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Frank Cook's letters about Peru trip 2005

Frank Cook's travels in Peru, Dominica, and Puerto Rico

Added by greenman #8 on 2005-03-20. Last modified 2005-03-20 19:29. Originally created 2005-03-20. F0 License: Attribution
Location: World, Peru
Topics: herbalism, personal


Feb 4, 2005

Hola Mi Familia,

We have finished the jungle leg of our journey to Peru and I wanted to check in and let you know what we have been up to. Three of us left the snows of the northeast to converge with our other two companions in Miami for the overnight flight to Lima.

Though Lima is not a gem (in the rough or any other form), there were a few places from my previous visits that I was excited to revisit. Also it was an opportunity for my companions to see the coastal reality of Peru. We made the most of our 12 hour layover visiting the central part of the city with its big markets and Spanish architecture then settling in for a few hours at the Jardin Botanica ( est. 1787) located on the grounds of the oldest universty in South America—San Marcos (1520). While the rest of the group rested among the flowers and butterflies, Christina and I walked about comparing our new discoveries with my notes from two and a half years before. That evening we flew to the tropical jungle of Iquitos, a big town on the Amazon river accessable only by river or air with its humid air and alive with floral smells. We found a hostel to stay in and the next day Christina and I went in search of our friend Shaman Don Juan Paima hoping to arrange with him a journey into the jungle. We had no idea if we would find him as he is hard to reach. But fortune favored us and though much had happened to him, we found him and his family healthy. And he was willing to take us into the jungle. (remarkably this simple man in the last 2 1/2 years since we had seen him had been taken by ayayhuasca (a visionary plant healing medicine) enthusiasts to many places including France, Finland, South Africa, and the US.) He was excited to see us and we made plans for a four day excurison to his jungle camp.

With this decided we reunited with our companions, moved our stuff out to Don Juan's house and took them to the famous Belen Market full of exotic fruits, herbal medicine booths, and stalls of almost every imaginable thing. It is always an overwhelming experience especially the first times.

The next day we purchased provisions such as food, mosie netting, and other things that people need to be strong in the jungle. We took Don Juan's younger kids to the zoo/botanical gardens and I was impressed by the cleanliness of the place and health of the animals. There was a lagoon for swimming which the kids were very excited about. I had not been to the gardens before and was delighted by how diverse they were (over 1300 plants). We were guided about by the charismatic Alberto whose enthusiasm was contagious as he showed famous plants and told us their stories. The next morning before the sun rose we awoke and headed out—the five of us, Don Juan, his brother, and two of his sons to catch the boat up the Amazon River to the village of Barro Florido. From there we walked for three hours first seeing the destruction of modern life with clearcuts and roads, finally entering the forest and its winding trails. Mushrooms were coming up all over the place including one of my favorite: artist's conk (Ganoderma). About half way there the sky opened up drenching us and our heavy packs; challenging us but making the arrival at the outpost healing center all the sweeter. We were taken to a wonderful dry wooden gazebo where we could set up our hammocks, nets and hang our wet clothes. As the rain passed, the sounds, the whoops and whistles, the ra-tat-tat...of so many birds and insects welcomed us, consumed us.

With the passing of the rain, Don Juan set to work on making the medicine for the ceremony that night. We assisted mashing the ayahuasca vine and cooking it for hours with the chakruna leaves. He invoked its energies with prayers and intentions. We ate a little and rested for the night ahead. (As I write this on the bus an elder Quechua Indian woman teases me by playing with my hair.)

The details of our experience will need to wait for another time, but needless to say we were each moved and affected in powerful healing ways with visions and physical purifications. We had another ayahuasa circle two days later with another batch of medicine. The days were filled with food preparation, plant walks in the jungle and gardens, time slowing down with our host family, bathing in the creek, sharing information circles, and getting into the vibe of the jungle.

