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Soaps and Light and Disrespect
by Kelsey

July 15, 2009

Wow. We had a full house this week. Literally every room was occupied. I had to sleep in the office with Jose Luis and Miguel. There was one group of Americans from Colorado with a guide I didn’t know, and another group with Vanessa. In addition to that three Peruvians working for Parks Watch showed up unannounced and wanted to stay one night. Jose Luis, being as generous as he is couldn’t say no, so we were packed. Once again the Vanessa hypothesis was proven. Because the Machis feel comfortable with her, they are more likely to talk with her tourists. I must mention again that Vanessa is available through Amazon Trails Peru, an excellent tour operator based in Cusco. There was, however, a few small problems that came to pass. The first issue was with the Colorado group. The day of their arrival they asked their motorist to petition Jose Luis for an ayahuasca session. Jose Luis explained that the season for ayahuasca taking was over and to proceed drinking would be dangerous. He had previously explained this to me and revealed that they (Jose Luis and the other Machi who were at the lodge) don’t take ayahuasca between mid July and the beginning of October because the sun is so hot. For this reason fire can appear to the ayahuasca taker and cause spiritual or physical harm. Whats more is that snakes are more apt to appear during this time and illness can be incurred as well. I hung out with the Colorado group at night and chatted for a spell. They also asked me about ayahuasca. Had I taken it, how many times, what it was like and why they couldn’t take it. I explained to them directly the dangers associated with taking ayahuasca during the hot months and told they had to respect this cultural tradition. Nevertheless, the next day they once again asked their guide to request an ayahuasca session from Jose Luis. I was pissed. To me, asking again after Jose Luis already said no was very disrespectful. First of all, the ayahuasca ceremony is special, not just some product that is bought and sold. Often, the Machis are kind enough to share this wonderful experience but they do so out of kindness and a desire to expose others to the marvels of their culture. Second, where is the respect for cultural traditions? Jose said no, so that means no! They just don’t take it at this time. Sorry for the negativity but that episode really angered me. The other problem sprang from the “Parks Watch” group. As I said before they showed up totally unannounced and were lucky that Jose Luis let them stay the night. Jose and I scrambled to prepare their rooms with sheets and mosquito nets so they could relax after the long boat ride they had taken. One of the rooms they had to occupy was the room I was staying in. I must admit, I am a pretty messy person when it comes to my room so as you can imagine my stuff was strewn all over. I hurried to shove it all under one of the beds and as I was doing so one of the “Parks Watch” members started to complain. He told me in a very loud and aggressive voice, “I’m paying forty dollars to stay here I should have a clean room.” I didn’t like this. I pushed all my stuff under the bed, all of it! It was not inconveniencing him in any way yet he had to complain. I made it clear to him in an assertive voice that my articles were totally out of the way and that they had to accept what we gave them because they didn’t have a reservation. I wanted Jose Luis to kick them out. But they were bringing money to the Machis and I knew he would never do that. After the rooms were set up Jose and I went to light the candles in the paths through the camp. He asked me in a worried voice, “Is that man mad?” The emotion he was conveying to me told me that the episode regarding my luggage had frightened him or at least made him uneasy. I remembered what I had read in the ethnographies of Glen Shepard and Carolina Izquierdo about the Machis fearing situations in which there are strong emotions, like anger, or a clash of desires. I assured him everything was ok and told him not to worry. He shook it off like a champ and we finished the work for the night. This episode also angered me. These guys came in out of nowhere and then started demanding things and stressing the Machis. How rude. How inconsiderate. And they claimed their mission was to help Manu Park and its people. Ok, that’s it for the negativity, no more.

In other news, we made six new towel hangers and six new door handles to improve the rooms that were previously lacking them. Part of my work here is to determine if the activities at Casa Machi are having an impact on the environment. I think a big problem is the soap that is being used by tourists and the Machis themselves. Tourists bring in basic shampoo and body soaps to shower off and the Machis are using regular laundry detergent to clean their clothes and the bathrooms. So all of this stuff gets washed into the Manu River and I’m sure that can’t be good for the environment. We need to get a hold of some earth friendly biodegradable soaps which will drastically reduce any negative environmental impact. I’d really love to see Manu Park live on for future generations. Another thing I noticed is the lights being used here are totally outdated. They use up too much electricity and don’t put out enough. I know there are greener technologies out there. I will have to take both of these issues up with the administrator in Cusco. Other than that everything is going well and I’m loving life in the jungle. Its so casual and tranquil. I’m dreading my return to the crowded Cusco streets but I’ve still got a while here. Until next time, ciao amigos, be well.

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