A distant shot of the salt farms of Salineras – the scale of this really takes your breathe away when you first sea. Carved into a valley, surrounded by green mountains; there are some 3,000 salt pans in total, all cleverly irrigated and feeding off a small salt water spring, remnants of a long lost sea. Originally built by the Incas some 600 years ago, these were later expanded by the Spanish through slavery but today the salt farms are each individually owned, direct inheritance from their slave ancestors though still operating much as they also have. Given it was rainy season, they are a little brown and minimally worked – this becomes a sea of white in dry season and a hive of activity, but impressive all the same!
A sighting of the rare great Andean condor – the largest bird in the world and highly endangered. The Colca Valley in Southern Peru is the second largest canyon in the world, (the largest is 50km over) and home to some stunning landscapes, vibrant traditional cultures and agriculture, but it is also one of the few places where you can almost always see condors. We were lucky to see 6 while we were there, several juveniles and this fine adult, gliding up the steep cliff-faces, playing with the air currents in the morning sun.
Synchronicity is a strange thing! We have dropped off the map a few times in our travels, but the mysteries and subtle wile’s of the universes timing, when the most important thing to have happened to many of our friends and family in our lifetime was going down back in Japan, I will never fully comprehend.
The exact moment that a giant earthquake ripped apart Northern Japan and crushed it under a Tsunami, I was an hour from Iquitos, one of the remotest cities in the world, sitting in the Amazonian jungle, deep into an Ayahuasca session under the protective gaze of a shaman, watching my body explode. As the world woke up to news and coverage of Japan’s tragedy and subsequent reactor meltdown, I was being shown a black mass in my stomach by the spirit of the Ayahuasca vine and subsequently becoming violently ill, with chronic diorhea and boiling over with an intense fever to the backdrop of monkey and frog calls. Our shaman, a famed curandero (healer) named Javier Arevalo Shahuano found a rock sized lump in my stomach, a huge ball of negative energy, perhaps undetectable to a medical exam but a cancer of a serious kind he said – to the touch it had an intense frenetic pulse and mass all of its own for all to see. Over the next few days, as nuclear hysteria, death and tragedy seized the world I was being healed. Javier putting his plants to work under the guiding hand of Ayahuasca; quelling the fever, removing the malignant energy, stilling the pulse and in the process fixing a slipped disc in my back, removing shoulder & back pain I had been enduring for years and healing a blood clot in my side.
After 6 days, I was feeling better physically and spiritually than I can ever remember and starting to re-engage with the world. Megumi had been by my side through-out, the medicine though was affecting her differently. While I had been rebuilding my body under the gaze of the plants, she had been building up a peace and inner strength obvious to everyone else in attendance. Experiencing no deep purging or intense visions typical of the Ayahuasca medicine, Javier said she was cultivating a special strength and calm he had not seen in many people, curious at the time it was all to make sense soon enough. Largely recovered, blissfully feeling protected and empowered with the bonds formed with our new family in the jungle, Megumi left me to venture back into the town of Iquitos and returned sick with worry and all the tragic news from home.
Again timing is something of a marvel here. The epi-centre of the quake and the tsunami was Miyagi prefecture, where Megumi’s mother lives in a mountain house with her long term partner Oki-san. Oki-san’s business is based in Sendai which bore the brunt of the Tsunami and he has a house there, a son from a previous marriage and many friends, they spend a lot of their time there. Fukushima where the nuclear reactor tragedy was taking place is also the next prefecture over, between them and Tokyo and really way too close. When Megumi heard the news and the locations of the disasters she was obviously in a panic, but given the time-zones and the distance it was almost impossible to get news. With no email updates of any note, she rang around her extended family and eventually was able to wake up Oki-sans brother (at 3AM) who was able to confirm that they had only just gotten hold of her mother and that they were ok. Had Megumi been following events earlier (even in Tokyo), we later realized, she would have had to endure almost 6 days of horrific anxiety, waiting to find out any news of them being alive and totally unable to make contact.
The next day we both made the 1 hour trip into Iquitos by boat and moto-taxi early, so she could try and make some more calls at a better time, hopefully with more success. Finally getting through to her mother she found out that they had been returning from Sendai by car when they quake had hit, almost flipping their car over as it was thrown from the road. They had safely made it back to their mountain house which was intact, but they were without water, electricity, gas, food and had only limited petrol. Phones had come back haphazardly the day before and they now had internet access, but were unable to leave the house as many of the roads were destroyed and due to the potential of radioactive fall-out, the dreaded black rain. They had been living on some stored rice for the last week, but they were cut-off from other food supplies. Thankfully they had only just put in a wood burning stove and a well, so were able to brave the snow with some warmth and cook what little food they had. Stoic and positive, like all the Japanese seem to be, they were able to reassure her they were ok and were much better off than most in the Miyagi area – surrounded by their neighbourhood of farmers, it is a strong, supportive community.
