The arrival in Peru couldn't have been any smoother. After a 12 hour flight that took off at 00:30 from Madrid to Lima, I arrived at 7 am. Since I had slept almost the entire time and the seat next to me had been empty, it was almost like there was no time difference.
Having been dressed in long sweatpants, a thick jumper and hiking boots and just about to melt away, I decided to use the 10 hour overlay to get a local SIM card and a pair of shorts.
It took me a while to find the courage to leave the airport on my own, despite my Spanish being very advanced. But then, only a short taxi ride later, I found myself in a big shopping mall. In a supermarket I bought an estimated ton of fresh fruit, because the diet before an ayahuasca retreat is very bland and restrictive and I wanted to make sure not to eat any processed food.
After I had bravely survived the big modern mall with armed security guards and was now equipped with a Peruvian SIM card, I decided to be even more adventurous and to take another taxi to the "Mirador de La Punta", a viewing platform in a fancier part of Lima. Not that I was ever scared of travelling alone before - a few years earlier I was running around a Brazilian favela, undoubtedly being the whitest guy within a mile and I didn't have a worry in the world.
This time around things were different, however. After years of depression and anxiety I only saw danger everywhere but apparently I had just found at least one of my cojones again and was ready to start this journey off like the old me that seemed to have gotten lost somewhere along the way.
Coming straight from a German winter into 32 C with my sun lotion being lost somewhere deep down in backpack which I had securely stored at the airport, I obviously burned my face right away but spent a nice few hours at the coast nevertheless before returning to the airport to catch my connection flight to Iquitos.
At around 8 pm, when I landed in the world's largest city that cannot be accessed by road, the climate had changed significantly to super-humid as opposed to the dry heat in Lima. When leaving the airport building, I was suddenly surrounded by at least 20 people who were all shouting, "Taxi, amigo!?!?", almost fighting each other in order to catch this fare into town.
Strolling through town the next morning after breakfast, I already connected with a few other people who would also be at the retreat and whose faces I had recognised from the dedicated Facebook group. I had booked to arrive in Iquitos 2 days prior to the retreat, because the handbook had mentioned that flights are often being delayed during the rainy season and I was super scared that I could arrive late and miss the retreat altogether.
Being all alone in a different part of the world can be a scary thing and therefore it was good to connect with people beforehand and create at least a bit of a familiar environment.
On the 26th of January 2018, the day the retreat started, the whole group was picked up by bus in front of our hotel and brought to the port where we had to take a boat for 30 mins and then walk through the jungle for another 40 minutes. The port was merely a muddy shore with a wooden landing bridge, a few bars and little supermarkets. Many people were busily running around, loading and unloading boats, lorries and tuk tuks.
At the very end of the boat ride, the captain had to navigate through very narrow streets of water that no non-local would have ever even found, let alone managed to get through. Upon arrival on the other side, we were greeted by a large group of people belonging to the indigenous tribe working at the retreat centre. They were very short people from a European's perspective - most of them not taller than 1.60 m. I felt bad in the beginning that those poor guys actually turned out to be our porters and that old men and young girls were about to carry our luggage through the jungle but I was dumbfounded when, even the eldest of them, carried 2 full backpacks like mine which must have weight just short of 20 kgs and pretty much ran off in a speed that I wouldn't have even been able to keep up in this climate.
Having arrived at the temple after being chased through the jungle by the local mosquitos trying to taste our gringo blood, we were nicely greeted and each assigned a tambo - a little wooden cabin with a bed, a chair and a hammock out in the back. Each tambo was also equipped with a shelf and a little safe. I was assigned tambo number 8 - same as my life path number, for those familiar with numerology.
The retreat would last 23 days and we would have 7 ayahuasca ceremonies over that course. Plant medicines every morning and on the mornings after ceremony, those who need, would get massages or other treatments for their physical symptoms. In my case a handbath for my eczema.
Ayahuasca is a vine growing in the amazon jungle and mixed with another local plant, chakruna, it becomes a horribly foul tasting brew that is being used in shamanic ceremonies. In my own experience, the best way to describe the effect of ayahuasca, is to say that it makes the unconscious conscious. It's like shining a light into a room that has been dark for years and nobody really knows what is in there. Just like all the stuff that might surge from your own subconscious, the actual ceremony isn't a nice experience. It starts after nightfall in a round wooden construct, called a maloka, which is open on the sides but thankfully covered with mosquito netting.
