I have mentioned in my previous articles that many people go to Peru, Colombia and Brazil to experiment with spirituality and to get the touch of the exotic shamanic legacy. Rare individualists who already have some degree of spiritual practice would set off to try to reach the Mapuche people in Chile, although they may not be admitted to the tribal communities at all. A greater number of – mainly – Westerners, however, would prefer the open arms of tribal communities in Peru and Colombia, where you simply pay for staying with the tribe of your choice and get what you pay for.
Ayahuasca Diets and the Situation in the Amazon Jungle
In most places of the Peruvian and Colombian jungles where the indigenous tribes are accessible to the public, every foreigner and local civilian who is ready to pay will usually be accepted (unless it is the rainy season when the jungle is closed to the public for safety reasons, such as the reproduction of crocodiles) to live in the jungle with the tribes. Needless to say, this stay is not cheap; the so-called diets (regular repetitive ayahuasca ceremonies for at least two weeks, rather three to four, when various plant medicines are applied and only the food provided by the jungle is eaten – e.g. river fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, etc., everything oil-free and salt-free), cost about 90 sols per day and night for local citizens (in the areas of Pucallpa and Iquitos); for foreigners the price is even higher.
Travel by local bus from the jungle to the closest city. What supposedly lasts for two days will eventually turn out to be a five-day bus trip, where children pee and vomit, loud music is played (different types from different phones). If it is raining, the bus will surely get stuck in the mud several times. When you have finished drinking your potable water resources, you will drink water from the local river and your stomach will eventually accept it.
Unfortunately, because of the boom in spiritual tourism, the jungle is suffering tremendously, which is something you generally don’t get to know about. Yes, we know about fires in the Amazon, we can even read about the fights of indigenous people against deforestation in the Amazon lungs, but we rarely get information about how the rainforest suffers from the overuse of ayahuasca lianas or kambo frogs, whose gel can remove all sorts of toxins from the human body.
When the tribes used the forest only for themselves and a handful of those gringos who went into the jungle on their own to either die or find their salvation, the Amazon worked in harmony. What is happening in the area of a unique forest that helps the whole breathe world today is indeed saddening. But most of you reading this text are probably already deciding on going to the Amazon to experience the “rituals” or because you’ve already gone through something like this…
If your intuition tells you that the only salvation for your mental, spiritual, or physical health is in the miraculous Amazon and the hands of tribal curanderos, go on your journey, but – ideally approach your personal challenge with respect, humility, and gratitude and be truly vigilant in choosing those you entrust to take care of you.
Generally, the more a Western mediator boasts on their site about all personal experiences and certifications, the more cautious I would be. Likewise, the more someone persuades you a particular tribe is the best, the more alert you should be. Many excellent healers and mediators don’t even have a website, you may get to them through an outdated account somewhere on a social network, an embarrassingly bad website (in the jungle, the Wi-Fi doesn’t work really, neither is the telephone signal), or a random referral.
If you have the opportunity to first volunteer as a civilian in Colombia, Peru or Brazil, do so. Eventually, your landlord, your boss, your greengrocer will know someone in town, like a herbalist from the market, who in turn knows someone else, and that person knows yet another someone and gradually, through this chain, you get to experienced curanderos and through them to someone in a tribe, who has no mediators working with him, and is not interested in the lure of the money of the Westerners.
In such tribes, once – that is IF – they have received you, believing the spirits of the forest brought you to them, they will truly want to help you. Often they will not even ask for money, but will leave it to you to decide want to give for the help. This is not to say that everyone who will charge a specific price for helping on your spiritual journey is necessarily a bad healer; but, if you are seriously ill in the curanderos of a certain tribe will not accept you unless you pay a generous amount of money for your stay with them, you know straight away that you do not even want to be admitted there!
There are healers who will accept you, help you, sometimes take money for food, but not for their healing. You will pay them back in a different way, with the help needed, such as cooking, constructing, teaching children, permaculture farming, help with breeding etc.
