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Jungle Medicine 2 – Peru

Iquitos, Peru Shaman Javier Aureilo Shuahano / Spiritual Dimensions Sometimes what you think you want and want you actually need turn out to be miles...

Iquitos, Peru

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.

Feeding the Manatees

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.

Everything is for sales in Belen

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”.

Spiritual Dimensions Centre

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.

Shaman Jose preparing herbs

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.

A Shamans tools

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.

Javier applying herbs

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.

The new patient

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.

Javier & Jessica applying bandages

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.

Roberto & Morenita

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.

Joey & Alessandra

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.

Aya-chan the sloth

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.

Megumi & Aya-chan

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.

Local dance send-off for the crew

 

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.

Aya the Spirit Guide

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.

The boat back to reality

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.

Read also

More on our Ecuadorian experiences here

Some additional Ayahuasca background here

 

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Chasing the Vine

Vomiting, diarrhoea, nightmarish visions, serpents & spirits, fasting, restrictive diets, celibacy, mosquito’s and other bizarre insects…. strange things indeed to associate with a totally voluntary...

Vomiting, diarrhoea, nightmarish visions, serpents & spirits, fasting, restrictive diets, celibacy, mosquito’s and other bizarre insects…. strange things indeed to associate with a totally voluntary travel escapade really. So why I find myself wondering, have I pursued this quest to trek deep into the jungle to visit with a shaman and drink Ayahuasca?

I have been conscious of this summons for the last 15 years or so, ever since I first became fascinated with the wonderful world of hallucinogenic plants and trance states. But it’s only since I started travelling again, that the passion and ‘the call’ have been transformed into a more compelling spiritual quest. Now staring at the jungle, about to dive into another encounter with the ‘vine of the dead’, I suddenly have found time to ponder the obsession and attraction.

For those wanting to know, a shaman is a person who, in tribal cultures, communicates with the spirit world. As intermediaries, shamans ask spirits to intercede in the lives of humans, healing them of illnesses, or granting favors. While Shaman are located all around the world and work in many strange ways, the Shaman of South America are some of the most famed – spending years in the deep, immersive plant kingdoms of the jungle by themselves training to work with the plants. Theirs is a history and world passed from master to apprentice all the way back through time. Using the Ayahuasca vine (or the San Pedro cactus in the Andean mountain traditions), they roam the bridging dimensions of the spirit world in service to their communities. We have found shamans just about everywhere in Ecuador and Peru, every community has one, though finding true masters is much more of a challenge.

In an Ayahuasca ceremony, the shaman guides you in navigating the wonders of this plant and exploring the mysterious otherworld. Their Icaros (songs), music and chants performed during the ceremony caste a protective net around the participants; freeing them from darker or negative spirits preying on those being opened up by the experience to the universe and spirit-world. The songs and music holds and binds you to reality somehow, keeping your head above water and often controlling the tempo of the experience itself. Serpents (manifestations of the Ayahuasca plant) and other plants spirits are strong presences in this realm, but there are other more malevolent energies and spirits as well, able to be conjured by brujos (witchdoctors) for more sinister purposes. As largely ignorant savages, the white man is scores of generations out of practice and familiarity with the nuances of this world, so the shamans’ role is very important here, we are way out of our depth and need careful policing.

An Ayahuasca ceremony usually taking place after the sun sets around 8pm, in the twilight hours. After the shaman blesses and purifies his brew, you drink a small amount. The concoction itself is made according to the Shaman’s own recipe and tastes, but is typically made from boiling the vine itself for many hours or even days, along with a varying combination of other plants (including Charuna, a source of DMT that triggers the more visual experiences). How they have found these combinations from the millions of other plants available in the jungle is testament to the incredible knowledge and guidance they have received from the plants themselves. The taste of the Ayahuasca brew is horrid though – earthy and bitter, the stomach blanches at the very thought and after digestion it is a typical compulsion to then throw it up or occasionally purge it in other less pleasant ways. (It thus requires careful dieting and preliminary fasting as a result). As the Ayahuasca kicks in, you drop into an eerie halflight almost between worlds and often feel the presence of the Ayahuasca vine in various forms. It is an experience that can involve intense visions and insights or communications from the plants themselves, while sometimes this is comes with physical purging or cleansing – a process of removing negative energies, past experiences or personal blocks. All told the experience lasts up to 5 hours, though its resultant effects reverberate through you for days afterward.

