It wasn’t until we found ourselves trekking through muddy narrow trails in the amazon jungle, to a camp we had never been to, with a respected Iquitos shaman and just a handful of others, that we realized the scope of what we were about to do. We were only a day away from participating in one of the most ancient medicinal practices earth, with people we had met just two days before.
Our ayahuasca experience would consist of three ceremonies over the span of one week. We would continue to follow a special diet, practice abstinence in more forms than one, and live in a camp deep in the amazon for seven days. The apprehension and curiosity was high at first, as to be expected. But in the end, this was one of the most prominent experiences we have ever had.
We know very well the controversy surrounding this subject, and any kind of “psychedelic drug” for that matter. The need to write publicly about this outweighs the need to keep this to ourselves, because it is very important that we are fully honest with you, our readers. Not just about the destinations we visit, but also about our greatest experiences.
We will never put a veil over the truths we encounter on our travels, and we will never tell you anything short of how it is. This disclosure includes the experiences that change us. The experiences we have in this beautiful world that come with a travel-based lifestyle are important to share in their entirety, because it is through our experiences that we ourselves become better people. It is also through these experiences that we can provide the world with a more truthful view of how things really are out here.
Our ayahuasca experience signifies great personal change for us both, and it has been a very deep-rooted medicinal practice in Peruvian culture for centuries. Not only will this post help those interested in having an ayahuasca experience of their own, but we hope it will paint a more accurate picture of this tradition for those not so familiar as well.
ARRIVAL IN IQUITOS
Iquitos was a definite culture shock in many ways. Rickshaw drivers and motorcycles buzzed about the city as if we were in the middle of a busy beehive of a city in Asia. Life was fast paced, hot and muggy, and the city itself was quite dirty and run-down. Though there is beauty to be found in every place, this one was seedier than others.
Many abandoned buildings were deteriorating in the jungle climate, and we were hassled relentlessly by tour companies and locals to book retreats and buy souvenirs. There were some very nice restaurants and friendly people here, but we found out quickly that Iquitos wasn’t a place to spend much time in. We had to be very careful who we talked to, and it was necessary to keep a close eye on our valuables at all times.
The westernized crowds of bucket-listers and tourists there for pre-booked ayahuasca experiences was very overwhelming, and we were surprised at just how prominent the ayahuasca culture was in Iquitos. There were no subtleties about it here. Our taxi driver from the airport asked us first and foremost which ayahuasca retreat we were headed to – never mind the weather or where we’re from!
From the strange hippy-psychonaut to those in desperate need of healing in severe circumstances, everyone we encountered had something to say about the best way to have an ayahuasca experience. How to do it, where to go, and how spiritual and enlightened they are now since they’ve returned from their retreat.
We faced a lot of pretentious judgment from people we met in our hotel, telling us we should have booked pricey retreats months in advance. Most couldn’t seem to grasp that we were travelers – therefore we did not know when we would be in the area, we just knew that we would be. People quizzed us about the diet we were following, why we were seeking to do ayahuasca (very personal), and everything in between.
It was extremely exhausting just dealing with other westerners upon our arrival to Iquitos. And to us, we saw something disrespectful about having an ayahuasca experience at a luxury retreat for thousands of dollars per week, with ceremonies of 25+ people, in a place that was built like a yoga center rather than a traditional Peruvian camp.
In his book, Ayahuasca: Soul Medicine of the Amazon Jungle, ayahuasquero Javier Regueiro sums up this aspect of the “new wave” ayahuasca culture very eloquently:
“Everybody, from shamans to laypeople, seems to have a clear opinion regarding the best way, the only way, or the traditional way of working with this medicine in particular and plant medicine in general. It strikes me as ironic that despite how deeply people claim ayahuasca has affected them, that we don’t seem capable of restraining ourselves from one of the most insidious obstacles to spiritual evolution, i.e. passing judgment.”
Despite the awkward encounters of ours, we ignored the pretentious attitudes and common misjudgments. Through very interesting (and safe) circumstances, we located a respected shaman, who treated locals in his neighborhood as well as outsiders. He was a family man, and his wife cooked meals for us both times we visited their home. It was a rare opportunity, and we were both relieved and grateful to have found him.
