Saturday, 9 May 2015

The Ayahuasca experience - In search of Pacha Mama

 More and more people are turning to ancient medicines and healing techniques to help them cope with every day life these days. Yoga and silent meditation retreats have never been more popular.

Here in Peru an hallucinogen from the Amazon is fast becoming the next big thing, with women in particular swearing it is the answer to spiritual enlightenment. 

Ayahuasca ceremonies have been taking place since the Inca's and over the past 10 years spiritual healing clinics have been growing in number, catering for the thousands of people who travel here every year to take a journey in to self discovery. 

Ayahuasca is just one of the therapies you can experience at these retreats and it by far the most popular. 

"10 years of therapy in one night" seems to be a common description for one of the outcomes. But it comes at a price. Ayahuasca is not to be taken lightly. The process can be extremely intense causing visions, dizziness, vomiting and diarrhoea during the ceremony which can last up to 8 hours. 

It is believed that this plant extract, helped by chanting songs (icaros), tobacco smoke, Buscar (a type of perfume) and guidance from your Shaman, opens the doors of perception and allows you to see in to another world. The lucky ones will apparently meet the inca deity Pacha Mama herself (Mother nature).

I wanted to know what it was all about and so I contacted Etnika's healing centre, set in the spiritual
valley 45 minutes away from Cusco to see if they would agree to let me join them for the purposes of this article. After an intensive medical questionnaire, they agreed. 

My instructions soon followed by email. First I had to attend a medical examination followed by the drinking of up to 30 glasses of purgative medicinal volcanic water. This was not sounding much like fun to me. On top of that I was not allowed to eat for 5 hours before the process and no alcohol, coffee, chocolate, sex or drugs for 2 days beforehand. I agreed to these conditions completely although the chocolate was a hard one. If I was going to do it I was going to tackle it with an open mind and follow the rules exactly as I was advised.

I arrived at the offices in town where the nurse was waiting for me. After some more form filling my
blood pressure, pulse and breathing were all checked. I was cleared and ready to go. Now all I had to do was to detoxify my system with the volcanic spring water. This water has a purgative effect removing all toxins from the system that might otherwise react with the Ayahuasca.

The glasses were bigger than I had expected! The nurse explained that I was to drink 5 glasses as quickly as possible to start with, then I was to move around vigorously to help loosen everything up a little.

The water tasted salty but the first two glasses went down easily enough. The third was a little harder and I felt like I wanted to throw it back up. I was warned that I must keep it down! "Easy for you to say" I said with a smile. She smiled back but I don't think she understood. Her English was only marginally better than my Spanish! As I started drinking the fourth glass I found myself shivering. I was freezing all of a sudden. I put my coat on and the nurse gave me another to put over the top. "This normal" She said and gestured for me to keep drinking.

For the next two hours I continued this process of drinking and mad dashes to the loo until finally I was officially clean. At least on the inside! It took 11 glasses before I was clear! It was not a pleasant experience. The things I do in the name of research!

My blood pressure was taken again and I was given the all clear. I had been warned that I might feel a little dizzy and weak after the process but actually I felt better than when I had come in. I felt pretty good in fact.

The following day I had to fast. No food at all. I was only allowed to drink water or Coca tea. At
10am I was picked up in a mini bus where I met my fellow astral travellers! A professional couple from Belgium and two young guys from New York who were just about to start their University degrees. One in Law and the other in Business. I liked them all straight away and we didn't stop talking all the way to the retreat. Mostly about our nerves! From the moment we walked in the doors we were told we had to adhere to the code of noble silence! No talking, only meditation.

Set in the quiet little town of Pisac, the retreat instantly felt peaceful and I was pleased to find dogs
coming to greet us as we arrived. I always feel calmer when there are dogs around. Pisac is in the heart of Sacred Valley and the views were breathtaking. Beautiful green mountains with the most impressive terraces I've ever seen. The garden was full of flowers, birds and.....well hippies!

Okay I'm joking about the hippies. The shaman was wondering around in his traditional robe and colourful hat, and the last group were preparing to leave. A young and beautiful lot it seemed who, I was pleased to see, were smiling and clearly very happy with their individual experiences. I wondered how I would look in the morning!

