A dark red cocktail spattered against the bottom of the small bucket I was clutching with feeble, shaking hands. A homage to the warm, viscous liquid I had drank about thirty minutes previously.
I was sat, ARGGGLEUGU, cough, cough. Again the disgusting broth was ejected from my body. As soon as I drank it I wanted to throw up but following my shaman’s advice I kept it down for as long as possible in order to experience the full strength of the medicine.
One more time and I put the bucket down on the floor, at least now the shadow creatures which had been dancing around the room in a somewhat menacing fashion had dispersed. But in place of what? I wondered.
I was sat on a plastic chair inside a wooden house on stilts no bigger than 10m² in the middle of the Peruvian amazon. Which aside from being a seemingly impromptu ayahuasca temple was the home to two very capable 90+ year olds, still performing daily tasks with ease, a 40 year old woman and around 5 children (they never stopped for me to count). Who were all sound asleep as I was walking a tight rope between universal clarity and complete insanity.
Ayahuasca is recognised by the Peruvian government as “one of the basic pillars of the identity of the Amazon peoples”. It is a blend of two plants – the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and a shrub called chacruna (Psychotria viridis), which contains the hallucinogenic drug dimethyltryptamine (DMT). It is brewed by a Shaman, the community’s spiritual leader/witch doctor/medicine man in such a way so as to release the psychotropic effects. It has been an integral part of Amazonian tribe’s cultures for centuries as a ‘teacher plant’ and rite of passage, allowing the user to communicate with and learn from the spirit world.
I was sold as soon as I read my first article on it around 4 years ago – I wanted to see the cosmos and dance on the stars. I wanted a biggggg trip.
There was, however a more logical side to my pursuit.
The Amazon, due to its sheer density is one of the only areas which has been partially protected from the slow but steady cultural unification of the modern world which was instigated by countless empires throughout history.
One of the only places where animism and spiritual living are legitimately practiced, they aren’t living green because people dig it on Instagram, they’re living as one with pacha mama because that’s the way they’ve done it for thousands of years. Skills and knowledge about the rainforest have been passed down through generations with no technological distractions.
This is truly ancient wisdom and if this most efficacious of cocktails has been served up by the worlds most experienced mixologists for centuries who am I to refuse a sip?
The allure of this master plant has attracted, in recent years, many a tourist and unfortunately due to its popularity, many a charlatan as some locals choose to pose as shamans. A quick tip for anyone planning a trip is that a true shaman will address the issue of money last, being more concerned with your reasons for pursuing it. Aside from the posers there are many very safe options for groups of tourists to take the plant together in the city.
Naturally, I went out of my way to avoid this experience.
Ayahuasca, I thought, should be taken in the Amazon.
So it was on a bright Wednesday afternoon in Iquitos that I was walking to Belen markets to meet my shaman (the friend of a witch I had met a couple of days ago) to embark on a 3 hour boat trip into the rainforest when suddenly I was struck with a strange feeling in my stomach.
Nervous excitement perhaps? Hunger? I had been following a diet of life foods for over a week to cleanse my body and also allow for a stronger experience, only white meats, fruits, vegetables and of course no alcohol or smoking. Whatever the feeling was it immediately turned to sickness once I entered the markets and the alien smell of decapitated raw crocodile and turtle invaded my nostrils.
I reached the medicine stall. Fernando, the shaman’s apprentice was there already, beaming. He is 40 years old but looks 25.
‘Tomas este’ he told me
‘Inhalas cuando volo’ he said
Before sticking a straw with some brown powder inside into my nostril and blowing. The burn was ridiculous.
‘What the fuck was that?’ I coughed
‘Es rico, es cocaine, san pedro pulp y tobacco. Es Bueno para limpiar tu chakras. Uno mas, otro nostril!’
Five minutes later I spat out a thick brown mucus.
I was buzzing when the shaman Carlos arrived. A wise indigenous looking man who played host to a stout pot belly. He was dressed in jeans and a polo top and in fact the only thing loosely connecting him to a life dedicated to the study of plants and spirituality was the large didgeridoo he was carrying. Together we walked to the port and took a small wooden boat to Santa Clara, population: 75.
The boat pulled up to the side of the steep river bank at a spot which was deemed suitable as a port. We walked through a lush green rice field and towards Fernando’s father’s house, my home for the next two nights.
There is a beauty to Santa Clara which far surpasses the restrictions of sight, vibrant greens and blues are present amongst the backdrop of a blazing sun. The real beauty however lies in the lifestyle and energy of the people. Working in the day farming rice, fishing and jobs around the village. Chickens run around freely providing eggs and a source of food. The rain which falls every morning is collected for drinking water and the river provides a place to wash yourself and clothes.
After meeting the whole village and having a swim in the river we went to set the hammocks up. Before making our way to wherever we would take ayahuasca, or so I thought.
It was around 10pm, after smoking several cigars and listening to Fernando’s inexplicably bad taste in music, the kids were asleep on the floor under a mosquito net to the right of the small room in which the grandparents slept. Leaving a rectangular opening for our good selves in which Carlos started to take a host of what looked to be small raffle prizes out of his bag and place them carefully on the table.
I was under the impression we would go to a secluded place to take ayahuasca, perhaps a little hut or a clearing.
