After making our way back to Cusco with my Machu Picchu crew, it was time for a final group dinner before we parted ways. Dan/Lucy, Peter, and Katie would be heading home (they did their week in the jungle Before Cusco), and Dan would be bringing Mateusz (Matthew) and I into the Amazon to his Ayahuasca Adventure Center.
We traveled first to Lima and then onto Iquitos, Peru where the Amazon, Nanay, and Itaya rivers all converge- it’s a jump off point for many Amazon tours, adventures, cruises etc. After getting sorted into our hotel for the night, Dan, Tatyana (his girlfriend and co-runner of the center), Mat and myself went out to grab a bite. It was Friday night so the town was quite lively, though one could feel a storm approaching. There was cool lightning on the horizon illuminating the sky, and the wind had shifted ever so slightly. We went to a chill restaurant to sample some local cuisine and were enjoying some nice conversation when all of a sudden the wind started to really pick up… and shit got biblical real fast! It was like being in the middle of a tornado within 5 minutes, the wind had blown open all the shutters, scattered tables and chairs, knocked out power and the rain was ripping through the place! It took all of us helping to get the shutters closed again against the storm outside, but we managed, candles were produced, and we finished our meal. Dan and Tatyana said they’d never seen anything like this in Iquitos before. Hoped this wasn’t some sort of omen as we were about to head deep into the jungle. We separated after dinner and Mat and I looked forward to a much needed good night’s sleep before we were set to meet our new companions and depart in the morning.
We were told it would again be a smaller group, 7 people (they usually have 15-18), so would be a more intimate experience. The new cast of characters included Melissa and Dolan- who work at the center, Pernille and Madeleine- 2 24 yr old Danish girls traveling between Peru and Colombia, Anton- a 39 yr old veteran of plant medicine and fishing captain from Florida, Scott- an awesome 43 yr old from Australia who was also a veteran of these types of retreats, and finally Jess- a 23 yr old from North Dakota who was actually just down at the center the previous month (and was filmed for an MTV show!)… and me and Mateusz. The group seemed to click almost immediately, everyone was chatting and introducing themselves as we had a quick breakfast together at the Karma Cafe. Heading back to our hotel, we loaded our stuff up for the journey to our home for the week, which would entail a 1.5 hour van ride to Nauta (another port city near the mouth of the Amazon) and then a 1.5 hour boat ride into the jungle! Long day of travel ahead of us, but we were all pretty pumped! This was going to be good.
The center was awesome, exactly what I’d hoped for, a jungle compound build up on stilts to accommodate when the river floods every year. The air was thick and humid, and smelled of the jungle, I had to pinch myself to make sure this was really real. I still am in disbelief that this is all actually happening- I’m in the middle of the fucking Amazon Rainforest! 2 weeks ago I was putting ads in front of YouTube videos… It was a special night as it was the 2 year anniversary of the center as well as the 52nd anniversary of the village next door, Libertad. To show their appreciation, the gang at Pulse Tours had set up a giant vat of jungle chocolate (kinda like a spicy hot chocolate) and all the villagers were lined up with everything from coffee cups to giant pitchers to enjoy right there and/or bring some back home. The drink was accompanied by buttered bread which all the kids were happily dunking into their precious cup of chocolate… it was amazing. Such a simple act was bringing so much joy to so many. Was the beginning of my realization how much of an impact the smallest act of kindness could have down here.
