To Hell and Back, Healing Depression with Ayahuasca and Huachuma, Part 2
Welcome to part two of this three part blog post of healing with ayahuasca and huachuma. One of our readers was so gracious to share his story with us. If you missed part one, read it here before you dive into his arrival to Peru and first experience with ayahuasca. Buckle up, it's an intense read! (Part 1 Post)
Mos Eisley's Spaceport: It was early morning when my flight from Lima, Peru, landed in the jungle city of Iquitos. I had flown through the night and hadn't had any sleep. Exhausted, I was. I had just turned 39, and this trip – a solo trip to a country that spoke a different language – was the first trip outside of the United States I had ever taken. I was nervous, scared, and tired all at the same time.
The city of Iquitos is a truly unique city. It is the largest city in the world that is not accessible by car. You can't drive to it, because there are no roads leading to it. The only way to get to it is either by boat up the Amazon River, or by plane. The “Capital of the Amazon,” as Iquitos is known, is the most surreal place I've ever seen. It is a wild place that reminded me very much of Mos Eisley's Spaceport in the movie, Star Wars. I could almost hear the music from the cantina scene playing as I collected my luggage and hailed a taxi, an ancient rust bucket that would have been sent to the scrap heap many years ago in most other places. But since it's very expensive to ship vehicles up the river to Iquitos, the industrious locals tend to make things last much longer than they normally would.
I wish I could tell you much more about this amazing city and the things I saw in it, but that's not what this article is about. I'd love to tell you about the thousands of motorcycles that traverse the city, and how the only traffic law anyone seemed to obey was stop lights. I'd love to tell you more about the guy I saw who jumped out in the middle of the street and juggled machetes for tips at one stop light. I wish I could tell you more about all of the poverty I saw as I passed by the shanties people lived in just outside the city limits, and about the Belen market where they very sadly sell caged monkeys to tourists. Iquitos is such an interesting place, and I have so many things to say about this amazing and unique city. But this article is about ayahuasca. So let's get on with it, shall we?
The Hummingbird Ayahuasca Healing Centre: My taxi dropped me off at the Yellow Rose of Texas, a restaurant operated by an American expat from Texas. This is where the Hummingbird journey begins. Everyone scheduled for the next retreat was supposed to meet at this restaurant at 10 a.m. and then we were all supposed to travel together to our destination. I arrived early, but I didn't have long to wait. In no time at all others who were there for the retreat started arriving...people from all around the world. There were people there from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Brazil, and several European countries. It was a very diverse group. Jim and Gina also arrived to meet us. We all took a little time to eat at the restaurant together, socialized a bit, and we then traveled to the retreat in a small bus. Oh, if you ever find yourself at the Yellow Rose of Texas in Iquitos, Peru, do try the crocodile sandwich.
Upon arrival at the retreat I was instantly struck by its beauty. Everything looked just as amazing in person as it was in the pictures I saw on the internet. Jim showed us around the property a bit and everyone chose a bed upstairs in the big house. Everyone except for me, that is. Jim took me on a short path through the jungle to a small jungle hut called a tambo. This was to be my “hotel room” since I was specifically there for healing. I got a place all to myself! The tambo contained a simple bed, a table and chair, a hammock, and a small toilet area. Perfect. During my stay at the Hummingbird, I would spend a lot of time in my private tambo during the days relaxing in solitude.
The Tobacco Ceremony: Later that afternoon we all assembled in the maloka (meeting room). The maloka is a large, circular hut where all of the ayahuasca ceremonies would later be held. But today we were there for a different purpose. We were there to throw up.
I remembered reading something about a tobacco ceremony, but I really didn't know much about it. Somewhere in my mind I envisioned the shaman blowing tobacco smoke on us as he blessed us (or something like that). Really, I had no idea what the tobacco ceremony entailed. It's probably best that I didn't.
As a side note, I want to point out that the word “shaman” is not native to the peoples of the Amazon Jungle. It is a word that was imported from outside the region. What we refer to as “shamans” in the Amazon Jungle are what the locals refer to as “healers,” or “medicine men.” They are people who have spent a great deal of time studying the many healing plants in the jungle. It is ironic, I think, that the medical community is still discovering the incredible healing power of these plants that the locals have known about for thousands of years. Also, the use of ayahuasca by the Amazonian peoples has no religious component to it. It is used primarily for healing and is often referred to simply as “the medicine.” The ayahuasca experience itself is simply referred to as “getting better.” For the sake of keeping things simple, however, I will continue using the term “shaman” in this article.
With everyone in the group assembled on yoga mats on the floor in a semi-circle, Jim and the retreat's shaman arrived together carrying something in a jug. That jug, as Jim explained, contained a tea that was made from a type of tobacco that grows in the jungle. The purpose of drinking the tea was to make us nauseated so that we would throw up (into purge bowls that were conveniently provided for us). The tobacco purge (as it is known) is used by the indigenous peoples to cleanse them of negative energies prior to using ayahuasca. There are some people, Jim explained, that ayahuasca can't heal because they have too much negative energy built up inside them. The tobacco purge helps to clear those energies so the ayahuasca can do its healing work.
One by one we each went up to receive our cup of tobacco tea. And then it was my turn. I went up to Jim and the shaman and received the foul-looking cup of tobacco tea, brought it up to my mouth, and slowly started to drink it down. I can't even begin to describe how awful it tasted other than to say it tasted like tobacco smoke smells. After forcing it down I returned to my yoga mat, made sure my purge bowl was in front of me, and waited for the inevitable purge. And waited...and waited...and waited.
All around me people were throwing up, like some kind of scene out of a frat house full of drunken revelers. Except this was no party. And it wasn't fun. Some started to throw up after just a few minutes while others took much longer. A very heavy nausea eventually gripped my stomach and I wanted so much to throw up, but nothing was happening.
