A Month in the Jungle, Part 5: Jungle Journal Excerpts

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In June, I spent an entire month (offline!) in the jungle of Peru, furthering my studies to become a shaman with a plant diet. If you missed it, here are the first four jungle journal parts so you can catch up:

Part 1: Iquitos

Part 2: What to Bring and Expect

Part 3: Animal Life (For Better and Worse)

Part 4: Doing a Plant Diet and Ayahuasca Retreat

In this final installation of this jungle-series, you’ll read some excerpts from my jungle journal, which will give you an idea of what it was like to live in the jungle for a month, on this multi-faceted adventure. Enjoy!

This post was originally published in 2015. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

Day 1

I’m so happy to have arrived in the jungle – a trip I’ve anticipated for many months now! I get a great feeling from don Francisco (the shaman who runs Sachamama retreat centre).

My orientation included a run-down of what to expect, which includes two daily meals, at 9am and 3pm. I’m already a wee bit concerned about hunger (especially with the dietary restrictions that come with doing a plant diet), but I know I’ll survive, and hey – I could stand to lose a couple of pounds.

Meals are brought to my tambo – an open-air hut, which is very basic and very small, but lovely and (dare I say) romantic. So it’s going to be an isolating experience, but I’m pretty happy about that challenge too. No internet connections, no work, and lots of luxurious time to myself. Although I worry a bit about boredom, I also have an open mind; maybe – hopefully – I’ll be surprised and love every minute.

open-air jungle tambo

I’ve been here for half a day and the sun is soon setting. In a few minutes I’ll be cozied under my mosquito net in bed, reading, relaxing, resting, and sleeping. I expect this to be a status quo for the next month.

Day 2

I slept over 12 hours last night, and yet the five-minute walk to the main house to get water nearly killed me. I’m not so much hungry, as weak.

My bed isn’t even (as my whole tambo sits on slanted ground), so I also spent the night trying not to roll out of bed. Mental note: I’ll have to fix this with some sort of shim.

The temperature was lovely though; cool enough for pants and long sleeves with a light blanket. The overnight rain was also lovely on the tin roof of my tambo-without-walls. The orchestra of night sounds is even louder than the jungle sounds by day, and it’s a beautiful soundtrack for sleep.

Day 3

I feel so peaceful here…not a care in the world. I’m feeling a personal shift, into flowing and acceptance of life’s circumstances rather than fighting against them. I see the harmony of all jungle life and am inspired by it.

But I’m hungry! Already fantasizing about sweets, granola bars, fruit, ice cream, chocolate – you name it. I keep reminding myself of the gift of detoxification that I’m receiving, not to mention the clarity of this plant diet overall…but it’s hard when even the young saplings of trees around my hut look yummy enough to gnaw on.

Day 4

If it weren’t for tracking the days in this journal, I’d already be struggling to remember which day it is. Both hunger and boredom are setting in in earnest. After spending an inordinate amount of time counting days and dates, it was with some horror that I realized I still have three weeks left here.

Day 6

I have a love/hate relationship with mealtimes. Physical hunger is actually minimal, due in part to the large quantities that are served (even though it’s only twice daily). But my body prefers to eat smaller amounts more frequently. I could pace myself and space out the food that’s served over a few hours, but once it’s in front of me I’m hard-pressed not to finish it (and then feel stuffed).

But I do get excited when food arrives to my tambo – I can hear tupperware containers being cracked open in other tambos, and I know the chef is on her way. For the most part it has been (surprisingly) delicious, and I haven’t missed salt/spices/sugar.

the walking path into the jungle retreat centre where I stayed

Day 9

I didn’t sleep well. There was a large winged creature flying around my tambo, plus a large legged creature on top of the tin roof. Something (large) shit on the side of my mosquito net too.

My dreams were all about food….with various people driving around and getting food: cheeseburgers, donuts, McDonalds fries, etc.

Day 11

Invasion of the termites! I returned to my tambo after an afternoon walk to find them everywhere – all over my bag, my bed, all the foundation posts, everywhere. They had constructed full-on tunnel highways all around, which is amazing because there was nothing there this morning, and now, there are thousands (millions?) of them. I sprayed DEET (which I’d been advised to bring but hadn’t really used until now) all over everything like a madwoman, then swept the thousands of termites out of my tambo.

My mosquito bites are also pretty epic – I was scratching all night, and even reapplied my (crappy) after-bite cream twice in the night. I’m covered in welts. DEET is now my best friend. I don’t care if it burns when I spray it on.

All in all I’m pretty rattled. My tambo feels claustrophobic now; there’s nowhere to escape to. It’s so small, and there’s nowhere to put my stuff that won’t potentially get wet from rain or infested by termites again. I’m needing some patience to remember that I’m a guest in this jungle environment and that I need to find some harmony with everything around me. I’ve been here 1.5 weeks and I still have two left to go.

Lord. Help. Me.