Relieved, we were able to turn our attention to the events themselves and start to piece together everything that had happened – sifting for real information through the myopic hysterical trash cast around the nuclear frenzy by the ravenous Western media was heartrending. With anger and shame we viewed the trauma and hysteria the Western media was creating for everyone in Japan with their misreporting of events and apocalyptic nuclear scenarios, burying the real tragedy in the North. With the wonder of Facebook updates though, we were able to gleen the tales of many of our friends own travails and their on the ground truths, as they dealt with the crises themselves and in many cases fled Tokyo in all directions for safer environs. Earthquakes are a constant reality in Japan, everyone is expecting something like this, but when a big one happens nothing can steel you for the impact it has at the core of your being. A big quake takes your heart beat along with it, it disconnects you somehow from the earth’s own rhythm, which is a shocking experience. I can’t begin to imagine what everyone has been going through over there and experiencing on this kind of scale – no-one outside Japan really can. Every successive quake no matter the size seizes your heart in this same way and after a while that gap becomes filled with the fear. The Japanese are somehow able to steel themselves to this reality from birth, its a necessity of life there, but for Westerners it’s almost an impossible hurdle to overcome, especially when you have an exit. Every day, the myriad of small aftershock quakes holds that threat and fear of an ever bigger aftershock or perhaps the promise of the ever present mythical ‘kanto quake’, the even bigger one that everyone is still waiting on to hit Tokyo. Of a radiation and nuclear cloud I can’t even begin to speculate. We couldn’t have felt more distant, remote and helpless in the face of it all.
Somehow amidst all this though, for whatever reason, the universe has chosen us to be here, lost in the lungs of the world at one of its spiritual epicentre’s. Returning to the jungle and the Ayahuasca, I returned to my own healing, diving selfishly back into the peace and solidarity of an evolving new body, plant based purity and awakened consciousness, anxious to finish what I had started; Megumi also had Javier fix a neck hernia she had been grappling with, but the medicine also continued to give us protection and strength. While our Ayahuasca and shamanic explorations have been a profound process of discovery and awakening throughout our travels here in Peru and in Ecuador; it is not a topic I can explore lightly, so is perhaps something best blogged about a lot more extensively another time. For now, we finished up our program, said goodbye to Javier and his family and made the return to civilization & the wilds of Iquitos, anxious again for updates.
We both feel strengthened at a core level from our experience though, well beyond just the physical rebuild I have been given, more open and tuned into the world and ourselves in a much more profoundly higher way. It feels like our 2 years of travel, deconstruction and re-balancing is drawing to its own natural conclusion or even final evolution here in Peru. With everything that has happened as well, our continued travel doesn’t feel quite right or a priority anymore either. In light of events affecting our family and friends it even borders on irrelevant. Megumi wants to head back to Japan ASAP to help somehow, volunteer with the relief effort and put her newfound self to work / reconnect with her family. Still cut-off and without food, her mother won’t hear of it – it would be an even greater burden on her to have Megumi back in Japan right now I suppose. For Megumi this is hard to take, her compulsion is real and her heartland is calling her again finally, after all this time away. Over the next few days, we will take stock I guess and re-evaluate our travels and plans from here. The world seems somehow to have shifted. This tragedy has opened up some kind of floodgate globally it feels to me, there is fear, tragedy & sadness yes, but empathy, greater community, a palpable opening of the heart consciousness one senses and a strong platform for real change on many fronts (ie alternative energy) and we feel different too. We have been living in the lands and realms of 2012 transformations and shifts towards higher consciousnesses for a while now and it seems to becoming more and more tangible. We are awake and listening to that inner guide more than ever, hard to fathom sometimes, its harder still to turn off and ignore – it will be interesting to see what the universe has in store for us next.
Shaman Javier Aureilo Shuahano / Spiritual Dimensions
Sometimes what you think you want and want you actually need turn out to be miles apart. So it was with my sacred medicine experience in Iquitos, deep in the Peruvian Amazon. An amazing experience for a myriad of reasons, that if you bear with me I will try in my elongated way to narrate as best I can. It’s not a short story but the interesting ones never are.
We arrived in Iquitos after our original plan of travelling to Pulcalpa to work with some traditional Shipibo shaman there before catching a 4 day boat down the Amazon, was thwarted by floods and lack of transport options. Unfazed we decided to do the trip in reverse, some universal guidance that we couldn’t help but look at later in wonder.
Iquitos is only accessible by boat or plane, one of the world’s most isolated cities. Sitting at the airport there is a bizarre assortment of passengers, but I found myself surrounded by a bunch of 20 something American wanna-be missionary evangelists, off to save jungle natives and merrily swapping Latino jokes. It was enough to evoke in me a red mist, an incredibly rare state for those that know me well. Armed with nothing more than a felt tipped pen though, I was forced to stay my hand and livid imagination. We have encountered missionaries everywhere in our travels, still to this day intent on savaging ancient cultures and destroying thousand year old traditions with their god fearing ignorance. Occasionally I do get taken with the urge to event the score.
