A singular and incredible experience, it’s hard to convey in words what happened to us when we took ayahuasca, but I will try…! Here’s what happened, from the top…
We were referred to our shaman, Manuel, by our hostel owner Jorge, who we loved. We´d been tipped off about another shaman by a travelling buddy but had got a weird vibe when we met him, so we asked Jorge if he knew anyone, and, after a quick phone call, Jorge took us to see his good friend Manuel, and we got a REALLY good vibe.
He asked us straight-up why we wanted to try ayahuasca, and we explained our ailments – my IBS-ridden stomach, and Sam’s upper back pains. He felt my stomach and immediately located the biggest pain point, diagnosing me with gastritis, which I’d suspected from the numerous bouts of food poisoning and ongoing upset tummy. Then next thing we knew, he had Sam on the floor for a full back and neck cracking, showing me how his hunching was affecting his balance by the imprints on his feet, and asking questions about whether he could have damaged it whilst younger playing football, as he’d found a bend in the spine that had been worsening over the years.
He immediately made us feel connected, reassured, and like he was genuinely interested in helping us. We told him we wanted to try 3 ceremonies over a week and he agreed this would be a good number, along with a ‘plant dieta’, or plant cleanse, part-way through. He also offered it all for a THIRD of the price we’d been offered before (about 60 quid for 3 sessions and the plant cleanse). Given that most tourists pay upwards of $1000 US to visit a ‘retreat’ when they try ever-trending ayahuasca, we felt like we’d just snuck in the backdoor to a really great alternative way of trying it, and we were super happy.
Now, to the ceremonies themselves… They were held in a bright, colourful room at the back of Manuel’s house, adorned with trippy pictures of Jesus, Buddha and Pachamama (Mother Earth) alongside shaman-like things like snake heads in jars and weird tribal masks. Despite all this, the surroundings felt comfortingly normal. The room was full of sofas and comfy chairs, and outback was a staircase leading to a shower and toilet, and we were at the back of a family home with puppies and kids.
The ayahuasca room
We were also never alone during the ayahuasca ceremonies, with between 3 and 15 other people in the room, the majority of whom had just come for a ‘limpieza’ or cleansing/blessing, from Manuel, rather than to take the aya itself (though on the busiest night, there were about 6 of us taking it.)
It was comforting seeing so many friends here just to be cleansed by Manuel (held in great esteem by his community) and it was a real cross-section, from young girls to old men. We were the only tourists there, but were made to feel comfortable by the hour or so prior to drinking that they sat around joking and chatting about regular stuff like traffic, work, and family. Also worth mentioning at this point that Manuel/they spoke NO ENGLISH, so this was really putting our Spanish to work!!
Manuel himself was also a very warm, normal presence. A guy in his late 30s/early 40s, he had a little portly belly, cool haircut and thin Freddie Mercury moustache, along with a jovial, charismatic personality that made us feel safe. He could crack up the room, but also make us feel incredibly important when revealing what he could see.
A very sweet family picture with Manuel on the left
OKAY. Now, to the ceremonies themselves!!…
Ceremonies took place from about 10 or 11 o’clock at night, when we drank the foul-tasting ayahuasca medicine. A large shot-glass sized amount, it tasted like bitter herbs and looked like brown muddy water, and by the third time, was quite an effort to down. The first time, Manuel also blew on the aya with tobacco smoke to help the body purge.
Within about 15-20 minutes, you’d start to feel the effects, and after about half an hour, Manuel or his assistant/buddy would turn off the lights, plunging us into absolute darkness. And when I say absolute, I mean ABSOLUTE. The first time, I wasn’t quite prepared for how dark it would be, and found myself disbelieving that my eyes were open! The room is totally sealed off with covers over the doors so you literally can’t see a thing.
After an initial prayer/blessing said by Manuel and locals who also knew it, Manuel starts singing Ikaro, a haunting and comforting ancient singing technique, following looping and similar melodies with lyrics about protection of spirits, souls and mind. In the complete darkness and otherwise silence, the song becomes your background and something you hold onto and return to.
From here-on inwards, I can only really think in terms of the 3 ceremonies, as they were so different.
