Ayahuasca is a medicinal brew that has long been used by Amazonian tribes for divinatory and healing practices. It mainly has to do with philosophical and astronomical virtues; the medicine, containing psychoactive infusions, is administered by a shaman in some places today and is meant to help people open up their minds and connect with their souls. Individuals often take Ayahuasca to meet and conquer their fears, objectively view their pasts and/or envision their futures.

In order to prepare for our Ayahuasca ceremony, we were told to avoid salt, spice, processed food, caffeine and fat to cleanse our systems—we had to begin fasting at 2PM the day we finished our Machu Picchu trek so we could participate in the indigenous ritual that night.

Greg the Shaman met us at the train station to take us back to his home and spiritual center in Urubamba. We were instinctively mortified to be in such close quarters with him because we REEKED after the intense four-day trek. He passed us some scented oil to rub on our palms and necks to prepare for the ceremony… Or so he said. It was most likely a gentle attempt to cover our stench.

When we arrived at his property (in the middle of nowhere, Peru,) well after dark, we walked up a dirt path and crossed a tiny stream, following the soft music and warm light coming from within the compound.

Before the ceremony actually started, we participated in a cleansing ritual. Greg has a homemade sweat lodge teepee set up in the yard. We were instructed to take off as much clothing as we were comfortable with and head in. When I first climbed in it was so smoky I couldn’t see or breathe and I thought I was going to have to evacuate immediately. I could see that as each person climbed in behind me everyone had the same exact reaction. We had to squeeze ten people into a space that was probably meant for four—around a smoking fire pit no less! Someone said not to worry and that it would get better, but as I looked around I could tell we were all having individual mini panic attacks. Finally Greg entered the teepee, sprinkled some herbs and spices over the fire to make it smell nice, and then sprayed it with water to create steam instead of smoke.

We sat there in the pitch black, fighting for air and sweating all over each other. The whole point of the sweat lodge was to cleanse and relax ourselves, but the entire time I was thinking about how badly I wanted to get out of there.

When we ultimately were invited to exit the teepee, we bounded out like bats from hell and were met with a bucket of cold water poured over our heads. We took quick hot showers and then changed into comfortable clothes.

The simple building on the property that serves as Greg’s spiritual center is bordered along the inside walls with mattresses. There were two tables set up in the center of the room covered in crystals, candles and other sacred objects.  We each got two blankets, a plastic bucket and a roll of toilet paper.

We started off with some yoga poses for balance and clarity before doing a few sound circles, chanting “ohm” all together to cause a strong vibration in the room. Greg performed traditional Inca prayers and chants and then came around to each of us and performed rituals to ready our individual spirits. He then gave us each a cup of the Ayahuasca drink, which tasted like thick, bitter coffee juice. By this point we were down to just one candle, but he soon blew it out and we sat in silence and blackness on our mattress pads before floating away into our own worlds.

I think it’s really important to note that going into this experience we had already learned a lot about Inca history and the traditional spiritual beliefs. As I wrote in the Machu Picchu blog, the legend of the snake, puma and condor is central to Peruvian culture. It’s good to have this knowledge going into an Ayahuasca experience because a lot of the visions and feelings that arise have to do with such beliefs.

Ayahuasca is a purifying drink and is meant to make you purge (which explains the plastic buckets and toilet paper.) Soon after the first drink I could hear the sound of people vomiting over Greg’s songs and chants. He played the mouth harp, didgeridoo and bongo drums throughout the night, to name a few instruments. His wife came around to each of us and rubbed scented oil in our hair and on our necks and faces. She spoke to us in Spanish about the importance of living in love, giving to others and pursuing our passions.

After about an hour Greg offered us all another cup of the Ayahuasca, which we eagerly accepted. We each went on our own spiritual journeys and I believe the experience was fulfilling for one and all—we definitely had a lot to meditate on during and after the ceremony.

The effects lasted until about 3 or 4AM when everyone started fading into sleep. In the morning, Greg and his wife presented us with a delicious breakfast spread—fresh fruit, croissants, guacamole, tea—and we ate like pigs because we were famished!

We shared our visions and experiences and offered one another insight into the meanings of our hallucinations and dreams. It was wonderful to share the event with such loving and trusting friends. Ayahuasca was definitely an incredible once in a lifetime experience for us!.

Posted on by Erica Duncan in Peru

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