As it happens, next thing we knew we were on our hike out accompanied by many of our jungle family. We had grown stronger from the fresh air, good medicine, and loving community. In Iquitos we reacclimated to modern life and prepared for the second half of our journey to the land of the Incas. (Details on that in a week or so.) We bid farewell to Don Juan and his family. With this third journey to Iquitos in the last 6 years I am starting to get a feeling for the jungle, though I know it is the walk of a life time. Perhaps you will join us on the next trip down.

I know that many of you reading this are in the throws of winter. Mosquitos and flowering orchidsmay seem far away, but perhaps these words have warmed you some and stirred your imagination. I hope so.

I will write again with some lessons from Machu Picchu.

Via con Dios,


Upcoming Events—

If you live in the Asheville Area I recommend attending the below conference featuring one of my mentors James Duke and many other wonderful plant, mushroom and health teachers whom I know and respect. Information is available at: http://www.ncnaturalproducts.org/conference.html

For those of you in triangle area I am working to get a day put together with James Duke during the week of March 7th. Let me know if you are interested in attending. Assuming we can make it happen I will be sending details around next week.

Lots of events are being scheduled for April and May. I will be sending out details in March. Hope to see you then.


March 1, 2005

Hello Family and Friends,

I am on my way back to North Carolina after finishing up my trip to Peru and 10 days in the Caribbean (Dominica and Puerto Rico). Below you will find my account of our groupís Andean time. This return trip to the Caribbean was wonderful. I am fascinated by the plant and cultural diversity these islands offer us. On this trip I only had a short introduction to Puerto Rico (a couple of days) but my hosts Arjan and Angelina made the most of the time showing me the rainforest, glorious waterfalls, and wonderful hospitality. I am delighted to meet their community there and look forward to future visits.

In Dominica I had a full week to dive deeply into “The Nature Island”. Though only 29 miles long and 16 miles wide, this island is full of adventure and diversity (with only 70,000 inhabitants, 4 mountains over 4000 ft and dozens of smaller ones. 365 rivers!). I was blessed to be hosted by the Forcinelli Family who have made this island their home over the previous 5 months. Frank Forcinelli knows well my interests and took me on adventures beyond my dreams. The plant diversity is impressive with nearly a third of the the worldís families (at 156 ) represented in 1200 native species and hundreds of exotics. We spent time with hundreds of plants.

Perhaps the most memorable journey was the all day trip Frank F and I took to the Valley of Desolation and the Boiling Lake. We climbed ridges up through tropical jungle and eventually arrived at what felt like the source of lifeís creation—fumuroles—bubbling hot pots of sulfur and other minerals. There were certainly unique plants surviving those conditions and some of the most healing hot springs I have ever been in. Very memorable. But the whole island is a sanctuary. There were wonderful beaches where I snorkled for the first time in many years seeing colorful fish and fan-shaped coral. The water is every shade of blue.

Not only is the island wonderful but if you know this family, you know the healing vibe they live by. This is their perfect environment. We ate incredible meals utilizing the wide variety of fruits and vegetables available. They also sprout so our diet was enriched with these living foods.

They have many plans for their life in Dominica among them to set up a model sustainable farm, start a seed bank and teach organic farming and living food principles. I intend to return in December to learn and heal more. Let me know if you are interested in joining me.

This past week in Florida met many of my hopes in terms of getting to know this part of the country well. I was fortunate to have some wonderful hosts who took me to the sacred plants and natural wonders in this part of the world. In southern Florida Jon I showed me amazing old trees around Miami including huge fig trees and old baobab trees. We had a delightful day at the Fruit and Spice Park eating our fill of fallen fruit and sharing our collective knowledge of hundreds of trees that feed us. We also had some time in the everglades feeling that unique world full of flowering bromeliads. In northern Florida my host Adam took a small group of us to meet some exquisite springs literally bubbling forth in blues and pink (Florida has 27 1st Mag springs that each give forth 60 million gallons of water a day!). We also saw a giant bald cypress about 2700 years old! Outside Gainesville we spent a day at the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens.