Simply, just as there are good and bad surgeons, there are good and bad healers. Even though, you may counter that nothing in the universe is good or bad…
The Sacred Valley also provides many places where ayahuasca and other ceremonies take place. Those who do not want to go into the deep jungle, where they would struggle with mosquito swarms and considerable discomfort (often sleeping in a hammock or a sleeping bag in an open shelter made of wood and palm leaves), arrive in Cuzco and stay for the ceremonies in the relative comfort of the mountain villages.
Unfortunately, I have experienced many cases of people complaining or crying desperately because of the way they were treated in the jungle by the mediators or the tribe itself.
My sister who has been living for several years among the tribal communities of the Amazon, without a credit card or a health insurance, without a permanent residence, as a true nomad, only having her German passport and EU driving licence, with all her possessions packed in a suitcase (yes, high time to stop thinking a true nomad travels with a backpack only; I have seen enough backpackers who confused backpacking for flashpacking but insisted that a true traveller only goes around the world with a backpack on), had lost 800 euros at the beginning of her stays in the Amazon, when she had been coming solely as a tourist. The money was stolen by someone in the tribe; the lock on the suitcase had been broken and the money was gone. My enlightened sister, through her patience and empathy, gained the tribe’s respect when the chief himself apologized to her in front of everybody for those who have taken the money. Even though no one returned the money, the chief offered my sister many spiritual gifts and herbal remedies for herself and those she meets on her journeys. With those herbal medicines, my sister, who had not been intending to do so, underwent the first initiation ceremonies and later became curandera. Nowadays, she spends most of the year cycle in the jungle, and in between May and September travels the world to bring the remedies from the Amazon to the Western world.
Not to Confuse…
The term shaman is often overused or misused in today’s Western society. Curandero is a healer who could easily be born into the civil world. Shaman is a tribal medicine-man, usually the chief. Curanderos, if born into a tribe, sometimes leave the tribe to live in the civil world. They work mainly with herbs and plant medicine from the jungle which in most Peruvian cities can be bought on the local market. Curanderos may or may not use the traditional smoking, chakapa, rattles, etc. in the healing procedures. For shamans, these healing spiritual practices are essential; through their effects they purify and work with spirits (of mountains, forest, water, fire, etc.). Shamans have a strong gift of clairvoyance and telepathy; in the modern world we would say they are excellent mentalists. They know exactly where in the jungle they will find this or that herb, where they can find the animal they need help from, how to call it, how to work with it in peace. They know perfectly the totems and medicine of each animal.
Just as the words “shamans and curanderos” are often confused, as easily may Western spiritual enthusiasts find themselves in the hands of so-called mediators, who are not really doing their mission with the humility and respect they ought to, and sometimes even claim to be shamans themselves!
The reason why people in the West are so attracted by shamanic ceremonies is often because we are attracted by the exotic secrets with which the tribes are familiar, and we hope that the traditional rituals give us an opportunity to discover the true essence of ourselves.
Only after five years of learning and practising in Nepal, with renowned shamanic healing practitioners such as Mohan Rai and Aama Bombo, and three years of learning and practising with Brazilian and Peruvian curanderos, namely Don Agustin, did my sister take the initiative to serve as a curandera. She cooperates mostly with the tribes in the area of Brazilian Terr Amor or Acre and Peruvian Pucallpa.
In the Shipibo tribe, she spends three months each year helping in and at the same time undergoing a diet to deepen and nourish her spiritual gift of healing. The Katukina tribe initiated her in the work with the kambo frog, whose healing gel is obtained by lightly stretching the frog, rapé (tobacco processed into fine powder to which ash from different plants is added), sananga (strong eye drops made from the shredded root of the Amazon Uchu Sanango scientifically known as Tabernaemontana sananho, which operates intensively in the sixth energetic centre; alternatively, there are bechette drops with similar characteristics, made from the root of the related shrub Tabernaemontana undulata) and ayahuasca.
