I Took Ayahuasca in Peru
When I arrived in Peru, I knew I had to experience the ancient medicine of ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is definitely not something to be used lightly, so you want to make sure you’re ready for whatever it throws at you and you’re comfortable in your surroundings. This in mind, I was keen to find the most reputable shamanic center where I would feel as comfortable as possible, and came across Etnikas in Cusco.
Let’s be honest, at $350US for a three-day retreat, Etnikas is far from being your cheapest option for taking ayahuasca, but hobos, this is not the time to be stingy. Do the slightest research online and you’ll see plenty of stories of tourists being robbed, raped and generally taken advantage of while in such a vulnerable state. Bearing in mind as well that a hugely important factor when taking ayahuasca is maintaining a positive mindset, if you’re not 100% sure of the people around you when you’re on it, you’re probably going to have a pretty rough ride.
Priot to even beginning my retreat, I was told to fast for the day and that morning was brought into the office for a cleanse, which basically involved drinking volcanic mineral water until I had pissed anything I had ever consumed out of my ass. It was less than pleasant, however apparently is designed to ensure the ancient medicine of ayahuasca is not affected by the modern diet, so it’s pretty necessary. A doctor was present to do some tests and go through my medical history, and was also present during the ceremony itself, which was hugely comforting.
The next day, the retreat began and the fasting was back on. We were told to abstain from any food, alcohol, drugs, sex and basically everything that makes life worth living. I was beginning to seriously doubt my choices; was I really giving up my favourite things in life to vomit whilst hallucinating?
We arrived at the stunning countryside location about 40 minutes outside of Cusco and underwent a few more cleansing rituals for the mind before being given time to prepare for the ayahuasca that evening. We were each given a one-on-one session with a staff member to discuss what we would like to gain from the experience and go through any life events which may come up during the course of the medicine. Any questions were answered and direction was given.
When the time came and the black sludgy drink was set in front of me, I was incredibly afraid: nervous almost to the point of tears. My (albeit limited) research into ayahuasca told of hallucinations of black demons and snakes – it wasn’t likely to be the fun trip you’d have on mushrooms. I knew it was exceptionally important to stay positive and focus on what it was I wanted the medicine to address.
This was an easy choice for me: I crave direction in life. Perhaps as a result of anxiety, I’ve been known to question every decision I make, unsure of career paths and relationships; torn between wanting to live one hundred different lives yet crippled with self-doubt. Being positive about the experience did not come quite as easily. I was terrified of being overcome with fear for the entire experience, which lasts between three and five hours.
In one long gulp, I drained the sludge, now very aware that I had no choice but to continue what I had started and hope the enlightenment gained was worth the trauma. I tried to focus on being positive, repeating useless statements, telling myself it was going to be okay (which I did not quite believe) and all the while focusing on how long I would have to endure the torment I had unleashed upon myself.
All too soon, the urge to vomit rose in the back of my throat and I found myself on all fours, spilling my empty guts into the bucket at the end of my makeshift bed. Immediately, one of the staff members was over, rubbing my back and talking me through the process. The notion of spending five hours vomiting crossed my mind, and I was tempered with regret and disgust before I remembered the importance of remaining positive and thanked mother nature for purging me of my negativity. Eventually, the purging subsided, and I was helped into my sleeping bag to allow the visions to take hold. I quickly became aware of my lack of control as hallucinations took form around me. I tried resisting the plant, terrified of what I was seeing and all too aware of the hours I had left under ayahuasca’s control.
The trip itself is a pretty personal one: for me it was about overcoming some demons (literally), for others it was described as a huge party; either way I believe everyone found the experience incredibly rewarding.
For many people, there are a lot of really difficult and confronting moments when taking ayahuasca. But when things became too much, a staff member was always there to offer support or help you walk down to the toilet (which is both frequent and near impossible otherwise). The level of trust required for someone to help you go through what really was for me such trauma is immense, and I can’t imagine paying someone $20 off the street to lead me through such an intensely personal experience.
After the ayahuasca ceremony was complete, we all went back to bed and woke up in the morning to a much-needed huge-ass delicious breakfast followed by a ceremony to thank mother nature and a session to reflect on our experiences with the shaman.
All in all, taking ayahuasca was probably the hardest experience I have subjected myself to, but also the most rewarding, and I can’t stress enough the importance of undergoing such a journey with someone that you trust. Yes it is more expensive and yes our hobo tendencies tend to scream that $350 is like, a shitload of beers, but at the end of the day, if you’re going to do something that is possibly life changing in how intense it is, don’t be dickhead – do it right.