Ayahuasca Healing Retreat in the Ecuadorian Jungle
“You are not just a meaningless fragment in an alien universe, briefly suspended between life & death, allowed a few short-lived pleasures followed by pain & ultimate annihilation. Underneath your outer form, you are connected with something so vast, so beautiful, so immeasurable, and so sacred, that it cannot be spoken of – yet I am speaking of IT now. I am speaking of IT now not to give you something to believe in, but to show you how you can know IT for yourself.”
Have you ever heard of ayahuasca? I had never heard of ayahuasca until I came across Graham Hancock‘s banned TED talk The War on Consciousness which prompted me to watch a number of ayahuasca testimonials on YouTube. Following an inner calling, I then traveled from Thailand, where I live, to the Napusamai Ayahuasca Lodge in the Ecuadorian rainforest to participate in some ayahuasca ceremonies hosted by Quechua traditional ayahuasca healers (ayahuasqueros) Luis Vargas and his son Juan Andi Vargas.
Juan Andi Vargas
The Napusamai Ayahuasca Lodge near Tena in Ecuador was recommended to me by a friend, so I contacted Juan to reserve a space for me on a two-week ayahuasca retreat to be held at the end of 2016, which happened to end on my 72nd birthday, and booked a somewhat epic flight involving three legs: Bangkok – Istanbul, Istanbul – Bogota and Bogota – Quito, involving a total total flying time of 25 hours and a total stopover time of 27 hours. In addition, on my return, I and my fellow passengers were treated to a three-day enforced stay at an Istanbul hotel at Turkish Airlines’ expense because all flights were cancelled due to heavy snow. The temperature dropped to 5 degrees below zero (23 degrees Fahrenheit).
A tip for travelers to Ecuador: there is no requirement for tourists to be vaccinated against yellow fever or anything else to enter or exit the country, so there is no need for any of these useless and dangerous injections. There is in any case no yellow fever in Napo province where the Napusamai Lodge is located, nor is there any malaria.
“Ayahuasca, also known as the “Vine of the Soul”, is a sacred medicinal plant which grows in the Amazon rainforest. The Quechua term of this drink “Ayahuasca” refers to the freeing of the spirit or the essence of the soul. To take Ayahuasca is to be purged and purified. It cleanses the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual body. It reaches deep inside and removes the layers of debris relating to our age-old fears and illusions which obscure the soul. It’s an ego-killer and removes all negative matter within associated with dark energies.”
Here is another description:
“In parts of South America, the most common and powerful consciousness-expanding plant ‘medicine’ is ayahuasca, a large woody vine whose scientific name is Banisteriopsi scaapi. It is made into a tea with another plant, called Chacruna (Psychotria viridis). The two plants have to be boiled together to make the resulting ‘tea’ capable of inducing altered states of consciousness. Over the years the use of ayahuasca has spread into the western world, and many travelers and seekers have ventured into the Amazon to participate in ayahuasca ceremonies. Ayahuasca has also been the subject of many scientific studies, with clear evidence showing that it increases brain cell growth (neuro-genesis) and improves serotonin uptake, helping to relieve depression. Most people report extremely heightened states of consciousness, access to ‘spiritual’ realms and a connection to the deepest aspects of nature that are not possible in normal waking states of consciousness.”
The following interview with Jim Davis of the Hummingbird Ayahuasca Lodge in Peru presents an in my opinion good summary of the topic of ayahuasca:
I didn’t embark on this experience blindly. I wanted to know what the risks were and found this informative YouTube video and related article:
Ayahuasca: The Dangerous & Harmful Side of “The Medicine”
Ayahuasca: Dispelling Myth – Harm vs. Healing
Based on this information, I wondered if I was doing the right thing and contacted Jim Davis of the Hummingbird Ayahuasca Lodge in Peru to ask for his opinion. He replied:
“Thanks for the article and video. What he is saying is absolutely correct. For the overwhelming majority of people it is a very safe thing to do, but there is a risk. As stated in the article, ayahuasca, and any psychoactive substance, can trigger latent tendencies toward psychological problems. Even marijuana can induce psychosis for some people. If someone has a family history of psychological issues they should think carefully before taking any kind of psychedelic. The problem is people without a family history may still have a latent tendency but not know it. So yes, there is definitely a risk, but there is no need to be overly concerned. The risks are real, but happen to a very low percentage of people. We have had over 1300 clients and no trouble so far. Don’t let the facilitators push you into taking more medicine than you are comfortable with. While it is true that in general the stronger the experience, the more healing is possible, one does not need intense experiences to receive healing.
