Thursday, 8 October 2015

Iguazzu Falls

There are waterfalls and then there are waterfalls, these are the second type. 
Victoria falls are the tallest but Iguazzu falls are the largest at 2.7km long and a million litres per second. 

The border of Argentina and Brazil runs along the middle of the river with 80% of the falls on the Argentinian side. 

We arrived around midday and after checking in to our Argentinian side hotel, drove across the Brazilian border to spend three hours strolling and staring at these marvelous waterfalls.

                            Getting drenched on the walking platform at the Devils Throat. 

The following day we spent six hours on the Argentinian side looking out over the falls from various viewpoints and finished with a boat ride up to and under the falls. 

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Ayahuasca Ceremony

A traditional Peruvian shaman method of cleansing the body and mind with medicine made from jungle plants. 
In recent years a growing commercialized western tourist industry. 
This has produced a wide variety of retreats that offer this service from authentic through to total scams. It is of the utmost importance to find a good one that works for you to achieve what you are looking for. 
The universe and internet led my good friend Nick and I here:

DISCLAIMER : Results may vary. As individuals the medicine will be different for everyone, some in our group had a better experience than me and some had worse. It is impossible to entirely capture this experience in words. This is purely my description of what I experienced with many details simply unable to be written. 

RORY - the guide
When Rory picked us up from our hotel I instantly liked him. A short ex army Yorkshire man, 50, with no salesman gimmickry about him, pleasant and up front. He would be our guide for the next week.  

We drove to the outskirts of Cusco and up into the hills, last house on the street where Rory lives with his beautiful wife Anna, baby girl Dara, two gatekeeper dogs and shaman cat. 

                                                                   My Shaman family 

Also on the walled property is a garden between the main house and a large four bedroom guesthouse behind which is a tiered garden with a Maloka (ceremony room) that has a much needed toilet. At the top is a gate that leads to a mountain through a forest of mainly Australian eucalyptus trees. 

                                                      The property from the top gate. 

On arrival we met Justin and Natalia, Jonathan and Hanna, 30s, American. We are the six that will go through this experience, thankfully a good mix of respect and space. 

On this first day we went into the Maloka, a round room, and settled on a mat each facing the centre. Like a large cup of warm thick coffee that tastes like cigarette butts we begin by consuming this gross liquid and wait for the purge to cleanse our bodies. 

This is the price of entry. 
An integral part of the process, the medicines will cleanse our bodies with nausea followed by vomiting anywhere from ten minutes to an hour after ingesting them. Your vomit bowl is your best friend and does not leave your side. Purging can also come out the other end.....
It sounds gross but very cleansing and liberating. 

                                                               The Maloka

Otherwise known as mescaline, on day two we wake and consume two litres of water by 9am then drink the San Pedro powder mixed in with passion fruit juice and wait. 
After 45 minutes I feel a little buzz and nausea but have had no result. Rory points to a tree and tells me to stand next to it and touch it. I purge instantly. 
Trees are very important. 
Now the 12hr journey begins. I put "Dark Side of the Moon" on my MP3 player and walk out the top gate and follow a mountain track into nature. I have heard this album a million times but it has never meant so much to me as right now. The highlight being sitting amongst the trees looking out over Cusco and the valley as "The Great Gig in the Sky" comes on and I purge for a second time to the angelic sounds of those women, pure magic. 
San Pedro heightens the senses and in particular colour and shapes. Natures colours are majestically enhanced to incredible levels and I spend most of the afternoon into the evening laying in the garden watching the clouds and listening to more Floyd until the half moon came out as if the universe was letting me know I was in sync with everything, staring at the dark side. 

Day three is spent between the kitchen and bed resting and recovering. The last meal is at 1pm as we wait for sundown, with anxious anticipation. 
We have the first ayahuasca ceremony in the Maloka. Rory hands the bowl of thick dark fluid around to us one by one followed by a piece of dark chocolate to cover the taste, particularly on the way out, and we wait in silence and relative darkness once the candle goes out. 
At first I felt a warmness. Then I closed my eyes and saw a million eyes looking back. 
Then I purged. Then it really began.

Phase One - Psychedelica
My breathing shallows, heart rate rises and I feel tired but alert. Each time I close my eyes there is a world of a million animals, plants, faces, machines and shapes all moving fluidly in vivid colours and criss cross patterns of sparks and flashes and.....well......everything all at once. Sounds come and go in much the same way, echoing and ascending or descending. I've seen some pretty accurate hallucinatory scenes in The Simpsons. 
When this becomes too overwhelming I open my eyes for a moment, readjust and close my eyes again to find the exact same thing but in an entirely different world. That's the best I can describe it. 
After a while thoughts and feelings start rushing at me. 
This is where it is important to be in the right ceremony with the right guide and the right crowd. 
The best preparation for something like this is to come with specific goals in mind. 
In this first ceremony the word "forgiveness" kept appearing amongst the crazy psychedelica and I felt myself letting go of past events that have been holding me back in order to move forward, I had tears and a smile.
Phase Two - Geometry
After a point I open my eyes and see everything around me in the subtle light as if it were a 3D holographic picture with out of focus rectangular lines running through everything. Contemplation becomes deeper and the Psychedelica lessens as I come to accept my revelations.
Phase Three - Restless
I feel the urge to move so I whisper to Rory I'm going to sit outside. He giggles and says "don't talk to strangers", perfectly timed humour. 
I stand slowly with body drunkenness and walk outside to sit under a tree and take in everything from the twig at my feet all the way to the stars, relief and reflection. 
Somewhere between three to five hours some semblance of "normality" returns but the medicine remains into sleep.
Phase Four- A cup of tea and bed. 