One thing that I had not even considered prior to making this journey was the fact that I had a history of stomach problems. After dealing with years of heartburn issues, my body had learned (quite well, I must add) how to suppress nausea. This was not something I had even thought about and it was now painfully clear that it was going to be a problem. After about half an hour I and one other person were the only ones remaining who had not yet thrown up. In an effort to help “move” things along, I got up and started walking around inside the maloka. Still nothing. More time passed. More pacing around. I went outside the maloka and walked around some more. And then it happened. I finally threw up into the jungle. Sweet relief! The tobacco ceremony was finally over and my negative energies were now presumably cleansed.
We ate a nice supper and then relaxed the rest of the evening before retiring for the night.
A Trip To Hell: The next morning we ate a light breakfast. That was all the food we were to receive that day since you can't drink ayahuasca with any food on your stomach. We relaxed and socialized most of the day until it was time to gather once again in the maloka at 7 p.m. to experience what we had all traveled so far for. It was time to experience ayahuasca, one of the most powerful psychedelics known to man.
Ayahuasca is a psychedelic with a history that spans thousands of years in the areas of Central and South America. It is made by brewing together two different Amazonian plants including the ayahuasca vine (from which the medicine is named) and a small plant called chacruna (that sort of resembles a house plant). Of the tens of thousands of plants in the Amazon Jungle, no one really knows how the native Amazonian peoples figured out to brew the two plants together to make a tea out of them. Taken individually, neither plant does anything. But brew them together and you get a powerful psychedelic.
With darkness approaching we assembled once again in a semi-circle on yoga mats inside the maloka. Jim and the shaman arrived moments later and took their seats at the head of the semi-circle. By the dim light of a small oil lantern in the center of the room, the shaman took the container of ayahuasca and opened it. He then lit a type of cigarette (a mapacha) made from Amazonian tobacco and started to bless the ayahuasca by saying something in Spanish and blowing smoke into it. He then said a prayer for a safe experience and finished by making the sign of the cross. One by one we each went up and took a three-quarter cup (a starter dose) of ayahuasca, drank it, and returned to our seats. I had read about how horrible ayahuasca was supposed to taste, but I didn't think it was all that bad. It certainly tasted much better than the tobacco tea. After each of us had drank ayahuasca, Jim went to the middle of the room and extinguished the oil lamp. Everything went dark.
I waited expectantly with my eyes closed for those amazing visuals I had read so much about. Ten minutes passed. Nothing. Then twenty minutes. Still nothing. I opened my eyes and looked around the room. It was pitch black and I could barely make out the outlines of those around me. I closed my eyes again and continued to wait. After a long period of silence, the shaman started to sing. I don't know if his singing had anything do to with it or if it was just a coincidence, but just a few moments after he started singing was when my visuals started.
With my eyes closed I saw the very distinct image of a face, but not just any face. It was the unmistakable image of an Aztec face...or possibly Mayan, like the ones you see carved on the ancient ruins that still stand today. In a flash it was there in bright, neon color, and then it was gone. What was that? I wondered.
I continued to wait for more to happen as the shaman continued singing. By now a couple of people around me were throwing up. I started to feel intoxicated, like I'd been drinking alcohol. I opened my eyes again, but now I couldn't see much of anything. What little I could see before was now very blurry.
I suddenly became aware of another sensation. I felt incredibly hot all over...abnormally hot like someone hot just turned up the jungle heat as high as it could possibly go. My body felt so uncomfortably hot that I stripped my shirt off and tossed it behind me. And that's when I saw it.
I saw what I can only describe as an evil entity. It was an entity that looked kind of like a ghost wearing a dark hooded veil. I saw it move as though it was pulling back the curtain on something it wanted me to see. The entity disappeared and in an instant I was transported to another dimension where everything was pitch dark but I could see a soft glow all around me. I also heard a loud roaring sound, like the sound of a freight train. Where was I? What was going on? It took me a while to figure out what was going on because at the very instant I was transported to this place, something else happened. My head started to hurt.
It was the worst headache I had ever experienced in my my life and I started rubbing my head as hard as I could to make it stop, but it was no use. And to make matters worse, I started to feel an unbelievably strong nausea in the pit of my stomach, like I really needed to throw up. I picked up my purge bowl and held it close to me, but nothing was happening.
Once again I failed to consider my problem with resisting nausea. I never did throw up that night.
I found myself dealing with a terrible headache, unbelievable nausea, my body was roasting, and I had this weird vision of being in a very dark place with a soft glow and a loud roaring sound all around me. And then I finally figured it out. I finally realized what this place was that I had been taken to. This is what the evil entity wanted me to see. I was in Hell.
I called out to Jim for help that night and told him what I was experiencing and he tried to console me as best he could. After a few hours (at least I think it was a few hours) Jim left the maloka and returned with some lemonade for me to drink. He explained that citrus juice helps to neutralize the ayahuasca. I'm not sure if it helped or not but there was something that did happen. A short while later Jim returned to me and told me the shaman was singing a song just for me. I thanked him profusely. Just moments after the shaman started singing the new song, my head stopped hurting, my nausea went away, and I started to come out of my vision. I was starting to think there was more to the shaman's singing than mere coincidence. Eventually, the ayahuasca ceremony came to an end and we all called it a night.
The next day I felt truly terrible, like I was going through the worst hangover I had ever experienced. I could barely move. While washing my hair in the shower I saw clumps of hair in my hand. I had rubbed my head so hard the previous night, that I had literally pulled the hair out of my head.
I was supposed to use ayahuasca several more times during my stay, but I now realized that my issue with not throwing up was going to be a major problem for me. With great reluctance I told Jim that I probably would not use ayahuasca again.
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