The Peruvian Amazon: Day 1: Saskia & the Sacred Tree

July 21, 2015 in South America, Travelogue


I’m sitting tonight in a deep valley near Machu Picchu… which is another story unto itself. Hannah, my mother and I have emerged after two weeks, completely off the grid, in the Amazon rainforest with the Advice Project Global Leadership Summit, in Peru. It was an adventure.

I kept a journal, on good old fashioned paper, while I was out there (okay, and on my iPad too, charged with my solar panel!) and over the next few weeks I’m going to share excerpts, and some pictures. You’ll find the writing a little different from my usual… since I was writing for me, and not for you!

July 8, 2015; Inotawa Lodge

To say that it’s beautiful here would be about as creative as calling the sky, simply, blue.

There is more life here than I can even describe to you, and yet almost none of it is human. In the first 24 hours we’ve seen:

  • white caiman
  • turtles
  • capybara (seven of them in a family group… they are like an enormous guinea pig… the size of a pig)
  • butterflies of a dozen sorts, and birds too numerous to name
  • flocks of parrots and red macaws
  • squirrel monkeys
  • brown capuchin monkeys
  • saddle back monkeys
  • wild pigs… I didn’t actually see these but we heard them very close!
  • giant cecropia moth

It is quiet in ways that only the truly remote places on the planet are.

And at the same time, it’s the loudest place I’ve ever been. Life is screaming in every direction, bugs, birds, monkeys, it’s a constant cacophony of sound.

We walked, today, for a long time down a very narrow jungle path, having been admonished to touch absolutely nothing, for fear of sting and spines, allergies and poisons. At the end stood a giant ceiba tree, about 45 meters tall. Not nearly as tall as the Karri tree we climbed in Australia, but tall, nonetheless.

This tree had no ladder or spiral of bars to climb. There was, however, a giant vine and Hannah instantly stripped off her boots and began climbing. Our guide, Jaime, did not like this, but in the eyes of the young girls she’s here to mentor, this made her a goddess and all of the best kinds of brave and adventurous. I assured the guide she would not fall, because she’s never fallen, even on much more tenuous climbs. She did not fall. We took our first group photo of the girls, with Hannah hanging above them.


Jaime, told stories of the spirit that lives in ceiba trees, a dwarf sized man with one leg like a deer, and one like a boy that comes out, generally at night, to protect the forest and play with any men he finds about. Apparently a sure sign of having spent time with this creature is violent vomiting, although the creature isn’t harmful to humans. He’s quite sure it exists and swears that the one that lives in this particular tree has been encountered by guests of the lodge on several occasions, when he was with them.

I smiled tolerantly.

The girls from NYC listened wide eyed.

Saskia, the yoga teacher, whispered furtively in Melissa’s ear and the two of them disappeared behind the tree. I stifled a laugh and exchanged looks with Courtney, our film maker. Jaime just kept talking, his young audience rapt with attention to his fairytales. When they re-emerged, several minutes later, Saskia was whiter than usual and looking a little shell shocked.

Jaime noticed their appearance and asked where they’d gone and if everything was okay.

“Oh yes,” Melissa assured him, “Saskia and I just had a little… spiritual journey… with the tree.”

Courtney coughed into her hand and a titter ran through the girls. Jaime beamed, pleased that his tree was being properly venerated, and we returned to the path.

Poor Saskia will never be free of the teasing. Five of the eleven of us are suffering from intestinal distress and she shat on the sacred tree. Jokes abound about spiritual journeys and offerings to the sacred ceiba.


I’m sleeping beneath a gorgeous canopy of gauzy white fabric, not a standard mosquito net, but a beautiful rectangle of cloud like fabric that is tucked under the edge of my mattress each night. When I’m inside with just my little headlight I feel like a little kid in a blanket fort, or a caterpillar in a silky cocoon in the midst of a beautiful metamorphosis and maybe in the morning I will be all things new and fresh, able to rise above all of the hard things. I call it my princess pod.

I wish, with all my heart, that you could see this place. It is impossibly romantic. As dusk creeps in an old man who looks like a leather carving of an ancient Incan goes around and lights chandeliers full of candles and oil lamps set into walls.

Paths are lit with bottle lanterns and the light from candles and cook fires hold back the darkness. The whole place is raised four feet off of the very wet jungle floor. The boards are the colour of liquid chocolate and as smooth as the skin of the woman who runs the lodge. I walk with bare feet and the smoothness of the boards feels like it’s drawing the very soul of the place in through the soles of my feet. There is a soft firmness, and just enough give to the planks that I feel at the same time grounded and like I could fly.

Photos from the first 24 hours… Puerto Maldanado and the Tambopata River