The day was spent going through several rituals to prepare us. We could not just take Ayahuasca! Oh no! First we had to ask for permission from Pacha Mama by holding 3 coca leaves between our fingers and listening to the chanting of our Shaman. Then we had to be cleansed. We stood in a circle in the garden and were each beaten with flowers whilst the Shaman did his chanting.

Now it was time for the coca leaf reading. The Shaman called us in one by one and with the help of an interpreter he went through the  process of reading our future relating to health, Work, Love and.....something else! I went first. He threw down the leaves and looked a little shocked at the overturned leaf set apart from the rest. He tells me that I am in good health but I have a great fear of something. He asks what it is. My mind draws a blank and although I want to be helpful, I'm lost. "Heights?" I asked and half expected a buzzer to sound to tell me I was wrong! It seemed he was looking for something deeper but I had nothing to give. After that I was told that I had split up with a partner "oh yes. Several" I said happily, but I was going to fall in love with someone I was already in contact with. The leaves were clear! Apparently my work at the moment was good (well yes I guess riding around the world is pretty cool if you can call it work) but soon I would change and it would all work out well for me!

It is great if people can take positives from these readings. If it gives them hope then that's fine by me. Personally I found it hard to take seriously despite by best efforts to keep an open mind. Sorry!

From here we were given a brief on how the main ceremony would work that night and then given some time to ourselves to reflect and meditate. We had to ask ourselves what it was we wanted to ask of Pacha Mama. Did we want her to help us with love or with forgiveness etc. Despite the noble silence rule there was much chit chat going on in the confines of the retreat and so I took myself off for a walk to consider which of my long list I thought most important. After all I may only have her attention for a short time!

At 7.45pm the nurse came in to our room and took our blood pressure again. It was time!

We were led in to a round thatched building. 2 others had joined us for the ceremony and around the room were 7 mats with sleeping bags, pillows and extra blankets to ensure out comfort during the process. Next to each mat was a bucket ready for our bodies to start "Purging" once the ceremony was underway. Nervously we took our positions in the dim light and set down our rolls of toilet paper and water that we had been instructed to bring.  The shaman was sat in the circle too with the nurse alongside him and 2 other "guides" who would help us on our journeys. I looked around at the nervous faces and smiled. I found it all very exiting until one of the guides started telling us what would happen in the first 2 stages! That's when I got nervous!

"The first two stages are going to be very hard" He explained. "Once you swallow the plant you will feel it merging with every part of your body. Stay in control. Be strong but let it do it's work. Then you will feel like you are going to die. You will never have felt anything like it before". I looked around again and saw that the nervous faces had turned to horror. Mine included. I wondered if I should make a dash for the door but I wasn't going to be the first! "Close your eyes and breath deeply. Remain positive" he continued "After around 30 minutes your body will begin to purge (throw up). This is the plant getting rid of all the negative in your body. It is good. Let it happen. Don't fight it." He then demonstrated the "purging position" which was basically on your hands and knees to avoid any obstruction. I wondered when we were going to get to the good part!

Our guide explained that after phase two we should lie down in the recovery position and relax. Let the Ayahuasca take us on our journey. He said that we would see many beautiful things along the way and that it was fine to stay and play for a while but not to forget our mission. To find Pacha Mama and ask for her help. First we may face many negative emotions and possibly horrible visions as she shows us ourselves in our real light but then she would guide us and help us to reach our full potential. At last! A light at the end of the tunnel! Let's hope it's worth it.

First we were all given water and earth that we had to mix together in our hands and rub all over our
bodies. This was followed by the perfume. The Shaman then began pouring the glasses of thick brown liquid. He blew pure tobacco smoke in to the top of each one before the guides handed them around one by one. Our instructions were to drink it all in one go without tasting it and then close our eyes and breath! "Here goes nothing" I thought and downed my potion without hesitation. If I had waited I may have chickened out! It tasted foul! Really foul!

