In April of 2017, I traveled to the Peruvian jungle to participate in an authentic ayahuasca ceremony. It didn't disappoint. I journaled along the way, and finally got the time to transcribe that journal. I hope this can give someone some insight into what the experience might be like for an outsider. Feel free to reach out for any questions. I did almost no editing, outside of some grammar for readability.
April 20, 2017
The night before the ceremony. Not many nerves, but so very curious about what will happen. I think I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. I’ve done well on the diet for the last five days - no coffee, sugar, red meat, refined sugars, fried foods, booze… Pretty much everything good is off-limits. Every time I walked by an ice cream shop, Café, burger joint, or snack kiosk, I cried a little inside. But I do believe it will be valuable. Not just for the scientific reasons, but making the sacrifice mentally prepares you as well. It helps reinforce what an important night this will be.
“Go in with intention but without expectation“
I love this quote and that’s how I’m trying to approach it. I want to come out on the other side a better person, cleansed of all toxins and stress with some guidance on how to move forward. That’s my intention. How I get there is up to the plant, not me, and I’ll accept the results no matter what they are.
“Don’t fight the purge“
Flight bright and early tomorrow, need some sleep.
April 21, 2017 3:30 PM
Arrived to the lodge after a long journey today. 8 AM flight, one hour by plane, two hours by car, one hour by boat, and 45 minutes by foot to camp. Nice place surrounded by a boiling river, which means always hot showers when the one thing I’d like is a cold shower. Beggars can’t be choosers. Actually got some lunch served which was a surprise as I had heard some centers have you fast after breakfast on days of the ceremony. Still had to follow la dieta, which meant only fruit, vegetables, potatoes, and an omelet all without salt. Doesn’t matter; all I needed was a little fuel for the rest of the day. Ceremony is at 8 tonight so I have some time to kill. I put all my stuff in the room, and there are several steps up there, which means I may need some help returning there tonight. At lunch, I met the other two guys staying at the santuario, Jay and some other guy who I’ve already forgotten his name. Talked with Jay for a while, he’s been here for four days and has had a really positive experience. He said his has been very different (and milder) than the other guy, so there is obviously a wide range of possibilities. I knocked out some yoga after lunch, as much as I could remember from my P90X video. Really peaceful place and very calming, even if my leg and back still hurts. Damn my handwriting is terrible. Time for a nap. In the hammock.
April 21, 2017 6:15 PM
I have awoken from a beautiful nap in a hammock by the boiling river, surrounded by absolutely nothing but nature. It’s good to be well rested while going into a ceremony that will require plenty of energy and focus. I met the maestro, the leader of the ceremony. A big but calm man, soft-spoken and a kind spirit. It feels good here that all the people here seem to love the process and have nothing but the purest intentions. And I paid him so it’s all happening now. I’ve gone back to my room for 10 minutes of meditation and to focus in on my intention. I will focus on looking for anything from my past that is holding me back from any future goals and being a better man. A better son, brother, and friend. A better listener. Do not try and please people 100%. Is there anything I can discover to help? We will see. When speaking with Mauro, who showed me the way to camp today, he mentioned it was a shame I was only doing one ceremony. Part of me agrees with him. I’m perfectly comfortable with my decision because I wanted to see what I learned from the first, how I reacted, and process and integrate what I could, before possibly doing it again. Mauro told me for the first time, the medicine just opens the door. I hope for something valuable behind that door. Ceremony will start in about an hour. I’m bringing the ring I made the Bolivian rain forest with me tonight. The more power from the plant world, the better, and that ring has been with me ever since it was created. I will wear long pants and long sleeves, as I imagine it will get chili, and to help protect mosquitoes. I don’t need those pests interrupting my ceremony. Also due to Jay’s early flight tomorrow, we need to leave camp at 7 AM. I’d certainly like to stay longer get proper rest and relax here longer tomorrow, but we make do with the hand we are dealt. Mauro did say he would show me around the Pucallpa which will be cool. Hopefully as a newly enlightened man. I am ready to go.
Intention: show me anything in my past holding me back from a fuller, more meaningful life.
-Suppressed childhood memories
-stored toxins and stress
-cleanse me as I need to be
April 22 12:55 AM
-scared it wasn’t working
-body got warm
-awoken by maestro for tobacco blessing
-breaking through a hard level to the top
-entire body is heavy
-cigarette fires dancing
-slowly fell weight lifted off shoulders
-wanted to hug myself
-calming effect of tobacco
April 22, 2017 6:15 AM
Finally starting to come down, but body is still completely drained.
-Stars at night
-barking dogs, serpents, snakes, angry
-after acknowledging them they slowly faded away
-please others too much
All I can remember for now. Interested to see how I feel the next few days as I get more rested and have more time for reflection.