I also asked my friend who had taken ayahuasca in the past and who had recommended Napusamai to me. He replied:
“If you go into each ceremony with very specific intentions and with a very open heart with a willingness to accept whatever Mother Ayahuasca wishes to show you, it will all work out for you. Approach everything with a total approach of love and trust. Ask for a feeling of oneness and love of the Universe. It will change your life in the manner you wish if you take it seriously.
When feeling any negativity, tell yourself that there is nothing there that could hurt you. Tell the negativity (demons) whatever it is that you truly love them, don’t need them and to go away in a laughing loving manner in your head. That way all your ceremonies build upon one another like a beautiful diamond of love.
A lot of young people go there just for the psychedelic experience, which is the worst thing one can do. This is an interactive traditional medicine that allows you to interact with intelligent beings who are trying to help you if that is what your intention is.
Remember intention is everything, & approach it all with Love, respect and whatever they show you is a lesson that can help if you know how to approach it.”
Based on his response, it seemed that my approach and the way I processed the experience had a lot to do with the outcome, so I decided to go.
The journey to Napusamai
On arriving in Quito, the capital of Ecuador (pop. 2 million), I took a taxi to the Hostal El Parque where I spent the night (US$25) and was picked up from by a taxi driver sent from the Napusamai Lodge to take me to Tena (pop. 100,000), which is a 3-hour ride by car or a comfortable 4 – 5 hour bus ride from Quito. The bus ride costs US$7.50. Ecuadorians adopted the US dollar as the country’s national currency in 2000 after a financial crisis that saw its own former currency, the sucre, collapse so badly that people started putting their holdings into dollars, unofficially dollarizing the country’s economy.
This photo was taken on the road to Tena by fellow taxi passenger Henry from Germany, who turned out to be the only other member of the retreat I was booked on.
The taxi dropped us off at the Kuyaloma community on the outskirts of Tena where we spent the night. After a herbal sauna in the late afternoon, Luis treated us to our first ayahuasca session in the maloka (meeting house) when it got dark.
To find out how the ayahuasca would affect us, Luis only gave us a small dose of ayahuasca. The sole noticeable effect the ayahuasca had on me was a feeling of nausea which caused me to throw up from the bottom of my heart into a bucket provided for the purpose.
The next morning we moved on to Napusamai in the rain forest. A taxi dropped us off at the beginning of a jungle trail. Juan is on left, Henry on the right in the photo.
We then had to cross a river.
We trekked through the jungle for another half hour or so after crossing the river.
We then got our first glimpse of Napusamai.
The buildings in the jungle clearing are surrounded by gardens and comprise a dining hall, a maloka (meeting house used for the ayahuasca ceremonies), guest accommodation and the home of Don Luis and that of Don Juan and his family, part of which is also used to accommodate the cook and workers engaged in construction work.
Here is a photo of the dining hall. A covered walkway from the maloka to the dining hall was being constructed and was completed while I was there. All the timber comes from the forest and is milled on site with a large chainsaw.
The meeting house or maloka where the ceremonies are held. The toilet is very conveniently located only a few steps away from the maloka.
This is the building Henry and I were accommodated in. We each had a separate room with our own toilet and shower.
The new guest accommodation which was completed while I was there.
The Vargas family home with the cook house to the left. Note the backdrop of magnificent rainforest.
Meet some of the other people at Napusamai:
This is Juan’s wife Irene. Irene prepared a powerful ayahuasca brew for our 5th ceremony which was the highlight of my stay. In this photo she is scraping the bark off the pieces of ayahuasca vine as part of preparing the ayahuasca medicine.
Juan and Irene’s daughter Nina with her pet parrot and Janet, who provided us with great meals.
