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Werner Herzog, the Amazon jungle and me-

"To me, adventure is a concept that applies only to those men and women of earlier historical times, like the mediaeval knights who traveled into the unknown. The concept has degenerated constantly since then... I absolutely loathe adventurers, and I particularly hate this old pseudo-adventurism where the mountain climb becomes about confronting the extremes of humanity." -Werner Herzog I thought I wanted an adventure, so I decided to go to the Amazon jungle. The Amazon jungle can be a living death; humid, hot, wet, crawling with insects, animals and diseases that will kill, eat and decay you in a matter of hours, if you're a complete idiot. Not healthy for children or most humans, especially if you are an outsider who has no idea how to survive in the jungle. It can epitomize Herzog's man against nature complex. Nature doesn't care for or have compassion for man's folly; it's simple, if you can't survive you die, and perhaps suffer along the way. To the assimilated western conformist who lives by their conveniences, it is raw, dangerous and the heart of darkness. For me the jungle is full of immense beauty and life (it's difficult to grasp the amazing collective cacophony of the living orchestra from the jungle unless you've heard it for yourself) but I can assure you no unprepared person would want to be lost in its chaos. My first foray into the jungle was back in 2003 in Brazilian Amazon city of Manaus. I spent roughly a month in the jungle outside of Manaus, staying in a nice Posada (aka jungle lodge), with electricity and running water. It didn't seem like roughing it or adventure at all, it felt like a bit of luxury, albeit a sweaty luxury. I did a couple short hikes into the bush and many small boat rides up and down branches of the Rio Negro. It was my first experience with the heat, humidity, torrential downpours, bugs and other exotic animals of the jungle. It was relatively easy for me, heat and bugs one can get used to. But for me the most challenging part was the psychological exploration I was battling within my own mind under the influence of a shamanic inebriant the local Indians use, called Ayahuasca. This was the other aspect of the Amazon that drew me to South America, the indigenous people's use of visionary healing plants. I wanted an adventure, I felt a need to explore, but mine was to be an inward exploration more so than an outward one. Also I had been hired by the people putting on the Ayahuasca seminar that I was a part of to help facilitate the creative expressing of these heady experiences for the other people ingesting the brew. I was there to draw and paint and to hopefully get some visual inspiration from the jungle. So how does this connect to film and Mr. Herzog? Well in the city of Manaus lies the Teatro AmazonasTeatro Amazonas, an opera house built in 1896 by city leaders in hopes to make Manaus one of the great centers of civilization. My hotel room that I stayed in before going to the jungle was right next to the opera house. This opera house was featured prominently at the beginning of Herzog's Fitzcarraldo, where Klaus Kinski as the title character Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald (who after seeing an opera in Manaus) dreams of building his own opera house in the remote Peruvian city of Iquitos. Flash forward to 2006, I had an opportunity through friends to return to the Amazon to experience more of the hallucinogenic brew, make art, and commerce with the jungle, but this time in the city of Iquitos. I had even brought with me a Hi 8 camera to get some initial shots for a film I wanted to make. My hope was to shoot at some ruins and in the jungle, but my camera was stolen out of my luggage by the airplane baggage handlers on my initial flight to Iquitos, so much for my film idea. At this point I was aware of Herzog's use of Iquitos in many shots in Fitzcarraldo and was interested in seeing if I could find some of these places. I didn't really expect to recognize much realizing things had probably changed from when he filmed it back in 1982. Aguirre in IquitosTo my surprise there is actually a restaurant on the waterfront called the Fitzcarraldo and I ended up going there a couple times for food and drinks. The restaurant is adorned with framed still photos from the film, and other odds and ends that look like may have been props used in the film. It was amusing drinking a beer out front, being harassed by homeless street kids wanting handouts and Shipibo women selling their intricate textiles. Sitting looking out at the Amazon River from a restaurant based on a Herzog movie was a strange experience, but somehow seemed fitting to the situation. At one point I took a local river taxi to a butterfly reserve. On the way there we went by one of the boats used in the film, it was just sitting in the river open to tourists, still there after all these years. Herzog's production with the larger than life Kinski running around like a madman has left a lasting impression on this jungle city, adding to the history of the real Fitzcarald who made his own lasting impression on the region a century before. This past June I had a chance to return to Iquitos for more jungle time at the same lodge I stayed in the year before. This lodge wasn't nearly as fancy as the one I stayed in in Brazil. It was more archaic, half rotting into the jungle and without electricity and most of the time without running water. In fact, one of the covered structures from the year before that was used for hammocks was completely gone, consumed by the jungle. Depending on the size of the boat and which direction we were going on the river, the boat ride from Iquitos to this jungle lodge was about an hour or so ride (On a side note, half way to our destination we passed where the scene from Motorcycle Diaries Che on the Amazonwas filmed when Gael Garcia Bernal as Che Guevara volunteers at the leper colony). I had returned with the intent to drink more brew, participate in a group art exhibit and hopefully to go deeper into the jungle. As it turned out, for various reasons the extended river jungle trip I had planned on was not going to happen, so I found myself in Iquitos after my time at the lodge not knowing what I was going to do with my last week in Peru. Turns out one of the participants in the group I was with wanted to go to Machu Picchu, so we spontaneously decided to travel together. After some jockeying of plane tickets and getting to Lima we were off to Cuzco and the great Andean ruins. We took a 20 hour winding bus ride from Lima to Cuzco. After a couple nights in Cuzco we then took some more buses and a train and we finally made it to Machu Picchu. We arrived at about 6 am and spent 10 hours at the site, walking around the grounds of Machu Picchu, taking in the cloud shrouded ruins, hiking up Huayna Picchu and down the backside to the Templo de la Luna. It was on the hike up Huayna Picchu that it hit me that I was walking upon the same place that Herzog shot the opening sequence for his other South American masterpiece from 1972; Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Aguirre on Huayna PicchuI remember being in awe of that opening shot, with 400 Andean peasants and Aguirre winding down the step mountain trails, and here I found myself in yet another Herzog location. I hadn't planned any of this; it just turned out that way. Maybe subconsciously I was seeking a Herzogian path; art, the jungle and the madness that I faced in my mind while drinking the "Vine of Souls". I somewhat agree with Werner about adventure, there are no real adventures anymore. There's too much technology available, like GPS devices and cell phones to save adventurers from their own stupidity. There will always be Darwin award nominees, but true adventure seems gone. I do think there are still two places that can be explored with integrity however, human consciousness and space. I thought I wanted adventure and exploration, but what I realized I was looking for was what Werner calls an 'ecstatic truth'. My experiences in the jungle got me a bit closer to understanding what ecstatic truth is, words can't really do it justice, so for me I will continue with my visual art to help me convey my ecstatic truth. I think I can hear it now; the jungle symphony is calling me again. Perhaps my next trip I'll end up amid virgin rainforest in northwest Thailand, who knows