My First Ayahuasca Experience With Peruvian Shamans

An Amazonian Shaman, an Andean Shaman, and Me

It’s difficult for me to know where to begin explaining what has happened to me this week. I guess that I should start by saying that Ayahuasca is NOT for the faint of heart. It was an amazing experience, but I could never fully express how intense it was. It’s not like LSD, ‘shrooms’ or your usual DMT experience. Ayahuasca is not a recreational drug you take for fun. It is a medicine. A medicine that can heal your mind, body and soul IF you are receptive to it. Sure, it can also make you trip your face off, but there is truly almost nothing pleasurable about the experience. Please keep that in mind.

My friend Tina and I arrived in Cusco, Peru after a 50+ hour journey from South Africa. We were met at our hostel by one of the nurses from Etnikas – Ayahuasca Retreats. She had us drink as many 24 oz glasses of Volcanic water as we possibly could. (I could only bring myself to drink 7 1/2) – The water comes directly from a volcano not far from Cusco. It tastes like you’re drinking sea water, only a little less salty. It was hard to drink, but it purges just about EVERYTHING it possibly can from your body, including all the toxins. Then, we fasted. You want your body to be completely empty of food and toxins when you take the medicine, so you should avoid anything but water for about 12-24 hrs before you take the medicine.

The next morning we were picked up by one of Etnikas’ drivers, who took us straight to the mountainside retreat. We were introduced to the Shamans, nurses and other travelers like ourselves before we got settled in. Then we did a ‘Coca Leaf Ceremony’. The ceremony reminds me of when you see someone read tea leaves. The Andean shaman prays, sings, and does a little dance around you while waving a bell. He then sits down with you, and does 5 readings with the leaves. 1 for Health, 1 for Love, 1 for Family, 1 for Work and 1 for Spirituality. He throws the leaves on the ground one at a time, then, depending on how the leaves fall, tells you about your past, present and future pertaining to each subject.

I realise most people would think it’s a load of hooey, but you’d be amazed how accurate he was. – When it came to health, he knew all about my severe back pain. But other than that, he said I was very healthy. He knew about my bad luck with relationships, as well as my still slightly recent heartbreak. He said I have suffered much in my quest for love, which is sadly accurate. And, he even knew about my father’s death, which has been very difficult for me to deal with. For work, I wish you could have seen how the Coca leaves landed. To the surprise of all of us, (myself, the translator and the Shaman) the leaves made an almost perfect Fibonacci spiral on the ground. He said I have a very important calling in life which I cannot ignore. According to the Shaman, I’m destined to help a lot of people around the world. I was quite blown away by the ceremony.

Then, that night I had my first go at taking the medicine. (We drank it 3 times during the 5 days we were there) We all felt a little nauseous before even taking the medicine thanks to the fasting. But, the coca leaf tea definitely helped.

There were 7 of us the first night. We laid down on mats with sleeping bags, a thick wool blanket and a pillow. The first night we had 2 Shamans and 3 nurses/guides. They informed us as best they could about what we might expect when taking the medicine. I say it that way, because every single person that takes the medicine has a different experience. Almost everyone had a vision their first night. Some were scary, and some were beautiful. Some were uplifting, and others, well, not so much.

All of us agreed that we learned something about ourselves (and others) during the experience. I didn’t really have any visions that night. It was all feeling. I was very unprepared for what I was to feel that night. As an empath, I’m extremely sensitive to emotions and energy. It was very intense for me, and each night got more and more intense. How it makes your body feel is often indescribable. But, that wasn’t the most profound thing about the experience.

The Shamans and their people believe in a deity called Pachamama. It’s what most people in the western world call Gaia, or Mother Earth. She literally speaks to you through the medicine. That was the biggest shocker to me at first. I was basically having full blown conversations with myself. She said things to me that I’d never expect. She called me out on quite a few things, and even brought up memories that I had long forgotten. She makes you confront your inner demons, and things you’ve long buried in your subconscious. Sometimes even stuff from childhood. That’s how she helps you heal your mind and soul. You don’t just bring it back, you confront the memories, and she teaches you things about them.