Luis and Juan are descendants of a long lineage of ayahuasqueros (ayahuasca healers) and are very knowledgeable about medicinal plants and spiritual matters. Due to their background, they have access to multiple dimensions and knowledge from the spiritual realm. They are proficient in astral travel and they inhabit a reality which to us Westerners is rather mind boggling and foreign, even though they freely share it with us. Just as we are at home in cities, they are at home in the forest where according to them, every animal, plant and rock as well as the water has a spirit. The extraordinary ayahuasca-induced visions are deemed to be the result of the interaction between plant spirits and our consciousness.
The rainforest is amazing, like a vast botanical garden. I was particularly impressed by the many heliconias.
Preparation of the ayahuasca medicine
Don Luis is gathering stems of the ayahuasca vine.
Luis is also picking chacruna leaves. Ayahuasca and chacruna are the two vines the ayahuasca ceremonial drink is traditionally brewed from. Instead of chacruna leaves, the leaves of the challypanga plant (Diploterys cabrerana) can also be used.
The ayahuasca vine is chopped into pencil-length pieces.
The grey powdery bark is then scraped off, but the light green cambium layer under it which coats the wood is preserved. The scraped pieces are then smashed with a hammer or wooden mallet to separate the wood fibres in order to facilitate the extraction of the plant medicine from the vine.
Layers of the smashed vine are then alternated with layers of chacruna leaves in a cooking pot.
Water is then added and the pot kept at high heat over the fire for 3 to 4 hours. The vines and leaves are then removed and the liquid is boiled for another 30 minutes at low heat to concentrate the brew. It is then left to cool.
The ayahuasca sessions
On December 23, Henry and I were treated to our second ceremony – our first in the Napusamai maloka.
Luis, who conducted the ceremony, was dressed up in his traditional ceremonial gear and looked very impressive in the virtual darkness, illuminated by only a candle.
Luis played a brief tune on his flute and then called each of us in turn to drink the ayahuasca medicine. Homegrown dried tobacco is also used as part of the ceremony. Tobacco smoke is blown onto the small cup of ayahuasca and used to bless the brew before it is handed over to the person sitting in front of and facing the shaman.
The cup is made from the bottom of a small calabash and its content is drunk in one gulp. The dose is about 50 ml. After drinking it, the shaman handed me a cup of guayusa tea to take a sip to gargle with and spit out (2x) and then to take two sips to swallow. This is to take away the taste of the ayahuasca. Fortunately the taste was not nearly as unpleasant as the brew described by Graham Hancock which he was given to drink. I then lay down on my mattress and relaxed.
After 15 to 20 minutes, an amazing luminous band of vividly coloured patters, figures and shapes started to appear inside my closed eyes, moving from right to left like some surreal parade. It was an amazing experience, unlike anything I had ever seen before. Unfortunately I was eventually overcome by nausea and had to grab the bucket near my mattress to vomit, which ended the show. A few minutes later, Luis asked me to come and sit in front of him for the actual ceremony. He again played a tune on his flute, then a tune on his mouth organ and a Jew’s Harp, followed by chanting and the swishing of twigs and leaves of a shrub around my body to clear my energy field. Scented water is also used for this purpose, while the blowing of tobacco smoke onto the crown chakra and hand chakras is used to help activate the flow of energy in the body’s energy channels. The ceremony is basically to engender a safe and clear energy field to facilitate healing by the spirits called in by the chanting.
On December 25, we had our third ceremony, again led by Luis. This time my vision started with a beautiful geometrical shape which looked like a filigree broach or amulet, followed by luminous brightly coloured shapes and patterns which continuously morphed into other shapes and patterns. As they subsided, I was again gripped by nausea which caused me to vomit. Some people also get diarrhea due to the purgative effect of ayahuasca, all of which is part of an ongoing cleansing and healing process induced by the ayahuasca medicine.
On December 27, we had our fourth ceremony, led this time by Juan Andi. It seems that each ayahuasquero (or ayahuasquera if it is a woman) has his (or her) own unique way of conducting the ceremony, which although it has similarities with other shamans’ ceremonies, is also distinct. Juan also whistles during his ceremonies, which adds yet another dimension to the occasion. The ceremonial chants are known as icaros or ikaros. Icaros chants are used to call the spirits who effect the healing. We were not allowed to record the ceremonies as they are private and sacred occasions, but this icaros chant reminds me a lot of Juan’s icaros song:
The visions are also different each time, and also vary from person to person. Some people have no visons, but regardless of this still experience healing. I again saw beautiful, vividly coloured luminous three-dimensional and constantly changing shapes and patterns, some a bit like paisley patterns printed on fabrics. Again I ended up vomiting as part of the purging process.