We got a tour of the place, were showed to our rooms, and were set to meet in the Maloka (an ancestral long house- where ceremonies were held) after we unpacked for ‘orientation’, which would be followed by dinner and then our NuNu ceremony. Finally we’d cap the night off by heading over to the village to join them for their celebration party. I was rooming with Mateusz again for the week, our room had two beds covered by mosquito nets, 2 desks, and no lights haha. Found out the generator is only on for 1 hour during the day, after that it’s small lanterns and candlelight, as well as the headlamps/flashlights we had brought down- surreal. Ah yes, our room also included one of the largest spiders I’ve ever seen chilling on the wall. We of course ran and told everyone we had a problem and when Tatyana accompanied us back to the room to provide the help we so ‘desperately’ needed, she basically laughed at us and said she’d give us a pass on this ’emergency’ as it was our first night here… Apparently this was the norm and we’d just have to get used to it. Ok… Spiders, Bats, Mosquitos, and Ants were just a part of the center and the experience IN ADDITION TO the 4 cats, baby deer, and awesome dog that we had already met- Did I mention this place is also an animal rehab/rescue sanctuary? They just had released Martina, a monkey, back into the jungle a few months earlier (after her habit of sneaking down and snagging people’s sunglasses off their heads finally got to be too much)…
Now that the stage has been set and you all have a basic idea of the environment, I’m going to split the rest into two parts- 1. The Jungle Excursions and overall friendships I formed and 2. The Medicine Ceremonies (NuNu, Kambo, and Ayahuasca- and I’ll add in the Huachuma experience from Cusco as well).
A Week of Jungle Life.
The first night after our NuNu ceremony we went over to the town to join the party. It was great! Everyone was dancing, they had a band, there was even the local pageant winner… The town has around 25o people, roughly 65 families, and is constructed much the same as the center, up on stilts for when the river floods. The homes were all very modest, no windows or doors, also lit by candle/lantern all set around a soccer field in the middle- there was a bar, 2 churches, a police station and ‘jail’ (that would not have been hard to escape from), a school, and a few stores. The celebration was right in the middle and once again I had to take a step back and wonder, ‘Am I really dancing in a village in the middle of the Amazon? Crazy… was a lovely way to wrap the night. Could have danced all night, but it was time to get some rest before the real experience began.
Our days we’re organized roughy into this:
Group Share (where we’d discuss the previous night’s ceremony)
Free time (a good time to workout in their jungle gym)
Jungle Excursion (which included fishing, guided hikes, swimming, monkey feeding, playing with sloths)
More free time (most people napped)
Floral Bath (prep for ceremony)
Quiet time (meditation/journaling)
It was 2 days like this, then a day off (which included a late night boat trip to hunt for caiman crocodiles!), then 2 more to wrap up the week. You’ll notice the word DINNER missing from the above schedule. On days of ceremony we were meant to keep our stomachs empty so that the medicine had a chance to work, we were however treated to post ceremony apples (which were the best apples I’ve ever eaten…). On the day off we did get a nice Pasta dinner, thank God.
Regarding the diet, it was also pretty regulated. There was a special Ayahuasca diet for the hard core- mostly those who were going to be there for more than a week or had done it before and had a bit more experience. But overall I ate pretty much lentils, rice, and either locally grown/caught chicken or fish- plus a few beets/veggies. Eggs, lentils, and fruit for breakfast. Tea, fresh fruit juice, or water for drinks. No coffee, no hot sauce, no fun AND no dinner for 4 of the 6 nights… initially questioned how I was going to survive!
But, I did. The week was awesome. The people were awesome. Tamara, another staffer there, as well as Ernesto and Angelita (the shamans), plus all the staff and guides at the center had all now joined and they too were awesome. The setting was perfect, although we all had rooms, most of us just slept in the Maloka every night, chatting until late into the night about our ceremonies, as well as other stuff that was ridiculously funny (and also just plain ridiculous) post-ceremony. The discussions ranged from everything from starting a new band called Hot Yogurt that will headline an upcoming Lollapalooza to how when Patrick Swayze left this Earth, his spirt went into Ryan Reynolds, which was the reason nobody was afraid of Deadpool 2 sucking (guess whose theory this was). It was absurd. So much fun.
One of the biggest benefits of this particular tour/center was the Amazon Adventure component- every day we were exposed to a different part of the jungle, the culture, just the way of life down here in a way that really tied the experience together. We walked around in the jungle learning about the various trees, vines, fruits, animals, etc, We took the boat out and went swimming in the river (during a mild rain storm!), We played with monkeys and sloths, hung out in the nearby villages meeting locals and buying handmade items to help support them, we fished, we chased crocs… it was awesome. It was hot, muggy, sweaty, filled with every bug, bat, and spider imaginable. It was perfect. No longer was I traveling in nice cushy hotels, I was living, I was alive.