Everyone has their dedicated space on one of the mattresses which are set up in a circle. The shamans are sitting on their own mattresses at the centre of the circle. Every mattress is equipped with a plastic bowl for vomiting and an ashtray in case you want to smoke mapacho, the native jungle tobacco that is regarded a medicine.
When the shamans are ready, they take out the bottle with the ayahuasca and drink their own dose first, before calling everyone in the circle to come forth and drink theirs. Before drinking it, you utter your intention for this ceremony, the problem you want to work on, to the medicine.
Once everyone had their medicine and are back on their mattresses, the lights are being extinguished. It usually takes around 40 minutes to an hour until the medicine starts making effect. It cannot be said what you are going to experience during ceremony, because the medicine works differently on every person, which is probably the scariest thing of all as conditioned westernised people usually want to know what expects them.
The shamans then go round and sing icaros (healing songs) to each participant, which is usually when the purging starts.
I had many beautiful insights into my own subconscious and it became very clear to me in what situations I am manipulating myself with outdated subconscious beliefs. One of the most powerful experiences I had in the 5th ceremony:
I stuck to the same dose of the medicine, because I was getting clear and concise teachings in previous ceremonies and didn't see any added value in drinking more.
Since my intention for this ceremony was "help me overcome my fear", I started seeing snakes, spiders and several bugs that I wasn't overly fond of but the time during and after my first icaro was all about the purging - this was the first time I violently vomited into the bucket. Three times!
In previous ceremonies I had only been to the toilet numerous times to purge from the bottom which, to me anyways, felt more natural than puking my brains out. But this one i kinda knew before that I was going to vomit this time as, right after drinking, only the smell of the mapacho has made me instantly feel sick.
Soon after my little puke-show, it was time to go to the toilet and purge from the other end again. This was when the actual teaching began, although I would only become aware of this the next morning.
There were 3 toilets located outside the maloka and for some reason, as a creature of habit I suppose, I always chose the middle one. As soon as I sat down I noticed a cockroach walking up my left leg and, for some reason, I am really afraid of those little fuckers and since they are really fast and you can barely catch them unless your name is Barry Allan, I just sat there and looked at it, allowing myself to feel the fear until it eventually subsided - together with the roach that had disappeared somewhere underneath the wooden toilet box.
When I went back to my spot inside the maloka, knowing that after the 2nd icaro I would eventually have to go to the toilet again, I found myself thinking about which toilet to use once the time comes.
I was super aware that I had chosen an intention about fear and I was sure madresita ayahuasca would confront me with some more of my fears and I thought: "If I'll go back to the toilet in the middle, I know that there is a cockroach in there and I might feel uncomfortable, but I survived it the last time, right? But if I choose door 1 or 3, there might be a rat, a snake or a tarantula! I mean we're in the middle of the jungle!" So better the devil I know, right?
I was convinced that, whatever option I was going to choose, I would encounter something way worse than just a roach. When the time came, however, I chose to use door number one without thinking much and face whatever would expect me in there...
And guess what... Nothing! Not a bleeding thing!
I just went to the toilet like I would on any other day of the week and I didn't encounter any rats, snakes or tarantulas - not even an alligator! Only the next morning I realised that this little cockroach was my most profound teaching so far and that my biggest fear is that of the unknown...
Soon, back inside the maloka, I noticed clinging on to my pillow, stroking it like it was a person and feeling terribly lonely, thinking back to all those times I was very lonely as a child after my parents had split up and my mum went back to work and left me with my grandma during the day, who also had to do her household and still worked a part-time job at a local church.
Suddenly it became very clear to me why I'm having problems to let go. Still hanging on to that pillow, I cried my eyes out, scared as hell that I would be dying alone one day.
As bad as it may sound to compare my own marriage to a cockroach in a toilet, this was when I realised that it was time to move on from this relationship that had not been working out for the last few years. I might continue this way and feel very uncomfortable, but there are many other doors and I don't have to be scared to walk through them.
Having seven ceremonies over the course of three weeks is an awful lot and it's awful hard work. It's a lot of purging from every possible opening in the body. It's a lot of processing of old, unfelt emotions but it's absolutely worth it! It feels as if I had purged the emotions of a lifetime in those three short weeks. I would not want to miss the experience and the connections I made in the jungle anymore.
Before the retreat had started, I was convinced that I am fed up with the way we live in our so-called civilised world and that I would probably want to stay in the jungle entirely. But I did realise now that there are many things I do appreciate in the western world and that I was born in Germany for a reason.
Read more about the 4 months I have been backpacking in Latin America after the retreat very soon!