Customs, drinks, history, Intersections, Medicinals, tourism, Travel

Ayahuasca, A Plant with Demands, Challenges, and Changes

What if I told you there was a plant that could show your past, present, and future? A plant believed to reveal your potential life path and aid you in choosing what you wanted to create for yourself? What if I told you there was a world of spiritual medicine that renewed your bodied and opened your heart to deep healing. Would you want to drink? Would you begin to chase after Ayahuasca?

In the Americas, we find ourself again and again going into the jungle in search of these elixirs of life. The Inka cherished its coca leaves for their elevating effects at high altitude and its secession of hunger. The Spanish pillaged for gold and exotic foods. Wealthy, western countries continue the exportation of gold and pharmaceutical medicine, while manipulating southern politics for their insatiable appetite for their white power.

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Ayahuasca shaman smokes mapacho (www.perushamans.com)

Another wave of searchers is beginning to descend upon Peru in search of the traditional plant medicine Ayahuasca.

Nearly seven years ago, doctors inspired by big pharm’s Amazonian successes began to research the infamous vine in hopes of finding a cure for drug and alcohol addictions. While travelers on the road have been seeking out and sharing this medicine long before it was cool, Cusco and other South American tourist destinations are currently teeming with Ayahuasca retreat centers and mystical medicine tours.

Ayahuasca began calling me–as they say– when I began my second year of traveling. Before that maybe a few documentaries had crossed my path, but suddenly it felt like anyone and everyone on the gringo trail was talking ayahuasca. Where to find it, how to do it and why?

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A shaman holds Agua de Florida and Ayahuasca before ceremony (www.perushamans.com)

For long term travelers drinking requires an serious intention. For Peruvians, it is a sacred experience and rite of passage that is not to be taken lightly. Silicon Valley getaway trips and drug tourism have so popularized the plant that the vine and accompanying plants have become extremely scarce and exorbitantly overpriced in jungle regions.

That’s the kernel of the story. The drug has become so popular internationally that prices for a ceremony go for about $300-$400. This of course has stimulated a whole slew of commercial, and at times corrupt, shamans who have set up shop in retreat centers throughout Peru. Currently the vine is unregulated internationally, but with the recent death of tourist and far-fetched rumors of its psychedelic potency restrictions similar to the coca leaf are at risk. How local shamans and authorities navigate this road remains to be seen.

However because of this boom, the culture of ayahuasca and Peruvian shamanism is changing rapidly. In jungle regions like Puerto Maldonado, ayahuasca was traditionally drunk at 18 as a coming of age ceremony. The dose of medicine was gentle.

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Shaman in ceremony (www.perushamans.com)

The shamans prepare the medicine, protect the space from bad energy, and sing the medicine songs while joining your journey- matching glass for glass. That’s right, these guys drink every ceremony. They are well acquainted with the “madre maestra” as she is called: the purging, the sleepless nights, the cycle of fears, the dance with death, and the gift of life. Shamans serve as guides and cleaners, puffing pipe tobacco and blowing it across the head, neck, and heart to remove all the bad energy, illness, and sadness in the body. After they spit it all out into a bowl. They purge, and more likely than not the drinker will too. As a cleansing and rebirthing medicinal process, one’s ability to drink increased over several ceremonies. Eventually ayahuasca removes all that does not serve you. Its future in the context of mystical tourism continues the rocky road of popularisation as more travellers seek its wisdom.

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Shaman from Pucallpa (www.perushamans.com)
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