Smiling in South America

First Jesper Grønkjær dragged his magician’s suitcase through the Andes in Peru in order to visit and perform for the descendants of the Incas.

Then he sailed down the wild Amazon River on a raft in order to get to the native Amazon tribes far away from civilization.

In each place barriers were transcended – whether they were cultural, social, financial, racial or status barriers. The locals opened not only their homes to Grønkjær, they opened their hearts.  


Agony in the Andes

In 2003 we journeyed to Peru in South America partly to reach the mysterious Inca temple ruins Machu Picchu far into the mountains and partly to travel into the Amazon jungle. The last part meant several days of walking in the rain forest followed by a journey down the river on a raft to reach the small communities, where the river indians live.  

First we traveled several days with a team of carriers, where we dragged yourselves along the Inca Trail ind the midst of the Andes Mountains. These mountains are the worlds longest mountain chain and stretches over 7200 kilometres. The Inca trail is 100 kilometers long, and it is this route the Incas used to visit their holy city Machu Picchu.

We started out in the “Inca capital” Cuzco, where I warmed up with a small magic show, that gathered a great part of the city's inhabitants at one of the smaller squares. In the legendary silver jacket, which has been used at shows all over the planet, I shortly became the center of attention, when the locals for the first time in their life's saw a magician. To camouflage my intentions as long as possible, I had pulled a poncho over my shiny silver jacket, which meant that I began the show in this outfit. When I felt the time was right, I took of the poncho, revealing the sparkling jacket, that every Dane with a bit of self conscience would find horribly ugly. But when they saw the jacket, everyone was taken aback. They thought it was so pretty!  

As I continued with the show, the local audience changed their expressions. In the beginning there were – if possible – even bigger wrinkles in their dark leather-like skin, which has been hardened by the strong sun in the mountains. But in the end their faces were completely crocked from laughing. Especially when I with a toy-drill made a hole in a small girl and through this poured a soda! No one had ever served them a soda in this way before!

From Cuzco we walked through piles of horse shit and lama-leftovers up the twisted Inca trail, which consisted of a small path between rocks, 2100 steep steps, that sometimes would be more than 70 centimeters tall, across rivers and all in an altitude of more than 3000 meters, which made it difficult to breath, because the air was too thin. Especially when you are so lame, that you besides your normal backpack bring a magic suitcase, TV-equipment and heavy wool ponchos.

To compensate for the lack of oxygen in the thin air our guides had brought bottles of oxygen and coca-leaves, which especially the local chewed constantly. We spend the nights in small two-person tents, where a smell of sweat, socks and donkeys-ass quickly took over. To avoid ending up caressing each other in our sleeps as a reaction to missing the girlfriends at home, we always slept with a backpack between us!

I really enjoyed when we camped near locals, because we could go join them, try talking with them or at least do a bit of magic tricks. Yes, the old, magic suitcase did well in 4200 meters altitude. 


The Amazon-expedition

The magic suitcase and my silver jacket have been trough amounts of adventures. It is difficult to recall them all upon request.

After the walk along the Inca Trail the time had come to complete the expedition in the Amazon Jungle. In extraordinary good company we went with three Indians in a jeep through the mountains that surround Cuzco. The ride was several times about to claim our life's, when parts of the mountains fell down in front of us or the road simply vanished below us because of the rainy season.   

After 24 hours of driving we arrived at the banks of the river, from where we sailed in a small motorized boat, which the following days was to be our home. We sailed with the stream from village to village, and everywhere we were allowed to sleep as a payment for a small magic show.
The local Indians lived wonderfully simple and they went on daily hunts into the jungle with bow and arrows. Every day except when a danish magician came to visit! These shows took place in old barns, in the space between the cottages or at the banks of the river.

One day I had “borrowed” a duckling from the community. A girl came on stage, and I let her do the trick, where the duck suddenly appeared from an apparently empty cauldron. I first lighted a fire with big flames from it, and when the duckling suddenly jumped up the cauldron and walked away, they were all completely silent. And then they roared with laughter. This was a trick they talked about for days.

