Ancient medicine: Recollections of my Yage (Ayahuasca) retreat

What a surreal weekend lies behind me. Hard to put into words, but I give it a shot anyway in this blog. I had been thinking about joining a traditional retreat for some time. Curiosity and the healing power of ancient medicine attracted me. Already in Russia I spent quite some time reading up about Yage (or Ayahuasca), what it does, where it is available etc. During my search I came across ‘Camino al Sol‘, which offers bi-weekly, traditional retreats close to Medellin in a circle of the ‘karari’ people (a group of indigenous & white people honoring old & new traditions and gods of various origins). After a cross check (thank you Siddharta) I booked my session to find out for myself.

“Wherever the art of Medicine is loved, there is also a love of Humanity. ” (Hippocrates)

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group pic at 6am Sunday … can you spot me?

Preparation

In order to prepare body & soul as well as to respect tradition, participants should adhere to some rules for (at least) the week preceding the ceremony. This includes no alcohol, no meat, no drugs and no sex. I met all conditions by the time I arrived … some proving harder to adhere to than others. In the end, I already felt pretty good going there after one of my healthiest weeks in recent memory.

Day 1 – Friday

A bus picked us up from Poblado Park at 3pm (well, a bit later after waiting for all clients) to take us to the retreat near Santa Elena (45min transfer). Located at 2,640m it boasts a much chillier climate than Medellin (1,600m). Once arrived we all settled into the dorm rooms and then had a brief info session with the organiser. Our first night would involve a plant bath, fire ceremony and the Yage ceremony itself. First up though was a little introduction as to what we have to expect in the days (nights) ahead.

Plant bath

Its basically hot water where they have three plants simmering for a while. These are lemon grass (limoncillo in Spanish), basil (albahaca) and rue (ruda). You shower yourself slowly with the mix while thinking of the questions you want to ask the Yage remedy later. The mixture is meant to cleanse your body, protect and harmonise you.

Fire blessing

You take off your shirt and get some incense on your body, arms and neck as well as pants on the outside. Then fire in a bowl is used to bless your body.

Yage ceremony

The ceremony is held in a maloka (round hut with straw top) around a fire. The elder is in charge of the process. This time, we had an elder with his wife from the Cofan tribe visiting from Putumajo – 23h travel away. Before any Yage comes into play, men are given tobaco essence on the hand (‘ambil’, looks like sticky Marmite) and dried, crushed coca leaves to chew (‘mambe’). Women get tobacco and some corn base paste to lick (which wasn’t available that night, they don’t get coca leaves). We then moved to another tradition – the circle of words. Here often a topic is picked for discussion (love, tradition etc), but this time we discussed the native culture these people preserve. While listening & speaking, a cup with pineapple juice passes round for everyone to take a sip (or a few). Everytime when someone finishes speaking/singing it is greeted with a ‘hey’ by the audience.

Who participates

It was the whole community of c30 people. Less than 10 were foreigners giving the whole ceremony a very authentic feeling. Literally all age groups were present (and participated in drinking medicine) from 5y to say 65y. Amazing really. Some kids, like Christoph who at the age of 12y can solve the magic cube, have been given the medicine since birth (he will become shaman). Everyone is taking it regularly in this community.

My first experience

You receive your cup from the shaman. I estimate some 5cl of Yage. The first 10min nothing happened, then very quickly colours come and you begin to drift into another world. You see colours and shapes, hear sounds, gaze at the ever-changing fire in the middle of the room and I saw memories of old episodes of my life as far back as my childhood and more recent ones. Others even saw their ancestors many generations ago. I never let myself drift properly though, but by opening my eyes kind of came back to this world only to see the net clip played when i closed my eyes again.

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tobacco essence

The whole trip was quite intense by now. At some stage I left for the toilet opposite the maloka under heavy rain. I felt a bit stuck there, as it seemed quite far to get back and i had little desire to maneuver around the little creeks that had formed by now. At this stage, the natural side effect of yage saw many people vomiting (purification process) and/or having diarrhea. I was fine as would be the case for the whole weekend.

After a while I was off to the hammock room to rest and see my visions in a more comfi position. There were voices everywhere in the room, loads of colourful visions yet also many clear thoughts about a range of issues in my past and future life. The mix of hot and cold I went through left me a bit uncomfortable and I was still fighting to drop too deep into my visions out of fear to see something negative (which you often face with ayahuasca and is part of the healing experience). Generally though, I felt in control.

I skipped/missed the 2nd round of drinking and only wandered over to the maloka for life music & singing in early hours of Saturday before sleeping a bit more. We finaly all laid down in our proper beds at 7.30am.

What is Yage/Ayahuasca? Ayahuasca is a brew from the Amazon that is traditional mixed of Chacruna (DMT) and Caapi (MAOI). Over time, people started experimenting with the ingredients and found that Mimosa (DMT) and Harmala (MAOI) is the most potent and smooth trip if used correctly. Used for over 5000 years by the shamans or healers or teachers Ayahuasqueros as a way for the expansion of consciousness (Soul). And now it is used in Peru to help drug addicts and a substitute for antidepressant pills. (https://www.soul-herbs.com/what-is-ayahuasca/)

Day 2 – Saturday

After a relaxed afternoon around the camp, we started with a long circle of words around traditions with all foreigners speaking including myself. It was a good moment to share some of my background and motivation to be here and express my gratitude for being able to join this community.

At 11pm the first cup got me going pretty quickly with colours and some visions. Visited again some places of my past and childhood and saw lots of LSD type colours, but was always in control (open the eyes basically, that doesn’t always work though). I again retired in my hammock to meditate, but took my watch this time so not to stay too long and miss round two and not to be lazy. After less than 1h I was back in the main tent. By then I had already landed and still not purged. Others were busier working with the medicine.

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At 2am we got a second cup – much bigger than last (80cl?). This one caused me some diarrhea, but otherwise wasn’t very strong when it came to visions. By now I had already gotten the understanding that I am probably not on such a bad path in life and had less to deal with than others. At 4am we were brought to the maloka again. Three guys already sitting topless in front of the fire (including one on a heck of a trip with constant vomiting). I joined together with Uri – my friend from Israel who I study spanish with. Once undressed we were rubbed with some essence before shamans were gathering around us, spitting some watery stuff at us all the time humming and waving while the other tribal people dance in tune to the drums. Quite an experience where i got repeatedly told off not to cross my arms or legs (probably to let the energy flow).

Day 3 – Sunday

The main difference on our last Yage evening was that the elder had left and we held the ceremony in the way they do it in Santa Elena. First that meant we started at 8pm and not 9-10pm. Second it meant a lot more music and singing. The effect of both the first and second cup were even weaker than before (although there should not be a memory effect) and seemingly all participants had an easier time (well, not so Shannon). The fire ritual I went through the night before was repeated for three others (where I participated in making music and danced) and I got a nice therapy (meaning back & shoulder massage).

My thoughts throughout Sunday were very clear and I had loads of time to think about what lies ahead (I keep that to myself though). My mind wasn’t the only clear thing, it was also the first night without rain. Most of us went outside at some stage to gaze at the bright and plentiful stars (even saw a shooting star). We all felt by now as part of the community. Initial awkwardness had disappeared. And so, with loads of music and singing, we ended a wonderful weekend retreat.

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It shall not remain the last one for me and whoever feels like trying the medicine … look no further than Camino al Sol. You are in safe hands.

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Even scopolamine (‘devils breath’) grows in the garden

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3 thoughts on “Ancient medicine: Recollections of my Yage (Ayahuasca) retreat

  1. Pingback: Tracing Pablo Escobar & adios a Medellin! | rocketontour

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