The Long Process of Signing up
For 3 long weeks, I’ve been considering whether to sign up for an ayahuasca retreat or not. So what makes me uncertain? Maybe it’s all the stories I’ve heard about people getting robbed or raped while on ayahuasca, maybe it’s the unpredictability of ayahuasca – you never really know where Mother Ayahuasca will take you and it might be to a scary place.
For 3 long weeks, I’ve been looking at this retreat center called Etnika’s, and believe it or not, by coincidence, I end up living right next door to their office the third time I return to Cusco. I take it as a sign, and after a while, I pull myself together and knock on their big wooden door. A lady opens. She is dressed as a nurse. Behind her on a bench, is a group of people. They’re filling out a lot of paper work.
I pull out my long list of questions but the lady asks me to come back in an hour when the manager will be there. I do, and when I return the group are not to be found on the bench anymore. They’re now running back and forth to the toilets sat up in the garden. One of them is standing freezing covered in 2 blankets, and it’s actually one of the warmer days in Cusco. Apparently, they’ve been given medical water to cleanse and detoxify them. It looks like I’m in for a treat. But it doesn’t scare me and I end up signing up for the 3 days’ retreat. I guess my curiosity got the best of me in the end.
Volcanic Water & Detox
My detox starts 5 days later after a week of vegan food, meditation, yoga, hiking, massage and no chocolate, coffee, meat, alcohol, medicine, sugar, fat, sex and I could continue – the list is long!
We start the detox at 10am. Here I get to meet my ayahuasca family for the first time consisting of 5 deep hearted people. After going through a big amount of paper work and doctor tests, we are ready to drink the so called medical/volcano water to detoxify. And it works! All of us are running to the bathroom over and over again. I can’t believe this is the way I get to meet my group. It’s hilarious and we can’t stop laughing about it.
It’s the morning of the first day of the ayahuasca retreat. To my big surprise, I slept beautifully and I actually feel calm and more or less ready. Come what may. Let go of control. Enjoy the journey. These are my mantras. I keep repeating them. This day I’m not allowed to consume anything but water and I already feel hungry at 8am.
After arriving at the retreat center which is located in a beautiful nature setting in the Sacred Valley, it’s time for us to go through different examinations. After meeting the team consisting of the shaman, the under priest, the doctor, the psychologist, the coordinator and all the nurses, we have a one to one meeting with the psychologist and after that the doctor. One of their goals, is to figure out our dose of ayahuasca. The rest of the day is for meditating, napping, praying and trying to get mentally ready for the night’s ceremony.
The First Ceremony
Before the first ayahuasca ceremony, the under priest does another ceremony with us. We gather around him in the garden. And with flowers and in a weird and beautiful language, he prays for each of us.
At 7pm it’s time to enter the maluka (the temple) for the first time. I immediately fall in love with this place: The energy and calmness just go straight to your heart. I choose my madras on the floor and get comfortable under my sleeping bag and blankets together with the rest of the group. The shaman enters the room. He pulls out two silver bowls and starts whispering into them. After, he prepares the cups of ayahuasca for each of us. We get our blood pressure measured, and our coordinator asks us to start meditating. Each of us put our hands into the silver bowls containing water and earth and we cover our surface with the two. The cups of ayahuasca get divided between us. We say a prayer to Mother Earth and Mother Ayahuasca. I ask her to take good care of me on the journey, to guide me and show me the light. After, it’s time to taste the ayahuasca for the first time, and it kind of surprises me but at the same time makes me happy to see that the shaman is drinking the ayahuasca as well. Today, I can still vision the sweet and earthy taste and smell of ayahuasca. Drinking it was not too bad, the worst comes during the purge when you once again can taste the ayahuasca all over your mouth.
A small fire gets lit before all the light gets turned off. The room fills with smoke. First comes the sweet smoke from the fire. After, comes the smoke from the shaman’s mapacho (natural jungle tobacco). This tobacco and most of all the smoke from it, is a straight way to connect with Mother Ayahuasca, and during the whole ceremony which last for hours, the shaman is smoking his pipe.
