Christmas Eve in the jungle
Karianne and I were well aware of the fact that we would not be sharing Christmas Eve with our families this year. For the first time in each of our lives, we would be missing out on the soft pop radio station turned Christmas music marathons, negotiating the purchase of an all but dead tree to put in the living room–“Does the back side look full enough to you?”–and cuddling up with a glass of eggnog in one hand and the remote in the other to fast forward through nude scenes in Love Actually so grandma wouldn’t be disgusted. This year’s Christmas Eve would be spent in the Amazon rainforest.
Karianne was still asleep in her catnap as I searched for wifi in the lodge’s main building. It was nearing sunset and the 10 cabin complex was disappointingly still. I had a few emails to clear, mailing lists from which to unsubscribe (for the third time), and hostels to book for the next few days. George played on the banisters outside of the building. As I wrapped up my business, an older gentlemen walked through the doors of the lobby and looked around for the owners.
“Merry Christmas,” I directed his way.
“Merry Christmas to you,” the man said in a thick German accent. “Any idea where the owners are?”
I pointed to the back where the wife of the owner duo was cleaning up after making yet another dinner for a customer. “She makes a mean pad Thai. Great reviews on tripadvisor,” I unnecessarily detailed.
The German sought the owner, discussed pricing, and headed towards his car. “Care for some wine tonight?” he asked. “I’ve got several bottles open and need to drink them before they turn.”
“Works for me,” I responded. Karianne and I had not had but one pisco sour in the near month since we began our trip. A glass of wine would be much appreciated. We agreed to meet back in the lobby later at an undisclosed time.
By the time Karianne and I returned to the lobby to meet our new friend for a drink of his most-likely oxidized wine, there was another young woman at the table. Sonya introduced herself with an uncanny smile and an over enthusiastic interest in our trip. A pretty traveler with Aryan looks, her German accent was hard to detect through her English and her carefully placed tattoos showed both meaning and fashion were at play here.
Bruno, as I soon learned was his name, returned from his car with several open bottles of wine and several still sealed. He had chosen to spend the night in his Land Cruiser. A short man at the ripe age of 73, he was spending the year driving around South America, the first month of which was spent on a freighter from Europe to Brazil with his car and 12 other passengers along with over a thousand other cars making the transatlantic journey. “She’s even got a toilet,” he later told me. “And it works!” he added pridefully.
The husband of the owner duo soon appeared from his room looking a little disgruntled and annoyed. He sat behind the bar, close enough to hear our discussions, but far enough to not feel inclined to partake in the conversation. In keeping with the theme, he too was German. Karl had been born in Peru, had grown up in Germany, then came back to Peru in the late 70’s to be a tour guide. In the late 90’s he saw the area as ripe for development so he built a lodge and had remained in the Amazon ever since. He finally made his way to the table to join us.
And so there it was. The five of us sat at the table together for Christmas Eve drinks and conversation. George was still jumping around on the patio outside, undisturbed by the dogs on the ground. We discussed what travelers discuss: cities, routes, home life, and futures. We did our best to communicate, with some ideas predictably lost in translation.
The wife of the owner duo (we never learned her name) occasionally stood by Sonya quickly adding to the conversation before retreating to the back to take care of who-knows-what. While her thick Thai accent made her comments frequently indiscernible, her loud and jovial laugh brought smiles to our faces regardless of our various comprehension levels. She quickly found a connection with Sonya over what seemed to be a continuation of a previous conversation.
“And the shaman told me to get a cat! And I have not had a mouse problem since! How did he know?” the wife explained to Sonya. “It was my fourth time taking ayahuasca, and I learned so much! The time before that I asked the shaman, ‘How long will I be with my husband?’ 109 years? Why so long? He said: ‘because he has plans!’ Amazing!” Sonya looked at her with the same overly interested eyes as she did with Karianne.
Sonya had come to Peru for a reason. Karianne sought to find out that reason.
“I took ayahuasca in Germany,” she explained. ” The shaman told me to come to Peru to find what I was looking for.”
“And what might that be?” I asked.
“I know this sounds crazy, but to connect with my past life.”
I turned to face her. This was going to be the best Christmas ever. George was still playing with the dogs outside. Being an adolescent red howler monkey, he seemed to enjoy rubbing is nimbleness in the face of the clumsy canines. My shirt was still a little dirty from George crawling around my head and neck a few hours earlier.
“I get this special feeling when I am in Peru. Like I have been here before. When I was standing at Machu Picchu, I felt something that I had never felt before. I could hear my star family speaking to me. Telling me things. It was so strong that I had to quickly leave, as the feeling was overwhelming.”
Bruno twirled his wine seemingly uninterested in where this conversation was headed.
“So I have come here to connect with my star family.” she added. “I am taking ayahuasca with a shaman tomorrow night to find that meaning–to find that connection.” Sonya went on to further explain her beliefs and expectations in partaking in the traditional Peruvian ceremony. We learned that ayahuasca has an abundant presence in Peru with the legality of such practices rarely questioned by participants. Karl explained that it can be found anywhere in Peru, while Sonya stressed the importance of having a responsible shaman lead the ceremony. Apparently, a male duo a few months before had taken ayahuasca ending with one shooting the other in the middle of his trip. What a lovely way to connect with a past life, I thought.
And so we continued to discuss ayahuasca and the expected tangential topics such as religion and the meaning of travel. We sipped our wine and nibbled on crackers. We were all deep in the jungle far from our families, but we had found a temporary one to fill the void of our various Christmas Eve traditions. This would be a Christmas Eve that we would all remember. No emails were exchanged, no last names given. We had each gotten what we wanted from the night and returned quietly to our respective cabins. Fireworks lit the sky as we walked the trail to our bed.
I laid down looking at the sheet of stars that shone above, smiling at the thought of which ball of gas was anxiously waiting to speak to Sonya.