Although I have remained in contact with Viejo and his family over the interum, it had been fifteen years since I had been in the jungle. I began my work there with Viejos father, don Agustin Rivas in 1998 and had returned for varying lengths of time over the next five years. To say this time was transformative for me would be an understatement. The dream of starting an organization like Shamanic Voyages was first inspired here, I had long planned to share my love for the Amazon and its people with others and decided that now was the time.
Initially, this trip threatened to be a disappointment, with a low turnout and last minute cancellations, but as usual, things turned out to be just what they needed to be. We shortened our stay in the jungle, added a week in Cusco and the Sacred valley, and had the opportunity to experience some of the best of both worlds, as well as lay important groundwork for coming trips.
After meeting in Lima, we boarded a plane for Iquitos, the former Capitol of the rubber trade located on the Amazon river. Iquitos is the furthest point that ocean going vessels can navigate up the Amazon from the Atlantic, over 3,000 miles away. Travel to Iquitos is generally made by boat or plane, as there are no reliable roads connecting it to any other major cities.
We met Viejo, my old friend, who would be our shaman/host for the next week, visited some sights around the city and spent the night in a comfortable hotel, to await our boat the next morning for the passage to Tamishiacu, the village where his camp is located.
Due to the small size of our group, we were able to make the trip in a smaller speedboat, reducing the time to about a 90 minute trip upriver. Though it was the start of the rainy season, the weather was clear and the ride pleasant.
There were more signs of settlement than I remembered along the riverbank, but that was to be expected I supposed. The small farms, or ‘chakras’, that appeared from time to time are generally moved from place to place after a number of years, as part of the traditional sustainable agricultural practice common in the area. There were signs of more permanent structures as well and even an occasional cell tower!
The village of Tamshiyacu had changed a good deal as well. The landing was improved and there were quite a few boats there when we arrived. There were now stairs that climbed the bank, and moto taxis waiting at the top! With all the changes that greeted me, I decided that I preferred to walk in order to take in as much as possible on the way to the camp.
I would have to say that by all appearances, the village had tripled in size during the past fifteen years. The main avenue was wider and longer, and the secondary roads were now paved as well. In fact the main avenue was in the process of being extended even now. Our interpreter explained to us that the schoolchildren now have to attend classes in shifts, because the population has grown faster than much of the infrastructure. One major improvement though is that they now have electricity 24/7 rather than the 6:00 - 9:00 pm that I remembered.
As we reached the end of the pavement, our way abruptly became a jungle path. Before we knew it, we were at the gate of Viejos camp, Supay Chakra. This camp is somewhat smaller than Yushintaita, our original destination, but would more that meet the needs of our small group and was Viejos home base while in Tamshiyacu. We were assigned our rooms and were given some time to settle in before meeting later to join for our first ceremony
One of the high points of this week was being able to share this time with Arte, Viejos oldest daughter. We met on my first visit to the jungle 20 years ago, and I became very fond of her, eventually considering her to be like a niece, as her father was like a brother. In the following photo, Arte is ten years old and stands to the right, her cousin Phillie is to the left. I was singing my ‘spirit song’, which seemed to amuse the girls at the time. The next photo shows her today, now thirty with three girls of her own, standing with her father Viejo and her grandfather don Agustin, three generations of Rivas.
As our itinerary had changed, and we were to spend only one week in the jungle rather than two, we decided not to hold the Huito ceremony this time around. Huito is a local fruit, whose juice, when applied to the skin, turns it black overnight. Because it takes nine or ten days to wear off, and we would be in Cusco by then, we decided to remain undecorated and have an herbal bath to commemorate our arrival instead. We then had our first meeting, where we discussed our intentions for the work we hoped to accomplish this week. For some it was physical healing, for some, spiritual and emotional healing, and for others it was to deepen our spiritual practice. Guided partly by this information and partly by intuition, Viejo then assigned our various diets and treatment regimens.
The next morning we began the day with the Oje ceremony. Oje is the purgative medicine that prepares us for the coming work. Made from the sap of the latex tree, it is a highly caustic brew that cleans and purifies the system, killing any parasites or undesirable organisms in the process. You must drink large quantities of warm water throughout the process and will almost certainly vomit a number of times before it’s over, and what doesn’t come up… well, lets just say you end up very clean, top to bottom.