At some point we had to leave the boat to continue at foot through the wilderness in the jungle. It was tough fighting your way through swamps, mud and the thick vegetation. Our bodies were taking some punches and mentally we could feel it as well. We spend the nights under the sky, where we had the sounds from the animals and the screaming parrots to give us a lullaby. 

When we after a while had crossed a part of the rainforest, we reached the Amazon River again. Without the boat we depended on the natural resources at our hands. We made four logs of a tree, and we twisted the bark into a strong piece of string. In this way we made our raft and was now ready for the next part of our adventure. We paddled our way down the river while piranhas and crocodiles swam around us and monkeys jumped above our heads in the trees. After a few hours I was completely sore in my arms from paddling and in my legs from trying to keep the balance, in the bag as well from the steering the raft and in my but from the resting in the middle of the raft.  

The knowledge that this was the only option of transportation - and therefore our small uncomfortable home the following days was exiting but at the same time frightening. It was even more frightening when the raft got caught in the wild river and crashed into some fallen trees. Everything – the magic suitcase, clothes, sleeping bags, TV-equipment from the Danish channel DR  ended up on the bottom of the river. Luckily everything was picked up by an Indian, so we could continue our expedition.


In trance at the Shaman's

While we at some point lived in the middle of the Amazon Jungle we got a visit from the local Shaman, who is something like a spiritual leader or a nature priest. His job was to get us into a trance with a drink, which is used by the Indians to enter a journey into their sub-conscience with the means of hallucinations. This is a way to get to know their abilities or their inner demons. For some this means that they mentally transform into an eagle, a jaguar or another animal.    

In a foul-smelling, wet cottage with cockroaches all over the place we were told to take place on the floor. Me, Simon and our three Indian carriers. The Shaman saluted us and dressed in his cape. Every light were blown out, and we sat there in complete darkness. It was forbidden to speak, so the only sounds we could hear came from the animals in the jungle. From screaming birds and croaking frogs.  

Between us there were placed two buckets. One was filled  with the elixir named Ayahuasca. The other empty, ready in case anyone got sick from drinking the elixir. An empty coconut was dipped in the elixir and passed around. Simon was the first to taste it, and I could hear him moaning. I couldn't resist asking if he had been transformed into some kind of animal and which, and I laughed at my own question, but the Shaman hushed me. NO words were allowed.

I got to taste next, and I got the most horrible taste in my mouth. It tasted like a mixture of blood and tobacco. My stomach winced and I gasped. It was all about to return to my mouth. The drink has a sort of likeness to the effect from LSD, and I have later gotten to know that it can be quite dangerous.

The coconut got dipped and passed around several times, while the Shaman with a monotonous voice prayed louder and louder. I felt horrible: My head hurt, my stomach turned. I fought the nausea and I felt like the world was spinning with me in the center. The Indians had laid themselves on the floor and Simon and I followed. The coconut with liquid kept coming back and we just lay there quietly on the dirty floor as in a kind of meditation. Suddenly Simon got up, reached out for the empty bucket and emptied his stomach into it. He vomited loudly and I smiled a bit to myself, happy that it wasn't me. But this was a short sensation of happiness. A few seconds later my stomach exploded. Between my clinched teeth I told Simon, that I needed the bucket. My mouth was full of lumpy vomit and my stomach was aching. I tried to get up but I had no control over my body. I fell over and at the same time I vomited into the bucket with such force, that Simon's vomit flushed all over me. Both in my head and my clothes!   

The Shaman hissed, and told me to sit down calmly. But I was done with “land of the trance”, and I walked towards the door of the cabin, while I told him to shut up – in danish. The sweat pored down my face and the minute I crossed the doorstep and went out into the fresh night air, I got hit in the head by something large. Smack! Even though this rarely happens to people, a big bat had hit me in the head. I screamed and fell on the ground. There I lay looking up at the sky with millions of twinkly stars and I suddenly felt that life was amazing. It was complete obscene and grotesque and far from our western standards of reason and normality. But I was happy and I felt alive!

This was another of these experiences, that this type of traveling gives me, which enriches my life. Imagine being with one of your best friends, three Indians and a crazy Shaman. All alone and in the middle of the jungle. That is an experience for life!

The Smiling Fairytale Society