IX. Underneath it all

Le 25 septembre 2016

I wanted to try my hand at writing this story in English, although I feel shy to know that its main protagonists may read it. I will risk it anyhow, as a humble tribute to those who, along the way, added to my journey more than just roving lands by giving me a glimpse of their own different mindset. Exploring the foxy spirit of beautiful people is another wonderful kind of travel that can bring you to very unexpected places. Places in the wild, but also and mainly, places in your heart. So buckle up, because this time, my field report is all about love !

« What the fuck is a rainbow gathering ? I asked Bryan while enjoying the cozy hammocks of our hostel. The answer was pretty straight forward.
- It's a place where everybody is happy and hugs each other. »

Do I really need more details ? It was one of those moments when life tickles you with the desire of diving deep into the unknown. I took no time to hesitate. « For sure, why not ! » The funniest thing about following your heart is probably the unlikely amount of merry coincidences it leads to. Or is it simply that you become aware of what you're looking for ?

A few hours later, wandering with Bryan on the heights of San Blas, we bumped into a singular Italian couple. My dear American friend already knew them from the Solar Festival, sort of, so I witnessed a long and passionate reunion hug. I must say, us French people are not really used to warm friendly hugs. Until then, whenever someone complying with this strange ritual would grab me to pull me toward his chest, I would always feel some kind of slight discomfort. Nothing to do with the person itself, I guess it's no more than a subconscious cultural fence. Back home, I do not hold my friends tenderly and tight in my arms... No, I just don't ! Of course, at that time, I had no idea of what was about to come my way during the following month.

Then quickly came my turn. I had never seen Philip and Chiara before, but they grabbed me all the same, although it was not any kind of creepy squeezy grip. It felt more like a flower power virtuous clasp, gentle and innocent welcome to whoever I could be. Greetings are so enjoyable when deprived of all bias, devoided of boundaries and false appearances. Surely enough, it pushes you to unveil the better parts of yourself, and sometimes even to wonder who you really are, underneath it all. Maybe that's what growing is all about : disclosing your benevolent and caring side to the world while burying the sharp axes of anger and acrimony that modern society constantly sticks to your ego. In that matter, my two new hippie friends were already a step ahead, kindly showing the way.

Philip and Chiara were traveling since four months when I met them. Their Facebook blog page is named "The PurrSuit of Happiness", which pretty much says it all :) During their time in Cusco they met Alberto, owner of the Chakruna artcraft mystic shop and local guide offering alternative tours around the region. Long story short, after experiencing good vibes, the couple ended up living at Alberto's place in exchange for working at his store and creating his new website.

Getting back to coincidences, I swiftly learned that these jolly Italians had two upcoming projects. First, spend a week in the Manú jungle on Alberto's steps, then, attend to the same rainbow gathering that Bryan mentioned earlier ; both of which had freshly been added at the top of my bucket list the damn same morning. I love to see the strings of life at work when you rub them up the right way ! But that was not all. The full happy peppy hippie package came with a bright bonus bid, a savory spiritual sweet hidden inside. The invitation was for a day trip in Urubamba and the candy was called wachuma.

That's how I found myself, early in the morning three days later, meeting seven other curious travelers in front of the Chakruna art shop to board together on a quite unusual journey. Our little party was composed of Bryan from the states, Philip and Chiara from Italy, Andrea from Mexico, Marina from Spain, Franziska from Germany, and… that Canadian guy. That guy had wild curly long hair over a thick black beard, a colorful tank top, flashy yellow sunglasses and a cap he was wearing backwards. At first glance, the full gringo starter kit. If Jesus were to resurrect today somewhere in a blessed sunny spot of North America, that's probably what he'd look like. The main difference between Jesus and Bodhi being that you can actually feel the love that exudes from Bodhi. In our crazy connected cosmos of socially swayed selves and mass media mimics, it is truly difficult to uncover your own genuine unrated character. Somehow, Bodhi seemed to escape this rule, and ironically enough, that's where the best kind of charisma arises from. Since the very first minute, that Canadian guy appeared to me as a special friend.

After reaching Urubamba, we first gathered in a wonderful green house patio, small heaven of peace in midst of the city turmoil. There, we were welcomed by Tay and a few of his friends. Tay was a shaman. He brought on the table a wooden goblet and a bowl full of pale green powder. The ceremony was about to begin. Those already accustomed to the rite began to sing harmonious melodies consecrated to the Pachamama and we followed the rhythm with all types of percussion and maracas. The atmosphere then started to glow with a balmy soothing energy. Meanwhile, the cup was passed around. We all repeated the same gesture. Three spoons of powder, then fill with water, then drink. Before my turn came, Tay told me to set an intention for my journey, to focus on something that I wanted to work on. That, I will keep for myself, but I can tell you that the taste of the san pedro mixture was bitter and horrible. It fell on my stomach like a distasteful slab in a wellness pond.

For three thousand years, the san pedro cactus is used in some parts of the Andes as a traditional medicine or for religious purposes. Sometimes called wachuma by native healers, it has many therapeutic uses, from curing external wounds to treating hypertension and other heart diseases. The most widely known aspect of the cactus however is the high concentration of mescaline it holds under its skin, in the green layer, which makes it a potent psychedelic plant. Absorbed at reasonable dose though, it leaves you in a full awareness state while enhancing your senses and, according to the context, can power a deep connection with whatever is around, should it be nature, people or energies.

