The yurt was dark and filled with smoke from the bonfire. Time did not exist. Drumbeats echoed from wall to wall. My eyes were closed, yet I could see the aura of everyone in the circle. As the shaman touched me with the sacred plants, speaking in tongues, I felt a dark energy leaving my body, burning in the fire.
I first heard of Ayahuasca one year ago.
My friend Alex showed me a documentary on DMT, the spirit molecule.
I had never experienced any psychedelic and I was intrigued. I decided to go to South America and experience it as a catalyst for personal growth.
Now, I am here in Colombia and just got back from my first authentic Ayahuasca ceremony in Medellin.
Here is the lowdown:
The Ayahuasca journey begins
The full moon shone over Guatape. I was having a beer at the hostel bar with my friend Jerry, overlooking the nearby lake. Adam, working the bar that night, asked me if I heard of Ayahuasca. I nodded. Then, he told me about a ceremony in the mountains of Santa Elena, two hours outside Medellin, scheduled in eight days.
I looked at Jerry. He stared back.
We both planned to go to an authentic Ayahuasca ceremony in the Amazon and had not considered doing it anywhere else. We hesitated and I twisted my beard, pondering.
We wanted a good shaman, a real community, and a great setting.
Most importantly, we did not want to be fished by greedy imposters, a sad byproduct of the increased Ayahuasca demand.
“Here, read this message.” Adam interrupted, passing me his phone.
In a long and warm write-up, Samuel, the founder of Fundacíon Camino al Sol, broke down the details of the ceremony, the location and the logistics. Reading it, I felt warm and noticed my shoulders sinking. I liked everything I read.
But I was not convinced yet…
Due diligence, I thought, is necessary in dealing with the world’s most powerful and mystical plant known to man today… and a message is easy to write.
I did more research and found these two articles on the interwebs.
Now, I was convinced.
Adam, Jerry and I looked at each other and, without words, the decision has been made. We sent a message to Samuel, booking three spots. Moments after sending the message, we were faced with a completely new set of questions.
The biggest of them:
How to prepare for Ayahuasca?
If you enter “Aya diet,” “Ayahuasca diet,” or “how to prepare for Ayahuasca,” Google will hit you with boatloads of different information, just like it hit us.
Frankly, we had no idea what to do… and we only had eight days to prepare.
Researching for a couple of days, here is the main realization I had:
It all depends on who you ask and what their intentions are!
If you visit the website of a retreat center, they want to sell you an extreme experience, asking you to quit almost everything. If you ask a moralist, he wants you to follow strict rules. If you ask a vegetarian, he wants you to refrain from eating meat.
In fact, when Ayahuasca first found the indigenous tribes, there were no rules, no diets.
All of them have been made up by men with different intentions.
Here is what Samuel said when we asked about the diet:
“Eeh (throwing his right hand behind the shoulder), it’s not that important. No food is dangerous with Ayahuasca. Depending on how clean you eat, the Ayahuasca will need more time to cleanse your body, before it can work with your mind and spirit. So it is really about the intensity of the experience and how deep you will go. The Jage (Ayahuasca) will always give you the journey you need.”
To sum it all up: Don’t panic.
It makes sense to eat clean, cook your own food and use little preservatives. Make salads, drink loads of water, eat fruits and veggies. You know, eat healthy and help the Ayahuasca cleaning your body.
But equally important is to maintain good mental shape.
You see, stressing about the diet is probably worse than enjoying your food.
Sit in silence for some time, observe your thoughts and stretch your body a bit. Don’t use drugs and don’t get shitfaced the week before. That’s about it, I’d say.
But no one knows, really, and no two answers are alike.
I assume we got the experience we needed, given our current lifestyle.
The day of the Ayahuasca ceremony
Samuel said to meet at 3pm in front of the big church, next to Poblado’s park.
I was nervous. In fact, I was scared.
A bold guy dressed in a traditional indigenous shirt walked up to us, smiling. “Are you here for the Ayahuasca?” he asked. We nodded in agreement. He introduced himself as Samuel. We sat down next to the park, waiting for three more participants.
Samuel, chewing on crushed coca leaves and licking liquefied tobacco, a sacred ritual as we would soon learn, outlined the next few hours.
Pointing towards the green mountain belt behind Medellin, he said this is where we would go tonight for the ceremony. I still did not know what to expect, but I felt calm and safe in Samuel’s presence, who answered all questions we had.
When the last participant arrived, the twelve of us squeezed into the three cars and drove up the slopy back roads into the mountains, passing some of Medellin’s best street art and graffiti in one of the poorer barrios.
An hour later we arrived in Santa Elena.
The Ayahuasca ceremony
At the property, two huge German Shepherds welcomed us. The community center is located on top of a beautiful valley, sitting against the backdrop of a mountain.
We gathered around the ashes at the outdoor bonfire place.
“This ceremony began the day you decided to come here.” Samuel said.
He broke down what to expect over the next 14 hours and, with every word he spoke, I relaxed more and made myself at home, in my body and on the property.