Iquitos itself is one of those frontier towns of legend. It is a sprawling metropolis of some 400,000 people, though you would almost never guess at its size. Located at the junction of 3 rivers, it is a hub for trade and jungle supplies, its waterways linking Ecuador, Columbia, Brazil and Peru along the highways of the great Amazon river. Cargo boats, tuk tuks and boats ply their way everywhere here and some of the town itself is a floating ramshackle ghetto set on the river. The central market features almost everything imaginable from the jungle expresses – every kind of exotic, illegal animal is for sale here, plus witchdoctor potions, shamanic supplies and an incredible array of fruits and jungle meats to name but a few. There are a few gringo’s around and a pretty gnarly wild west bar scene. Foreigners only come here for one of 3 reasons really – missionaries and volunteers, Amazonian jungle tours or Ayahuasca ceremonies. It is pretty easy to spot which is which as you wander around town. With the tourist dollars flowing in for shamanic experiences, the place is also home to all sorts of souvenirs, charlatans, scams and high end resorts preying on the naive. Thankfully though we are well informed and have some great introductions. After a day of exploring the town, some animal refuges (think anaconda’s, river dolphins and manatees) we were ready to embark on our next Ayahuasca adventure.
We had decided to spend some time with shaman Javier Aureilo Shuahano at Spiritual Dimensions. We had read about his work in numerous books and also been recommended personally by several friends, so we were pretty comfortable with what we were signing up for. This time if things panned out, we had decided to do a 10 day program and had been doing some preparation in advance restricting our diet of salt, sugar, alcohol, pork and other similar purification requirements. Javier actually met us at our hostel on the appointed morning, along with two other Sardinian (Italian) guests and his wife. Javier was referenced to me as a ‘smiling buddha’ personality with great psychic surgery skills and he immediately looked the part, greeting us with a big grin, hugs and welcome greeting “my brother”.
Under Javier’s personal escort we headed out to the centre. Located about an hour from Iquitos, getting to Javier’s centre required we catch a tuk tuk to the edge of town, a 30 minute boat ride up the Nappo river to the village of Padre Cocha and then a wild moto-taxi ride down a muddy, dirt track (that Javier had actually built for the community) into the jungle.
Javier originally came from much further up the river Nannay, a coupe of days towards Ecuador. From a family of shaman, he studied under his grandfather before heading the call to move to the city in his early twenties. For a long time he worked all around the Iquitos at various centre’s run by foreigners, as a shaman for hire or working with locals wherever needed. Well known, but not well funded, he realized that he needed his own centre after some bad experiences with other partners, the two Sardinians who also happened to be there at the time we were there, Alessandro and Roberto had actually helped him to get started setting up his own centre about a year ago.
On arrival, we were shown through the centre. In the year since they had acquired the land they had managed to clear a large area, build 7 or so private tambo’s (huts) for guests, a large ceremonial hall, a kitchen, shower and toilet block plus sculpted a stream through the centre of the place and its newly planted, rapidly evolving garden of medicinal plants and vines.
We were introduced to an older shaman Jose, who took us on a brief tour of the surrounding jungle introducing us to and picking up different medicinal plants and flowers which were then added to a pot to steam in a makeshift plastic encased tippee, our introductory herbal sauna and the start of our cleanse. Stripped down it took a while for the sauna to heat up, but the lovely aroma’s soon took over and the travel dirt and toxins quickly worked their way to the surface. Showering off, we felt cleansed and we able to relax in preparation for the evenings’ first Ayahuasca ceremony.
Having taken Ayahuasca a few times now, I felt I at least knew what to expect and really my goals here were to try and go further with it and build on the Ecuadorian openings we had had – gain some more insight, traction with the space and a personal clarity of purpose if you will. The environment of Javier’s centre seemed filled with the right mix of relaxation and focus to enable that.
Gathering for the ceremony that night we met Alessandra and Roberto the two Sardinians properly and immediately connected. Heading to the long rectangular ceremony hut for the ceremony, there seemed to be at least 6 or 7 other participants, but possibly more in the darkness. Lining the hut on each side were foam mattresses, each equipped with a bucket for purging, tissues, a cup of water and a blanket. At the end, sat a big throne surrounded by what appeared to be snakes in the dim light where Javier was seated. We lay or sat on the mattresses and at 8pm Javier started the ceremony, blessing the Ayahuasca brew with the now familiar ritual of tobacco smoke and then each person was called up to drink. It was a slightly more bitter and acrid taste than our previously experiences, not as smooth on the digestion. Settling in, Javier began singing a range of beautiful icaro’s – summoning the spirits of Ayahuasca and creating protections for the group. He kept this up for hours, working through an endless array of captivating tunes rattling his leaves with perfect rhythm throughout. Pure, light and supremely comforting it is a beautiful experience in itself. Javier is famed for the beauty and variety of his icaro’s.