Day 12

For the first time since arriving, I’m inspired to write. I wrote all morning, producing an article about all the animal life in the jungle, detailing my termite and mosquito adventures in as humourous a way as possible.

I’m nursing my bites very tenderly now, including the application of an antibiotic ointment I was lucky to have brought, since some of them are actually oozing (painfully). Sitting down is painful with the plentiful bites on my ass and upper thighs (I mean really – how did I get so many bites on my ass?!). With any luck this new course of treatment (as well as the daily application of DEET) will have me in better shape soon.

Day 13

I’m hitting a wall. My body is an oozing pussy mess of bites. I’m using every cream and ointment I can get my hands on to treat them, praying there’s no reaction between them. With the isolation of this plant diet and the simple accommodation, I don’t know what to do with myself any more. Stand up? Sit down. Ouch, that hurts. Stand up again. Too tired to walk. Sit down again. Ouch.

All in all, I’m feeling pretty empty – which is to be expected with a plant diet and ayahuasca ceremonies. I guess I’m ready for filling now!

Day 15

Laundry day! I’ve been washing my clothes by hand every couple of days, but today is the first day in a week that has been sunny enough to actually dry anything. My undies are strewn all over the open area near my tambo, resting on any surface I can find that is in the sun. I have no shame.

jungle clearing near my tambo
The clearing near my tambo – aka laundry-drying-area

It has officially been two weeks since arriving. I feel I’m on the home stretch now…not only will the last week likely pass by much faster, but I’m also in a groove enough that the days aren’t agonizingly slow any more. Although I’ll (actually) be a bit sad to leave the tranquility of this “holiday”, I also have my sights set on the cinnamon rolls I’ll be enjoying as soon as I hit Lima airport.

Oscar [one of the employees at Sachamama] is currently filling my water buckets for my shower and toilet. I marvel with gratitude at his energy and joviality while hand-fetching and delivering bucket after bucket of water from the river down the hill. This is no easy task, nor is the gruelling half-hour hike in from the road that he makes regularly, with everything from our drinking water, to luggage, food, supplies, and more. WOW! And here I thought my paltry existence of “roughing it” in the jungle (with little more to do than sleep, eat, and wash my laundry) was tough. As he tirelessly works, he cheerfully whistles a little “cock-a-doodle-doo” in response to the rampant roosters that generally keep up their calls all day.

Speaking of water, it has taken me two weeks, but I’ve finally figured out how to flush the toilet with the bowls of water that I have to pour into the toilet bowl. Up until now I’ve poured bowl after bowl of water in which has diluted the contents of the toilet and sort of drained it down, but I’ve never had the satisfaction of a proper flush. The trick is a perfect balance between volume of water, force (height from which to pour), angle of pouring, and where in the bowl to aim. Who knew these things were so complicated.

Day 16

Getting out of bed in the morning to use the toilet, I lifted the seat to discover a giant tarantula under the cover, which scurried under the seat. I tried to coax it onto my broom so I could relocate it, but it wanted no part of my grand plan and instead scurried inside a crevice somewhere behind the toilet. I couldn’t find it…but it’s there. After that I didn’t have the courage to sit on the toilet long enough to do my business.

Day 17

I only got five hours of sleep last night. Up until a couple of nights ago, I’ve been sleeping a solid 10-12 hours every night. But for the last few nights I’ve awoken at three or four in the morning and tossed and turned thereafter. Maybe I’ve finally caught up on however many years of not enough (or not good enough) sleep.

11:15am: There is a giant tarantula the size of my hand lurking somewhere in/around my toilet. How can something so big be so elusive? There’s been no sign of it since yesterday, but every time I go to the toilet, I gingerly lift the lid and also check under the seat before sitting down for the shortest possible time.

5:15pm: I’m full. Really full. In a push-myself-away-from-the-table, belch-loudly-and-pass-out kind of way. Meals are generally quite large, and despite some trepidations about eating only twice per day, I’ve found myself generally satiated and rarely (too) hungry. And of course I’ve also started to slim down which has been delightful, the knowledge of which has been a good antidote to hunger.

But we had an ayahuasca ceremony last night, and usually the day after ceremony I’m hungrier than normal. So by the time lunch rolled around today at 3pm (and after an unprecedentedly small breakfast), I was ravenous. I gobbled it down, but I wasn’t full. In fact, I was still hungry.

So I slinked up to the kitchen, tupperware in hand, and shyly asked if there was more food, expecting them to get a few extra scoops of the vegetable stew and rice they served for lunch. Instead, for the next 30 minutes, I sat in the kitchen with the two lovely staff there while they prepared fried plantain, egg, and sliced tomatoes – another whole meal unto itself. I eagerly ran back to my tambo with it and devoured it. Now, I’m properly, pleasantly full. Gracias!

