo man sitting in the presence of a shaman discussing ayahuasca in the Peruvian jungle.

That night, they joined another patient in the classroom/Dad’s studio turned ceremony room; the three experienced something truly incredible. As it started, we retreated back to the kitchen to cook, listening to Wïsh guide the ceremony using nothing but song. The funny part was that we too had to sleep in the ceremony room that night as the other patient was using our casita. Honestly, we never felt so awkward that night, and instead of slipping silently into the room, heads down and straight to sleep; we politely sat in the pitch-black kitchen, battling mozzies, breathing in the awkward silence. After hours of sitting there, being mozzie-mauled, we eventually discussed a plan of action. We would wait until Wïsh stopped singing and during that moment of silence, sneak into bed quietly. It was that night we quickly learned that a Shipibo ayahuasca ceremony is prominently led by song and music. He never did stop singing, not for seven whole hours.

Peru: Welcome To The Jungle 
Jungle Friends

Tonight, I was enjoying a different sound. Similar songs, more noises than words, the melody and tone of the Shipibo songs used are quite catchy. She sings like Maestro, but her delicate pitch echoes through the jungle. A voice that always makes me think of Grandmother Willow from Pocahontas. That hypnotising echo, is enough to give anyone goosebumps. I now stand, with full aural pleasure, on the balcony. I listen for as long as my legs can stand, noting any words, guessing the next melody and enjoying a unique experience. I’m lucky to hear this same woman a few times while there, but it’s the Maestro’s voice that I know I’ll never forget.

Nighttime is fairly unpredictable here. It’s funny to think what was such a shock and surprise at first is now the norm. Like the first time I heard a ceremony, the thunder, the bats, or the first time I met Paulie, our possum who lived behind the light on our roof. Cute fecker, with big black eyes and a tail to put a monkey to shame; he once snuck into our room and ate our bananas. No idea how he got in, but we stopped buying fruit after that. Between the ants and flies in the kitchen, and Paulie’s fructose addiction in our room, we only ate the fresh pineapple growing on the land. Poor us!

Peru: Welcome To The Jungle 
Fresh Piña

There are also the less pleasant “nighttime newbies” such as realising I have a fear of peeling in the wooden box at night, in pitch darkness. Phone torch or no phone torch, no way can I multitask that well. Keeping an eye on my surroundings, juggling toilet roll, a phone and trying not to fall down the impending hole of poo, all while hovering?! God no. So instead, I shamelessly pee on nature. Poor Luke would have to guide some light towards my direction and down I’d go, stumbling step by step, and pee near the house. Mastered the backsplash too I might add. And while I stomp and stumble my way to pee, searching for the albeit small but terrifying grey tarantula that lives on our bottom step, Luke found himself an envious solution. Sure he didn’t even bother with the steps. Off he’d head for the balcony; ready, aim and fire straight into the darkness. Making a more modest return. Jungle 1 – 0 Katie.

Another unfortunate introduction to jungle life was Spidey McSpider. The biggest, blackest and most hairy tarantula lived directly to my left, as I lay on my bed. Every day and night, he’d sit outside the mozzie mesh, watching us. Although, since we were happier to know where he was, rather than wonder where he was hiding, we didn’t disturb him.

Little did we predict that, on our last night here, he’d somehow make his way into the house. and happily settle over our bed. Shrieks and screams, my hero, white as a cloud and trembling, took a lunchbox and slowly but surely trapped the intruder. A little less gracefully, he fecked Spidey out the door and barely slept a wink. A story he still doesn’t believe happened. Thank you, Luke.

As I said, nighttime is always unpredictable. No sights but full of sounds, every night I’d doze, drifting into my subconsciously happy place, somewhere that still doesn’t compete with the place I’ll wake up.

My days are happy, our days enriched. We knew from the minute we arrived, two things. One, that we’d never want to leave. And two, that we had just discovered something incredibly special in the world. Still, we had no idea just how personal this experience would become. We learned to live the jungle life, a life we loved to live, and when the day eventually did come, heavy bags on; our hearts sagged as we said our goodbyes and turned our backs on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Sprawled across our thin mattress, I start to nod. The growling thunder shifts the air, it’s getting warm again. My eyelids are heavy, I drift into a subconscious state. Off to a world where the air smells pure, a man forever sings and seven young children speak in thick Dublin accents.

Nope, not even my dreams can top this reality.

Oh, wait.

Peru: Welcome To The Jungle 
The gang on fleek

If you’re passing through Peru and seeking a highly reputable shaman for a ceremony or would like to experience some “me time” hidden in the Peruvian jungle; teaching English – drop me an email

The family is open to volunteers and would love to hear from anyone who has a service, skill or talent to offer.

It’s worth it, we promise.



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4 Responses

  1. Katie was lovely to read this beautifully written account of your time with Wish and his family. I am an Aussie who has stayed with them twice now in San Francisco for a total of about 6 weeks and I loved hearing about your time there.

    The girls are such live wires – I miss them and look forward to hearing their improved English skills next year when I return to Peru.

    1. Kym, how lovely to hear from you! Thank you kindly for lending me your eyes and for sharing just how much you enjoyed the blog, that alone has made my day! Couldn’t agree with you more, I’ve never felt more at home or comfortable with a family. We miss them all terribly and look forward to reuniting with them one day, such as yourself! The girls are mental, in the best way. I learned so much from our time there and feel like I’ve gained three little sisters. Please, when you do visit them, pass on our love and hugs, also make sure to practice with the girls. Ask them for a rendition of ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ ha! Thanks for making me smile Kym, keep in touch – please! KT x

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