After about 2 hours I purged and felt the shift into the half-light, an overwhelming familiar sense of space came to me, but this time never seemed to manifest itself in the visual realm. I felt slightly frustrated, pining for a repeat of the Ecuadorian experience, but I also became conscious of something moving subtely throughout my body and more prominently as a solid black mass moving in the area of my stomach, I felt cramps of pain there, but after a while it dissipated and I thought no more or it. Midway through the evening, Javier began shuffling almost blindly about the ceremony hut, stopping at each person, chanting and moving over them, seeing their energy / space and choosing to sing a specific Icaro over them, based on his own shamanic guidance. Later as the ceremony ended and everyone returned back to their huts I had an onset of diarrea, followed by intense stomach pain and more vomiting. I had read diarrea was common with Ayahuasca, another way of purging the body of impurities and negative energy. The continued vomiting and stomach pain puzzled me though. This was to last all night, getting progressively worse and evolving into an intense fever. By lunchtime the next day, I was in serious trouble.
Barely walking and in feverish agony, Javier lay me down in the ceremony hut and felt my stomach. Immediately the problem was obvious. A huge malignant clot of bad energy he called it was lodged in my stomach. You could physically feel it is as a big tennis ball sized lump below my solar plexis, with its own frenetic, crazy pulse. Javier said that it was akin to a cancer, but not medical or going to show up on a hospital scan. Something had been blocking my energy here for a long time and the Ayahuasca had felt it. Probably the result of extreme stress and pain forged over a long period he suggested. He said it was probably also manifesting as pain in my back, shoulders and hip areas. All were areas I had been experiencing intense pain for a long time and most especially in recent months.
Make of the explanations what you will, but the Ayahuasca as I had sensed it the night before had found the blockage – the lump, pulse and intense pain were all real. Javier and his apprentices had a patient and set about the healing. Later as I reflected on it, I remembered some of my experiences in India. An Ayurvedic doctor in Rishkesh had felt my pulse and immediately diagnosed stomach and back issues, I had the same experience with an astrology there. At the time, I had acknowledged the back pain, but the stomach issue had puzzled me, here it seemed I had an explanation.
Immediately Javier, with the assistance of his apprentices put a heart shaped stone on the pulsing area and applied a poultice of herbs from a variety of specific plants across my stomach. Then they started treating the fever and high temperature with more herbs and plants to my forehead. Soon I was largely covered in plants and plant concoctions, but I started to cool down, the pulse began to dissipate a little and the nauseas died down to a more comfortable level; though this was all to return again just as intensely later in a few hours.
Javier wanted to focus on curing me at the ceremony that night, so they applied a bandage around my stomach filled with creamed aloe vera and some of other plant remedies and left me to my anguish for the remainder of the afternoon. One of Javiers assistants told me not to worry, Bon Jovi’s girlfriend had the same problem he said. She could barely walk or move and was totally racked with body pain. After several weeks with Javier he said she was able to do full body yoga. Never thought I would end up sharing a shamn with Bon Jovi – it’s a strange, strange world.
Somehow I held on in my state of feverish delirium and pain until the ceremony started, everyone had drunk and the icaro’s started. At this point, my stomach, back and shoulders were all aflame with pain and I was losing track of time. At some point though, I became aware of Javier shuffling over to me. He sat over me in concentration and a cloud of tobacco smoke, then began muttering some chants or offerings in his own language, channelling the Ayahuasca spirit and sucking at the area of stomach. At this point I was so tired and delirious I lost track of things, but vaguely remember several such visits during the ceremony. At some point I must have fell asleep, because I remember coming to and finding the ceremony finished, the hut largely empty. I became aware that a lot of my back pain and fever was now gone, as well as the nausea. I needed to crap badly, so was still purging there and the stomach pain was definitely still present but it was a dramatic improvement. I bore through the calls of the diarrea as best I could and was able finally to get a good nights sleep. The next morning, Javier inspected the bandages and found them dry. He was excited, it mean’t that much of the toxins had been drawn out and the pulse was right down. It would take 3 more days he said to cure and then I could drink Ayahuasca again. By then you will have a whole new body he said.
So here I am in the jungle, at an Ayahuasca retreat as I have planned and researched for months and weirdly I am told I am not actually going to be drinking anything. Funny how the universe works, let alone the Ayahuasca medicine. I am learning first hand that Ayahuasca is very much a plant spirit with its own agenda, in this casse healing. It is a new education and perspective to my naïve notions restricted to higher conscious explorations and visions. I also have a new appreciation for Javier, he is much more a Curandero (focused on healing) than just a shaman. Shaman it seems tend to specialize as a rule and may be vegetalists (focused on knowledge of plants), brujo’s (handling curses etc), showmen focused on selling higher conscious experiences or else complete fakes. As I was learning their Ayahuasca brew was all adjusted and refined to suit and support their own focus and purposes – creating a wide range and variety of potential experiences as a result. Using less chacruna, the emphasis here was not as much on spirit connections and visions, though it was still present, as it was a tool focused to assist Javier in his healing. Whatever my original expectations or desires though, it seemed I was definitely in the right place.
