Last week I posted about how we got started in the jagua tattoo business, and about our introduction to the Matsés people, who live in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon jungle and harvest the jagua fruit we use in our Earth Jagua kits. I gave the condensed version, and promised more details for those who might want to know more.
So let me start by filling in some holes on exactly what it takes to get to the Amazon. The flight from Los Angeles to Lima, Peru, is 8½ hours with a four-hour layover (in the middle of the night) in the Lima airport before the next flight out to Iquitos. Pascal was met in Iquitos by the American facilitator, whom I referred to as Mr. X in my book, Jagua—A Journey into Body Art from the Amazon. I shall continue to call him Mr. X because, well, if you can’t say anything nice…. He did provide the all-important introduction and vital information needed for the formalities involved in doing business with indigenous peoples, and for that we are very grateful; but suffice it to say that he was very challenging to deal with, engaged in some unsavory practices, and—for several years now, for good reasons—the Matsés no longer have anything to do with him.
The most important advice Mr. X conveyed to Pascal was The List. Upon first meeting with any indigenous group, you must come bearing gifts; otherwise you are considered extremely rude, especially if they view you as an “important visitor.” The list was long. He suggested that Pascal arrive with much-needed antibiotics, anti-bronchitis, anti-flu, and stomach flu medicines, as well as anti-malaria pills, aspirin, and more medial supplies. In addition, he needed to show up with some basics, like machetes, files, fishhooks and fishing lines, as well as t-shirts for the kids, pots and pans and jewelry beads for the women, hammocks, netting, rubber boots, and other gear considered valuable to the community. Pascal’s time in Iquitos was mostly spent running around in mototaxis, going from one pharmacy to another and to the Belen open-air market, which is packed with pickpockets and back-to-back stalls selling a mind-bending variety of wares, including food and second-rate merchandise from China.
After three days in Iquitos, Pascal’s next destination was a military outpost and launching pad for the motorized canoe, which would take him into the Matsés village in question (he thought he was going there by boat, but it turned out to be a dugout canoe). When he arrived at the airport, even though he had reservations, he was told the flight was booked solid. He had two options: 1) Wait one week for the next scheduled flight, or 2) charter a plane himself, which means shelling out the money for 12 seats. Reluctantly, he went for option #2.
Pascal and Mr. X boarded the flight, and after two hours of nothing but green, impenetrable jungle, a clearing appeared and they landed on a tiny, deserted airstrip. Next up was a half-mile-long hike (with all the gear) to reach the military outpost, whose one hotel was filthy. The only furniture in Pascal’s room was a foul-smelling mattress with no sheets! But his first meeting with Daniel, Chief of the Matsés, went very well. They hung out and talked for a couple of hours, but it was getting dark and there was more shopping to do, this time for foodstuff like sardines, eggs, bread, cooking oil and rice, along with water and gasoline. If you’re planning to do business in the Amazon, don’t forget your wallet!
Tune in next week for the next and final leg of the journey.
In the meantime, do check out our brand new website (we’re so jazzed!), where you can find Grrrrreat deals on our Earth Jagua black temporary tattoo kit for the holidays. And while you’re visiting our site, do sign up for our newsletter so you can receive notifications of these weekly blog postings, and special stuff like our upcoming Holiday Specials (signup form in the footer).
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!