I am certainly full from these past 6 weeks and look forward to slowing down over the next couple of weeks to integrate what I have learned and to move forward on the book I am writing on southern Africa.

Iíll be in touch again soon with ways we can intersect in the woods over the coming spring! Keep your eyes open for those wonderous spring ephemerals!


Into the Andes, February 13, 2005

After several flight delays and a short night in Lima our crew of intrepid travelers landed high in the Andes (over 10,000 ft) in the former capitol of the Incaís Cusco. With little problem we avoided the taxis and found a crammed collectivo to the central plaza (you guessed it, the Plaza de Armas. I think only one town in Peru does not have one.)

We found the Hotel Felix still going strong since our last visit two and a half years earlier. Everyone seemed impressed by its solid stone presence and big courtyards, yet simple qualities. We had an early scare hearing that Machu Picchu was closed, but this proved to be misunderstanding (thankfully). We were clued in that since it was the off-season one person needed to catch a couple of buses a couple hours away and purchase the train ticket the day before. (There always seems to be hoops to jump through at tourist attractions.) I volunteered to go but first we toured the local mercado sharing complex fruit juices of all kinds of famous herbs mixed in such as alfalfa and maca. Cusco has such a living vibrant mercado that stretches down side streets in all directions. We got ourselves a good supply of coca leaves (Hoja de coca es no druga!) to help us acclimate to the altitude. Then I headed out whilst the others shopped and rested.

On the journey to get the tickets the bus climbed out of the valley offering spectacular views. On top of the plateau I was deeply moved by the potato fields in blooms of many colors as well as the flora that reminded me of California such as scotch broom (with its many known medicine uses here, Eucalyptus and poison hemlock. All flowed well getting the tickets.

The next day we stored most of our stuff, did errands, and slowly arrived into this totally different world compared to the jungle and the US. I met with a healer named Manu for an hour or so. It was a memorable connection that I feel will be growing for a lifetime. He is certainly a world being who has already lived many years in India and in the western US, as well as his native Peru. We are planning a rendezvous in California this spring. I hope you will join us.

Then we headed out by bus to catch the Machu Picchu train. Everyone seemed to get a lot from the journey seeing country life and the spectacular mountains towering in the distance (2nd largest mountain range in the world!). We came to the end of the road in Ollantaytambo a couple of hours before the train and so had the pleasure of exploring this little village some. Above us were Inca ruins still majestic hundreds of years after their fall into disuse. After walking about the small village a while we decided it was time to enter the world of a chicharia-the establishment that provides the amazing naturally fermented corn beer chicha. Ollantaytambo had its share of chicharias recognized by a red flag outside. We visited two of them. Both were featuring a variety of chicha called frutatas which includes, as you may have guessed, blended fruit, in this case Fresca (strawberries)—for me it was an enjoyable variety.

As much as I enjoy natural beers, it is the setting that fills the soul. In this case there were earthen floors and wooden tables with recorded music filling the air with people, real Peruvians, sitting around laughing and relaxing with the attentive chicha senora ladling out the brew from big barrels. We, of course, caused quite a stir each time, but were warmly received.

Our dinner was slow in coming causing us to almost miss the train, but we didnít. So on we rolled along the Utambaba River down the Sacred Valley into the night. I sat with a group of Brazilians who excitedly talked with me about herbal medicine and the work that we are doing.

We arrived late at the small village of Aqua Caliente and found a lodge to stay in called Rupa Wasi. They are working hard to raise peopleís awareness that this region is a sanctuary by, among other things, composting and tightly packing non-biodegradables into plastic bottles as building material.

After a good night of sleep some of us visited the natural springs for a pre-hike soak, then began the walk to Machu Picchu. This was my third visit and in many ways felt like coming home. It was about an hour and a half walk up climbing about 1000 feet of old stone stairs. This region is decidedly different than Cusco being labeled a temperate cloud forest. Lush and damp are the first words that come to mind. This is perhaps the best time of year to see the flowering orchids and bromeliads, as well as many other plant beings. There were as many plants I did not recognize as I did; very humbling. For me, the walk to Machu Picchu is almost as important as the site (some people walk in over 4 days on the Inca trail). Each time it has felt like a pilgrimage.

