Ayahuasca in the Bolivian jungle
Did you ever hear about the drink that gives you flashes or even visions of your life? The drink that is life changing, cures you from diseases such as cancer and depressions? I did, and it got me curious. What is this drink and what is it like taking it? I actually got so curious that I decided fly to a little town in the Bolivian Amazon and try it myself.
What is Ayahuasca?
First things first, what is Ayahuasca? Ayahuasca is a hallucinating medicine from the jungle used to clean your body, mind and soul. People attend Ayahuasca ceremonies to cure from depressions, addictions or even cancer. Others (like me) do it to dig into their spiritual side and explore what else is out there.
So, what happens and what do you see? I hate this answer, but honestly, this totally depends on the person. It is a different experience for everyone. Most people see flashes of their past, moments that were difficult or made them very happy. They see their family, the people they care about. Others see visions, their future and find the meaning of life. My shaman said that it simply depends on what Mother Ayahuasca wants to show you. As you understand, I wanted to know what I would see and decided to do Ayahuasca in the Bolivian jungle.
My experience of Ayahuasca in the Bolivian jungle
After travelling around South America for a couple of months, I felt it was time for me to attend an Ayahuasca ceremony. I was recommened to do Ayahuasca in the Bolivian jungle. Hence, I flew to the Rurrenabaque, a little town in the Bolivian Amazon. There I heard about Phillip, known as the best shaman in town. He was the shaman at Wizard’s Mountain. I contacted him when I got there and we met a couple of days before the ceremony would take place. The shaman wanted this meeting in order to check whether I was suited for Ayahuasca. One of ‘qualifications’ to attend the ceremony is to stick to a diet, which involves no meat, alcohol, drugs or sexual contact for a week (preferably longer). Also, he wanted to make sure I knew what Ayahuasca involves and was aware that it could get pretty intense. Me, fully aware but a little bit scared as well, signed up for his next ceremony.
A couple of days later, we went to the Ayahuasca complex in the jungle where we would have the ceremony in the temple. I was lucky to meet another backpacker earlier on my trip who was interested in Ayahuasca as well. So, (no mum) I was not alone. At the complex there were six others that were on a full Ayahuasca retreat. They had three ceremonies that week, of which this was their second one. It touched me to hear that they had come to Bolivia solely for the Ayahuasca retreat as most of them suffered from cancer or bad depressions. I started to ask myself what I was doing there. I was healthy, had no depression or traumas and kind of felt like a tourist, looking into something very serious that was none of my business. But then I realized, this was my journey; this was my way of finding out what else is out there. Thus, I went on a little hike, did some meditation and went back to the cabaña to get some sleep before the ceremony.
"Wasn't this what our parents always told us NOT to do?"
My real experience of Ayahuasca in the Bolivian jungle began when the evening fell and the shaman came to my cabaña. I stayed there with an English girl about my age. The voice of the shaman woke us, asking us to bring our pillow and blanket to the temple. Half asleep we did what he asked. Then, when we walked through the jungle with a blanket and pillow in our arms, we must have both started to ask ourselves the fuck we were doing. It was right then when the English girl said: “Wasn’t this what our parents always told us NOT to do?,, We laughed our nerves away and went into the temple.
I am not sure how to explain what it was like in this temple. The only thing I can compare it with is a voodoo ceremony as you see in bad American horror films. All the people I met earlier that day sat in a circle. There was an incredible amount of candles. The shaman and two others were wearing some kind of costume and sat down with a lot of gadgets around them of which I assumed they would use them later. Maybe gadgets isn’t the right word but I honestly think you should use your imagination to understand what it looked like.
It was kind of scary as well as magical. I’d never seen or experienced anything like it. The shaman told me to sit down next to him, at the end of the circle (meaning I would be the last to take the drink). I wondered why he put me there. Maybe he knew I was scared? I sat down next to an American woman, she smiled at me and looked very sweet. I decided to all just let it happen and not to think about what I was about to do.
The shaman opened the ceremony. He sang to Mother Ayahuasca and talked to the drink and spices in front of him. It sounds weird, and to be honest, it was. It was very dark and you could hear the sounds of the jungle. The funny thing was that everyone sat next to a yellow bucket. He said it was for us to vomit in. At some point I kind of had to stop myself from laughing, but then realized this was something very serious. I heard stories of people going to very dark places. I even heard of people seeing their whole life, like what they say happens when you die. Another backpacker told me that ayahuasca releases something that’s only released twice in your life: when you’re born and when you die. I honestly, didn’t know what to believe and what to expect. I also suddenly realized I didn’t know that much about Ayahuasca, was I prepared well enough?
A massive smoking pipe started to go around the circle. Everyone smoked it and said some words to Mother Ayahuasca, asking her to show specific flashes, visions or allow them to understand something about their life. The shaman said we could say this in our native language, so I spoke in Dutch.
Then it was time. Time to drink Ayahuasca. One by one the shaman asked us to sit in the middle of the circle. He sang us a song, prayed for us and blew air in the ayahuasca. At first I was happy to be at the end of the circle to see what was going on. But then when everyone was already crying and throwing up before I even took the drink I got a little bit frightened. When it finally was my turn I went to the middle and looked at the shaman. I had so much respect for him. I tried not to think about anything and to focus on the ceremony and what I wanted to see. He handed me the drink. I downed it and went back to the place I sat before. The flavour was disgusting but not much worse than some of the shots my friends sometimes buy me. The shaman started singing and two of his assistants played sounds on instruments while they walked around the circle.
What Ayahuasca did to me
It was weird; it felt like the drink was going to my head. My head started moving on the rhythm of the songs the shaman was singing, I never heard these songs before but it felt I knew them by heart. I honestly felt like Ayahuasca was inside me and the shaman was singing to it. It was a weird feeling. I really have no other word to describe it than yes, weird.
I did not see my future or found my meaning in life. I did see a lot of colours. I saw the jungle and waterfalls in purple, blue and yellow. It was beautiful but felt more like I had a high temperature than something spiritual. I tried to think about my future, the past, but nothing happened. Then I realized that maybe for once I should just be there, right where I was. In a world where everyone is so focused on the past and the future that we simply forget where we are right now. Everyone has questions like “what should I do with my life” and “am I taking the right decisions”. I felt like good things were gonna come and they did. One week later I travelled to Peru and met the love of my life.