Published on April 15th, 2011 | by Mark Chesnut
Ayahuasca Journeying: Psychotropic Travel in Peru, Part 1
BY MAUREEN STANUCCI
The first time I came to Peru as a tourist, my friend and I had read about Ayahuasca in a guidebook and thought we might try it out. If you’ve never heard of it before, Ayahuasca is a vine that grows in the jungle and is used in a psychotropic drink for healing and other shamanic pursuits. It is meant to be used in a spiritual way, rather than recreational.
As an acupuncturist and herbalist, I was naturally curious about the medicine so, at my friend’s request, I asked the travel agency we were using if they could help connect us with a reputable shaman. The answer? Talk to the cowboys.
We had added on horseback riding in Cusco at the last minute so, as we went on our ride, we duly asked the cowboy if he could help us. It turned out that he is a regular drinker of the brew himself and could indeed connect us with a shaman we could trust. As we were heading out on the Inca Trail the following day, we agreed to meet at our hostel when we got back.
After returning to Cusco following four days of hiking and an extra day in Machu Picchu, we were feeling more worn out than adventurous and had more than halfway talked ourselves out of the whole idea. I tried to call the cowboy to cancel out but, due to my poor grasp of the language, my worse grasp of the Peruvian phone system and his not wanting to cancel out on the shaman, the point did not get across. Instead, he showed up at the hostel with shaman in tow.
What does a shaman look like? Having met several since then, I can tell you they come in all shapes and sizes and even ethnicities. This one looked to be in his 60s and seemed more of an intellectual than a guru. He had the right combination of calm presence and rational speech to assuage my friend’s concerns. The ceremony was on for later that evening.
Our newfound cowboy friend picked us up later at the hostel and we headed to the shaman’s house. In addition to myself, my friend, the cowboy and the shaman, there were also the cowboy’s cousin and the shaman’s two assistants. The group chatted around the shaman’s dining table discussing such subjects as why we came for a ceremony as well as religion, politics and literature. When the time was deemed right, around sundown, we walked up into the hills to the location where the ceremony would take place.
The hike itself was a bit of an adventure, as we had been given the impression that the ceremony would take place in the shaman’s house. This change in venue had me walking up a rocky hill with no actual path in flip flops or, in actuality, in bare feet for most of the walk as one of the woefully inadequate shoes broke early on. On a positive note, this garnered me lots of points with the shaman and his assistants as I said nothing and just kept up with the group.
Stay tuned for the second installment of Maureen’s quest for Ayahuasca, coming up next on LatinFlyerBlog. “The physical aspect of this can be a bit violent,” she warns!
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This is a guest article sponsored by Peru Discover, a specialist in Peru tours and customized Peru travel packages.