I’m slumped on a dirty mattress in an abandoned hut in the middle of the jungle, dry-heaving into a bucket while a shaman whacks me over the head with a bundle of dried leaves. My friend is out cold beside me, my limbs feel like they belong to someone else, and I’m tripping balls.
This is the story of what happened when I took Ayahuasca, sacred medicinal plant of the rainforest and one of the most powerful psychedelics in the world.
The shaman and his wife were from Iquitos. She turned up in wedge sandals, perfectly manicured and with painted-on eyebrows. He was wearing a football t-shirt over an impressive belly. This is what modern shamanism looks like, I thought.
But the way the ceremony was conducted followed all the traditional procedures, from the smoking of mapacho cigarettes to the instruments used to serenade us, to the chacapa with which he was cleansing me (the bundle of dried leaves). It took place in an abandoned lodge in the middle of the jungle, three walls out of four consisting solely of mosquito netting and so the noises of the jungle pervaded the ceremony all night long.
Many people want to “do Ayahuasca” for the experience of taking the drug. I must admit, that was what first enticed me to the experience. When in the jungle, right? But once I began to hear more and more about it, something entirely unavoidable if you’re travelling in Peru, I grew more intrigued by its nature of healing and bringing to light subconscious issues which need to be dealt with. Eventually, I decided that I wanted to drink the medicine because I wanted to see if I could heal and let go of some stuff from my past. Anxiety and depression have been a big part of my early life, and I thought this would be a holistic way to heal. I gained more and more respect for the medicine (it’s not a drug, and many natives would actually get offended if you described it as such) as I heard more about it, and decided not to seek out the experience, but to let it come to me.
Which is how I ended up purging in the middle of the jungle surrounded by people I hadn’t known for more than a few hours.
Describing this is going to be hard. I’ll do my best. First of all, the word “trip” is entirely wrong. It’s not the same as popping a tab of acid and tripping balls. It’s more like the plant allows you to enter into a trancelike state and uses the contents of your brain to create visions behind your eyes. I’m still not sure whether mine were open or closed. It also didn’t feel like a trip in the sense that there was no beginning or end, it felt like I was gaining access to a different dimension which was always there, the true Spirit of the Jungle, which we can enter by drinking this curious little plant, or maybe looking up at the rainforest trees in a certain way, or standing, eyes closed, in the torrential jungle rain.
The purging is a necessary evil. It apparently is used to get rid of negative energies which you harbour, and it did indeed feel like my purging came from a space deep behind my belly button, where our emotions are contained. It was pretty grim but it only lasted a few minutes.
My time with the Mother (yet another name for Ayahuasca) really cemented my love for the planet, the jungle in particular. I saw visions of the whole earth being created and plants growing and dying and the beauty of the world.
I think it was a really perfect way in which to end my time in the jungle. It felt like I was able to interact with my surroundings in a way I hadn’t done before, and my experience was incredibly profound.
Last week [at the time of writing; it’s now been over a month], I went on a boat trip to the point at which the Nanay and Amazonica rivers meet. You can see the differing in the colours of the water, and, if you’re lucky, pink dolphins too. The couple I was with both said that it felt like a fantastic way to end their time in the jungle, watching the sunset over the Amazon River (we weren’t lucky enough to see dolphins), but for me, it was entirely different.
For me, it felt like a beginning.
This trip into the jungle, my time volunteering at Pilpintuwasi and my experience with Ayahuasca have all cemented a lifelong obsession and respect and love for the Amazon rainforest. It is the place where Pachamama is at her most untamed and wild and I love it for this reason and much more.
Though my travels will lead me next into Bolivia, then Chile and eventually back to England, and though I may take many more detours along the way and have many more experiences and adventures, I think and believe and know in my heart that the Amazon is somewhere I will return to again.