Amazon dreaming”


Sunlight glistens off the water of the mighty Amazon river as our speedboat slows to pass locals in their wooden canoes. Whole families look up from their paddling and wave warm-heartedly as the wake from our boat shakes them.
I’m headed to the ‘Refugio Altiplano’, an upmarket jungle lodge 35 kilometres south of the jungle city of Iquitos, over 1000 kms from Lima, the capital of Peru. The Refugio is a retreat where you can be pampered by the physical surrounds and take part in programs for healing and relaxation with natural plant medicines administered by indigenous medicine men, or as the West calls them – shamen.

We pull into dock at a collection of floating shanty huts with tin roofs and beer signs out front at the riverside village of Tamshiyacu. A swarm of young Peruvian boys chatter excitedly and grab our guide rope, tying down the boat with practised hands.

“They’re excited because they know I’ll give them a sol,” says our guide, Scott Petersen, as we stock up on some last minute supplies at this river outpost.
Petersen is a tall, bearded American from Michigan with crinkly blue eyes and the swagger and style of Richard Branson. As well as being a tour guide and businessman, he’s also a trained herbalist and anthropologist who has been studying for over 25 years with Peruvian shamen.

Ten years ago he came to Iquitos to put his knowledge into practice and offer Western tourists a place to relax, heal and learn. The Refugio Altiplano (which translates to ‘Reguge of the High Plains’) is now one of the largest tourist centres on the Upper Amazon. This sprawling jungle retreat offers a host of the usual adventure activities like rafting, kyaking, swimming, fishing, bushwalking and nature hikes.

But it also offers something more – the jungle medicine ‘ayahuasca’ (which translates to ‘Vine of the Souls’ in the native tongue) that draws hundreds of visitors each year in search of an indigenous spiritual experience.

When the motorboat pulls into the Refugio’s river wharf  there’s the immediate impression of the lagoon in Gilligan’s Island – a cluster of jungle huts with conical roofs and long thatched walkways peering over the shoreline.

The helpful staff settles us into one of the dozens of spacious bungalows that are scattered through the sprawling 250 acre property. All the structures have been constructed with natural materials by local workers from the surrounding villages. They are equipped with their own mosquito-netted bedroom, living room, balconies overlooking the forest and a modern bathroom with toilets and showers – a luxury out here. And then it hits you.

You’ve arrived. The tranquil sounds of the jungle close in and envelop you: parrots, insects, monkeys – the warm noise of nature at it’s best, inviting you into its mystery. And you remember that you are a million miles from the city, deep in the heart of the Amazon jungle surrounded by virgin forest, and that the adventure is about to begin.

Along with an indigenous Shipibo shaman named ‘Walter’, Petersen conducts his shamanistic ceremonies from a giant, two story walled hut with a conical roof that seats up to thirty five people on the bench on the inside perimeter. By candlelight he doles out small cups of  ayahuasca brew and guides seekers on a mystical journey of discovery. Many people report seeing visions of giant anacondas, jaguars and geometric patterns. Others feel a sense of wellbeing spreading throughout their body.

“Healing comes from within,” Petersen says. What the ayahuasca and the Refugio really offer guests is the ability to look at their thinking, habits and circumstances that cause stress and illness. Then “the shaman connects with spirit and works to bring the client back into harmony.”

The Refugio gets packs of six to eight people at a time coming from America, Europe, Japan, and all over the world. There’s an equal number of men and women of all ages, with a lean towards people in their thirties, forties and older. Many stressed-out professionals come to relax and reconnect with themselves and with nature.

The morning after the ceremony we take a walk around the back of the Refugio and visit the vast Botanical Garden Petersen has cultivated, with over 250 medicinal plants revered for their medicinal and healing properties. A group of indigenous Peruvians from a local village work in the fields, tending to the plants and garden in the hot, sweltering sun.

A hundred meters past the gardens we explore a magnificent two-story jungle house, built for families who stay on the property. Another hundred metres beyond that is an amazing five story tree house of Olympian proportions. It’s at least thirty metres straight up into the great green canopy overhead, a Robinson Crusoe-style bungalow with views of the river and the jungle for miles around. It’s the perfect retreat for someone wanting to literally get away from it all.

Everything about the Refugio is grand, like the size of the central building – a three-story wooden structure open to the air called ‘El Centro’. It looks like a Victorian mansion in the jungle, with a kitchen and restaurant on the ground floor offering a diverse menu of fresh natural food, including fish, fruit and vegetables from the surrounding region.

Upstairs on the second floor there’s more room for dining and living areas. The third floor has the ever-popular hammock area where guests can while away an afternoon or a day without a care in the world, nurtured by the tranquility of this jungle paradise.

Prices start at US $100 a day, and people can support the Refugio by paying US $20,000, which makes them donors and eligible for a reduced lifetime rate. They can also pay a greater sum and have a house built on the property for their long-term stay.

There’s also a non-profit wing of the Refugio set up to buy the jungle land to protect it from logging and inappropriate development, which you can donate to and receive a tax-free offset. As well as ‘assimilating’ the land, as Petersen calls it, the money also goes towards helping create employment and education for the villagers.

“I feel like I’ve been gone for a week,” says Rolando, a NGO manager on holiday from Denver. He’s enfolded in the deep comfort of a hammock watching the sun set in brilliant streaks of pink and blue, just hours after arriving.

“Wait till tomorrow – it’ll seem like three weeks,” Petersen counters with a laugh from the hammock opposite, lazily rocking back and forth, the master of his domain.

The Refugio Altiplano is a little slice of heaven on the banks of the Amazon that has to be seen to be believed – but what’s more, it has to be experienced to fully integrate its subtle gifts and healing power.

The writer was a guest of Aerolineas Argentinas airlines in travelling to Peru. For sales information ring (02) 9234 9000.

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Опубликовано 24 Dec 2010 в 10:41 am. Рубрика: A. Вы можете следить за ответами к этой записи через RSS.
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