Rurrenabaque, Bolivia. Somewhere deep in the jungle…
I crouched on the hay-covered panoply underneath the makeshift palapa, smoke blowing up my nostrils from the crackling hearth. I was in hell, swirling through the depths of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. As I fell deeper and deeper into a bottomless hole, I opened my eyes and saw reality for the first time.
This story covers my second session with Ayahuasca in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia.
In June 2015 I went for my first encounter with Jagé–the Colombian word for the strong brew of Chacruna, containing large amounts of DMT, and Banisteriopsis Caapi, allowing the human body to orally absorb the DMT–in Medellin.
You can read all about it right here.
Hunting Down Ayahuasca in Rurrenabaque
When I set foot on the 18-seater airplane, powered by two four-bladed propellers, I had no idea I’d be drinking Ayahuasca five days later. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if I’d be alive by then, which consumed most of my brainpower.
After one hour of jolting and shaking, praying and hoping, we landed in Rurrenabaque, the heart of Bolivia’s booming eco-tourism in the Amazon.
I disembarked and felt the humidity wrapping itself around my body like a second skin, smelled a dank, rich breeze of jungle air. They call the Amazon the Lounges of the Earth for a reason, I thought, fighting in line for my bag.
I went straight into town with one hour to kill before my Pampas Tour. I spotted a wood cut-like sign prominently promising Ayahuasca. I went inside and asked about it. One black-bearded guy, sporting a Mohawk, a self-made tank top with a marihuana leaf and a tattoo of the sun shining over a herd of buffalos on his right biceps, observed me from the side.
The tour guides staved me off, recommending me to check back after my tour.
I strolled around town and, by accident, found one of the best bakeries on this planet. This place is right in the jungle and makes bakeries in Paris look like fools. If you ever go to Rurrenabaque I recommend you stop by there.
Chewing croissants, I hopped on the mud-covered Jeep for the Pampas Tour and noticed the Mohawk-guy from earlier sitting on the passenger’s seat. He introduced himself as Matías.
On our first stop, he turned around, grinned and said:
“I heard you’re looking for Ayahuasca?”
“Yeah, I am.” I replied.
“I know a guy who’s doing Brazilian-style ceremonies just outside of Rurrenabaque. He’s right in the jungle. I’ll give you his contact details and you can call him.”
“Cool,” I said. “Thanks.”
We became friends over the three days of the tour, floating past countless alligators on the river, fishing piranhas with a hand-held woodblock, and looking for cobras in the swamps.
On Friday afternoon we returned to Rurrenabaque.
Matías called up Guillermo Labbe, a Chilean family man in his thirties, who, by his own account, has been conducting Ayahuasca ceremonies for ten years.
One hour later, Guillermo stood outside our door, a warm and welcoming grin on his face, his eyes relaxed and attentive. We talked about the ceremony for thirty minutes and agreed to arrive at his place in the jungle the next day around 8pm.
The ceremony, Guillermo explained, will follow a Brazilian tradition. In Brazil, one religion called Santo Daime utilizes the Ayahuasca brew (Daime) in their messes, experiencing god directly. The religion has saved many men in the violence-ridden country, relieving them from their own minds and offering a sense of belonging outside of drugs and street gangs.
No meat from now on, no sex and no hard alcohol!
Guillermo said as he vanished into the night.
It’s Ceremony Day!
The next morning I headed back to the bakery, stocking up on chocolate croissants for after the ceremony. I spent most of the day in hammocks, pondering my intentions for the night. I couldn’t come up with anything specific, so I decided to ask the Ayahuasca to relieve me from excessive thoughts and help me to gain a sense of clarity.
Matías, who joined the ceremony himself, and I agreed to go to the ceremonial grounds early. We walked towards the Rio Beni, paid $1 for a short cruise, and hopped on a motor taxi on the other side, riding down gravel and dirt roads for fifteen minutes. We even crossed two small rivers on the motorcycle.
I thought we’d never make it.
We got off at the end of the road and walked in the sweltering heat, passing indigenous families, staring children and wild dogs. It must’ve been around 40 degrees Celsius in the sun. I wrapped my hooded jacked around my head. Matías led us onto a little path, leading right into the jungle.
Hiking for fifteen minutes, we turned left and cut through the vegetation, following a barely visible path downhill, leading deeper into the jungle. We climbed over roots, slid down dirt-covered trails and jumped down gaps.
Finally, we reached even ground.
I spotted a wooden construction between trees and saw a topless Guillermo carrying firewood around camp, singing. He seemed at peace.
We had four hours until the ceremony and explored the jungle, finding a river just outside of earshot from the camp. Matías called me over and pointed to the ground.
