I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!
A Gringo's Guide to Ayahuasca
November 21, 2013
The gringos guide to Ayahuasca and what NOT to do…. Day one in the amazon
When a leave falls in the amazon, it makes itself heard and always seems to land with a thud!..When a branch falls, thats a completely different story; look the fuck out! One minute after getting out of the dugout canoe to head for camp, an explosion sent everyone scattering. In an instant we were all instantly bonded. No more quiet and uncomfortable stares followed with a more uncomfortable smiles. A massive section ( to large to call a branch ) of a tree came blasting down from high above snapping every branch from adjacent trees down as if they were made of balsa-wood. When it landed all 3 of us ended in on each side of it, all catching our collective breaths. Each instinctively jumped right back up, brushing off the jungle floor and the host of ants off our collective pants and shirts.
This time the smiles were heartfelt and there was a moment of brotherhood that no language barrier could break. We were all happy to still be here; here in the Amazon; especially me as it was my first time.
When I initially agreed to visit the local shaman for an Ayahuasca ceremony, I had no idea it was going to be on my very first night. With no sleep for two straight nights, all I wanted to do was crash as soon as the sun went down..after a nice lunch of pollo con arroz ( free range; no GMO Monsanto shit) , I got a tap on the shoulder. My guide said I was in luck as the shaman ( a woman no less) was going to come to our camp for me at 9 o’clock to guide me through the ceremony. I didn’t know that earlier today as it was already decided and I had no way of telling anyone here with out insulting them I was not up for this and just wanted to sleep. I could have sworn I read somewhere one needed to fast for a day before as we’ll, but the out of place gringo trying to be “in place” smiled and said ok.. I quickly found a hammock to grab a quick siesta. A little cafe and another gentle tap on the shoulder awoke me from a place I really wanted to stay. As she smiled and all the wrinkles in her face created a wild mosaic of scripted life written across her face and friendly but piecing eyes told me it was time. Oh boy, here we go! But where we were going, I had absolutely no idea.
My guide was to be by my side to translate, very loosely of course for her. I was thankful for that as I knew theses ceremonies can take quite some time.
I had brought a few docs describing what to expect and thought I would take the next day to read them and to mentally brace myself for what to expect. Not happening amigo! Not this night anyway. I was silently beating my self up at all the opportunities to read about it on several plane flights, boats, etc. But I tried to clear my head and be willing to keep as open a mind as possible.
So like everything in my life I just see a cliff and jump right off. We’re I land will be, where I land I guess. I do it with just about everything in life. Directions, instructions, rules and diligent preparation is for pussy’s, and maybe a few extra alive people in the world, I guess.
She laid down some fan like bunch of dried leaves in front of me tied together. Then she pulled out a bottle of purplish liquid and poured into a cup for me. Do I sip it or chug it?
I was instructed to just down it in one gulp. When I felt that bitter ensemble of (kind of like sour berries and woodchips ) slide down my throat, I cringed a bit as the taste was not my cup of tea. I was hoping that was the last time I was going to taste it. But then she then slid a plastic bucket in front of me.
What is that for? My guide told me to vomit in. Greeeaat!!!
If there is one thing in life I really hate, it’s barfing. I will do almost anything not to throw up and only rely on it as a absolute last resort to ease the pain threshold that takes me over the edge.
The sun is now completely down and its a moonless night. The flashlight now is turned off and she lit some tobacco and blew into towards me while humming a song that just repeated itself over and over. It was pitch dark and I could only see the lit end of her tobacco glowing in utter blackness. When she drew it to her face I could make out the faint lines in her face, but I had to really focus to see anything at all. (I did sneak one photo of her as she did this, hoping not to ruin any of the atmosphere.)
We were in an enclosed area that was a big room with four walls that were basically nothing but screens . The jungle around me came alive with all the night noises that one hears and imagines the absolute worst. But not bugs, snakes or anything would find there way in here and. I continued to remind myself of that.
After and hour or her chanting and humming that same song, I was not feeling anything noticeable, but my head became light and the nausea began to set in. At first it was not too bad, but the taste of the Ayahuasca still remained in my mouth and it tasted absolutely horrible. She continued her melodic song and lit more tobacco. At first I was sitting cross legged on the flat pillow she brought with her, but now in the pitch dark with no one able to see me either, I crunched my knees tightly into my chest and wrapped my armies around them and made a spot for my head to lay. I was so damned tired and had no idea how long this would last. I kept trying to tell my mind to focus on the present and not drift into the future where my bed ultimately awaited my
dead tired body.
The frogs continued to croak out side as if they were sitting on my head and the howler monkeys in the back ground added their distant screams into the musical ensemble chorused with her humming.
My head felt lighter and the noises grew louder and the nausea became very pronounced. My mind once again naturally drifted back to a place to sleep and all I really wanted to close my eyes for good. I was so tired and if I knew it would not have insulted her, I would have asked to leave.
My guide asked me if I felt “drunk” yet. I said no, just nauseous a bit and maybe slightly dizzy. I tried to lighten it up by saying I missed the drunk feeling and am headed straight for the hangover.No reply. Just the pitch dark, with a small glowing red ember moving about from her mouth to a resting position. Evidently I was not there. But I had no idea where I should have been.
Another 45 minutes of pitch darkness, sleep deprivation and every imaginable sound a jungle can make was descending down on me like a bad dream. The dream got worse as my belly began to turn and I began to feel around in the blackness for the bucket she laid before me about 2 hours earlier. I began to sweat profusely and the heat began to get to me.