Clearly not, initially I was a bit thrown by this. Taking a ridiculously strong hallucinogen in the presence of children and OAPs isn’t exactly my kind of party. Then I got to thinking that between everyone present we literally embodied a lifetime. Each stage of human life; baby, child, adolescent, man and elder were represented in such a small space and I was for some reason humbled by this thought.
One lonely candle lit the room as Carlos blew tobacco smoke over the small figurines and wooden vase of ayahuasca, blessing them and protecting us from bad energies.
We all drank, then sat and waited. . .
It’s difficult, when taking hallucinogens to distinguish whether your feelings are a result of the substance, or as a result of your mind, knowing you have taken a drug getting excited. I was pondering this very point when out of the darkness, large, spider like legs crept into view. At around the same time my body became exceptionally feeble. I lifted my hand from the arm rest to see it shaking violently. Suddenly a harmonious noise broke through the spiders legs in a fantastic burst of multi coloured light and grouped as a spiral in the corner of the room.
Carlos! You beautiful bastard. Where did you learn to sing like that?!
It was around this time my attention was drawn to the floor immediately in front of me. There were people, or at least spirits of people around me. Some were begging, others reached out their hand for me to follow. There was no nobility in their actions, they were almost forceful, possibly desperate in their mannerisms.
No thanks, I thought, I’ll stay here in my chair. For the time being at least.
My immediate thought was that they were spirits in limbo, I just didn’t trust them. I have since wondered if they are present all the time, we just can’t see them as our energies are focused elsewhere but alas, I digress.
Enter the shadow creatures dancing around the room in a slow ska skank, elbows and knees flying about the place. I was rather enjoying their company until the chap closest to the spiral of light, which was still beautifully present, opened his arm and blocked it from view with a fucking wing! Enveloping me in darkness, who the hell are these devilish creatures that have skanked into my favour? This will be fun I thought as I threw a pathetic jab at the closest one as they closed in.
BLARGHHGLE, cough, cough. The sickness erupted from my body. Three times I was violently sick, sat back in my chair and the skankers were gone. Helle-fucking-lujah.
Now what’s this purple mist up to? Flying around the room with the grace and flow of a flock of small birds. It has a peaceful presence and eventually forms the face of a beautiful woman. After acquiring a body and a new born child she sits on my lap and kisses my forehead before exploding into a burst of colours spiralling off around the room.
After which an overwhelming amount of hallucinations, premonitions and childhood memories long since forgotten were presented to me during this most intimate and multi-dimensional of expeditions.
During a moment of partial sobriety I realised my arse was absolutely killing as was the back of my head. I’d been starfished in my chair for around four hours at this point. I knew there was a hammock about 3 meters to my right. After much anticipation I requested some motor function from my body. As I rose from the chair I felt like I was 10 feet tall, a giant. How on earth could I fit in such a small room? Under every step I took the floor rippled outwards like the flat surface of a pond being broken by a pebble as bright white vibrations shot away from my knee joint. After a great deal of effort I made it to my suspended haven and smoked a cigar.
I will never know how long it took me to get to that hammock.
Ayahuasca therefore, is by no means a party drug. Nor is it a drug for that matter. It is in my opinion a tool for self and spiritual exploration. Which, providing you follow the diet beforehand will give you some awesome visions and revelations. It is a physically challenging experience, you feel extremely nauseous for a while until you throw up (if you do, again follow the diet), sweat profusely and have little control over your body which could freak some people out. Make sure you’re comfortable with the place and people you take it with yada yada yada. I would seriously recommend a mattress.
As the visions wore off and the thunderous rain smashed into the somehow impenetrable roof I gained a lot of clarity in thought, which was focused mainly on the profound beauty of the place I was in. Harbouring life so elegantly, so effortlessly.
Now, this isn’t just down the amazon, where schools of pink river dolphins frolic under double rainbows (I actually saw that), it’s everywhere. It’s the mould on that block of cheese you’ve had in your fridge for months.
This planet creates and sustains life with such grace and finesse I don’t know how any of the God’s supposed heavens could top it. They’re just life blocking people with their ‘don’t live now, live later’ philosophy. We’re in the Garden of Eden, it’s just sponsored by coca cola and despite the medical advancements you still need to be mindful of the kind of apple you consume.
Where else in this universe can you see, hear, taste, smell and touch the world around you. Make real changes with the things you say and do. It’s fucking exciting – at least it should be. There’s no struggle or stress in Santa Clara. That’s restricted to our first world mentality as we continually scramble to complete mundane tasks some fucker wanted done yesterday.
T’other thing that’s worth a mention is the fact that we occupy this planet, together, as a species. You are a distant relative to everyone you pass in the street. We are literally composed of the same material as everything else. Our DNA unifies us in our needs and feelings as humans.
Just remember that.
Now I’m not sat here writing this with flowers in my hair. Nor would I say Ayahuasca changed me.
The voices in my head still want me to kill the Queen and I am, thus far, still unable to fly.
I suppose the message I’m trying to relay is the message that a number of my friends and family told me as they materialised at various points throughout my evening’s journey with Ayahuasca and aside from a non-physical realm which I feel I only scraped the surface of, the truth in it should not be ignored and will help to highlight the importance of the preceding paragraphs.
They said to me,
‘This is it’.