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Full Circle

Day 200: Pucallpa

Michael Palin - Full CircleThere could be worse places than Pucallpa in which to celebrate two hundred days on the road, but no one can think of one. The hotel is built to provide a cool refuge from the tropical heat. On a day like today when a severe cold snap has brought grey, chilly weather to the town, it is certainly cool, but offers nothing in the way of a refuge. Fall asleep wrapped in a sweater and wake with eight days' dirty laundry staring at me.

Sunday morning breakfast at Don José's restaurant. It's a long, narrow, convivial, old-fashioned working café with check tablecloths and shrewd middle-aged waitresses who look as if they've seen it all. Shipibo Indian women drift in and out with sets of bows and arrows for sale, but the pace is slow and the coffee almost bearable. Don Jose's considerably improves my perceptions of Pucallpa, and I can almost understand why people might want to stay in the town for more than a couple of hours.

A neat, soft-spoken Frenchman called Didier Lacasse, has lived here for ten years. He originally came out to research the traditional medicines of the Peruvian Amazon, and in particular the use of the ayahuaska vine. Local shamans prepare it in such a way that hallucinogenic trances could be induced in healer and patient to cure physical and psychological conditions. Now Didier has his own herbal surgery five miles out of town, to which he drives me on an immaculately kept motor bike. His treatment is based on restoring our closer links with nature and though it may sound a little vague and dreamy the increasing interest in the Peruvian rain forest by the international pharmaceutical industry confirms his enthusiastic assessment of the potential of jungle medicines. One vine, the una de gato (cat's claw) has been proved to stimulate the immune system and reduce inflammation and is now being seriously tested for use in the treatment of cancer and Aids.

Along with interest in, and demand for, the fruits of the rain forest, Pucallpa will continue to grow, to become madder and even more raucous. It has a direct road link to Lima, which may well be extended across the river, giving Brazil, only sixty-five miles away to the east, its first ever road access to the Pacific. Our next destination, the old jungle capital of Iquitos, which can only be reached by plane or boat. Bearing in mind how long we took to make our way down the Urubamba we decide that a plane is the safest way through the next four hundred and fifty miles of jungle.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 200
  • Country/sea: Peru
  • Place: Pucallpa
  • Book page no: 270

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