The lights went out and a little fire was lit next to the Shaman. Within 20 minutes the first traveller was sick. I couldn't see who but I could tell it was one of the girls. She was quickly followed by another and another. Soon people were groaning and retching all around me. I tried to stay positive as instructed and relaxed in to my own space, wondering when mine would start.

I found my mind wandering and my body started to feel very relaxed. I could feel the liquid coursing through my veins but I didn't particularly feel bad. I certainly didn't feel like I was dying and I was yet to throw up. It seems others did feel they were dying and some had clearly passed through to the next stage where they were having a great time. Some started shouting at friends they had met in their new world and others it seemed, were already chatting to Pacha Mama. One of the American guys was particularly vocal about his love for everyone and everything and out of the darkness all I could here was "I FEEL SO MUCH LOVE. I LOVE YOU ALL! AUSTRALIAN GUY NEXT TO ME! I LOVE YOU.... STEPH?" he shouted "Yes" I replied "I LOVE YOU". "I Love you too mate" I said but realised I was finding it hard to speak. Then the chanting began. By now I was lying down and yet to be sick although I felt some waves of queasiness. I was told I must drink lots of water if I felt sick. I must let it out. I tried but nothing happened. I just kept lying down again and listening to the singing which was like nothing I have ever heard before. It sounded like it was coming from an ancient time and it was beautiful. Suddenly I started shaking uncontrollably. I was so cold despite by layers of blankets. The guide came over and put another blanket over me but I chose that moment to sit up. He took my hand and suggested we breath together. It felt wonderful.

I had moments of relaxed and beautiful floating, followed by shaking and then more water. I wasn't really where I felt I should be though. I was having no visions as such and the guides told me I needed to take more. Some people just need a bigger dose. I couldn't face drinking more despite knowing this may be the only solution. My mind and body completely rejected the idea. Eventually I was sick. 2 hours in. I was well cared for as were we all and clearly people were now well in to their journeys. After about 3 hours the feelings went away and I just lay there relaxed and sleepy before I was checked again (4 hours in) by the nurse and helped to my bed. It was over.

The next morning we had a lovely breakfast and then all got together to discuss our visions with the Shaman. Everyone had clearly got so much from their experience, telling stories of talking with Mother Earth and being shown beautiful things. They had been given advice and guidance and had felt so much love for nature and people. The majority felt they had had a life changing experience and were all so positive about their futures. It was very emotional to listen to them telling their stories one by one. Many cried, including me.

My conclusion is this - This particular retreat uses ancient techniques and beliefs to help people. They were lovely, caring people who were in it for the right reasons and truly believed in what they were doing. I believe they are doing a great job for the majority who seek their help and guidance. Is it really a gateway to another level of consciousness? Are people really meeting deities who show them the path to enlightenment? Perhaps it is the power of suggestion coupled with rituals to get you in the mood and of course, a mind altering drug (although I'm told it's not a drug but a medicine. Not sure what the difference is). Who am I to say? The question is this -  Does it really matter as long as it works? There is no evidence of Ayahuasca being addictive or having any long term negative effects. Quite the opposite in fact. Perhaps the inca's knew what they were doing after all!

I walked away feeling slightly disappointed that I had not felt more. However, the preparation alone gave me time to reflect on my inner feelings and on what was important to me. The location was perfect and could not help but set the mood. The people were loving and supportive and so I went away feeling very positive despite missing my appointment with Pacha Mama.

Would I do it again? Perhaps. Maybe I am just not open enough to the idea. Perhaps you really have to believe for it to work. Perhaps I just needed a bigger dose than others. Who knows! I guess the only way to find out is to try again, but for now I would rather go and find myself a large pizza and gorge rather than purge. THAT would be divine! THAT is my true path to happiness for tonight!

Bring it on!!!!


  1. Hi Steph
    Still following your every post. Well done for a detailed and honest (as always) account of your Ayahuasca experience, with nice pics (as always). Did they take much money off you? Steve

    1. Hi Steve. No because I was writing about it but normally I think it's $300. You can get much cheaper but you would have to do some thorough research first of course! Glad you enjoyed the post. Cheers.

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