On December 28, we had our fifth ceremony. An American visitor called Craig had joined us for this ceremony and some of the workers had also come to participate. This brew was prepared by Juan’s wife Irene and was particularly strong. It is preferred that women prepare the ayahuasca medicine as the spirit of the ayahuasca vine is a female energy, often reverently referred to as Mother Ayahuasca. Because the vine climbs trees in a snakelike manner, it is also associated with serpents and people often see serpents in their ayahuasca visions. I saw a moving snake during this particular ayahuasca experience, but it was rather small, unobtrusive and somewhat cartoon-like and therefore not at all scary. Maybe it also helps that I like snakes!
This ayahuasca session was the highlight of the seven ceremonies I participated in. In addition to the usual display of vividly coloured luminous shapes and patterns I also had a beautiful vision of a goddess or queen emanating profound peace and tranquility. This image persisted for some time. Most of the visions I had during my ceremonies I can no longer remember, but I will never forget this one, as it was sublime. Juan later told me that men usually see a woman, while women usually see a man.
I also had a vision of myself standing with some tall figures and one of them handing me a white oblong object which emanated some powerful beneficial energy. I kept feeling this power coming from it every time I thought of it later. I was then once again gripped by nausea and had to reach for the vomit bucket.
For some reason this session left me exhausted and I experienced a death-like state. I contemplated the possibility that I may not make it back to Thailand and might end up being buried in Ecuadorian soil. On assessing the situation more realistically, I then however decided that in spite of my weakened state and appearances to the contrary, I was really okay! It WAS like I had experienced a death of some sort, but it was just an experience I had perceived as such, although this may of course also be true for “real” death involving physical death!
In retrospect, the death-like state I experienced may have been the result of a pendulum swing: I was first shown the exquisite beauty and aliveness of the universe, but then faced with the death-like state I had lived with, or lived in, for so long, instilled by societal practices and institutions such as vaccinations, mercury fillings, the educational system, the monetary and political system and so on. I obviously couldn’t expect all of the cultural and familial patterns I had to some extent been stuck in to be resolved in a two week retreat, but the retreat did give me the opportunity to glimpse the magnificence of existence and to see what is obstructing my awareness of this magnificence in my daily life.
Realising that I was having a bit of a difficult time, Luis then came and gave me a piece of pungent ginger to eat and rubbed my back with a piece of ginger to invigorate me. Luis and Juan also didn’t make Henry and Craig (who were also somewhat smitten by the ayahuasca) and me get up for the individual ceremonies, but performed the ceremonies over each of us while we were resting on our mattresses.
Eventually I managed to rally enough energy to go to the nearby toilet, where this time I also experienced a profound purging from my other end of the alimentary tract. I didn’t have diarrhea, but somewhat loose bowels facilitated the disposal of accumulated detritus I had unknowingly been hanging onto. Being able to get rid of it was a great relief and something I am very grateful for!
Thanks to the purge and the exploration of inner worlds I experienced with the help of Mother Ayahuasca, I have experienced what seems a profound change. I am told this change will continue for some months as the ayahuasca apparently stays in the body for about a year. I may never be the same again, but I figure that moving on from my obsolete unhealthy self is not a bad thing. My friend who recommended I go to Ecuador says that if I take reintegration very seriously, the changes will be miraculous.
I have found ayahuasca very helpful for my spiritual journey, at a time when I felt somewhat stuck. I now feel more connected to the universe. I am also aware of an underlying feeling of bliss, and of trust in existence. I am therefore very pleased that I went to Ecuador. I am also very grateful to Mother Ayahuasca for her help and generosity and likewise to the members of this Amazonian Indian family for sharing their gift, their love and their knowledge with me!
I have now been back from Ecuador for two months and my life has been quite different from what it was before I went. For one thing, I seem to have access to subconscious content of my mind or memories I did not have access to, or at least not such ready access to, before.