For the sake of his privacy and the sake of ethics, we won’t include the name of our shaman or the retreat here. (Sorry about that). However, if you are truly interested in this information, feel free to contact us and we will be happy to help in any way we can.
PREPARING FOR THE AYAHUASCA EXPERIENCE
All negativity aside, ayahuasca is not something to be taken lightly. Ayahuasca is a very strong medicine and a sacred tradition in Peru. It is only in the past couple of decades that people have begun to realize it’s magnificent healing power. An ayahuasca experience is something that should be very respected, and never done just for bragging rights or simply to check off a list.
Ayahuasca is unique from other psychedelic “drugs” in the fact that it can make you very nauseous as part of the cleansing process, and it’s not fun. There could be dashes to bathroom, and oftentimes lots of throwing up. It is hard work both physically and mentally preparing yourself for the experience, and hard work participating.
Still, this raw kind of cleansing is a good thing in that it helps you to fully open yourself to the medicine and it’s healing. Actively preparing for the experience and sacrificing control is a chance to dedicate yourself to its sacredness in full.
The dieta, as it’s called natively, is one to be practiced for a week or longer, depending on the length of your experience. The diet is a simple one – no salt, pepper, or herbs. No sauces, or cooking oils (maybe very small amounts of olive or coconut oil). No fried foods, citrus-based fruits, or dairy products. Also, only fish and chicken are acceptable – no beef or pork.
Basically, our diet for 15 days in total was basic salads and fruit, unsalted boiled potatoes or yucca, boiled eggs, rice, and maybe some very basic chicken. Some people fast the day of the ceremony, but for me personally I felt better physically and mentally after drinking ayahuasca when I had light meals the day of the ceremonies, as did Scott.
Of course, everyone has a set opinion about how long the diet should occur beforehand and to what extent it should be followed afterwards. (It’s best to do some research of your own).
Abstinence from drugs or alcohol is essential for the healing and detoxifying process of ayahuasca. And though it can be a beautiful thing, we learned that sex should be avoided before and after your experience, but not because it’s a bad thing.
It is to be avoided just in the sense that it can carry very prominent emotional baggage for people. Though love is a positive, in preparing for the ayahuasca experience all focus should be turned inward to yourself, with no distractions.
Ayahuasca has a fantastic way of showing you things about yourself, so to focus fully on your own aspects of healing means to dismiss things that take away from your ability to prepare yourself.
I was trembling nervous just before the first ceremony. I had spent the day relaxing myself and my mind the best I could, though I had no idea what to expect. Scott and I had given each other our space the entire day, and hadn’t spoken much.
Our kind shaman was very traditional in his ceremony – no fancy show with feathers and bright attire, just simply a strong focus on healing us all. Instead of sitting on the floor of the maloca (the ceremonial hut), we relaxed in hammocks where we could gaze at the stars hanging above the jungle.
One by one, we were called up and given our small glass of the ayahuasca brew. We each thought of our intentions and openness to the effects medicine, and downed the thick brownish liquid. To me, it tasted like severely burnt coffee with a powerful kick of sourness like alcohol. After each person had their cup, the candles were blown out and we all relaxed into the sounds of the amazon around us.
The effects of the medicine kicking in, our shaman began his icaros, a unique singing of various traditional songs. I must say, the singing was so incredibly beautiful that I never wanted it to end. The icaros was very calming, and truly helped in mentally accepting the ayahuasca experience and its affects.
Each person in the ceremony was sang different songs by the shaman, and each was unique to them. All three ceremonies, our shaman sang me the song of the hummingbird, or colibri in Spanish. Through this, I realized that this was the animal I most resonate with.
The ironic thing is, hummingbirds have always had a special place in my childhood. It was a surprise to me that multiple species of them buzzed about our jungle camp every day. It only drove home the symbolism of the hummingbird icaros for me, and I knew it was meant to be – that I was exactly where I should be.
At the end of each ceremony (ours were 4-6 hours), each of us was called one by one to be blessed. Our shaman sang the icaros once more, and in swift and precise motions he seemed to literally blow away negative and malevolent energies.