Day 20

I’m fantasizing – hard core – about cinnamon rolls, and a nice thick slice of banana bread. I’ve been writing about food a lot in this journal, which gives me pause for thought. Hunger (for me) often has less to do with metabolic needs, and more to do with having something to do (ie: cooking and eating). Combine that with the psychological “deprivation” factor of this diet (no salt, sugar, spices – which rules out a lot of options), and I’m having to re-examine my relationship with food.

As zen as I can be in reflection, this doesn’t seem to diminish my fantasies about cinnamon rolls.

Day 21

I was surprised when I looked in a mirror today, for the first time in over a week. I look good! My face is fresh, and the circles under my eyes have dissipated significantly. (I thought they were genetic, but I guess it was more about lost sleep than genetics).

Day 22

I’m reflecting on how proud I am to have conversed solely in Spanish with don Francisco and the staff members here. Back in January when planning this trip, my teacher asked how my Spanish was coming along, and I said my goal was to be able to talk to don Francisco without needing translation during this jungle trip. Neither of us really believed it would happen though. But here I am, able to share my experiences and listen to his stories, all in Spanish! All my hard work learning Spanish has really paid off. (See also: Becoming Fluent in Spanish, and Other Languages)

The end of my jungle stay is just around the corner, and with it are mixed feelings. No doubt I’m eagerly awaiting that cinnamon roll, to see my friends in Pisac, and return to the mountains and creature comforts of home. At the same time I haven’t (truly) been wanting for anything in the jungle, and it’s with a touch of sadness that I’m looking at my impending departure. And then a touch of shock that I ever would be thinking these thoughts.

I’m also running to-do lists through my head, with what I suspect will be a thousand things to do on my return, given that I’ve been offline for almost a whole month – a first for me.

Day 23

My teacher came to me today and said “well, you passed the test, with flying colours”.

“There was a test?” I said.

“Well, no not really. But I had been wanting to see how you faired in the jungle before really moving forward with your apprenticeship. And you did it,” he replied.

And I guess it has been a test for me too. To see how I’d manage to unplug for a month, and to embrace this new path of becoming a shaman. And I have done it. And I’ve loved it – despite (or perhaps because of) its ups and downs. I’ve come full circle in yet another journey of the heart and soul. I feel complete, clean, clear, and truly happy. I have a greater sense of self, and of the world around me.

This month in the jungle is the greatest gift I could ever have given myself.

Nora Dunn, The Professional Hobo, with the altaruna plant in the jungle, part of her jungle journal experience

Day 24

I awoke this morning crying. Crying because I’m sad the plant diet is ending! And crying with gratitude for the gifts of the last month through the ayahuasca ceremonies and the plant diet. I’m not even sure how to put it all into words.

As I sit here writing, about to go up to the main house to ceremonially end the plant diet and have my first piece of fruit in a month, I have a smile on my face. In plant medicine circles, they say “the ceremony begins when the ceremony ends”. Thus, I’m excited to return to Pisac and put all the amazing lessons and insights I’ve been given into practice.

Day 25

Cinnamon rolls!

Thank you for reading my 5-part Month in the Jungle Journal series. If you’ve finished reading this and wondered why anybody would put themselves through this, remember that doing a plant diet and ayahuasca retreat is an intensely personal and emotional experience. I haven’t published some of the personal and spiritual revelations I experienced in the jungle, because they’re part of a larger contextual journey, and also very personal. But if you’re interested in working with plant medicine and/or doing a jungle retreat like this yourself, trust me when I say – it’s a life-changing experience, no matter how you slice it. And for me, it was 150% worth every mosquito bite and hunger pang. I’ll be returning next year. 

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8 thoughts on “A Month in the Jungle, Part 5: Jungle Journal Excerpts”

  1. Thanks for sharing your jungle journey! I’m off to South America in October for extended exploration and look forward to an ayahuasca experience, too.

    How much value from your experience do you attribute to the extended stay and plant-based diet as opposed to just going for a week for ayahuasca without as much prep work?

    • Hi Kirk,
      Great question! I think it depends on your journey and whether you’ve worked with ayahuasca before, as well as what you’d like to get out of the experience. An extended stay provides a much deeper experience, but if you’re new to plant medicines, a week-long stay is a nice way to dip your toes in.

    • Lombok,
      True – it wasn’t quite a month, but for the purposes of my writing, “A month” sounds better than “3.5 weeks”!

  2. This sounds awesome, Nora. Just from reading this, I know there is so much more to the story, and I’m dying to hear it. I would love to do this.

    • Hi Matthew,
      Yes, there’s certainly more to the story in terms of my apprenticeship with the medicine, but I’m struggling to write about it because not only is it a very personal journey, but it’s kind of out of the scope of what this site is about. Stay tuned though….I may yet spill the beans!

  3. Hi Nora,
    I give you a TON of credit for this amazing adventure. None of us out here could truly understand what you went through, but your journal entries give a good sense of the discomfort and challenge of it all.
    What a fabulous experience and congratulations on coming through with flying colors — and then enjoying well-deserved cinnamon rolls. They must have tasted so decadent.


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