In my first ceremony, I felt like I was being sucked into something incredibly intense, and spent the first 10 minutes physically batting away negative thoughts or worries, as the feeling was so overwhelming. I also had a physical reaction of upset tummy, and had to ask M’s assistant to help me to the toilet, which has to be done using a torch. As I climbed the wooden steps to the toilet I felt completely out-of-body and struggled to walk straight, falling everywhere. He was amazing at dealing with it though, helping me there and back the 2 or 3 times I went, making sure I got back in my seat. Your seat (mine being on a sofa) becomes very special as it’s essentially your island, and by the end of the session I always ended up lying back on the sofa to fully take everything in. Sam didn’t get diarrhoea, but instead vommed up a lot in his bucket (you all get given one). Nice!
Me and Sam in our respective seats where we sat for the duration, after the lights went back on
Once I’d got used to the aya and stopped resisting it/worrying, it was INCREDIBLE. Intense, rushy, like being sucked into a different universe, I got deep into thinking about me, my life, my consciousness. I pictured myself on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, sitting on a beautiful wooden island on stilts, away from the world. I thought about my anxiety and stress, and how I need to keep myself safe on an ‘island’ away from stresses, and prevent them crossing into my mind (or waters, metaphorically)
That night, Manuel carried out a limpieza on us individually, in which he told us what he could see inside of us. He unknowingly linked up to my vision, telling me about my mind being fragile, my anxieties, and how I need to relax and stop my worries as they travel to my stomach and heart. In one night, he explained issues I’d suspected around my heart that doctors had failed to pick up on (a minor defect, fatty build-up), and told me about my stomach issues and what I need to avoid – one of them being pork which I’d worked out through my food poisoning, and another being citric acid, which explains a lot of past episodes. Whilst this was happening, M was also patting us on the back/head with a brushy plant, and it ended with tobacco blown on us, and a protective blessing given. This blessing was repeated on the third night, but the insight really came from this initial connection.
As well as thinking about my mind, I had lucid thoughts about my relationship with Sam, and saw a TON of trippy stuff including a pyramid-like intersecting set of shapes that recurred on each night, that I trained my eyes on. I remember thinking for most of the night – ‘EVERYONE SHOULD COME TO PERU AND DO THIS. THIS IS INCREDIBLE.’ It’s like you see everything clearly at once, everything makes sense, and you feel comforted and protected.
I came out of the first night feeling lighter, cleaner, and more in touch with myself.
The second night was completely different. Thrown off by the 16 people in the room and unsure whether they would be there throughout, I was a little put-off by their leaving after the blessing, which caused some disruptment. I saw even more visuals, including cool stuff like monkeys in sunglasses and jungle scenes, but also dark stuff like American Indian children crying behind a curtain made of reeds. I struggled to get ‘into’ the aya, despite trying to train my eyes on the pyramid pattern, and it was only really after lights went back on and I saw the figure of Pachamama clearly in a vision, that my mind started racing. A fitful night, this was when me and Sam also had to drink the ‘plant dieta’ which was THE MOST GROSS THING EVER. Tasting somewhere between a wheat-grass shot and poison, the thick green liquid was hell to swallow and resulted, successfully, in totally cleaning out our stomachs. Cue explosive vomming, bright green liquid poo (we had to drink 4L of water too) and hours of feeling gross. It brought up everything out of our stomachs, including the lining and my parasite. Despite the grossness, since then my stomach has been like a regular person’s! I’m so proud of my healthy output, it’s a bit wrong. But I truly believe my stomach is cured!
The third time was similar to the first night’s level of intensity and clarity. With less visuals, but more lucidity of thought, I spent the time thinking about me and Sam and our future (Sam even envisioned our future child!?, my mum and her health, the friends I miss, travel and work. I felt at peace, like I had complete control over the experience (despite there being many people in the room, including one guy also on my SOFA, aka island!) I just thought and thought, and when M gave me my blessing I felt a rush of gratitude to Pachamama in protecting me.
Afterwards, when everyone had left and I stepped outside into the light, I felt like it was the first day of my life. Calmer, more relaxed and serene.
Like I said, it’s hard to explain, and easy to be skeptical about. I’m not religious or spiritual, and I find myself very doubting and dismissive when people talk about either, and given that this experience comes from a plant which has drug-like effect makes it more open to criticism.
But all I can say is, for me (and lots of people that try it), it’s helped bring to light a lot of issues and solutions, and brought peace to others I already knew about. I know it will be one of the experiences I never forget, and I’m so very happy I did it.