Otorongo, part 2

Without Mirrors



It is fascinating to observe oneself in a totally new environment where the normal “Alltagswelt” does not provide any structure anymore. What will come up to the surface when this happens? This question is one of my drives when I go on a pilgrimage and also on one week long silent meditation retreats called sesshin – I want to step into the mind of “Not Knowing” and see what will manifest. Without mirrors (physical mirrors and especially social ones) is a perfect way to get to know oneself. The whole natural world and each phenomena reflects back to you without distortion and you see that everything is you. Joy, vitality and gratefulness for life are the gifts you receive when you dare to go this way.


During the first few days in Otorongo, I felt the very strong urge to play and create with natural objects I found in the camp and on my jungle walks. I needed to build a relationship to my environment. In front of my cabin I found interesting shaped roots and created an enormous dragon, a dragon of energy and power – those dragons I have seen during my pilgrimage in Japan in every temple and shrine. With this dragon, I set the intention to ride all the emotions which might come to the surface during my stay.



I dismantled the dragon soon after I had finished it. The structure out of wood, leaves and the nests of weaver birds, which I found on the ground after a heavy wind, would have been the perfect place for snakes to hide.






On my walk I found the fruit of the fascinating Arbol Santo tree scattered on the path. The shell is used as a container for Ayahuasca ceremonies (Pate) by the Shipibo Indians.






I played with moss and looked for interesting shapes in nature, which were plentiful around the camp.



A metaphor for my stay became the little pond in Otorongo which was nourished by an almost hidden creek. The visibility in the water was close to zero because of the minerals it contained. Due to the lack of calcium, the water was so soft that the touch felt like a gentle embrace. Often I was just sitting there and looked at the dark, clear surface where trees, vultures, butterflies, dragonflies, laundry and the limitless sky were perfectly reflected in this small area, all fitting in, giving each other space to be.



Sitting on the wooden stairs





Part of the pond







Laundry reflected on the pond



However, there was not only the world around and above perfectly reflected on the surface of the water. There was life in the water! Beside fish and other water creatures, the pond was home to at least 40 turtles. In the beginning of my stay, they  immediately disappeared when I approached the pond. Then I sat down without moving and waited. Slowly, one turtle after the other rose from the depth and watched me. Sometimes, I just saw the little neck with eyes, investigating if it was safe to come up and rest on the wooden deck. Eyes watching me –  sometimes I had the feeling that the whole nature was watching me if I was worthy to be one of them.




My favourite, oldest and largest turtle slowly rising up to the surface. The wooden deck to the right, where the turtles normally rest, was flooded by massive rain that had fallen during the night.





The turtles were often visited by little orange butterflies (too small to see in this photo) that landed on the turtles’ nostrils. It was a symbioses between turtle and butterfly, each benefitting from the other – the butterfly got food and the turtle had its nostrils cleaned.

To the right of the pond was the home of land turtles.  One evening, I heard load moaning combined with a rhythmic, sharp clapping. I became curious and found out that two turtles were copulating. Day and night, one can hear unusual sounds in the jungle. People with a lot of fear sometimes connect a sound with their imaginations – the croak of frogs , for example, can sound like people chattering. One time when I was sitting on a chair to watch the brilliant night sky, I was nearly numbed by a sharp sound similar to a chain saw – it was a cricket beside me.

I did not photograph butterflies, following the suggestion of Dr. Himmelbauer not do do it. “You take away the magic of a butterfly” he said when I wanted to capture a picture of a big, blue butterfly crossing in front of our eyes. However, I made photos of insects like the grasshopper on a leaf.






From early morning till evening, chickens were roaming through the area of the camp. They were the most beautiful chickens I ever saw, each with different colours and personalities. I believe that at one point there were up to 8 roosters in Otorongo, fighting for dominance. They made so much noise that a few of them had to go. They were sold alive at the market in Tamshiyacu.



Two roosters fighting for dominance



One time I pulled on a black feather sticking out between the space of two boards.  I wanted to take this beautiful feather and realised only later that it was a feather of a chicken laying eggs. When I passed the walkway a day later, the hen appeared from underneath, blustered itself up and circled around me several times making agitating noises.

Chickens have a wonderful life in Otorongo, all day they can ran around freely with plenty of food to find. They are very useful, not only because they lay eggs but they also protect the camp from snakes. One time a black hen carried a black, poisonous snake in its beak and killed it later. However, chickens also are prey to other animals. Several weeks before my arrival, a male jaguar jumped through the fence, opened the door to the chicken coop (it was not totally closed) and killed 14 chickens but only ate 4. He might have taken some to his family he had to feed.

How did the jaguar sense that the coop was not totally closed? He did not come every day in order to check the door. How did the chicken know that it was me who disturbed it even when it did not see me? There is so much we do not know! Trees, plants, and animals communicate with each other far beyond our normal awareness. The newest research about plants shows that there is consciousness in a plant (Monica Gagliani, Thus Spoke the Plant) and plants are able to teach us when we empty ourself from ourself and really listen. Shamans have worked with this knowledge for thousands of years. The world is a magical place far beyond our understanding.

One tree in Otorongo was especially fascinating to watch – the Bona tree. It grew areal roots with incredible speed and sensed the location of the most nutritious ground- the toilet. In just a few days it grew a new stilt or leg, pressing in between the boards of the toilet house in order to reach its food.



Bona palm tree



Although most of the medicinal plants are harvested in the rain forest, Otorongo has also its own healing plants. One of the most important plant is a vine called Ayahuasca. I will talk about this specific plant in a later posting.



Dr. Himmelbauer gave me a tour through his medicine garden, showing me the Ayahuasca vine.
















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Born and raised in a village along the Danube in Austria, Traude Wild soon ventured out into the world. After a two-year program for tourism in Klesheim/Salzburg, she spent nearly a year in South Africa and Namibia. By returning back to Austria, she acquired a Master of Economics at the University of Vienna. After moving to the United States with her four children, she studied Art History at Arizona State University and stayed in the United States for fourteen years. Here, she was teaching Art History in several Universities like Webster University and University of Missouri-St. Louis. Now, she lives partially in Arizona and Vienna and works together with her husband for the University of South-Carolina, Moore School of business as Adjunct Professor organising and leading Study tours in Central Europe. She also teaches at the Sigmund Freud University in Vienna. Since 1999, she is practicing Zen meditation in the lineage of Katagiri Roshi. She loves to hike and to write and is a student of Natalie Goldberg. During her often many weeks long hikes she brings her awareness into the Here and Now, describing her experiences in an authentic way. She loves to walk pilgrimages. The longest hike so far was the 1,400 km long 88 Temple pilgrimage in Shikoku, Japan in 2016.

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