Rain came and went throughout the day, but it was not cold and only added to the mystery of this timeless place. Once through the gate, I am always impressed how they keep it uncommercial and not overly controlled. You are largely left to your own flow. The lama population had increased in the years since I was first there and now numbers over a dozen. I wonder how closely they are related to the camel?

This is a place to visit in your life if you have not been there. In many ways it is beyond the current condition of the western mind to conceive of how Machu Picchu was created and why it existed.

On this trip I made my first journey up to the top of the sister mountain, Wayna Picchu. This involved another big climb with a different microclimate every hundred meters. It gets quite perilous in spots. Near the top we were treated to wild alpine strawberries!

Back down in Machu Picchu we sought shelter in one of the buildings where they had restored the roof. We were unexpectantly treated like honored guests by a kind Brazilian family. They had carried up the mountain a feast of wine, cheese, bread, nuts, fruit... and nicely insisted we share in their bounty. We were fed a lot on their kindness, generosity, and joy in living.

With the coming out evening we decided to make our way back down. I took my time enjoying some solo time with the plants and the splendor of this treasure in the world. We caught the early morning train and breakfast in Ollantaytambo before our two buses back to Cusco. It was the peak of the Carnival time so we had to carefully make our way back to our lodge trying to avoid water battles and being covered in foam and colors. Our journey as a group was coming to an end, so in our last days we took the time to download and enjoy together the images our full two weeks together. We all went to the huge artist market enjoying the complex arts and crafts of the Andes.

On our last night some of us went out to a 236 year old irish pub for a beer then juxtaposed that experience with a climb up into the hills for a chicha shop. With the help of the shoeshine boy, the local cops, and several others we eventually did make it to one and enjoyed its living energy from our view high up in the hills looking down on the twinkling town.

The next day three of our circle headed for home. Christina and I were left to go deeper with our interests. We had a memorable evening with Manu and his companion, Elana, at his parentís museum-like house. We caught a bus the next morning to Chinchero, the mythical origin of the rainbow. We were in pursuit of natural plant dyes and we were not disappointed. We arranged to come back the next day to spend the morning with an elder Quechua couple—Florentina and Assencio—making dyes. We also arranged to go on a plant walk with 16 year old Luzdina who knew something about every plant we met. And finally to round out the day we made plans to go through how to make chicha.

We returned the next day with a big spool of white alpaca yarn and a bunch of food and spent hours with this simple couple. Florentina worked the whole day and made 8 dyes and dyed a bunch of yarn! She was clearly tired when it was over and our eyes feasted on the colors of yarn glowing softly on the clothesline. Iíll never forget sitting in their rustic earthen kitchen sharing sandwiches of palta (avocado) and mustard with brewerís yeast (brought from norte america). I was delighted to see them fully enjoy the kimchi we had made a few days before.

Our plant walk was no less satisfying. Young Luzdina was a fireball of energy and confidence. I recorded our 50 plants in our 11/2 hour walk through some amazing Inca ruins. When the evening came we were ready for some chicha. The universe certainly took us to the right place. The family there patiently took us through the process three times before we got it down. They make forty liter batches. It was certainly one of the best batches I had had. With a warm buzz from the day and the beer, we made our way back to Cusco.

The next couple of days Christina and I spent walking the markets and really starting to feel at home there. Then Christina headed home and I had a couple of days of solo time. Manu and Elana met with me my last morning and we walked the herbal market together and I was taken to a whole new level of appreciation of how deeply herbal medicine is a part of this cultureís daily life; to treat disease, yes, but more importantly as tonics and nutrition and daily system cleanses.

Each time I go into this Andean culture I am more deeply touched by the kindness of the people, the richness of the flora, and the mystery and magic of their living history. I feel blessed to live this life. Thank you for sharing in it.

Peace and Love,



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