The first effects of wachuma can take between one and two hours to kick in, so after everyone had taken the leap we all jumped into a van that drove us away from the city, close to a very peculiar place. Sitting on the steep slope of a high cliff, facing another high cliff, the Naupa Iglesia is a very little known Inca ruin. Its distinctive feature is the ancient stone portal that sits in its center and still shows a few perfectly carved niches, surrounded by steps that evokes the upper part of the Inca cross. This represents the three levels of the andean faith : the underworld, the common world and the celestial world. Before reaching the Naupa Iglesia, one have to take hard strides to climb up roughly a hundred meters along the sharp cliff. Trapped between these two wild rocky walls, the view seems to come from another world.

On my way up, brushing a boulder with the palm of my hand, I shivered from an odd sensation. Each stone bump echoed under my skin as if the whole relief suddenly became alive. I started gazing all the way around. Colors were bright and beautiful, the face of the mountain swarmed with new figures springing out of the rock, and sometimes, I could even see them slowly waltz out of place. The sun and smiles I was drowning into gave me intense goosebumps. There, my perception shifted. Nature was not only a flat dozing landscape anymore. It was vivid and breathing. I could feel its heartbeat each time I buried my hands in the dust. I could feel its warmth lulling every thought into a serene state.

In the small recess of Naupa Iglesia, we all sat face to the open to begin the second part of the ceremony. From this point, I completely lost track of the clock ticks. I was somewhere else, sharing an intangible moment with exquisite generous people in an unknown place of space and time. Tay took us one by one in the front the stone portal to proceed to the ritual. Singing along with his tambourine, he expelled the negativity out of us while we stood immobile and gliding through that ethereal moment. It is hard to describe the emotion this left me in. I felt a profound connection to everyone and everything, willingly forgetful of my ego to open new growing spaces. I don't know how long we sat there in round, holding hands in silence or sharing valuable thoughts. It could have been minutes or it could have been hours. I felt small and shattered and vulnerable, but at the same time powerful, loved and passionate about life. I found authentic looks in authentic eyes. I found the tender clasps of this brotherhood as satisfying as the one of a lover. I found that letting go of your selfish scenery to embrace a caring mindset, even with strangers, can build you up a wonderful family anywhere, anytime.

The day ended in a group hug like no other. One that fills you with an ultimate blast of social energy and leaves you with the desire to shout out your bliss in the ears of the universe. And that's what we did. We were like wild human creatures expressing the primitive joy of simply being together. Nothing else was needed. It was a gorgeous day, another precious lesson of life that I will never forget.

Back in Cusco, some of our new brothers and sisters had to leave the city to move on with their journey, but Philip, Chiara and Bodhi remained. Together, we still had to take a one week tour in the amazonian jungle up north. The national park of Manú, in the Madre de Dios region, is known for being one of the most important wildlife reserve in the world. Better than a thousand words, Philip just happened to realize beautiful videos that shows our biking trip to reach the forest and the week that we spent in the wild. For this reason I will not describe this amazing experience and leave the images speak for me (and also because i'm lazy). What the videos do not show however is the long and fascinating conversations we shared while cruising.

Hanging around with those three travelers, each in a deep life changing process, was a huge gold mine of inspiring thoughts. I remember how Bodhi struck me all along with his integrity towards himself. He could talk about anything personal without a glitch, just for the sake of sharing. I couldn't even believe him when he told me that his original motivation for traveling alone was to fight a bunch of social anxieties that stuck with him for a long time. Those anxieties I never saw.

Some people strongly believe that whatever happens, we never really can change who we are, who the others are. I personally hate this way of thinking. For me, life is all about growing, learning and improving. Our traditional societies are brilliant incentives when it comes to packing in the mold, but they are terrible at showing us how numerous the options are for a human being. These options you need to explore by yourself, and it does not take any huge Godzilla balls nor any alien courage, simply the willpower of believing that you can go places, that something else is possible.

I spent hours debating about everything with Bodhi, laying in the delightful jungle hot springs. Beyond being an awesome friend, he taught me a great deal about how to get closer to the person you are willing to be. You see, it appears that a lot of stuff that weighs on you are only living in your head, from social uneasiness to all what can prevent you to run toward your dreams. Everything then becomes about shifting your thinking habits out of your cell and into the vast land of your own possibilities. And you are never alone in this ride.

Because the quest of finding yourself certainly goes through finding who you are among others. But don't get me wrong. This is not about learning how to look strong, it is all about learning how to be vulnerable, and being fine with it. Embracing the vulnerability you feel when you share your emotions might be the first step towards stopping to care about appearances and starting to really care about others. Under the spotlights, we all are crazy animals that can lose themselves to social pressure or whatever toxic matter fuels our brains. But when we are freed from this burden, stripped off of all the superficial prejudices and lifted from the fear of your own awkwardness, the most basic thing that remains underneath it all is unconditional love for your contemporary fellow human beings. It may be hard to believe, but this trait we all seem to share. And I like to believe it.

Chemin Parcouru