The fire buns out, and the shaman starts his icaros. The most amazing songs, I’ve ever heard. And here comes the purge. I find my bucket and while I’m puking hard, the room starts spinning and I see stars. My bucket is filled with stars. I see the whole universe down there, and I start giggling. Somehow, the puking feels liberating and I somehow get an understanding of why the purge is considered an important part of the ritual. It cleanses your body by getting ride of all the bad things. Afterwards, I feel great. I’m embraced by this warm feeling in my whole body and I start seeing colours and small symbols. But the effect doesn’t last long. After an hour it’s already over. Apparently, the first night we are only given a small dose. Like a try out. I guess this is understandable. Actually, my effects stops working at the same time as the shaman stops his icaros, and I really get an understanding of how important the icaros are. The icaros and the effect of the ayahuasca are so interconnected. The shaman can actually see the concerns of each person and will choose the right icaro to sing to help cleans the body and mind.
The Second Ceremony
Once again our ceremony starts at 7pm. And after the same rituals as the night before, I’m given a bigger dose of ayahuasca. This night we are nine people in all and the energy in the room is just amazing. I feel so lucky sharing the experience with these people.
This night Mother Ayahuasca takes me on an amazing journey to this beautiful geometric world filled with what seem to be Inca symbols. It’s a world filled with colours and flowers, especially lotus flowers. I find myself giggling a lot and I feel super sensitive to my surroundings and the energy from the shaman. This night I feel a deep and special connection with him and his icaros. I feel blessed that he has placed himself right at my feet and I wish his songs will never end.
This evening I feel cleansed and purified and I get this deep understanding of how ayahuasca is a true natural medicine. A medicine that takes away your demons. Sometimes in a tough and dark manner (which is the case for some in my group) but for me, it’s done with a lot of love. Once again, it almost feels like a warm hug.
At one point, there is a dark stair leading down. But no matter how hard I try, I’m not able to follow it. Somehow I get told by Mother Ayahuasca that this is not my last ceremony. That I’m not done yet. And doing my therapy the next day, this stair is the element that breaks and teaches me. It’s a sign that I should always take care of myself and keep focusing on working with myself.
During the night I get a new found respect for nature and I feel a deeper connection with Mother Earth. At one point, I’m even talking straight with Mother Ayahuasca and she tells me I’m already on my path. In all, the ceremony ends up giving me a bigger understanding and so much more love for the world and most of all myself. During the ceremony, I realize that the things we fear the most often are those that, when done, will have the greatest impact on our lives. They’re the ones that’ll change us the most and I hope I’ll always have the strength and courage to take the hard way, if necessary.
An Offering to Mamapacha
At our last day at the retreat, we do an offering to Mamapacha (Mother Earth). This ceremony is the most important since it’s our way of thanking Mother Nature and Mother Ayahuasca for taking care of us, letting us in and showing us the light. The ceremony is lead by the under priest and contains several prayers and small offerings, like coca leafs, flowers and small statues which symbolize love, relationships and so on. In the end, all of the offerings are burned on the fire.
The whole experience has left me with a big amount of gratefulness. Grateful to actually get to be part of the Amazonian and Incan believe and religion for a while. To feel it on my own body, soul and mind. I’ll forever be grateful for the shaman and his amazing energy and way of being, and I’m grateful for the amazing team of helpers: The under priest, the doctor, the nurses (who in a second would be ready to help you during the purge with tissues and softly strike your back asking if you’re having visions) and David, the sweet and different kind of psychologist who would show me plants in the garden who would help me sleep and who would tell me that marihuana is not a drug, it’s medicine. And I really owe a big thank to my ayahuasca family for their support and love. Together we have cried, laughed, talked, prayed, meditated, puked, had bad diarrhea, shared meals and been through deep and spiritual experiences.
Several days after the retreat, I’m still on a strict diet and I still feel Mother Ayahuasca in my blood and my mind. My energy has shifted and I feel need to spend time alone. To think and meditate. As it shows, Lake Titicaca is the perfect spot for this but that’s a story for next time.