The ceremony, he said, is led by two elders from an indigenous tribe in the Amazon, supported by a shaman-in-training and numerous helpers from the community. All, as I learned throughout the night, goodhearted, well-intentioned men and women, dedicating their lives to bringing peace to the world.
But for now, we had to wait for them to arrive.
When Samuel finished his introduction, the formal ceremony started.
The Herbal Bath
Next to a small wooden shed, home of the baños and shower, a kettle was cooking with goatweed (to promote openness), lemon cello (for sweetness), and mocura (for harmony).
The plants, boiled in fresh spring water, are needed for the first part of the ceremony. One by one, we went into the shower, carrying a small bucket of the hot herbal brew.
When I went in, I started sobbing.
My body was trembling as I looked at the plants in the bucket.
I asked them for permission to partake in the ceremony. I asked them to clean my body, clean my mind and help me reconnect to nature.
I topped the bucket up with some cold water and poured the steaming mix over my body, focusing on thoughts and actions I wanted to clean myself from.
As soon as the last drop left the bucket, I was cold. I rubbed the water onto every part of my body and put my clothes back on, without drying off.
I left the shower, freezing.
After this initial cleaning, I felt calm and connected to the other participants.
We sat inside the Palapa, a yurt-like construction made out of wood and hay, where the main part of the ceremony is conducted.
The first members of the community arrived, wearing traditional Indian ropes and headgear. As they prepared the stone altar with rocks, jewelry, and crystals, we moved on to the second part of the ceremony.
The Fire Ceremony
Across the garden, inside another wooden shed, the shaman-in-training waited.
He prepared a flammable elixir and set up a pan on the floor. As I walked in, he asked me to undress the upper part of my body. He lit up the elixir and fire jumped up from the pan below. He asked me to focus on my intentions for the night.
As I closed my eyes, he blew the elixir onto my skin, blessing my body.
He rubbed the negative off me, burning it in the pan.
My breathing calmed down and my shoulders sank into my body. At the end, I sensed a calm feeling and felt… more clean.
I joined the others around the fire.
The Tobacco Purge
Samuel told us that we might have a tobacco purge. The shaman would decide that, he said, based on the energy he feels and what the spirits tell him.
We sat down in the yurt, staring at the fire, waiting.
The elders arrived, one by one. They joked with the kids and laughed. I focused more on my intentions for the night and stared into the crackling fire. When the head shaman arrived, he demanded the tobacco purge.
Here is how it works:
We sat around the outside bonfire in a circle. It was pitch-dark and nocturnal creatures sang their songs far out in the mountains around us.
The shaman stirred up a bowl of liquid tobacco, blended with tree-salt.
When the paste was ready, he went around the circle and stopped in front of every participant. He dipped his index and middle finger in the tobacco bowl, producing a sticky string of the brown paste.
I was sitting in the middle, so I had some time to observe.
I watched the shaman sticking his dripping tobacco fingers into the mouth of the first participants. Just seconds later, vomiting sounds filled the air.
I had no idea how bad it was going to be, until it was my turn.
The shaman introduced himself and told me to open my mouth. He put the tobacco down my throat. Moments later, I wanted to throw up. In fact, I wanted to die. I fainted and could not focus my eyes. I felt sick like never before.
The goal of the purge is to clean the body, prepare it for the Ayahuasca. It worked.
I dry-vomited for twenty minutes, watching the other’s empty their stomachs into the fire. The helpers passed me a bowl of sweet pineapple-puree and finally, I could puke out the tobacco in three loud waves.
Around one hour after the purge began, we all felt better, cleaner, and moved back into the yurt for the next part of the ceremony, the circle of words.
The Circle of Words
By now the community members all changed into traditional clothes, wearing headbands, fossil necklaces, and bracelets. The elders claimed the hammocks behind the altar, while the younger generation spread out throughout the yurt, ready to help us.
I was asked to translate from Spanish to English, and vice versa. My heart rate increased and I was afraid of failing the task. I mostly use Spanish to order food, not to talk about the deepest meaning of life.
The elders introduced two sacred plants that are said to connect words directly to the spirits, purify thoughts: crushed coca leaves (“Manvil”) and liquid tobacco (“Anvil”).
One by one, we stopped by the altar.
First, we stuffed a scoop of crushed green coca into our left cheek, chewing it slowly. After that we placed a quarter-sized blob of liquid tobacco on the left side of our hands, licking it bit-by-bit throughout the circle of words.
Frankly, my body could not handle any more tobacco after the purge and I left it on my hand to dry.
The circle of words began and the elders welcomed us to share our thoughts, enhanced with and connected to the spirits through Manvil and Anvil.
We talked about the importance of connecting the Western world with traditional medicines and rituals from the indigenous and how sacred plants like coca and tobacco have been turned into evil substances, ruining the lives of thousands today.
We talked about unity and peace, living in communion with nature. We talked about the future of the planet. A future that we are creating right now.
I managed to translate most parts, except for when the oldest shaman spoke. Still, I think we all go the message and were now prepared for the first cup of Jage (Ayahuasca).