Day four we caught a taxi down to Cusco and had a massage followed by a big burger and a beer and got some laundry done before heading back up for a feast, a scotch and an early night. 

Before breakfast day five we go to the Maloka for Sapo, a jungle frog venom. 
Rory puts some on a stick and mixes it with my saliva until it becomes a paste. With a flaming stick he burns three marks into my arm then scrapes the skin off gently with a knife revealing the capillaries and applies the paste, again we wait. 
We were warned beforehand that we would wish we were dead for 10-20 minutes. Some did. I didn't. 
It does purge deeply and again, heightens the senses. I spent the afternoon with nausea resting in bed, I could've done without it. 

Day five is not over yet though. 

With the Sapo still in our systems and after a cup of cacao to deepen and prolong tonight's ceremony, we drink the ahayusca medicine after sunset and decide to do it in the guesthouse tonight so that everyone is free to go to their room and experience it in their own space. 
Tonight was much like the first ceremony except more intense. I went in with the keyword "happiness" tonight and spent nearly four hours of revelations and epiphanies with gentle tears of joy running down my face and an all encompassing feeling of euphoria.
Ayahuasca is like a thousand therapy sessions without needing a single word. 

Day six is another day of rest as we have our third ayahuasca session after sunset. 
Much like the first two times, an exhilarating experience two hours of which are spent laying in the garden watching the nearly full moon dance with the clouds. 
My body purged and brain fresh I feel recharged and enlightened, I have completed my work with this medicine. 

Day seven is another day in Cusco with burgers, beer a massage and a lot of processing. 

Day eight is our last day at Casa De La Serenidad and a grand send off after a week of on again - off again cloud, perfect blue sky. 
Music is a great way to enter the medicine. With my MP3 player I started walking up the mountain behind the property after an hour with no purge. Again nature was splendid and I made it to about 4000m before my lungs told me to go back down. 

The afternoon was spent, after a thorough toilet purge, putting together everything I had learnt over the last week and processing it as I lay in the glorious sun. 
But today is no ordinary day, the universe loves me. 
As the full moon rose at the end of the day we had a feast and finished just in time to go outside, lay by a campfire and watch the blood moon incredible end to an incredible week. 

I realise this may all sound like hippy dippy propaganda and maybe some of it is but the toxicity that came out of my body and brain is indisputable and there is no denying the positive and profound way the medicine has affected and changed me in ways that cannot be found in western culture. 

Monday, 14 September 2015

Machu Picchu

You know the postcard. For me, many years of wishing became planning about three years ago and after a couple of hiccups, this year it finally happened. 

When you arrive at this end of the Sacred Valley of the Incas you can hike one to nine days. 

You can hike from 5am from Aguas Calientes, the base town to be there for the gate opening at 6am or....

Day One. 

We met our tour group to be herded onto a bus and arrived at 9am amongst thousands of people and took a four hour tour. Arriving amongst the chattering throngs of people my first view of this majestic place was sadly underwhelming. Wearing an ear piece I stepped away from the group a few times but still did not feel the special way I had hoped. 

Day Two. 

We woke at 4am and made it to the line up for the bus by 4:45am for the first bus at 5:30am but 100 people had woken earlier than us.

Not to worry we were on the fourth bus and arrived at the view point with a very small number of people by 6:10 - beautiful. 

It was unfortunately a cloudy morning so the sun was hidden as was part of the ruins but this also had a special beauty. 

We hiked for an hour or so around the back of the mountain to the Inca Bridge. It was closed but the walk through the clouds on the narrow path in the silence was beautiful. 

We arrived back at a view point at 7:50 just in time for the clouds to roll away and the sun to hit the lost city....a moment of beauty I cannot put into words. The universe gave us this view for about five minutes before rolling clouds back over it making the experience one of the grandest connections with Mother Earth I have had. Truly blessed. 

My brief history. 

Built in the 1400s, populated thereafter by 400-500 people. The Spanish arrived in 1573 and enslaved the Incan empire which covered most of South America at that time. However the Spanish never found Machu Picchu and it disappeared off the radar until being rediscovered by western explorers in 1911. 