The next night I had psychic surgery! Javier switched from Ayahuasca Cielo (sky) to a negro (black) vine for the ceremony and the change in energy was palpable. More conscious of events this time, and not drinking as the operative, I was able to lie back and appreciate the ceremony in itself. It was a much smaller crew this time – me and Megumi obviously, Alessandro and Roberto, an American apprentice Joey and another Brazilian apprentice. It was an intimate environment and after the last few days of mis-adventures, I felt bonded to all, everyone felt like family now. After everyone drank, Javier started singing much slower and different icaros to the ones he had used before. While I wasn’t drinking I could still almost sense the shift in atmosphere as the Ayahuasca took hold. People started purging quicker and more violently. Lying still as I was becoming used to now, waiting my turn, I tried to meditate, calm myself and clear my mind. A little more perceptive from this perhaps I could sense the energies tonight were different and there was a lurking, darker mood. The other guys were really going through some stuff.
After a while Javier stopped and came over to me, waving his fan and beads, shuffling slowly. Seated beside me he sang an icaro over me as he meditated and gathered his plant spirits / power, visualizing the area of my stomach. After a while he felt my pulse and began muttering over the area then carefully began sucking out the negative energy through my bellybutton blowing it clear. Each sucking process took a long-time as he cleared all the energy, taking some 5 or 6 attempts. I felt a slight reduction in pain almost immediately as the swollen spot subsided and simultaneously felt some gaseous movement in my stomach. After a satisfying examination, Javier moved on to deal with the others.
The next day Javier explained that the Ayahuasca had told him that he needed to cure my stomach, back and shoulders before I could drink again properly. I would drink a little Ayahuasca tonight though while he worked on my shoulders and then the next day my back. When he looked more closely however, as part of reapplying a bandage to my stomach in the morning he noticed I had a slipped disc in my back, a long term injury really, but one probably made much more serious with two years of backpacking travel, plus he detected additional shoulder and neck problem areas. This is going to take at least 3 more additional days he said smiling, all of it needed fixing to get the energy flowing properly.
The next few day I drank a little Ayahuasca and Javier resumed the surgery this time blowing into my stomach area, injecting and sharing his healing energy. The Ayahuasca itself kicked in late, but revealed a host of beautiful visions. For almost 30 minutes I saw serpents in many forms, the most common guise of the Ayahuasca spirit, as she revealed herself to me for the first time and almost seemed to be playing with me. It was a very beautiful, soothing and confirming experience.
By now I was also able to fully re-engage with everyone at the centre. The workers and chef, all locals were very happy people and felt like family very quickly, the place bubbled with positivity. Uncovering many of their stories was fascinating. Many of them had family members who were quite sick but subsequently healed by Javier, they work here some completely unnecessarily, ever indebted and happily returning the favour, creating the healing environment for others. It was also reassuring to see the money at work here. Immediately we paid Javier and his wife for some of our time here, wood started arriving and the workers happily began building more infrastructure, wood for a new Ceremony hut, more tambo’s and some outdoor furniture. The place was constantly, happily evolving before our eyes and we felt absolutely delighted to contribute.
My own experiences had really been an awakening in a many ways, but the time, sharing, conversations and energy exchanges going on with Megumi, Roberto, Alessandra and Joey outside the ceremonies were real soul connections in themselves – opening us up, exploring dreams, ideas and new perspectives, it all complemented the Ayahuasca medicine in the most amazing way. It was a healing all of itself and left lasting impressions on all of us I think, all subtlety changed and affected in completely different ways.
Roberto, a die-hard Sarndinian seperationist, also had a side mission rescuing animals from the market in Iquitos and proceeded to add to the centre family by bringing home first Morenita – a small monkey with the personality of naughty child, bent on destroying branches, attempting escapes and faking crying as soon as he got in trouble. Everyone’s couldn’t help but like him, bubbling with oh to human personality, he also wore the scars of capture and sale trauma. He was then followed by a beautiful 3 toed sloth, with an almost human, angelic masked face and serene personality – we dubbed her Aya-chan. A real heartbreaker, she felt like a totally pure soul. Aya-chan either slept in complete bliss or moved slowly, surely and relentlessly in pursuing an escape. We could watch her captivated for hours as she slowly felt her way across the ceremony hut or a group of tree’s outside, following her fundamental programming to find her ideal tree or a hunt for food, we could never really tell. She let out a heartbreaking tiny scream whenever we foiled an escape attempt by prizing her off a branch, back into a manageable safe zone. One of the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen or experienced – she really stole Megumi’s heart. Roberto also somehow procured a magnificent rooster and a chook as well for future service’s to the kitchen and later one of the apprentices brought home a rescued baby Boa Constrictor, a fascinating interaction of a whole other kind. While the new additions weren’t particularly welcomed by the resident cat and Parrot, Pepe – all seemed somehow perfectly synchronized with the goals of the centre. Animals create genuine heart interactions and easy, unattached emotional connections I think, a perfect complement and catalyst for healing.