The first cup of Ayahuasca
The tribe huddled up around the boiling Ayahuasca, chanting, dancing, and laughing. We first-timers stood back and observed. Now it was time to focus on our intentions for the night, tell the Ayahuasca what we need help with.
Here is what I asked for:
I wanted to learn to be kinder to myself, more gentle and accepting. I wanted to let go off negative thinking and judgments; towards others and myself. Last, I wanted to let go off residual anger towards my parents and grandparents. I wanted to forgive.
Now, the yurt went silent.
We all waited around the fire and the head shaman sat behind the altar. With one welcoming gesture, he invited us to take the medicine.
I lifted the cup towards my mouth, shaking a little. I drank it in one gulp and a vinegar-like, acidy taste filled my throat and nose. It was not that bad. Compared with the tobacco, it was almost pleasant.
When drinking the Ayahuasca, the idea is to hold it in for as long as possible, even if you want to throw up. Focus on the fight on the inside. See where it is coming from.
I sat down on a little hill outside the yurt, wrapped in a blanket. The sky was filled with lighting behind the mountains, occasionally allowing a glimpse at the round moon.
Moments later, I lost my idea of time.
The moon seemed to be below me, as my perspective changed and thoughts dissolved. I giggled and stared into the sky. It started to rain and I had to vomit, again.
This time it was a quick and easy cleaning, unlike with the tobacco. I rested some more on the hill, focusing on the sky which now seemed to be on the same level as my eyes.
Then the elders called us into the yurt for a healing ritual.
I felt completely at peace, almost dissolved, as I took a seat. I was half awake, while my other half faded into a dream-world, watching an octopus floating through space . I noticed the sound of drums playing from a distance, accompanied by harps and singing.
One shaman, his neck bedecked with fossil-teeth, told me to close my eyes. He stood in front of me, fawning incense into my nose and rubbing negative thoughts, emotions, and energy off my body, all to burn in the fire in the middle of the circle.
I felt… relieved.
I have no idea how long this went on, but at one point I was asked to take my shirt off. With my eyes closed, the shaman blew a liquid onto my body and asked me to inhale. I took a deep breath and my head snapped back in an instant.
My body sank deeper in the chair.
Now, he applied the poison ivy. He touched every inch of my upper body, including my face and armpits, with the plants, causing massive itching. This itching, they say, concludes the first part of the ceremony, helping the spirits to leave the body.
At the end, he applied a soothing lotion and wrapped me in a blanket.
Guitar tunes filled the air. I smiled.
The head shamans, all laughing and joking around the altar, invited us to drink a second cup of Jage (some of the indigenous drank four cups that night). After the initial cleansing, the second cup could work more with mind and spirit.
I lined up, prayed, and drank the second cup.
The second cup of Ayahuasca
I could not hold it in for long.
Minutes after I sat down, I stormed out of the yurt towards the bucket. More vomiting. More suffering. This time, it was over soon and I felt relieved. A member of the tribe helped me to stand up and escorted me back into the yurt.
The support was absolutely amazing. No matter where I went and what I did, there was always someone looking out for me, the whole night.
I sat back down and my head sank unto my lap. I hallucinated and, with my eyes closed, I could still see the aura of everyone in the room as a grey-blue shadow. Now, a young guy with a beautiful singing voice and ridiculous guitar skills played the music.
All time faded into oblivion.
I went on a journey deep into the memories of my mind, shining light onto previously unseen events. I can’t remember them now. I went in and out.
A hand tapped me on the back of my head. The shaman asked me to follow him to the shed for the message therapy. Cuddled up in my blanket, I walked through the garden and knocked on the wooden door.
Alejandra introduced herself and asked me to sit with my shirt off. She performed a back and head message, releasing bottled-up energy and helping me to let go. My mind was still in-between worlds. The message was absolutely amazing. Hot and cold feelings ran through my body as I smiled and sighed, letting go of what needed to leave me.
After the message, we hugged.
I took the blanket and went straight into one of the tents. I needed to rest. The ceremony had been going on for over 9 hours, I found out later.
The next thing I noticed was the sun shining through the tent. The morning had arrived and I looked into the faces of my fellow travelers. It was obvious that we all needed a few days to process what just happened…
The Ayahuasca Afterglow
Right now, I am sitting in a small room in a beautiful town called Salento. Eight days have passed between the ceremony and me finishing this piece today. I thought a lot about what has happened over the past week.
Here are my final thoughts (not sure how true they are):
I am much more relaxed. Maybe more relaxed than I have ever been. I am more accepting of myself and I think a lot less. I have not been angry once (except at this fucker who snored all fucking night in the dorm room the other night).
I gained a new perspective on my self-defeating thoughts and learned that they are not me. I picked them up along the road and I can drop them anytime, or at least take them less serious.
I imagine I hold stronger eye-contact and I talk less. I make more music.
Would I do it again? Yes. I will go this Saturday.
Would I recommend it? Yes.
If you are in Colombia, contact Samuel for an authentic Ayahuasca ceremony in Medellin. It is absolutely worth it, and at just 120,000 COP (Under $50 USD) you get more than you could ever expect.
And at 8 pages of writing, I think it is time to stop…