We were blessed with song and the patting of a leafy fan all over our bodies, and even by the palm of the shaman’s hand on our head to dispel the bad from our souls. Though it sounds strange, I can tell you first hand that I felt things leaving me each time.
Not only traumas, but things I had held onto for years that were harming me and no longer serving my inner well being. It was a nearly indescribable experience – one that I can never forget, and still feel the positive effects of even weeks later.
HANDLING THE VISIONS
Firstly, it’s important to mention that everyone’s ayahuasca experience is unique, and reading too much about what other people experience can actually sway your own experience. It is wise to use caution in how much information you take in about this vine’s specific visual effects. Everyone’s experience is their own, and it is important to remember that the acceptance of your unique experience is everything. There is no good in being envious.
Also, as we were coached, there is a big difference between intention and expectation when it comes to ayahuasca. If you have a high expectation of how you think it will be, most likely you will be let down. To have a positive intention for your healing is to be in touch with the aspects of yourself you wish to heal, but the ayahuasca experience may end up healing you in a completely different way.
It was best to trust, surrender ourselves fully, and allow the medicine to do its thing.
For the reasons mentioned above, we won’t go too much in depth about the specific visions we had. Those are very personal indeed. What we will say though is that ayahuasca is not necessarily a hallucinogen like most people think.
Instead, the visions (at least for us personally) were more comparable to a lucid dream. Rather than seeing shapes and colors with eyes wide open, it was more like ayahuasca had a way of imprinting images and signals into your mind’s eye like a vivid dream – only while you’re conscious.
We found that a side effect of ayahuasca is very heightened fatigue, inducing a strong meditative state. For me, it was only when I had surrendered full control of my thoughts to the medicine and dabbled between a near-sleep relaxation and alertness that I began to feel a very amplified experience, and also the detoxing effects of this sacred plant.
What amazed me the most was how ayahuasca has its own energy, almost as if it has its own soul. It did not feel like I should attempt to control it; it had an agenda all its own. Not in a scary way, though some might be afraid at first. Ayahuasca sends messages, things that help you to see the sides of yourself that are normally pushed away either intentionally or unintentionally.
However, I felt it was more of a conductor of these emotions and realizations, making them much easier to face and handle, rather than giving me a crash course in the darker side of myself. It was calming, and I knew I was safe. As crazy as it may sound, the best way I can explain it is that the ayahuasca felt like the presence of a very good friend or family member that I trusted, that was cradling my inner self as I walked down the fulfilling path of self-realization.
In the Throes
In short, my experience brought me vivid colors and many intense nature-based images, all in geometric shapes, among other spectacular things. Each of these carried their own messages to me. Even when I was feeling lessened effects of the ayahuasca at the end of the night, I was still receiving an amazing frequency of messages from this medicinal presence.
Through its healing, I saw obscure sides to myself that suddenly became clear, as if they were pulled from the back of my mind, and it was the ayahuasca and our shaman that was assisting me to overcome them. It was a change that has still affected me even weeks after our ceremonies.
Though as westernized as it is becoming, the ayahuasca experience is not just sought out by pretentious tourists, but by people who are truly seeking healing for very traumatic things in their lives. Some may have nowhere else to turn in order to heal. To put it into perspective, in our group as small as it was, we were the only two who were first timers. Everyone else were regulars who were on a very long-term path of ayahuasca healing, even for years.
Not only did we witness the healing powers of ayahuasca first hand, but we saw with our own eyes the amazing extent of healing that the ayahuasca had on others. Even in the most severe cases, this ancient medicine has healing capabilities like nothing else on earth – in our humble opinion.
Though only a week long, this experience has changed us in ways that cannot be fully explained. Our shaman was a very good man and we felt very privileged to have found him, and we feel very privileged to have participated in such an ancient tradition. We can both say that we have a newfound perspective on ourselves, and on past traumas we have faced both individually and together in the past.
Ayahuasca is not something to do recreationally, it is a powerful substance that links people to a higher sense of consciousness. It should be respected, and handled with care. For us, the lessons we were shown through ayahuasca are now a part of who we are. Life is a journey, and we will always hold our surreal ayahuasca experience deep within the amazon jungles of Peru as one of the most significant experiences of our entire lives.