Other ceremonies and treatments ranged from drumming, to teas and tobaccos, music and massages, sharing sessions to instruction, and so much more. As much of this was of a personal nature, it is inappropriate to go into great detail, but it was a full and productive week. There is one thing that most people want to know about these trips to the jungle and that is: “Did you drink Ayahuasca?” A few words on that…
Ayahuasca, (capital A), is the common term for the visionary medicine made from Banisteriopsis caapi, the ayahuasca vine, and one of a number of other plants that contain dimethyltriptamine, (DMT). In this region of the Amazon, Chacruna is used as the partner plant. The ayahuasca contains two alkyloyds, Harmine and Harmiline, that allow the body to metabolize the DMT in the Chacruna. Together they become Ayahuasca the powerful teaching and healing medicine.
Although Ayahuasca has risen in popularity in recent years, I have some very strong opinions about this powerful and sacred medicine. First and foremost, it should NOT be taken from the jungle. It is a tremendous disrespect to the medicine to take it from its home, and in most cases it is illegal to possess and dispense outside the countries where it is indigenous. Ayahuasca is not a recreational drug. People who take it for that purpose are usually disappointed. It should be taken only under the guidance of a qualified Ayahuascuero and in conjunction with a proper ‘dieta’, the diet prescribed by the Ayahuascuero well in advance of joining a ceremony. There may be well meaning people who wish to share a ‘good thing’, and claim to have experience with this medicine, but I sincerely doubt they have spent the many years of training a true Ayahuascuero must undergo to earn that title, and they seldom show evidence of respect for the dieta. If you truly feel called to this, please approach this medicine with the proper respect. In the wrong hands it can be deadly.
That said, I would like to move on to the positive aspects of this part of our experience with this medicine. Our ceremonies were held in the temple and as is customary, in the dark. The participants wear white clothing in order to be detected in the low light. Before the lights are extinguished however, the spirits are called in, the directions are honored and we are given the brew to drink. After drinking, we sit on our benches and wait for the medicine to work while the Ayahuascuero drums, plays music and sings his ‘icaros’, or spirit songs. As with most of the shamanic ceremonies I have experienced, details differ slightly with each shaman or in the course of time, but much of the ceremony was familiar to me from past memories.
We held two Ayahuasca ceremonies during our short stay. The first one was the first time that two of our group had drunk Ayahuasca, and was memorable to say the least. Most of the time, nausea and vomiting are part of the experience, but once gotten past, the visions, insights and lessons are vibrant and filled with significance and deep meaning. Often there is a sense of holding more than you can possibly take in deep within you, to be processed over time, below the level of consciousness. I have seen this process reverse addictive behaviors, depression, anxiety and even persistent physical illnesses. Though not for everyone, for some, including myself, it is a peak life experience.
For our second ceremony, we drank a batch that we had just finished making that day. The spirit of the plants was very strong, and though causing intense nausea in almost everyone in the temple at once, after its passing, the visions were beautiful and the power in the space was palpable. Most of us agreed that it took us to where the last ceremony left off and kept going. The medicine stayed with us after the ceremony ended and led to some amazing dreams and visions throughout the night.
When we weren’t working with the medicines, we spent time drumming, going for walks and swims, or spending time together or alone to take in the beauty of this place and our experiences here. I for one, felt like I had come home to an important part of my life with people I love in an easy and genuine way. The new people I met were warm and easy to become close to as well.
We took an outing to Yushintaita, don Agustins camp one day, stopping at Malenas camp along the way. Malena has been working with don Agustin for many years and was hosting a group from Europe at the time. Yushintaita was where I first began working with Ayahuasca with don Agustin , and will always be a special place for me. If all goes as planned, it will be where Shamanic Voyages will go on our next trip to the Amazon.
This trip to the jungle turned out to be an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and lay a groundwork for future visits, as well as share the experience with others. In retrospect, once again the trip became just what it needed to be. While there, each day seemed to stretch away and fill itself with richness, and when it came to an end, it seemed as though we had just arrived. Hasta luego…
click on images to advance
In retrospect, even though I would have been very happy to stay in the jungle for another week, I’m glad that we had the chance to come to Cusco. I have come to love this city and its surroundings, and count many who live there as true friends. Cusco, the ancient capitol of the Inka Empire, is still the cultural capitol of the area, with many notable places of interest within easy reach. The objective while here this time was to get to know the city itself a little better, as well as to spend some quality time with some Cusco friends, including the estimable Don Carlos Anibal Candia Muriel, his niece and assistant Monica and our good friend and translator Lilia.
Once again we chose Casa de Elena to call home while in Cusco for its comfort, reasonable price and excellent location. Lilia would join us for part of each day and we were free to choose what to do as we went along. The first day we took it easy in order to acclimate to the nearly 3600 meter, (12,000 ft), altitude. We visited the main plaza and its surroundings, ate some delicious food and caught up on some rest.
Cusco Main Plaza (click on photo for more views)
On our first full day in Cusco we decided to visit