On the sixth day, Javier performed surgery again and I felt a big release in my stomach. He grabbed my throat and worked down my front to my stomach throwing away the negative energy that he caught. A process he repeated several times. Later he told me that the plants had been excited to show him my stomach – “look” they said, “see it is gone”. While much of my back pain had already dissipated, he was now ready to focus on my back, shoulders and kidneys and he said he had also seen a small bloodclot in my side?
While my own progress here was amazing, Megumi had been having a very different experience. She had not been having strong visions, but the ceremonies were bringing her lots of peace and she felt a real strengthening and confidence that she did not really understand. Again counter to her expectations of intense visions and a perceived desire to purge issues and pursue psychological healing of her own kind. Javier said that she had a very rare, strong soul and constitution and did not seem worried at all by this lack of purging and releases of the level that many of the rest of us were going through. On the sixth day though, now that I was back on my feet, she went into town and checked the internet, plunging herself into the very peak of hysteria, as the full scale of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan seized the world. Realizing things had centred on her mothers hometown state of Miyagi, she was in a panic and unable to get in touch with her mother, although she eventually reached an uncle who reassured her she was OK, having only just been able to contact with them after 5 days of being cut-off with no phones. It was incredibly sobering news and really shattered the bubble of peace and healing we had been experiencing. In the ceremony that night, Javier sung some particularly beautiful icaros and a special healing one for Megumi which he said she was able to give him the words for. In a strange way, our sudden changed travel plan to Iquitos enabling healing for me and then providing Megumi with enough isolation so that she would only just find out the news now, in a perfectly prepared state, after her mother was finally able to get into contact with the world. Both were amazing co-incidences and far too convenient for us to ignore.
As this news and the implications settled in, we took a break from ceremonies for a few days. One evening, Javier put me on a course of plant medicines to help heal my back and kidneys. I had too drink a 4 litre jug of an amazing plant called Cats Claw that is used to heal cancers and does wonders for HIV apparently. It is horrid stuff to stomach though and much harder than Ayahuasca to drink. We also headed into town to connect with news on Japan and try and get our heads around the situation. The news was devastating and affecting so many people that we knew. Many of our friends were leaving Tokyo, it was totally surreal. While I still had several days of healing to go, we could feel everything changing, not least of all our travel plans which seemed almost irrelevant now. It was especially hard for Megumi – the strengthening and peace she had been cultivating was being called on in full. This also coincided with the break up of our family oasis, as Alessandra and Roberto left to return home. It was a sad and difficult parting, but it has been such a fantastic shared experience and connection that I am sure it will live on in its own amazing ways. Joey also decided to join them, feeling he needed to leave the centre and start actioning some of his own new clarity and revelations revealed to him while we were there.
With just us at the centre and the Japan cloud hanging over things, the final healings and ceremonies were more intimate and different now. Javier fixed my slipped disc and the blood clot that he felt was causing further energy dispersion and a key source of much of my pain. I was also given another bandage to draw out more of the toxins and negative energy and another 4 litre bucket of plant medicine – this time it was Setico bark (sloth food!), mixed with flax seeds to help circulation. I needed to drink it in full again, though this time much more digestible thankfully. Megumi also received surgery on the hernia in her neck, which she had been having difficulty with for years. The Ayahuasca visions themselves were very subtle now and difficult to maintain. One ceremony I sensed someone giving me 3 gifts, distinct colours (green, brown and purple) but it was difficult to perceive the exact face of the person or the nature of the gifts. Javier later pressed me for the colours and interpreted them for me, explaining that it was a gift from the Ayahuasca. Green is for the medicine & plants; Purple is for the healing, while the brown is for consciousness and energy. It is great thing he tells me. Javier also tells me that in 3 days I will have a very vivid dream, which I distinctly do (unusual for me, as I don’t normal recall experiencing dreams at all), unfortunately the details of the dream slip away before I can lock it down.
In our final ceremony, an expanded session with several new arrivals and some other day guests from town – Javier gives us protective arcana’s to seal and protect our energetic bodies, it will help us to meet the right people and have the right experiences / connections as we venture back into the world. Javier also tells us is that he saw a giant sloth during the ceremony protecting me and Megumi. Aya-chan it seems has become our protective animal token, she has certainly found a place in our hearts.