Part of the appeal of all this is the ancient mystique of the activity itself. The experience of researching & collecting information on ancient / lost traditions; of tracking down local knowledge, finding personal encounters and recommendations on Shaman and the chance to wander deep into the legendary Amazonian jungle zone, it all just oozes with wow for me. It is the attraction of the adventure, the random, the ancient, the lost, the unknown and the unexpected; a thirst for ancient wisdom from traditions in stark contrast to and often of greater knowledge than our own. Most simply perhaps, it’s a call of the wild, a chance to return to nature in the truest sense.

More than that though, there is the urgent call of the experience itself – of experiencing the spirit world with all its unfathomable mysteries and legends. The hallucinogenic plant, Ayahuasca is felt as a living presence in spirit form by its imbibers. Its ritual consumption claims a myriad of effects from visions of the future and personal insights to deep ancestral connections or clear perceptions of spirits and astral travel. Its guidance can be used by shamans to heal all manner of physical, spiritual and emotional disorders with results that often stun modern science. Drinking the vine is also often described as akin to partaking in a form of natural communion, connecting you with the universes’ many sentient lifeforms – an interspecies union through sentient plants. ‘Food of the gods’ indeed to quote Terrence Mckenna, much like Mushrooms and Cactii – the vine’s sentient cousins. It can be a gateway to higher consciousness and much more.

I have done my research of course. William Burroughs, beat author and general pioneer of the strange, first did this pilgrimage back in the early 1950’s based purely on the merest sniff of legend and rumour. His friend Ginsberg and other psychedelic revolutionaries such as Aldus Huxley began to follow in his footsteps later in the sixties. But over the last 20 years or so it has started to boom in popularity, an almost mainstream form of psychedelic tourism has kicked in, with custom built centres opening up everywhere. Jungle shaman are now ‘turning professional’ as they focus on servicing the ‘gringos’ and gringo’s in turn are donning shaman colours themselves; conversely  fakes and cons are rapidly incrasing, preying on the increased demand. Slowly it is bringing shamanism more mainstream attention – there are lots of recent books, documentaries and a yearly conference all reinforcing this momentum and sharing the wisdom – continued purveyors of the myth. In many ways it is saving the shamanic tradition, but it is also corrupting it as well and in some cases driving prices into the multi-star resort zone, out of reach of the average person. These days many centres in Peru have a webpage in several languages and I can network with shamans via Facebook,

What am I seeking or hoping to gain from it all, I find myself asking again? I think first, I selfishly crave the manifestation of the mystical experience, acquiring some tangible truths from this realm. Science, logic, glimpses of truth and an inherent instinct has led me here and it would be nice to have it confirmed, a curse of the rational mind I suppose. I have had many experiences with other plants and have explored similar realms in ways that I cannot dismiss as imaginative figments or induced irrelevancies. As I get older and filled with life experiences, these have taken on more spiritual meaning for me and remain true in the face of much else that I dismiss. Philosophically I have found that the science of chakras, energy points, planes of consciousness and existence as described in the Buddhist and Yogic traditions actually align themselves completely with those described by the shaman and accessed through sacred plants. A synchronicity that resonates with practical truth, at once incredibly both reassuring and compelling in their implicit agreement, albeit accessed in vastly different ways. The attraction with the plants though is the bypassing of the years of meditation, faith and training sometimes required by other forms to be able to experience and explore with these spaces directly. A shortcut, that doesn’t undermine the other pathways in any form, it just enables the opportunity for a more direct validation if you will.

So to navigate its depths perchance and in the process, feel the awe of connection with the universe and nature, injecting the spirit with the inspiration and motivation for true change. I see it as potentially seeking some kind of healing for myself of apathy, blockages and insecurities to better enable me to move forward and grow in this world, a catalyst for more applied daily channeling of such awareness, perhaps built upon through other means.

On rereading here, I realize  I am likely building this all up to much – too much pressure and expectation perhaps. Good as it all sounds, I know that there is never a single solution or instant personal holy grail to be had. I’m sure plenty of issues will come up in the process – nothing is ever as simple as it appears.

And of course, none of this can be achieved in just one sitting either, so we are shopping a little. Ecuador is really just the first foray – this is also a perspective and experience hunt from a few different tribe’s and traditions. Over the next few months in both Ecuador and Peru, we are planning on spending several weeks with a range of shaman in different areas. The goal is to go deep, scratch the itch and give the universe the chance to do its work, then ask questions on the other side? So we are at the beginning really – exciting most definitely, well prepared perhaps, but totally ignorant of what lies ahead. It’s a fitting culmination to our travels. In many ways it has taken me 18 months to get into the right frame of mind for it. Yoga, meditation, fasting, changed attitudes to food / body and spirit and a renewed love and connection with nature have all manifested themselves along the way – it has been a long and integrated path towards such a union. The vine awaits….

To read some of our experiences in Ecuador, click here

To read some of our experiences in Peru, click here!