A couple of weeks ago, I suddenly felt sick, and proceeded to throw up, not once but lots of times. I was on my own in Manchester, feeling achy all over and cold. I won’t labour the point. I’m sure you get the picture. It wasn’t the best day I’ve ever had. What was the cause? I have no idea.
So why am I telling you this? Well, in an odd way, it reminded me of my travels in the Amazon Rainforest in Peru. Let me tell you why…
Months before I left for my trip around the world, I watched a TV series called Medicine Men Go Wild where two young medical doctors, from the UK, explored tribal medicine to see what they could learn about traditional forms of healing. They tried some pretty extreme things, but there was one particular episode which stuck in my mind, Jungle Tripping. One of the doctors took part in an Ayahuasca ceremony. It made him very sick, and I wondered why on earth he would do that to himself. Little did I know at the time that I would be doing the same just over a year later, wondering the exact same thing but about myself.
Here’s what happened…
By the time I arrived in Peru, I was coming to the end of my year-long trip around the world. When I first arrived in the Amazon, I went to a village called San Francisco in Pucallpa, and stayed in a guesthouse where the owner told me she was a shaman. She showed me some of the plants in her garden she said she used to make Ayahuasca. That was my first real introduction to it. I found out that a fellow guest was staying there specifically for the Ayahuasca ceremony. I had no interest in that, remembering the state of the TV doctor who took it. Why would I do that to myself? Why?
After that, I moved further up the Amazon to Iquitos. Walking through the local market, I could have bought Ayahuasca if I wanted, but I had no intention of doing that. During my time in Iquitos, I decided to go further into the rainforest, so I booked a trip with a local company. Off I went, by boat, deep into the Amazon. It was a real adventure. It really was. I was in the Amazon, surrounded by water. The only way in and out was by boat. The photo at the top of the post is where I stayed. When I arrived, I was the only person there, but I was joined by three other travellers over the coming hours.
It was an amazing experience, being in the Amazonian Rainforest with only the sound of nature and absolutely no light pollution. When it got dark, it was pitch black. It was great, sitting around the table, chatting to the other travellers and guides at night. One topic of conversation that came up was… Ayahuasca. It never seems to be far from people’s minds when they are in the Amazon. There were two sisters from Scotland who had previously been on a retreat and had taken part in two Ayahuasca ceremonies. They made it sound… OK and explained the spiritual side of it. It wasn’t about taking drugs and throwing up, That was all that had stuck in my mind, having watched that TV programme. Chatting about it changed my view of Ayahuasca ceremonies so much so that I even considered taking part in one. The others had decided to arrange a ceremony for the following night.
Not wasting any time, the girls visited the shaman in the next village, a short boat ride away, the next day and arranged the ceremony with him for that evening. Considering the fact that I had been adamant that I wasn’t going to take Ayahuasca, I had decided to take part and was actually feeling fine about it. It felt right – the environment, the people, and the time. If I was ever going to do it, this was the place and time.
After fasting for a few hours and having a relaxing afternoon, the shaman arrived at about 8pm. I was expecting him to wear ceremonial attire, but he dressed in ordinary clothes.
The ceremony took place in the dining room. I brought my sleeping bag, torch, and pillow with me, as we were going to be there for the night. We paid the shaman, sat in a semi circle, a couple of metres apart from each other with the shaman at one end. Then, the ceremony began.
In turn, we were given a small amount of Ayahuasca to drink. It didn’t taste very nice, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. After that, we were each given a hand-rolled cigarette to smoke. It was dark, so I just closed my eyes and listened to the shaman who was singing icaros (Shamanic songs and chats). Initially, I felt really tired, but I focused on his singing and the sound of the frogs and rest of the natural world around me. After a while, I heard the American guy, sitting to my left, vomit in the bucket that had been placed between us. Shortly after that, I heard one of the girls opposite doing the same. I felt fine at that point, but a little while later I didn’t. That was the start of it.
It was a crazy night. All I really remember is feeling sick, drained, and retching. When I felt able, I lay down, but I had to keep getting up because I felt sick, and was retching. The guy, sharing the bucket with me, hardly got a look in. I kept it near me for most of the night, and remember hugging it for a period of time. When he needed it, he had to lean over and vomit into it while I was trying to throw up, but unable to bring up anything. Classy, I know!
It was the strangest experience of my life. In the background, I could hear the shaman singing and shaking something. From time to time, he went round to each of us in turn, kneeling down singing and shaking something. When it was my turn, I might have felt OK at the start, but as soon as he came closer it all changed. I would get a really intense feeling deep inside me, and when that happened, I suddenly felt the urge to be sick. The reason for vomiting is to rid your body of impurities. Having fasted before the ceremony, I didn’t have anything to bring up, but my body kept trying. Some people hallucinate during the ceremony. I did. I saw a massive serpent appear from time to time, but it wasn’t scary. That was pretty strange, but it’s actually a common hallucination. I had never searched to find out what it meant, until writing this. Apparently, the serpent depicts healing and change – death of the old and birth into universal power, creativity, and wisdom.
Because I was having such a hard time of it during the night, my guide asked if I was OK, and, apparently, one of the sisters came over and rubbed my back, asking if I was OK. I don’t remember that at all. All in all, it was the weirdest and worst night of my life. I kept asking myself, ‘Why did you pay to do this to yourself?’ It made no sense.
We were in the dining room all night and moved to our respective rooms in the morning. I was still feeling sick, unsteady, and tired. I managed to get back to my room and promptly threw up. I got into bed and slept for an hour. After that I got up, still feeling awful. I tried to eat, but I couldn’t.
I was eager to find out if the others had had such a bad experience. I mean, it couldn’t have been just me, surely. As it turned out, it was just me. The others had had a good experience. ‘Why me?’, I wondered. Apparently, you get what you need at the time. You can either have a blissful ceremony, which the others had, or you can have the sort of night I had – vomit all night and feel crap as you get rid of all the things that do not serve you. I obviously had a lot of that to get out!
Would I recommend taking part in an Ayahuasca ceremony? Well, that’s a difficult one for me to answer. Based on my own experience, I would say, no. However, based on the experience of the others with me, I would say, maybe. To be honest, it’s your decision. Just be aware that your night could be blissful or the worst night of your life. If you are thinking of participating in an Ayahuasca ceremony or retreat, it is worth doing some research in advance. When it comes to it, if it doesn’t feel right for you, don’t do it.
Have your say
Have you participated in an Ayahuasca ceremony, or are you thinking about it?