The small thin red-brown man sat on a skeletal fiber mat, his eyes closed, his chin sank until it rested on his chest and then he became a jaguar. The jaguar ran past me and out into the night jungle behind. I sat across
from the now still form of the man whose spirit had left his body, then blinked to clear and steady my mind.
I met and befriended a Peruano man in Lima. The Lima man had a brother who worked on the eastern frontier and could show me the
real Amazon. The man in Lima was named Jeff. Ten days later, I met Jeff’s brother, Antonio in Puerto Maldonado, a small boomtown on Peru’s frontier with Bolivia and Brazil. It was very hot. Antonio worked for an oil exploration company. He took time
off from work, arranged for a canoe to take us down river and then up a tributary where few ventured, sounded like fun to me. The next morning we slid down the brown jungle river while large raucous scarlet macaws winged overhead. As the day grew so did the
river traffic, we dodged different boats carrying tourists, geologists, smugglers, and military. The rivers of the Amazon create a travel corridor; I soon tired of the traffic and hoped for some peace and quiet. Be careful what you ask for.
After several long insect filled sessions playing hide and seek with drug smuggling gangs and their attendant militias, our boat swung up a small, clear river. We parted branches and ducked larger ones as we made our way
up this free flowing tributary. At last, four weeks and thousands of miles from my home, we came to an open village area. Children wearing gold and navy blue University of Michigan sweatshirts, and nothing else, ran down the bank to greet our boat. I stayed
at the village with my guide Antonio for ten days. One night we were invited to “drink from the sacred vine” and eat a bitter dried fruit. At first I became very sick, but soon calmed and sat on my fiber mat with heightened senses. The village shaman went
into a trance and soon, while I sat lucid and keen, left his physical self to roam the jungle as a spirit jaguar.
The well dressed over fed man sat across from me on a very fancy comfortable chair and laughed when I recalled this story at a dinner gathering here in Montana. This man, who by his own admission had never been anywhere
outside of the United States, called into question my mental state and the credibility of my travelers tale. I did not respond, but smiled and soon the conversation went on.
It is easy to sit back and judge the lives of others. It is hard to go and see for yourself. Life is full of adventure big and small. In each of us beats the heart of a jaguar waiting to be set free. What are you waiting
Spot ‘Puerto Maldonado’
in the map of Peru!