The first night, she helped me deal with the death of my Dad. I miss him so much at times that it’s hard for me to think or talk about him without tearing up. She brought up memories of my father that I had long forgotten. Then, she told me that he’s proud of me, and loves me very much. She told me he will always be with me. Not going to lie, I bawled my eyes out like a baby. I honestly don’t remember doing much else from that night, other than writhing around on the floor and sobbing. Thankfully, my new friends were too out of it to notice. When I snapped out of it a few hours later, I felt much better. The medicine wore off after about 5 hours, and I was able to go back downstairs to my comfy bed to get some rest.

The next day, we all had a light breakfast together at 8am, and afterward had a long talk with the Shamans and guides about what we all had experienced. Many of my new friends had very intense visions, which the Shamans and translators/guides did their best to interpret for us. It helped us sort out all the craziness still going on in our heads from the night before. Then, we hung out for a while, did some meditation, napped, read some books, etc. You’re actually not supposed to speak at the retreat unless you absolutely have to. They keep to something they call ‘The Noble Silence’. You’re also not supposed to play on your phones, or listen to music, and they’re very particular about the type of reading material you’re allowed to have. It helps you with preparation and introspection, which they believe is extremely important before and after taking the medicine. We did our best to keep quiet, but I wont deny that it was difficult since we got along so well with our new friends.

(Almost) The whole Ayahuasca crew at Etnikas.

The second night was even more intense. I did see a little something, even though I’m pretty sure I took less medicine the second night. Although my eyes were closed (and I tightly squeezed them shut just to be sure) I could still see what was happening around me. I could see the Shamans as they smoked their traditional tobacco, and I could see their faces as they sang their traditional songs. It was very beautiful. It felt like I was almost about to leave my body, even though I didn’t. Probably because I was so distracted by what was happening around me. That’s when Pachamama spoke to me again. She and I talked about getting out of body. I’ve been getting more and more frustrated that I can’t astral project at will. (I’ve had out of body experiences before, but none of them were voluntary) There are times when I really want to leave my body again, but I’ve been struggling with concentration. She told me that I can choose to leave my body at any time, and that all I need to do is trust in myself and focus. Easier said than done I guess.

For a moment there, it felt like my heart was about to burst from my chest. I got a little frightened and it was hard for me to relax. That was until one of my deceased loved ones came to me in a ‘sort of’ vision. He put his hands on my face, and whispered to me. For a moment, I swear I could even smell him. The pain in my chest instantly went away. It was magical to me, and made me feel very good. I felt so much love. I don’t quite remember much after that. I woke up a couple hours later, and went back downstairs to my bed.

The 3rd day we had a break from the medicine. They served us breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was one of the tastiest meals I’d had in a long time. And I swear, it wasn’t just because we were absolutely starving. The Peruvian cook we had knew her stuff, and the local vegan dishes she made for us were phenomenal. Most of the breakfasts consisted of bread, avocadoes, flapjacks with strawberry jam and this really incredible porridge with crushed peanuts and shaved coconut. We also had the most amazing tasting fruit. The bananas were bright orange inside, and tasted very sweet. Better than any other bananas I’ve ever tried. They also had enormous passion fruit that looked more like Pomegranates. Lunch was steamed veggies and purple potatoes with garlic. We also had mashed chickpeas with a garlicky sauce, and lightly flavored rice. Dinner was an amazing soup with veggies and quinoa. Every meal was so delishious. That night we all hung out a little, and spoke about our experiences. We also talked about our past and what we hope to see in our futures. It was really wonderful to bond with our new friends.

A Passiflora flower that was growing out front

The fourth night, the last night on the medicine, we went upstairs as usual and got as comfy on the floor as we could. I drank a huge glass of the ayahuasca, and tried my absolute best to keep it down. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was the most difficult time I’ve ever had while drinking something. The minute it hit my stomach, it wanted to come back up. I then noticed, that the first two times we drank it, the medicine was watered down. Probably so it would be less likely to be too intense for our first couple trips.