“Check this out. Those are Jaguar pawprints,” he grinned. “Sometimes the jaguar comes to visit during the ceremony. Guillermo says you can call it with your mind.”
“Aren’t they dangerous?” I asked.
“Only if they perceive you as weak. Or if they’re really hungry. When you see the jaguar, just look it in the eyes and keep calm. Use your mind to tell it you’re strong.” Matías said. “Oh, and never turn your back on it. It’ll bite your neck and rip open your flesh with its claws.”
“Cool,” I lied, hoping to not cross paths with the predator.
The Ceremonial Site and Brewing the Ayahuasca
The heart of the ceremonial site was a makeshift wooden hut–the Mexicans call them palapa–with a fire pit in the center and hammocks swinging between the poles. There was a canopied altar on one end, decorated with leopard skin, crosses, pictures and stones.
Next to the hut was a small, canopied sleeping area with mosquito nets.
There was a little workshop area under the trees. Guillermo and his helpers brewed the Ayahuasca there in a large, witch-like pot.
I sat down next to him, grabbed a knife and started cleaning the Banisteriopsis Caapi, removing little white fungi. I handed the clean roots to Matías, who hammered down on them with a stone crusher, opening up the root’s canals.
Guillermo mixed the crushed roots with the Chacruna leaves, boiling both in fresh river water. Now, we waited… and waited.
I rested in the hammock, napping, thinking, meditating, napping.
At around midnight, Guillermo put on his ceremonial outfit.
“Okay, we’re going to start the ceremony now…”
My heart rate increased and I sat down on the panoply next to fire.
Let the Festivities Begin
The Rapé Cleaning
We sat in a circle around the crackling fire. It was way beyond nightfall and nocturnal jungle creatures dominated the sound landscape.
Guillermo dug out a wooden pipe-like device from his hemp bag. He placed an ash-grey powder in one end of the device. It was Rapé, crushed tobacco blended with bark and other leaves. He walked around the circle, blowing the powder into both nostrils of each participant.
Rapé, they say, has stimulating and cleansing effects on both, mind and body.
I felt like Guillermo shot a lighting bolt through my nose straight into my brain. My forehead was burning and every muscle in my face contracted, forming the grimace of a lifetime. I coughed, spat, and blew my nose. That stuff was drain cleaner for my frontal sinuses.
And yeah, I was definitely more awake.
The First Cup: My Mind’s Last Stand
Guillermo walked to the altar, picked up a wooden cup and prayed in Portuguese.
He filled the cup to the brim with the just-brewed Ayahuasca and passed it to an Argentinian guy sitting cross-legged on his right. He held the cup to his forehead, paused, and drank the brew in little swallows.
I was third in line and felt my heart rate increase as Guillermo came closer.
When Guillermo passed me the cup I told myself to pause a moment and reveal my intentions to the brew. Hands shaking, I asked for clarity, the ability to leave my mind alone and forgiveness, for myself and others.
I took a deep breath, felt my heart accelerate further and touched the rim with my lips, pouring the tea in my mouth, flushing it down in one big gulp.
How does Ayahuasca taste?
Like wine-gone-bad, mixed with vinegar and topped up with acids from your childhood chemistry set. It’s okay. Blue cheese is worse.
Guillermo started singing in Portuguese, hitting the drums and playing the flute or guitar. He transformed into a one-man spiritual band, protecting the ceremonial site with traditional chants, pausing occasionally for moments of meditation.
I lay down next to the fire, thinking:
Hhhm, this stuff isn’t working. I hope this ceremony is over soon. Why did you come here, anyways? You’re not that bad off. You don’t need healing. Now, you’re stuck here all night. Shit. You probably won’t get any sleep… and you have to catch that flight tomorrow. Maybe I don’t need this Ayahuasca stuff. See, it’s not even working. Maybe I’m so spiritually resolved already that it doesn’t have any effects on me. Is this guy going to sing all night?
It was my mind’s last stand–a final attempt to stay in control–or better: it’s last attempt to keep up the illusion of being in control.
An illusion that would be burned to the ground over the next hours.
The Second Cup: That Godlike, Eternal Now
In the midst of my internal dialogue Guillermo passed around another cup.
Minutes after forcing it down I lost my sense of time and memory. I don’t know what happened. Here’s the best way I can describe the experience:
My Awareness shifted outside of myself–the mental story some might call Ego or Self Image–and I became one with my surrounding.
Maybe I became one with god?
I don’t know. Maybe I became the music.
I guess I lost my mind, completely.
My sense of self crumbled and I became what I had been all along–that eternal, godlike Now–but couldn’t see due to my mind’s grip on my life.
