It’s the known to many people around the world as a spiritual healer, a brew used by Amazonian shamans for centuries as a window into the soul. Many consumers of ayahuasca have reported having life changing and profound revelations in regards to their purpose in their lives and is what some may call something similar to being reborn. As drug addiction, stress and depression become alarmingly common within the Western world, ayahuasca has become somewhat of a tourist attraction, bringing thousands of people from all walks of life into the jungles of Peru in search of a natural cure.
So what is ayahuasca made from?
Ayahuasca is typically a blend of two plants found in the amazonian jungle. The ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and a shrub named chacruna (Psychotria viridis), which contains the hallucinogenic drug dimethyltryptamine (DMT). Both being ineffective without the other. How the ancient Peruvians knew to mix these two plants to produce such a powerful hallucinogenic had my brain operating on an unprecedented level of intrigue.
With all of this in mind I didn’t really see myself with any massive personal issues or drug addictions (apart from cigarettes), however I did wish to see what all the fuss was about and felt the need for some sort of epic experience. Dimethyltryptamine, huh? It’s only the most powerful hallucinogen on the planet. How strong could it be? Well I was about to find out.
“Maestro Edwin, si, Maestro Edwin.’
Apparently a shaman by the name of Edwin was the man the to see if we wanted to be part of an Ayahuasca ceremony. We had found ourselves in Puerto Maldonado, a small city in the amazonian rain forest 55 kilometres east of the Bolivian border. To be completely honest it wasn’t the most amazing place I’ve ever visited, however it did serve us well as a great base for booking guided jungle tours.
“You’ll have to come back in two days. I’m completely booked for tonight.”
In nothing other than the fastest Spanish I’d ever heard, the maestro had spoken. We were a little disappointed. As we were advised to eat minimally in the days leading up to drinking the magical brew, we had basically starved ourselves for nothing. NOTHING!
“What would you advise us to eat for the next two days?” I asked in a slowly thought out Spanish sentence.
He looked calmly into my eyes and took a deep breath. Edwin was the kind of person that would answer your question, but only after you were put through what seemed like 30 straight minutes of maniacal ramblings. It would be normal to see him up out of his seat answering questions nobody had asked with his hands flailing around as if competing in the final of the charade Olympics. I liked him. He was insane, but in a good way.
“Your diet before ayahuasca doesn’t matter. It’s what you eat afterwards that will make all of the difference.”
Although every other piece of advice I’d been given was to the contrary, I wasn’t prepared to challenge anything this lunatic said. It was all in or nothing.
Two days had passed and it was finally time for my girlfriend and I to once again take a walk down to Edwin’s mystical ayahuasca palace (I use the word palace in the loosest possible way). Throughout the day my stomach had been pleading with me to be filled, but as we had been warned that we may need to vomit after ayahuasca ingestion, we had decided to limit our food intake. As we made our way down the windy concrete stairs the glare from a nearby dimly lit street light allowed us to tentatively stumble into the shamans front yard. The familiar sound of barking dogs didn’t make for the most ambient start to the evening, but it was a start nonetheless.
The ceremony room was …well…kind of like what I’d imagine the inside of a weathered wooden shipping container would look like. The walls were painted red and blue with enough foam mattresses to sleep six couples, each with its own mosquito netting all of which were white except for one which was a mysterious shade of pink. A french couple, three Peruvians, Magda and I all sat patiently on our assigned bedding as we waited for the ceremony to begin.
Nothing but faint whispering and the shamans intermittent spitting could be heard as the final people taking part entered the room, one of them holding a baby. The reasoning behind bringing the baby to the ayahuasca ceremony was never discussed, however at the time I was honestly not impressed.
The ceremony began with the blowing of tobacco smoke on each persons head, hands and feet for the purpose of attracting positive energies. With the pipe in one hand and a spit bucket in the other Edwin literally covered our bodies with enough smoke to fill one thousand chimneys. I became suddenly nervous as Edwin brought out a dark red liquid and a little ceramic cup which was slightly larger than your standard shot glass.
As each of the group took their turn to knock back the potent concoction they would take a moment to pause as if feeling a little apprehensive before heading into the unknown.
“This one is yours”
It was my turn. The time had finally come. All my anxieties I had felt over the past couple of days had all come down to this very moment. As I stared down into the cup of red liquid the little voice in my head screamed “Don’t do it! Something will go wrong!”. I had stupidly made the mistake of reading ayahuasca horror stories in an attempt to feed my never ending curiosity. Luckily I had also read that the chances of dying are next to nothing unless mixed with anti-depressant medication.
As I felt the liquid hit the back of my throat and drizzle down my esophagus I can remember thinking that it tasted like a very strong red wine. Now it was just a waiting game.
Forty minutes had passed. Sitting in completely darkness waiting for the visions to come was a strange feeling. I am no stranger to psychedelic drugs having dabbled in magic mushrooms and LSD, however not having anything to distract me whilst I waited for an unfamiliar feeling had my heart racing.
At one hour and a half after swallowing a full cup I had nothing more than a very upset stomach. Was this it? Really? All this build up, all this time thinking I was about to have my mind blown? It reminded me of the time I tried mescaline. A similarly sacred cactus that gave me nothing more than 8 hours of stomach cramps and mild headache. My girlfriend laying next to me was having the same disappointing experience.
“You know we could always just ask for another cup.” She suggested
I could feel the vomit brewing inside my otherwise empty stomach. If I was to have another cup I was sure to vomit, but I had come this far. Vomiting ain’t so bad of a trade for the chance at a mind blowing experience, right?
The shaman was called over. It was time for round two.
Thirty minutes in the vomiting came. I quickly reached for my bucket as the very distinctly tasting ayahuasca came rocketing out of my mouth and into the provided bucket. The Shaman’s chants were drowned out by the sounds of a vomit symphony, with Magda’s purging sounding more like today’s lunch than tonight’s ayuhuasca.
I suddenly become disorientated, forgetting exactly why I had my head face down in a bucket. My world started to spin, my hands had melted away in the foam mattress with snake like creatures clouding my vision. It was happening. The vomiting had become as non-existent as time and space. I wasn’t sure if I had my eyes closed or open, but it didn’t matter. Ayahuasca was now in full control.
I was being lead though an alternate universe by an African American.
“Where are you taking me, man? What are you trying to show me?” I can vividly remember asking him. He didn’t seem to want to acknowledge any of my questions.
As I followed him around I quickly glanced down at my hands and realised that I too was an African American. Sweet. Not sure what this means, but let’s just go with it.
In my time with my new friend I was shown the most amazingly detailed insects that I could inspect, twist or turn with nothing more than a thought. No matter how far I zoomed into the insects skin the detail only seemed to get more precise. It was as my vision had increased ten fold and I was able to see even down to the atoms of any of the insect species I was presented with.
“Is there anything you would like to teach me?” I asked
With that I was show a chalk board with the word ‘You are..” written in yellow cursive.
“I am what?! I am what?! I screamed
I picture frame with an old-school drawing of Mini-Mouse slid out from underneath my feet. Both of her hands were drawn as tight fists with both thumbs pointed firmly to the sky. I assumed that meant I was okay.
The visions left as fast as they arrived. As I opened my eyes to pitch darkness I realised that my time on ayahuasca had come to an end. The plant didn’t seem to want or need to cure me of anything and although I didn’t have the amazing epiphanies, it was an incredible introduction to what some call the mother of all hallucinogens. Unlike most people I didn’t particularly come out of this experience having learned any valuable lessons, but from what I was told by Mini-Mouse I think I’m going to be just fine.