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A Backpackers Guide to Drinking Ayahuasca in Iquitos
reprinted from the Iquitos Times and Travel Guide
by Andy Metcalf
If you've just arrived in Iquitos, or are planning to pass through here, then chances are you've already heard something about Ayahuasca. It's mentioned in many of the guide books and it's being whispered about by travellers far and wide. Perhaps you're intrigued enough to consider trying it. However, before you jump in there are some important things you need to know about.
First of all, it's very important to understand that Ayahuasca is absolutely not a recreational drug that is going to give you a fun, trippy experience like you might get from LSD or a low dose of magic mushrooms.
Ayahuasca is a very powerful and very sacred plant medicine that's been used for thousands of years by the indigenous peoples of the Amazon for the purposes of healing, spiritual development and divination. But primarily it's used for healing. Ayahuasca is essentially a medicine for the soul that works on all levels of your Being - physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
It's important to understand that Ayahuasca ceremonies are not often fun experiences, although if they are led by an experienced shaman they are almost always incredibly beneficial - and safe.
Purging is a big part of the Ayahuasca experience which often involves doing a lot of puking and shitting during, and sometimes after, the ceremony. But don't let that put you off, because it's an essential part of the healing process as you purge out all the negative stuff that's accumulated in your being over the years (this can be mental, emotional, physical stuff etc.). It's all gotta come out, and that's what
Ayahuasca does best.
Ayahuasca experiences can often be very intense, and for the purposes of healing, you may relive some traumatic or intensely emotional experiences from your past. You may also be forced to face your shadow-self which is the dark side of us; a side that we all have, that sometimes causes us to lie, cheat, deceive, criticise and generally make us act like assholes when we're not paying attention! However, by bringing more conscious awareness to this side of ourselves, Ayahuasca often helps us to become better people.
Make no mistake, drinking Ayahuasca is a spiritual experience that often leads to profound insights that may cause you to make some very life-altering decisions. Do not take this medicine lightly!
Next, it's essential you understand that you must be extremely careful about who you drink Ayahuasca with. When drinking Ayahuasca you are essentially putting your life and soul into the hands of another person, therefore it's important that the shaman is someone you can trust and feel safe with.
Unfortunately in Iquitos there are many charlatans (people who say they are shamans but they are not) and brujos (bad shaman who often use their spiritual powers to cause harm). You need to make sure you don't end up with either because the potential harm they can cause you (either by accident or on purpose) is not inconsiderable. Women particularly need to be extremely careful because unfortunately sexual abuse from charlatans and brujos is not unheard of.
As a backpacker you're probably on a tight budget and looking to do everything for bottom dollar, therefore that nice, friendly man you just met on the street offering to do a ceremony tonight for 50 soles may sound a lot more tempting than the recommended shamans that are often charging 150 soles or more (although they are often negotiable). Please do not make the mistake of drinking Ayahuasca with some random person you meet on the street just because they are cheaper and they seem nice and friendly (con men are often nice and friendly and seem trustworthy, which is why they succeed at being con men!). You will be taking an incredible risk if you do, and trust me, it's not worth it. For the sake of saving 50 to 100 soles you do not want to put your mental and spiritual health at risk.
I must also state that not all the good shamans charge a lot of money, nor does their price bear any reflection on their experience or trustworthiness. One of the most well-known and most expensive shaman in Iquitos has a bad reputation for molesting women in ceremony. However, the good shamans that charge little money (or even any money at all sometimes) are generally not in the city. They are village curanderos (healers) out in the surrounding jungle who primarily serve their local communities, not tourists. But don't take your chances out in the jungle unless you have a strong recommendation from someone you trust.
To find a reliable shaman who you can trust it's a good idea to ask for recommendations from several different people who live in the city, particularly some of the many gringos here who have a lot of experience drinking Ayhuasca in Iquitos. Most will only be too happy to help and pass on recommendations and advice. Don't initially trust anyone who has a ceremony to sell you! You can also find (or ask for) recommendations on the popular Ayahuasca forum at http://forums.ayahuasca.com/. There are many people there who have a lot of experience drinking in Iquitos.
Finally, here are a few more tips to make sure you have the best and safest possible experience.
Stick to the Ayahuasca diet for at least 24 hours before and after the ceremony (but 2 or 3 days is far more ideal). That is no alcohol, sugar, salt, spicy foods, dairy foods (particularly cheese), fermented foods, red meat or pork. It's especially important to avoid alcohol or other drugs for several days before and after the ceremony.
Do not plan on travelling the day after the ceremony. It's important to give yourself at least
a full day to relax and reflect on your experience.
Do not take Ayahuasca if you have high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes. You should also not drink if you have a history of mental problems or schizophrenia.
There are certain types of medication that must not be mixed with Ayahuasca. This includes most antidepressants, antibiotics.
Always take a flash light to the ceremony with you. Ceremonies are done in total darkness and you'll need one if nature calls (and it probably will). Also, take your own toilet paper in case the shaman has run out!
Do not have any expectations about what you might experience, particularly if you've already read a great deal about it. Everyone's experience of the medicine is unique and you may have a profound spiritual experience, or you may experience very little. The fewer expectations you have, the more likely that something profound will happen.
It's perfectly normal to feel a bit of fear before and during a ceremony but don't let it dominate your experience. Relax and let go, and trust that the medicine is always working for your highest good. So long as you are with a good shaman you are perfectly safe and no harm will come to you.
To really get the most out of Ayahuasca you should drink at least three times. Drinking once may give you an interesting experience, but the deeper and more profound healings and insights usually occur in the following ceremonies.
Despite that this article is mostly full of warnings and may seem a little negative, it is not my intention to scare you or put you off experiencing Ayahuasca. I just want to make sure you have a positive and safe ceremony and do not come to any physical or mental harm. If you arrive at the ceremony with an open-mind, an open-heart and with deep respect and reverence for this ancient and sacred medicine you will very likely have one of the most beautiful and profound experiences of your life.