Friday, 4 September 2015

A New Continent

Flying cattle class from Sydney to Santiago via New Zealand is a long flight for someone with sore legs and back but as we neared the coast I moved into a vacant window seat at the very back of the plane usually reserved for staff. 

As the plane began to slowly descend an hour before landing I could just make out where the ocean met land, South America. 

I was taken aback at the unexpected view as we got closer of the snow capped Andes running across the horizon. 

All in all from Sydney to Lima, a shower and dinner I was awake for 30 hours, needless to say I fell asleep as my head hit the pillow, crossing off a new continent from my goal of visiting all seven. 

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Attend the Late Show with David Letterman - Fail

With the last show airing in May 2015 this is one item that will remain uncompleted on the Life List.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Bungee Jump

I never actually thought I would be able to cross this off when I first published the Life List but it's something I always wanted to experience. Up until that point parachuting was the most terrifying thing I had ever done and I vowed to never do it again. 

I first heard about it on my tour group in Tibet two days before we arrived at the Last Resort in Nepal. At that time I scared myself a little thinking about it but was able to put it in the back of my mind distracted by the beauty of Tibet that we were experiencing. 

Not so one day before we arrived! I started to obsess over the fact that I needed to do it especially as it would be my birthday which seemed poetic and other people in the tour group were getting excited about it, the pressure mounted and my palms were sweating in anticipation at that last step I would need to take. 
                                                    Anticipation is far worse than the act. 

I woke on my birthday in a small town near the Tibet Nepal border and despite the beautiful countryside, going through Chinese immigration, my groups birthday wishes and a cake, the jump was all I could think about, palms sweating, heart rate raised and stressed. 

We arrived at the Last Resort and finally saw the bridge that was to challenge my fears and sanity, I was terrified, D day on my B day and there was no backing out. 

After settling in to our cabins and having a small lunch with a couple of vodkas for the nerves that did nothing to abate the terror, I was second in line and getting strapped into the harness unable to think clearly or rationally. 

I must mention at this point the incredible support I felt from my fellow jumpers standing in line behind me and the rest of the tour group on the edge of the cliff yelling encouragement though everything was becoming a blur in a tempest of heart palpitating fear. 

I searched for Zen as I approached the ledge and sang my own version of happy birthday to myself into the go pro camera mounted on my helmet. 

                                                              "Happy birthday to me,
                                                                    I'm so terrified,
                                                            I'm jumping off a bridge now....."

I had rehearsed this in my mind for the last two days and psyched myself into the fact that I must jump on the word "bridge". 
                                                            I don't remember jumping.
Those first two to three seconds free fall were bittersweet to understate the enormity of the experience and I don't think I was able to smile until the second bounce, such an unnatural thing to do deliberately. 

Once down safely lying on the bench being unharnessed I spent some time in deep contemplation and a little bit concerned about a twinge I had in my back but emerged full of elation, adrenalin charged and thankfully, unscarred. 

As I type this my brow is furrowed, my heart rate raised and my palms sweaty just thinking about it as I'm sure will happen for years to come remembering this insane act. I'm very proud of myself for going through with it, glad I had the experience and vow to never do it again although at 160m this is not the highest bungee jump in the world.......

Thursday, 22 May 2014

See Potala Palace

Arriving at Lhasa airport meant an immediate ascent for my body to 3,600m from 1,400m in Kathmandu. After the previous two weeks in India the first thing I noticed was the fresh clean air but even before that I was blindsided by a stunning view of the Himalayas from the plane. 
The hour bus ride to Lhasa from the airport also provided beautiful views of the mountainous region and valleys we drove through, I did not know what to expect but this was breathtaking, or was that the thin air?
The effects of altitude were not as immediately dramatic as I expected but still quite noticeable. I did not sleep at all the first night with a 12hr headache. I had to walk in slow motion for the first two days or I became dizzy and out of breath. Good thing I got a fourth floor room in the hotel with no elevator! 
The cleanliness and infrastructure were quite a pleasant change after India and Nepal but came with a conflicted feeling knowing they are due mainly to the heavily present Chinese big brother.  
The second day was spent doing a low physical impact tour of Jockhang temple and acclimating but not without some great distant views of what I came here to see. 
Potala Palace was first built in the 7th century by King Gampo. It was expanded In the 17th century by the 5th Dali Lama to become the chief residence of the Dali Lamas but it was not completed until after his death. During the 1959 Tibetan uprising the 14th Dali Lama fled to India and has been in exile since. 

Like all iconic landmarks you see photos of them and have a good understanding of their significance but seeing them in person is another thing altogether and Potala is no exception, words and pictures cannot do justice to the grandeur. 
My ability to climb the steps to the top was a very real concern less than 48hrs after arriving, a real struggle but well worth it for the history and many elaborate rooms, tombs and temples within. 
I'm not exactly sure where my fascination with this building came from but I had wanted to see it and experience Tibet for many years, a journey well worth it and another Buddhist country I instantly felt a deep spiritual connection with.