This quote expresses how I now see the ayahuasca experience quite well:
“It’s not a question of, ‘Here’s a drug that’s going to fix you,” Maté explains. “It’s, ‘Here’s a substance under the effect of which you’ll be able to do a kind of self-exploration that otherwise might not be available to you, or otherwise might take you years to get to.'”
Ayahuasca Can Change Your Life — As Long as You’re Willing to Puke Your Guts Out
Graham Hancock’s banned TED talk The War On Consciousness which first roused my interest in ayahuasca:
This is an in my opinion excellent interview on the topic of Ayahuasca:
An interesting compilation of clips and interview excerpts concerning Ayahuasca:
Dennis McKenna talks about Ayahuasca and the use of psychedelics:
Ayahuasca Icaros (= ceremonial songs)
There are a lot of ayahuasca ceremonial songs on YouTube, including the following:
Pablo Ameringo has created numerous paintings of ayahuasca visions. My visions were not nearly as representational, but apart from a few exceptions mostly consisted of luminous patterns and shapes. For more examples of Pablo Ameringo’s paintings click HERE.
The ayahusca-induced visions are amazing, but not everyone has visions, which are in any case secondary to the healing aspects of ayahuasca which people benefit from even if they don’t have visions.
The Wisdom of Nature
Posted by soulnature on August 16, 2012
TRUST. PATIENCE. INNER PEACE. LOVE. ACCEPTANCE.
All attributes I’d wanted to discover on my journey and guess what I found more! How far I’ve travelled in the inner world there is no human speech to talk of this. Mind not the words are flowing for this is a new way of Being I’ve found.
How come? Well let’s say I’ve been in touch with a different dimension, an organic one.
In the western Amazonia rainforest, la selva, in Pucallpa Peru, 3 hours by car, 30 minutes by boat on the river Pachitea and one hour by foot is a hot river with steaming waters. Along its shores wise men and a woman have built a Nature and Healing Center of the different kind. At the southwestern shores of the Amazonia rainforest amidst lush vegetation people are invited to step through the doors of consciousness into their inner world. A world of plant spirits and sea goddesses, tarantulas and hummingbirds, the Came Renako, Mucura, Chakruna and Ayahuasca master plants. The sacredness of all is worshipped in a simple and realistic manner, life follows its mystic patterns, family values held high. The mind stimulated and the soul healed.
How is it done? You prepare yourself with a clean diet. No sugar, no salt, no meat, no spices, no coffee, no alcohol. Then the first step is to go through a purge, this means you drink a strong plant like Tobacco or Huancaui that will make you puke out all the poisoning that accumulated in your being not just on a physical level. Opening new possibilities of perception and serving as a container to hold the age-old and abiding wisdom of the plants you are going to ingest subsequently. This might be for protection, for healing of specific issues and visionary understanding. The plant medicine is blessed with sacred tobacco smoke and consumed three times a day along with a light and simple diet. Every 2 or 3 days the Maestro holds a ceremony. The effect of the powerful Ayahuasca and Chakruna mixture is different on each person, its Healing capacity tremendous. I care not to describe my experience in public, let it be said though that I’ve merged with the Earth and from this state emerged a new Beingness. After all the stress I have finally found peace, after all the loss I have finally found love, after all the doubts I finally trust. Now life is enfolding and I am tremendously grateful for the flow of creativity and the waves of love. Yes we do create our lives indeed and magic happens!
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This is an interesting interview – please note that there were NO brown toilet floors in Napusamai!
There are reputable places where shamans work with plant energies for the good of humankind, but also places where shamans work with negative energies. It is therefore very important to only visit reputable ayahuasca retreat centres. I would also avoid the Shuar tribe (near the border with Peru) mentioned in the below article, as the Shuar have a tradition of headhunting which it appears is occasionally still practiced, mainly due to a demand for shrunken heads.
– Sexual Assault in the Amazon
As the ayahuasca tourism industry grows, so do accounts of abuse.
Trouble in paradise
Oil exploration and exploitation in Ecuador:
The Ecuadorian government supports oil exploration and exploitation which has resulted in significant devastation of some areas in Ecuador.
– Deep in the Amazon, a Tiny Tribe Is Beating Big Oil