This time, it was DEFINITELY NOT watered down. The concoction was darker, almost black, and the taste and smell was far more pungent. It was also a hell of a lot stronger. I purged the medicine just a few minutes after drinking it. You always purge the medicine, but usually you try to hold it down for at least 20 minutes. It was physically impossible for me to hold it down. At first I was frustrated with myself. I wanted a stronger trip because I was hoping to have a powerful vision like everyone else had by now. About 10 minutes later however, I was very glad that I purged when I did. I had the most intense hour of my life. My entire body was shaking. The feelings I felt are absolutely indescribable. I felt like I was slowly separating from my body.

Almost like every piece of me wanted to fall apart and come back together at the same time. The vibrations were extreme. Then, soon after I heard Pachamama’s voice again. I asked her why I was the only one who hadn’t seen a vision yet. She told me, “You see visions all the time. In your dreams, and recently even while you’re awake. You don’t need to take something to see visions. You just need to open yourself up to what you’re meant to be shown. Besides, you didn’t come here to see visions. You came here to be healed.” I felt a little foolish for having expectations and wanting an instant gratification.

I agreed with her, and asked her to heal my mind, body and soul. She said “Only you can heal yourself. You self-manifested the pain you feel in your mind, body and soul. The pain you feel has mostly been caused by guilt. Especially when it comes to the deaths of your loved ones. You feel responsible for their deaths, when you shouldn’t. If you truly believe everything happens for a reason, like you always say, then you should never feel an emotion such as guilt or regret.” I thought about my whistleblowing friends, and a few other journalist friends of mine that are no longer with us. I also thought about my friends that had passed away from cancer. Then, my best friend V popped into my head. The deceased loved one that put his hands on my face a few days earlier. This is when it got extremely emotional for me.

For the past 7 years, I’ve been struggling to cope with the loss of my best friend due to suicide. It’s been hard for me to even think about him, let alone speak about him without bursting into tears. I felt intense guilt that I wasn’t there for him, and so much regret that I didn’t try harder to tell him my true feelings. Pachamama brought up some of my favorite memories with him. It was hard to think about them since I still miss him so much, even 7 years later. Pachamama reminded me again that everything happens for a reason, and that I should never feel guilty or regretful.

I said out loud “I love you V, and I release you.” What happened next blew my mind. I heard his voice in my head! It was so clear. He said “You don’t have to release me, because I am already free. You just have to release the pain, sadness and guilt that you feel. I love you, and I’m one of your soul guides now, so I am always with you.” Yep, again, I burst into tears. I cried and cried and cried. It was the biggest emotional release of my life.

Afterward, it felt like a massive weight had been lifted from my shoulders. The intense vibrations quickly subsided and I could open my eyes again. I saw that my friend next to me was having a tough time, so I hugged her and held her hand until she stopped shaking. It really helped me to help her. While I held her hand, Pachamama reminded me that my mission in life is to help others, and to show love to everyone I meet. She said she knows that “expressing the love you feel for others can scare you sometimes, especially since you’ve been hurt so often in life. Regardless of this, you need to be more open to expressing the love you feel for others. It will sometimes cause you pain, but it will help you every step of the way in life.” About an hour later, after some more very deep introspection, I went to bed.

The view of the Peruvian mountains from Etnikas

That was last night. It’s hard to describe, but I feel like a different person now. I feel more connected to everything. Pachamama, my friends, my family, and even complete strangers. I feel like my heart has been healed to a great degree. I still have much to sort out in my head, but now I feel like I have the tools and understanding I need to heal myself further.

The journey I’ve taken on Ayahuasca this week was one of the most difficult I’ve ever experienced. I couldn’t even mention a few things because they are far too personal to share. But, sometimes we must struggle to truly appreciate what we have. Not only do I feel better about things that have been subconsciously torturing me for a long time, but I also feel even more love for life and all within it. I feel such immense gratitude for what I have experienced, and the blessings I’ve been bestowed in life. That is why I still recommend Ayahuasca to anyone that thinks they need it.

Remember, this is not something you do for fun. It’s something you do to heal your mind, body and soul. Thank you Pachamama, and many thanks to the people at Etnikas, who are pretty much Saints in my book, especially because of the things they do for complete strangers on a daily basis. They have one of the most difficult jobs I’ve ever seen. Kudos to them!

If you are thinking about trying Etnika’s for yourself, here is their website!

Author Credit – Lara Starr
(Written September 26th 2014) 

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