Peru has always been an attractive choice for spiritual seekers. The ancient civilizations that developed here had a close relationship with nature and had a deep understanding of the plants and animals that surrounded them. Many indigenous tribes still rely on shamans, sometimes referred to as medicine men or witch doctors, to cure various ailments and illnesses. Tourists are increasingly coming to Peru to fulfill their own spiritual curiosities and to indulge in indigenous medicines and healing. Lodges and healing centers, some run by authentic shaman and others not, are increasingly appearing in Peru in locations such as the Sacred Valley, Cuzco, Pucallpa, and Iquitos. Sometimes an ayahuasca ceremony is offered as a side attraction during a stay at a jungle lodge. As ayahuasca and San Pedro ceremonies become more mainstream – everyone from beat icon William Burroughs to Robin Quivers of the Howard Stern Show have come to Peru for ayahuasca – it is more important than ever to find a trusted shaman who can provide an experience more secure and authentic than a rock concert acid trip. Indigenous shamans known for their healing in Peru include those in the mountains of Huancabamba near Piura, at Cahiche near Ica, and the Shipibo near Pucallpa.
Healing Centers/Ecolodges in the Peruvian Andes/Amazon that arrange Ayahuasca/Shamanic Ceremonies:
–Sacred Valley Tribe (Sacred Valley)
–Infinite Light (Iquitos)
–El Mundo Magico (Iquitos)
–Blue Morpho Ayahuasca Center (Iquitos)
–Yacu Puma Ayahuasca Healing Center (Iquitos)
The Ayahuasca Experience: For the purpose of this guide and my own interest, I participated in an ayahuasca ceremony. I went a small lodge just outside Pucallpa associated with the Usko Ayar school. I had my own room at the lodge and met with a shaman and an assistant in a large plain wooden room built for solely ceremonial purposes. The shaman was an older gentleman in plain clothes. He didn’t wear a traditional outfit, but you could sense that he was very serious about what he did. To begin, I sat down on a mat on one side of the room, while the shaman and his assistant (who was really there to make sure I was ok) sat at different ends. I was given a bucket in case I was to vomit, which was expected. The lantern was turned off, and a candle was lit. The shaman poured me a glass of the ayahuasca mixture. It was thick and bitter, a little hard to swallow, but I managed to get it down. For maybe an hour, maybe longer it was hard to determine, we sat. In the dark. The only light came from the shamans hand rolled cigarettes, which he smoked continuously. They asked if I felt anything, to which I didn’t, so I was given another glass. I didn’t eat for much of that day in preparation, so I didn’t vomit. So, for some time we just waited. Eventually, the Shaman began to sing, to chant. I was surprised because I didn’t expect it, but it was reassuring. He sang for a long time, took a short break and sang some more. I tried to concentrate on the singing and relax my mind and thoughts, but couldn’t. I was expecting something to happen, but it didn’t. They asked me if I felt anything, and I thought I might have. So, after what was probably four hours with the shaman I was walked back to my room. I climbed into my bed and turned off the light and boom, it hit me. Swirling colors appeared in the shapes I saw through the dark room. Thoughts of people I know and loved passed through my mind. Memories that I had forgotten came back to me. Songs ran through my ears. I began to hear the shaman’s chants, I could hear myself saying them. The exact words. It was like he was still with me. Still guiding me. To an extent he was. That is the power that they have. This is a general summary of what happened, but I assure you that no words can describe something like this. It isn’t that weird night you had at a Pink Floyd concert, but something ancient, something cultural. Each person’s experience is unique and may change. For some, it isn’t always enlightening. That is why it is important that if you take something such as ayahuasca you don’t buy it off of the street and go with a trusted shaman. Someone who takes the practice seriously.
“Yage may be the final fix.” –William Burroughs
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.