Oh shit, no holding back now. I had to let go and unhinge the torment that was raging in my belly. What the hell did I drink?
Not the question you ask after you drink something from a woman who walks out of a jungle and says here, drink this, right? This is when the race to unscramble my brain to make sense of this as I vomit violently into this bucket.
I think of my guide who in an attempt to endear myself to him, bought him beer and even an ice cream back in Iquitos earlier that day. He seemed like a really nice guy and I believed he liked me as we’ll. He s right there. He won’t let anything happen to me and he is not drinking it. I am protected, right?
That’s what I kept telling myself. I also reminded myself of how gentle this shaman was whence first met and the warm smile and gentle touch on my shoulder when it was time to begin.
Finally the barfing stopped.
My guide handed me a cloth to wipe my face with and suddenly the sweating stopped. As I began to cool off, I was asked again if i was feeling anything.
The next day I found out was that this was a hallucinogen and when they were asking me if I felt drunk, it was really if I was seeing anything.
But I took them literally and kept telling them, I did not feel drunk. The weird part was that I remember feeling almost embarrassed that I was not feeling what I felt they wanted me to feel. I tied to, but to no avail.
After another 30 or so minutes, the shaman came over to me and placed her hand on my head and chanted some more. I followed the little red glow of the tobacco in the pitch dark as she waved that fan in my face while she hummed once again. She then opened my shit front the back of my neck and blew smoke down my spine and followed it with her hand and then did the same to the front, chanting all the while.
Rather than just let go, I caught myself trying to analyze everything and almost treat it like a science experiment. And I wanted so bad at this point to have what ever was to happen to just happen.
With the sensory deprivation and the sounds of the amazon on top of me and a true shaman throwing her best stuff at me, I was confused by what I was imagining and what I wanted to happen.
But to tell the absolute truth, I just felt sick. I felt sicker when I began to realize that this may ruin my next 5 days here.
What if I stay this sick?
What if I can’t leave my bed?
How pissed off will the guy who hired me to shoot photos for him to promote this place if I come back with this sob story?
These were all the thing swirling through my head at the moment. I just could not lasso the swirling entanglement of thought which I knew were keeping me outside the true experience here.
And then even more sick to my stomach from what was ever inside me that began to stir once again. Sick in my brain and soul for not knowing what to really expect and come all this way to this remote part of the world, and to do something like this, only to feel really, really ill.
I felt I had let her down as well as my guide and of course ultimately me.. There is no way these tribes have been doing this for this long to only feel with what I felt. It’s like an Indian doing peyote and forget then dream land, the spirit animals or whatever’s vision they see; only a sick feeling and an unsureness of what’s next.
When it became evident so late into this moonless night that my visions were not to be realized, she said it was time to stop.
Part of me felt like a huge failure. The other part was so happy to just go to my bed. I walked back to my little cabina in the absolute dark with just a small light. I felt really alone and with what had just gone on and a groaning jungle that suddenly felt like it was crawling over me like a large snake around a poor rodent who wandered aimlessly in its path.
As I finally made my way into the room, and just crashed down on my bed, little did I know my night had just begun and there would be a third consecutive night with no sleep what so ever.
I wanted so badly to commune on a deeper spiritual level that had been passed on from generation to generation for as long as people have lived in the amazon. And I was honored to be part of something as sacred and ritualistic as this, that I ignored the one thing that I believe this was supposed to be built around; a completely empty and free mind. I simply could not deliver.
I won’t call this a bad trip as truthfully I don’t think there was any trip at all. Maybe that is the definition, who knows?
Postscript; a few days later I met a younger local man who spoke enough English to tell me of his experience with Ayahuasca. He told me of his visions of walking amongst all the jungle animals along with many other visions he had. He said his ceremony lasted 3 or 4 hours and the visions lasted for another 6 hrs. Every time he tried to close his eyes to sleep, they just got more intense so he kept his eyes open for as long as he could. He also told me he did not need to fast and he never got sick at all.
I think I have really just not been mentally prepared for such an experience as all I really wanted to do was sleep. If you are from around here, it is the common belief why I never got any visions. Many have told me so in the next several days when I discussed it with them.
If you are from a modern western philosophical frame of mind, it all just nonsense and many may even think black magic or worse. It’s nothing more than the way we were taught and formed a system of belief and usually not based on any real substantive experience. More so, it a clear reflection of who we are spiritually, our relationship with God and ultimately our connection with our own selves, fears, desires and dreams through nature and divinity.
I still believe you can have a mix of it all. As much as I like to believe I am in harmony with nature, I’m now sure more than ever, that I’m not sure. It was an eye opener.
The reflection is less clear as my life back in the US is me, through and through.
I would never be able to survive out here in this jungle as much as I would like to believe I could, living as these people do. I envy the way they approach each day with a real purpose, a lightness in their step and an over apparent willingness to smile, laugh and love each other.
I kind of feel the next day like the first moment landed here almost getting clobbered my a massive falling branch; just lucky to have more days to see what I can see, experience what I can experience and know how lucky I am to even be able to have a peek around the next bend in the road I am on.
So as much as I would like to write about what a wonderful and life changing experience I had with Ayahuasca, I simply can’t. And it kills me to admit it. But that’s life! Maybe there will be a time and place for a second shot, I am not sure. One thing I will take form this is that no matter how much I think I have freed my brian from the pollution of a overly busy existence, I have so much more work to do.