As we start to break our diet – no sugar, oil, salt etc and prepare to leave the centre, reluctantly returning to a new and different real world, Javier gives me some final instructions. He tells me that the disc in my back will take 3 months to totally heal properly and remesh and that I need to be very careful with lifting heavy things (ie My backpack – gulp!). He also provides me with very careful guidelines on my diet which will assist the continued healing of my back and stomach. No alcohol for 25 days, no pork, spices or chilli’s for 3 months. Tough, but doable.
As we left and our thoughts turned more intensely to events in Japan. It was hard to reflect on the full scale of our experience here. The healing itself was amazing, physically my body felt better than I can ever really remember, but there were many other subtle changes as well – I felt more opened and awakened in lots of ways. Over the coming weeks as we visited and experienced some of the Peru’s sacred places, fast tracking our revised travel plans, I felt much more heightened sensitivities to the energies of certain places and natural environments – a noticeable shift in awareness, consciousness perhaps and perception. There were also the real soul connections with the other guys at the centre and then there is Javier and his team – completely loving, open and pure in their path.
While not complete by any means, our shamanic adventures had seemed to have reached their natural conclusion here for this trip at least. There was much more to learn and experience and we will definitely be back for more, but we felt we had been given everything we needed for the moment. In all a truly magical experience, completely unexpected and it really couldn’t have been more different to the script. The Ayahuasca medicine does indeed work in strange and mysterious ways.
More on our Ecuadorian experiences here
Some additional Ayahuasca background here
Panoramic views from a pass back over Lake Llanganuco, near the start of the Santa Cruz trek. This 4 day trek featured snow, rain and sun and moved through just a few of the stunning valleys, glaciers, lakes and epic snow capped mountains that make up the Cordillera Blancas. Much like Nepal, we would have loved to have spent several more weeks trekking around them!!
Peru is one of those countries that I had never given much detailed consideration to really when it comes to ancient civilizations. Blinded by the myths and stories of the Inca’s I guess, I had kind of assumed that was all there was. Mexico was the same experience really, a place where the Mayan’s take all the glory and the many other civilizations seem to get left in the dark. But just like Mexico, it made Peru a constant surprise to travel, rich and diverse in its captivating, historical cultures some dating back more than 3,000 years, each building and improving on the other, many leaving mysterious legacies ripe for vivid speculations. It made for fascinating explorations.
While I can’t really cover them all and am skipping over a few here (like the Huari), there are many better sources out there anyway, so I’ve just jotted some of our highlights below;
One of the earliest major civilizations in Northern Peru is the mythical, shamanic, cat-worshipping Chavin culture. The Chavin empire once stretched from much of Peru’s Northern highlands and along the North and Central coasts and in many ways provided the building blocks for many of the subsequent civilizations. Artifacts dating back to 850BC, show that the Chavin were excellent artisans, with the dynamic and creative pottery styles very influential on later cultures, some almost picasso like. But it is the spiritual legacy of the Chavin which is probably most enduring.
The Chavin really consolidated the base for the Peruvian spiritual traditions that have continued in my forms through other subsequent cultures right up to today. Their worship of the 4 elements, mother nature and the great animal spirits, particularly the Puma, but also the condor and serpent were expressed in shamanic rituals using the San Pedro cactus. All these elements remain prominent in Andean spirituality today and is particularly evident in Inca & Andean mythology.
Visiting the great temple site of “Chavin de Huantar”, near Huarez was a special experience. The layout and architecture of the site as the spiritual home of the Chavin empire is magnificent, even though thousands of years old and crushed by landslides and earthquakes over time. The site features several sacred zones as you make your approach to the main temple – a large square, a divided black and white marble stairway and a circular ceremonial area where the priests performed their San Pedro ceremonies and rituals. The walls of the temples contained a series of sculpted heads surrounding the site, each showing a different stage of transformation from human to cat form. A pseudo demonstration if you will of the process the priests emulated in their San Pedro ceremonies, gaining access to the spiritworld and undergoing transformations. Many of the frescos, reliefs, pottery and sculptures found on the site are also amazing in documenting these experiences and beliefs. Inside the temple is a labyrinth of caves, tunnels and rooms, believed to be once have been an extensive network linking to other sites underground. One room contains a giant rock sculpture shaped like a knife, called the “Lanzon de Chavin”, it is carved into the shaped of an anthropomorphic deity with fangs, claws, serpentine features and other symbolic representations. The site is hard to get to and the tour guides mostly only speak Spanish, but if you have the background and the imagination it is really a very, special place to explore.
Coming to the fore about 2,000 years ago, the Moche managed to tame the arid coastal regions, by implementing extensive irrigation systems throughout the coastal region, turning the arid desert landscape into fertile, agricultural zones – an important basic infrastructure built on and emulated by all later civilizations. Their pottery and ceramic ware was also to my mind the finest of all the great civilization of Peru bar the Chavin, with many mesmerizing and creative designs.
