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Dispatches

Art-world rebel Damien Hirst, by the numbers; cultivating a taste for greatness in Ethiopian coffee; on the road with the spirit of Mark Twain; a Swiss watchmaker whose time has come; woking and talking with Katie Leclerc

INFIERNO, PERU

POWER PLANTS
Filling prescriptions straight from nature’s medicine cabinet

 

For a 54-year-old shaman, Don Honorato Mishaja looks a lot like a teenage hippie. Wearing baggy jeans, dirt-caked sneakers and a white T-shirt that reads “We Believe in Nature,” the expert in traditional Peruvian medicine strolls through a lush 7.4-acre plot of land in the Amazon, talking about the “spirit of the jungle” embodied by all the plants in the rain forest. He holds up an ordinary-looking leaf picked from a knotty stem; to the untrained eye, it could be a ficus leaf. “This is a natural anesthetic — the jungle’s novocaine,” he says.

Mishaja presides over the healing center Centro Nape, which is located on this plot of land and which serves the 400 indigenous people of the nearby community of Infierno. The leathery-faced medicine man — whose grandfather, father and uncle were also healers — sees as many as five patients a day, treating everything from intestinal parasites to alcoholism.

Natural anesthetics aren’t the only remedies Mishaja has unearthed in the Amazon, which has been called “nature’s medicine cabinet.” His ramshackle laboratory also contains such handy treatments as cana cana morado (“like aspirin”); ojé, the sap of the Ficus insipida tree (“when mixed with honey, it acts as a laxative”); and sacha bufeo (“a love potion”).

Outside his lab, Mishaja pours shot glasses full of a deep burgundy liquid made from the chuchuhuasi plant for a group of visitors from the nearby Posada Amazonas lodge. (Owned by Infierno locals, the lodge may soon start a program with Mishaja whereby guests can spend a night at Centro Nape.) The sweet concoction creates a pleasant, caffeine-like buzz. “It’s the Red Bull of the jungle,” Mishaja says. — BROOKE PORTER

One Response to “Dispatches”

  1. James Hayes-Bohanan Says:
    March 13th, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Thank you for including this report — far too few people recognize the human stories behind coffee and the many other consumables that the world economy brings to us from around the world.

    It is appropriate that you use the phrase “strike gold.” It brings to mind the 2006 film Black Gold, also about the high stakes involved in finding premium markets for Ethiopian coffee.

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