National Geographic : 2017 Dec
80 of science, they learned their medical botany in a process called “dieting,” in which they consumed and studied the effects of various preparations made from leaves, roots, barks, and sap. Their curriculum also drew on knowledge gleaned un- der the influence of ayahuasca, the psychotropic mother medicine central to the spiritual life of more than 70 indigenous tribes and mestizo cul- tures in the Amazon. On our second evening at Mayantuyacu, Ruzo took photographer Steve Winter and me up to the cabin to meet Maestro Juan, one of the more famous curanderos in Peru. He was stretched out in a hammock, wearing only pants and smoking a mapacho. At 67, he seemed a man of few words, measured, stoic, watchful—fluent in Spanish but not the sort of person you could know too quickly or pepper with questions. He Pictures of jaguars dominate rock art discovered on more than 80 cliff faces and outcroppings in Colombia’s Chiribiquete National Park. For decades the park, located in one of South America’s wildest jungles, remained off-limits as armed groups in the area battled the military. Scientists believe some of the depictions of the animals and other symbols could be up to 20,000 years old. jaguar’s double life lies in the domain of the shaman and those extraordinary states of con- sciousness that aboriginal people of the upper Amazon have for millennia explored by way of psychotropic plants. In this occult realm where native healers claim they can trace the origin of all diseases and find cures with the help of spirits, the jaguar reigns as an ally, a guardian, a vital presence that can help cast out illness, cat- alyze transformations, and ward off dark forces. Among the cornucopia of Amazonian spirits said to dwell in lakes and rivers, in animals, and in the estimated 80,000 plant species that compose one of the planet’s most prodigious ecosystems, the jaguar is first among equals. MaYaNTuYaCu lIEs abOuT 30 MIlEs south- west of Pucallpa. “There wasn’t a road here four years ago,” said Andrés Ruzo as our truck turned off the clay and gravel highway onto a rough track over ground recently deforested by ranchers. At the bottom of a steep hill was a sanctuary of cab- ins and thatched-roof buildings set among trees echoing with the burble and peal of oropendola birds. Ruzo had gotten to know Mayantuyacu and Maestro Juan over the course of seven years studying the Boiling River as a Ph.D. candidate at Southern Methodist University, supported in part by grants from National Geo- graphic. Water heated deep underground wells up through faults in the Earth to feed the stream, roughly four miles long. Parts of it (some over 200°F) are hot enough to kill any creature that falls in. For generations locals have recognized this geological anomaly as a spiritually significant place. Most steered clear of it—afraid of the spir- its that inhabited its vapors and the physical jaguars lurking in the surrounding forest. But curanderos, as many prefer to call themselves, have long been coming here to partake of its powerful medicine. Students of a different kind WATCH ON NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC WILD Steve Winter and Bertie Gregory capture the remarkable lives of these big cats in Jaguar vs. Croc, December 10 at 9/8c on Nat Geo WILD.