April 22, 2017 9:35 PM
Just boarded the flight to head back to Lima. Had a really nice day today. I woke up naturally a few minutes before the alarm was to go off, probably got around three hours of sleep altogether, but felt alright. After breakfast, Jay, another girl, and I started our journey back. Of course our car got a flat tire on the hellacious roads because that’s the South American Way. After the other two were dropped off it was just Mauro and I for the rest of the day. I took a nap on his couch and then his wife made us lunch. After getting his Wi-Fi and resting for a while more, he took me out on his motorcycle to show me Pucallpa. We first went to his land, where he is planning to start a school around his arts and native plants. He obviously loves his art; it’s his number one passion. Afterwards, he took me to the local lagoon where families gathered to sun and teenagers gathered to drink beer. Nothing special to be honest, but you could tell he was proud. After returning, we bought a few beers and had a really good chat in Spanish, until I asked him about neighborhood crime and he switched to English, as there were others around. He told me the tragic story of his sister dying of cancer, and I was able to relate with him about Debbie’s battle. Eventually, he escorted me back to the airport, where I bought him dinner and then he went on his way, but not before setting me up with a ride from the Lima airport. Truly a good dude and I have a good feeling I will see him again at some point, either back at the Santuario, or in the US at one of his art shows. Tomorrow, I will try to more legibly recap the ceremony, but for now, I’m done. Time to eat my shitty airport snack.
April 24, 2017 1:10 AM
Sitting in bed on the last night of my trip and I’ll try to string together the ceremony as best I can. At some point, the order will become blurred, but it’s not that important. The ceremony would start around 730 or 8 PM, but I got in there around seven to pick the perfect spot, then waited everything out. Jay also came in early before it started and gave me a brief rundown of how it would go, what the proper behavior was, etc. which was really helpful as I didn’t really know any of that before. There was a lone candle in the room, right in the center, and everyone was seated around the walls of the circular hut, including the maestro and his wife after they walked in. I forget how it initially started but soon after, he called us all up one by one to drink the cup, and I was first. I had heard it tasted pretty foul, and it met expectations in that regard. It was bad but got it all down. After we all did, they blew the candle out and we waited in the pitch black. In this room in the dark, you lose all sense of time. This cost me a bit of stress because it seemed like forever had passed and I wasn’t feeling anything. I had so many worries, should I ask for more? I don’t want the ceremony to be a failure or not give me value. But soon after, I remember my whole body started to warm up and I figured it was go time. But at some point, I fell asleep.
No idea how long I was out for, but I was awoken by the maestro calling me back up. The difference was this time I could hardly walk. The girl next to me (who I still don’t know who it was) helped me walk up to the front, waited while I was blessed by tobacco, and then led me back to my seat. Angel. Also, during the tobacco blessing, he gave us a mapacho cigarette, which is a strong natural tobacco. Jay told me this was part of the ceremony as it was a gift from the shaman, so I knew to save it till the end. From here I’ll just describe a few experiences because I have no idea of the sequence. I wouldn’t describe anything I saw as a hallucination; they were more like visions or dreams (but I was awake). Here are the main things I saw:
-Vividly remember an arm/fist, in a sort of gladiator decor, flying up through the sky. It got to a barrier and couldn’t get through. But it kept trying, and eventually broke through. Not sure how to interpret this but it was genuinely motivating and uplifting.
-I saw angry figures - dogs, servants, dragons-and I tried to go after them and find out more but every time I tried to, they faded or melted away. Like once they were confronted they knew I wasn’t scared anymore.
-At one point, for what seemed like forever, tears were streaming down my face. But it was the first time I’ve ever cried without some sort of event or emotion tied to it. They weren’t tears of sadness or tears of joy, just tears. So I just let them flow. It felt like a general cleansing. I just hugged myself and it felt so good.
-In the height of the ceremony, when the medicine was strongest, it was taking over my body. My body felt extremely heavy; I would be constantly moving from sitting to laying to kneeling to curled up in a ball.
As the ceremony came to an end, the shaman walked around and blessed everyone one last time, along with blowing tobacco smoke over us to cleanse and protect us. Then he lit everyone’s cigarette from earlier if they wanted. I’m obviously not a smoker but wanted to fully enjoy the ceremony. As everyone cigarettes were lit, I was still feeling it big time. What the rest of the room still pitch black, the little cigarettes were the only perceivable light, and it looked like they were dancing through the night. But the tobacco itself was very calming. I can slowly feel the weight lifted off my shoulders, and as everything ended, I felt at complete peace. After the shaman and his wife wished us good night and left, I slowly walked out of the room and back towards my bed. I stopped before going in and looked up to the sky. From the middle of the jungle, with no lights around, the stars shone as brightly as I’ve ever seen.