The best preserved site is near Trujillo on the Northern Coast of the Peru. Here two great pyramids, looking more like sand mountains these days given they were built more than 2,000 years ago, but known as the pyramid temples of the Moon and the Sun. The Temple of the Moon has been extensively excavated and sits near a brand new museum, one of the best we visited in South America. The Pyramid itself was rebuilt on top of the previous temple site numerous times, created multiple shells over the original site which has preserved much of the original temples, sculptures and reliefs. Some of the excavations we saw revealed really florid designs, incorporating designs of their god, Ai-Apaec plus other motifs including dragons, still vivid in their colour and paintwork. Further North, near Chiclayo (though we didn’t get there to visit) they have also found the great tombs of Sipan, burial chamber’s of a great lord of Moche, the tombs were rich with gold trinkets, ceramics revealing much about the culture.
The Chimu arrived on the scene about 850 AD conquered the Moche and then expanded their empire extensively right up until 1470 when they were in turn conquered by the Incan’s. The huge mud city of Chan Chan, supposed to be the largest mud city in the world, once housed some 10,000 inhabitants is also located just outside of Trujillo. It is a huge expanse of mud ruins, large walls, once up to 10m high, but still commanding in their size, run off in many directions enclosing large sections of the former city – its contents now reduced to mounds and little hills. The main centre has been partly restored and you can see some of the intricate designs built into the walls all along here – reliefs of fish, waves and other creatures. Its not particularly fascinating in itself, but the scale of the place is impressive to wander, some 20 square km of mud walls an ruins.
The Nazca, were quite a mysterious people that lived in the Southern Coastal region from about 500 AD – 1,000 AD. While the distinctive style of their pottery is also interesting, it is the Nazca lines and geomorphic designs that abound upon the planes surrounding the area that is their real legacy.
The designs themselves are best seen from the air, although flights were too extortionate for us while we were there, due to a perfect storm of recently improved safety standards, a lack of approved companies and then no petrol supplies – a total sellers market. The designs extend for hundreds of kilometres in every direction and mystify with their purpose or intent. There are fantastic animal designs (monkeys, hummingbirds), a spacemen and other more simple geometric shapes and straight lines that extend over huge distances. The why is still a mystery – part of a rain / fertility rituals perhaps, landing strips for aliens or complex constellation maps – there are innumerable fantastic theories and it’s a great place to let your imagination run wild. But honestly the town is not much and while there are a couple of look outs to view things from, you can’t really see or experience it, if you don’t pay the money and take the flight.
The warrior Chachapoyan culture of the Northern highlands, later conquered by the Incan’s, also left some amazing legacies spread across their remote mountain locations. The biggest site is the huge fortress ruin of Kuelap, a stunning architectural achievement, an entire city built on the top of a mountain and extremely well designed. Inside the fortress walls, there are several, well preserved village’s layouts, each based around a central Shaman main house, each displaying unique totems in their wall design. It is difficult to get to, but the wild several hour ride up through the winding mountain roads and villages, makes the journey particularly special – one of the best adventures, views and experiences to be had, despite the blisters.
Also dotted throughout the surrounding mountains are hidden all manner of smaller legacies – hidden temples, villages built into the sides of the mountains and several different sculptured sarcophagi containing mummies placed into amazing locations in the side of mountains. Off the beaten track, often undocumented, friendly people and cheap, with spectacular landscapes everywhere – the Chachapoyas region was one of the most pleasant and enjoyable places to explore that we visited in Peru.
3000 years ago the Chavin consolidated the ancient religion of Peru and its shamanic traditions. Famed for their priests use of San Pedro cactus in sacred ceremonies to communicate with the spirit world – these Sculpted heads located on the outside of the ancient temple site of Chavin de Huanter collectively demonstrate the process of transformation from human to feline (or jaguar) form as experienced by the priests in ceremony…
Some of the famous cigar shaped fishing boats, Totora’s, parked on the Peruvian beach of Huanchaco. Fishermen have been riding these things like horses in the oceans for thousands of years in these parts. Though these days its mostly for tourist entertainment, it still makes for many a scenic happy snap.
High up in the Andes immersed in cloud forests, the magnificent ancient city of Kuelap sits astride the mountain, ruling the land in all directions. It takes a 3 hour winding drive from the nearest sizable city to get here, but the views are absolutely stunning and the ruins themselves captivating! Too difficult to get everything in the same frame, I settled for a shot of the view.
These brilliantly sculpted sarcophagi near Chachapoyas in the Northern Highlands of Peru, are placed impossibly high up on a cliff-face – each contained a mummy and is in excess of 2m tall. All around this area are similar burial sites (some are entire cities) most from unknown times. Forgotten people of lost civilizations guarding the magnificent mountain landscapes from their seemingly inaccessible vistas.