During the days (when we weren’t out exploring), we passed the time in the common room which was filled with hammocks- journaling, reading, chatting, napping, just enjoying being off the grid, hanging with new friends (who you had immediately formed close bonds with via the ceremonies), and just again marveling at where we had all found ourselves at that moment in time. I felt my life changing, my soul being nourished like it had never been, and truly felt like I was connecting to the Earth and Sky. I was at peace and inspired like never before. *this will become more apparent after I post about the Aya ceremonies.
For those looking to try something like this, I’d highly recommend Pulse Tours and the Ayahuasca Adventure Center. As I mentioned, the staff was incredible. Such good cool people who are completely there to make sure you get the most out of your journey and help you understand and learn from your ceremony experiences. ON TOP OF THAT, I’ve seen and heard that most Ayahuasca retreats are pretty much just all about that. Dan said they were almost a bit lazy, not much else to do besides hang and do the ceremonies. I could easily see falling into that myself as the ceremonies can be exhausting and sleep doesn’t come easy- but the fact that there were the jungle activities forced us to get up and do stuff, cool stuff, and also contributed to feeling like I was connecting with the jungle, the environment, which I feel led to me having a better/deeper experience with the medicine- truly understanding and appreciating where it came from. Add the ‘jungle gym’ into all that (Dan is a big fan of physical fitness) and it was in my opinion just a more complete environment to ensure both a physical and spiritual transformation.
So those were pretty much my days while down there. The next post I’ll chat about my nights, the Ayahuasca ceremonies. All I can say is wow, and stay tuned…
I’m excited to share what I learned about the universe and myself while in ceremony. Being back in NYC is both comforting and foreign at the same time. Although I love my bed, I miss my mat in the Maloka, falling asleep to the sounds of the universe every night. Mentally I feel sharp, Physically I feel amazing. I’m down over 10 pounds since I left and am on my way to getting back into the shape I set out to. Everyone has told me they can’t believe the transformation already, I’m thinner, sound happier, have amazing energy, my eyes are brighter, all these comments are music to my ears and motivation to keep this going! As I walk around the city now I’m noticing new things, more happiness in the world, more love, more curiosity, more excitement… it’s awesome. I’m happy.
Crazy thing is this was literally the first trip of this little adventure of mine! I have so much more ahead of me, and if everything goes like this, holy shit I can’t wait to meet the Brian at the end of this road. Next stop Bali, can’t wait to see what happens out there.
Iquitos Plaza de Armas the morning after the storm!
Our transport into the jungle from Nauta
Roommates again! Me and Mateusz
and our 3rd roommate!
Dan welcoming the village, wishing them a good 52nd celebration, handing out the chocolate drink.
Town 52nd Anniversary Party
Dolan, Melissa (2 staff members), Jess, and Mat
How we passed the time…
Home Sweet Home
Complete with Riki the Deer 🙂
And the 2 kittens who loved to play and not let us sleep…
Libertad during the day
Boat ride to say hi to Martina the Monkey
Exploring the Jungle- Some of the world’s oldest trees. AND I now know which vines contain good water and which are poisonous (could come in handy some day, never know).
(no comments, please…)
Caimon Chasing! (Mateusz decided we should wear the camo face paint and glow sticks he for some reason trekked out from Dubai)
Swimming in the Amazon (well, not technically the Amazon River, but YES the Amazon Rainforest…)
The highlight, a visit to meet Pablo the Sloth!
I mean, look at this face…
On the way back to the boat, some dude leans out the window and says, ‘Wanna see a snake?’ Why not…
Pre Ceremony Floral Baths (Amazonian Ice Bucket Challenge?)
Boating around during free time
Last night in the jungle…
Try as we might, we could never get everyone looking at the same camera at the same time- but it kinda captures the vibe of the group and the week…
Top Row (L-R): Melissa, Scott, Madeleine, Dolan, Pernille, Tamara… Bottom Row: Me, Jess, Mateusz, Anton
Jess, Scott, and Mat stayed behind for more adventure. Was sad to leave them but know I’ll see them again…
Back in Iquitos, the town rebounded nicely…
Soccer on the Amazon
Going away Dinner- Cheers guys (Skol to the Danes)!
Just a guy on a hero's journey...