In October 2007 I went to Ecuador and there were many things on my wishlist; most of them in the category “experiences” rather than “places-to-visit”. Two weeks later I found myself fulfilling two wishes at the same time: being in the midle of the rain forest, participating in an ayahuasca ceremony.
We met Luis by accident. We were just following the directions given to us by some German travellers, to get to a cheap lodge in Ahuano, a tiny jungle village just of Rio Napo in Eastern Ecuador. Luis drove a canoe in which also his (German) wife Carmen was sitting. The recommended lodge turned out to be full and we didn´t know of any other affordable hotel. You can stay with us if you wish, Luis said. He has been living in this place for all of his life, learning every plant, bush, shrub, tree, fruit and animal from his uncle, to whom he would refer many times as a very wise and educated man who could cure any ailment with help of the plants in their part of the forest.
Evenso, it turned out that Luis and Carmen were putting up a simple but well-arranged jungle hotel. S now we were their first crash test dummies!
The next day, after a night of listening to the concert outdoors played by frogs, insects and God knows what other species, we took breakfast and set out for a tiring but educative and inspiring day in the forest. When we encountered the yagé liana I asked if they were using it in their community and the answer was: yes, when someone is ill we have a ceremony. Would you like to try it tonight?
That night Luis cooked a bowl with a number of B. caapi stems from the garden and added Chaliponga. I downed about 1/3 of a cup of the caffe latte coloured liquid and immediately felt my mouth, tongue and throat dry like they were made of leather. A fresh lemon freed me from the discomfort, and we set out to the garden were we could sit in the dark and listen again to the jungle concert.
Besides me, also Luis and my friend Nora had taken the substance. Luis explained that we were about to see anacondas or other snakes. There are many stories that explain the value of the snake as one of the most powerful animals, because they are closely connected to the spirit world. Just after everything around me turned into a vibrant mass, similar to a very much alive jungle seen on a TV that does not properly receive the signal, it was time to run to the bathroom. It took about 20 minutes before I could actually vomit. But after this I felt extremely clean, healthy and…pure, physically and spiritually. I sat down, closed my eyes and saw moving patterns of berries and leaves, gradually turning into toy trains, other toys and later clowns in intense psychedelic colours. Did it have something to do with my weektime volunteering job in a children´s home? Still, the hallucinations weren´t that strong; obviously most of the plant activity had left my body during the cleansing. Luis then started a cleansing ritual with both of us. He placed his mouth at th top of my head and literally sucked out the “bad energy”. Also he used ginger and eau de cologne to wash his mouth and spitted this around me. After 2,5 hours we thought ourselves ready to go to bed and sleep. However in the bed, with my eyes closed again I saw geometrical shapes and patterns in splendid, artificial colours. No anacondas so far, we said to each other.
The next occasion was about 3 weeks later, when I returned to Ahuano for more jungle-life and another yage ceremony, this time also Luis´uncle would attend as he could offer a more profound cleansing. In their community he usually takes the role of a shaman. He appeared to be a young looking man in his early 50´s who frequently travels to the cities to cure patients and who has a phone and email address. Nothing like an old, skinny man who´s cooking herbs on a fire all day, as I pictured him.
This time I felt really tired in the late afternoon, even a bit sick and drowsy so I went to bed for an hour of rest. When I returned to the liveing room iI didn´t feel any better but somehow didn´t refuse the cup of yagé, because it´s supposed to heal, right?
Pancho, the shaman, told me a few things about me before we started and only with two of those thing I could identify: I tend to analize situations too much which makes me tired, and my energy is very low, it gets easily out of balance. The limpieza (cleansing with yagé) would help me strenghten a bit more, both he and Luis said, and also he advised me not to eat pork, peanuts, avocado and chillies for 8 days. After that I would feel much better. The substance first gave me some flashes of images of Jesus, Maria and a painting of a child. Also I saw in the window a cross, which started to burn. Perhaps it had anything to do with my wonderings about Catholicism which is ubiquitious in Ecuador? Then more runs to the bathroom started, 3 times I vomited while we even didn´t have dinner. after every cleansing I felt miraculously different and clear in the mind. Also the weirdest sensations came over me, such as the feeling of having noseholes, ears, mouth and eyes on fire while the rest of my face felt cold.
Back in, Pancho started the limpieza. He used some instrument to again, such out the “black” out of me from the top of my head. Really strong, and many times. also he spitted around ginger and perfumed water and with a bouquet of leaves he wiped my head, arms and shoulders many times wihlst humming a melody. After all this I still felt a hint of nausea so I went outdoors and watched the stars, the shapes of the trees in the dark and the fireflies.