I saw the world, fresh and new, without the stories, labels and judgments I got so used to layer over reality. I was everything and everything was me. No past and no future.
The Third Cup: Ground Zero for my Mind
I curled up in fetal position, wrapped up in a red blanket right next to the fire. I opened my eyes and looked at the altar. Guillermo was there, preparing a third round of Ayahuasca. When he told us the day before that we, in line with Santo Daime’s tradition, would drink strong Ayahuasca (and a lot of it), I had my doubts.
But damn, he was right.
I didn’t want another cup at this time but followed his instructions and drank it.
I sank back down on my blanket and closed my eyes.
I whirled through corridors of white, warm light, decorated with shapes and patterns. The visions were strong now. In fact, there was no difference between me and the vision anymore, no outside spectator who could describe the vision. Everything was vision.
And then, I was scared.
I dwindled deeper into the light, serpents and alligators dancing their kaleidoscopic dance on the edges, but there was no separate “I.” I was everything there was–the light, the serpents, the alligators, the shapes, the objects.
Where did they come from? Had they been there all along, living inside of me?
Is it possible that I am, in fact, the whole universe–everything there ever was, is, and will be–hiding behind my normal, day-to-day consciousness formed by the material world around me?
Who am I?
Then, I was in hell. Or was hell inside me?
Hell was everything there was in that moment. Torture, screams, pain. All that seems to live inside of me too. I can’t have the so-called good and avoid the bad. I share mankind’s evil too. Sure, It’s easy to identify with the good, the saints, the angels; but Hitler, Mao, Manson–who wants to be like them?
I saw that to be whole–in flow with life–is to accept and integrate the “bad and evil” as readily as the “good.” I put these words in brackets here because they are really just words to categorize different experience.
Fundamentally, there’s just one never-ending universal experience.
I opened my eyes. What I saw next burned itself in my memory.
The whole world around me–the people, the plants, the trees–had a purple-green glare to them. All objects from the physical world seemed impermanent and non-fixed. I could spot the tiniest atoms, or whatever you call the universal fabric everything is made from, swirling and dancing right in front of my eyes. The world was in motion.
It was… profound; my personal Ground Zero. A complete reset for my mind.
My world of stories, labels, words and judgments–a world that often dominates my life–had been removed. The mental map I had created inside my mind over 29 years dissolved. I saw with my eyes only for the first time. No mental modifications.
I saw reality; the dancing, swirling, changing, always in motion right now.
And then, I vomited. Balancing on my toes, my mouth wide open, waves of purge ran through my body, coming from everywhere inside of me, cleansing me.
The Fourth and Fifth Cup: The Human Dilemma!
We drank two more half-cups of the brew, followed by more vomiting and singing.
I walked around the camp and looked up. I felt an overflowing feeling of pure bliss, looking at a clear sky spangled with stars. I looked at the trees and plants. I felt like being a part of them. I raised my arms to the sky.
I felt completely at peace, at home, inside my own body.
The rest of the night we sat around the fire. Guillermo ended the ceremony and began talking to the others. I remained silent, feeling inside my own body, observing the spectacle inside my head, solving all my mental problems in this sharpened state.
And then I realized this:
All human problems are caused by thinking. Reality knows no problem. Problems are stories we create inside our own minds.
Of course, there’s suffering in the world. There’s real pain. People die.
But the cruelest and longest lasting suffering we create inside our heads by thinking, and re-thinking, not letting go and creating stories that we layer over reality and replay all over again.
We create our own suffering… and only we can stop it.
Then, I slept.
The next time I opened my eyes the sun was up. I heard jungle birds singing. I felt the humidity on my skin. Guillermo was already, or still, running around campsite. I walked over to the river, naked, and washed myself in the fresh water.
I grabbed my bag, unzipped it and dug out a white plastic bag. I opened it, put the pastry in my mouth, tasted the rich, creamy chocolate coated in sugar, and thought:
That’s damn good pastry.
This is a hell of a long article, I guess. I left out a couple of things on purpose. I had to.
Writing this, I had some ideas for supplementing articles about Ayahuasca. I will post them here once they’re done and turn this piece into an on-going dialogue about Ayahuasca in Rurrenabaque, and Ayahuasca in general.
I imagine you might have some questions.
Please drop them into the comment box and I’ll answer them there.
If you want to contact Guillermo, click here. The prices for the ceremony are negotiable. I paid 450 Bolivianos, around 65 American dollars.
All pictures have been taking by Matías.
Would I recommend the ceremony: Abso-goddamn-lutely.
Much love and may you find what you need in life!