In this tribe, she first helped prepare and cook the liana of soul, ayahuasca. The medicine is cooked in a large cauldron on an open fire, which must be constantly maintained. The capi (liana), the leaves (chacrona) and water are placed into a cauldron. The liana must be previously portioned with the help of a machete or an ax which must be brought down and up in massive arm-circles (this physically demanding circular movement ensures that the highest and purest energy from the heavens is transferred into the medicine). Ayahuasca is cooked for at least 3 days, but rather two or three weeks, the longer the better as the stronger and more efficient the medicine gets. It is cooked while the tribes play and sing their folklore music and do the spiritual chantings (ícaró). It is necessary that the medicine always remains in contact with people who are in absolute consciousness. So sleep by the fire is not possible. A group that cooks and starts to feel tired is replaced by another group in order to take a few hours of sleep and then continue with the work.
With a hand-made drum I play at ceremonies. The spiritual and folklore songs that are shared during ceremonies can be sung or hummed by anyone. However, the permission to perform the sacred chanting of ícaró is not given to everyone; these are sung only by shamans and healers.
In collaboration with other tribes such as Witoto, Huni Kuin, Kashinawa or Shawandawa, my sister also learned about the medicine gained from a specific kind of bufo frog that lives underground and only climbs to the surface for a few days to offer the medicine. In those tribes she also learned about jurema, the potency of which is based on the Mimosa hostilis shrub.
Some More Necessary Information
Ayahuasca helps us answer the fundamental questions of existence and life, allows us to reflect why we have certain diseases and problems and helps us see what we can change in our lives in order to improve our existence. It cleanses and heals the body, mind, soul.
Rapé and sananga mentioned above are used widely in Brazilian tribes in the Ayahuasca ceremonies, while mapacho tobacco and coca leaves are widely used for the same purposes in Peru. In Colombia, they use mostly ambil (a type of a paste, syrup, jelly or jam made from pure tobacco and mineral salts) in combination with mambe, which is obtained from coca leaves and which is in great popularity among various tribes throughout the Amazon. When ambil and mambe combine in the mouth, they are mixed into a ball that is held on one side of the gums, activating the neck and forehead centre, conscious enabling phrasing and listening.
Medicine plant rituals are often associated with cleansing in sweat lodges, the so-called temazcals, which are also very popular in Central America, especially Mexico, and the application of a variety of herbal cologne, the most traditional of which is the Agua de Florida blend.
The basic rule that my sister emphasizes – after all her experiences – to those wanting to surrender to the principles of healing in the spirit of shamanic legacy, is the necessity not to experiment, but to really set the intention of what we need to heal, whether physical, mental or spiritual. It is necessary to follow the procedures before and after taking a particular medicine (e.g. a three-day, ideally a week-long vegan diet and abstinence – also sexual – before an ayahuasca ritual), and to cautiously choose whom to entrust your being to, whom to trust on your spiritual journey as being a good guide. There have been few cases when, in the wrong hands, with an inappropriate treatment, or in cases of disregarding the clearly defined rules, the medicine has hurt rather than helped.
Consult your healer if you have any mental or physical problems before taking any further steps of using a plant medicine. There are certain mental disorders with which ayahuasca or jurema and other substances are totally excluded. A true shaman recognizes the disorder, even if it has not yet been manifested, and does not allow the medicine to be taken, thus preventing otherwise possible dramatic consequence, but a curandero may not have this ability of recognizing the disorder, especially if not yet manifested.
If you do not have the opportunity to contact the healer or a shaman with whom you are to work beforehand, but you are in communication with a mediator, make sure that the person has sufficient knowledge and ethical background to do what they are doing. A proper mediator knows in general which conditions exclude the usage of certain plant medicines. Promotional videos and other materials online are not a guarantee of the mediator’s quality. Follow your intuition and be smart.