Ayahuasca Tourism

Ayahuasca, the mother of all plants, the ancient Amazon medicine, practiced for thousands of years by native Indian shaman-curanderos and revered by millions and millions of South Americans has been declared National Cultural Heritage by the Republic of Peru.

Ayahuasca Pots
Ayahuasca Pots

Many Westerners are fascinated by the plant brew of Banisteriopsis Caapi (Yagé) and Psychotria viridis (Chacruna) and its mysterious power to open the mind to the world of spirits and to clean body and soul of those ready to face also the darker corners of their own inner self. (More info here from Erowid, Wikipedia and Ayahuasca-Info, see also the Topping report about cancer and Ayahuasca.) But as travelling in third world countries is an endeavour to be learned step by step there is a economic niche for entrepreneurs offering a safe environment for Ayahuasca exploration in the rainforest.

nice garden at spiritquest
nice garden at spiritquest

SpiritQuest is a sanctuary for plant medicine ceremonies lead by American biologist Howard Eugene Lawler who is a walking library on Amazonian customs and traditions. His place near Iquitos, Peru, on the Rio Momon is nice with a beautiful garden and two big malocas, round community houses built in the typical Indian style. He offers an all-inclusive healing experience with five ceremonies, a special diet as recommended by vegetalista curanderos and 4 star accomodation. Of course this comes with a price tag, more than 2’000 US Dollars for a ten day stay. Currently he works with the experienced and very gentle Shipibo maestro curandero Don Enrique and his partner Doña Wilma.

The SpiritQuest staff is friendly and helpful but the accomodation in wooden barracks is a far cry from the promised 4 stars, probably it’s not even 2 star, as there are no private showers. The rooms are tiny with only one bare lightbulb, no acoustic insulation towards the neighbours and no seating possibility except the beds, there isn’t even a table and a chair. For groups as large as 25 people (most shamans recommend a group size of not more than a dozen people) there are five hammocks and no other possibilities to relax, for instance in a comfortable deck chair. Normally there are two people in one room so the two of you pay 400 Dollars a night for a basic boy scout summer camp accomodation. If you consider this to be a shameless rip-off or a fair deal depends on your needs and your budget. It’s certainly untruthful advertising and a case of cashing in under pretense of wrong facts but it seems that most visitors don’t mind. Looks like they’re so busy with their experience that they couldn’t care less about whether or not they get the 4 star accomodation they paid for.

but definitely not 4 star room at spiritQuest
but definitely not 4 star room at spiritQuest
the spiritQuest barracks from the outside
the spiritQuest barracks from the outside

Some economic facts from the Peruvian Amazon: The usual local worker earns 10 to 15 Dollars a day. Experienced curanderos in Iquitos charge 15 to 25 Dollars per person for a session, there are also tales of sessions for only two dollars. Only superstar shamans like Don Alfredo charge up to 500 Peruvian Soles which amount to about 170 Dollars. You can get a nice and large 3 star suite in Iquitos for 65 Dollars, for instance in Amazon Apart Hotel, and if you want to have some really luxurious jungle place to stay you go to Amazon Rainforest Lodge where you get a spacious bungalow with your own private shower, your own little terrace with a hammock and a rocking chair, shower, ventilation and satellite TV for 140 Dollars a day (per bungalow, not per person). There is a swimming pool and, yes, of course, they have a dedicated maloca for Ayahuasca sessions. You can bring along your own shaman or do the session with one of those offered by the hotel. The only disadvantage is that there are normal tourists who drink beer and might want to sing karaoke at night.

Amazon Apart Hotel for 65 Dollars a night
Amazon Apart Hotel for 65 Dollars a night

Of course there are other ceremonial places for those interested in the Amazonian Vine:
Spirit Path Peru
Eagle’s Wing Amazon Retreat at Mishana
Some of the best sanctuaries don’t advertise their services on the web and keep them to family and friends as the combination of moneymaking with sacred plants and higher consciousness is always a delicate question.

For those who want to learn more about the Amazonian vine there is this highly recommended book „Ayahuasca Visions: The Religious Iconography of a Peruvian Shaman„, with most fantastic paintings by Pablo Amaringo and a very informative introduction and comments to the pictures by Luis Eduardo Luna.

Don Enrique and Doña Wilma
Don Enrique and Doña Wilma

If you’re interested in more academic research there is the 5th International Amazonian Shamanism Conference „The Art and the Heart of Healing“, taking place in Iquitos from July 11th to 18th 2009 with many illustrious presenters. Of course there will be plenty of possibilities to have ceremonies with the most renowned curanderos.

Amazon Sunset at Rainforest Lodge
Amazon Sunset at Rainforest Lodge

Or you could follow the advice of this anonymous writer at MAPS and take it alone at home. I personally prefer to be introduced by an experienced curandero…

3 Gedanken zu “Ayahuasca Tourism

  1. In the article is written: „Only superstar shamans like Don Alfredo charge up to 500 Peruvian Soles which amount to about 170 Dollars.“
    By now he has obviously no other chance than to charge less. He did to a fellow hostel guest of mine around Christmas 2013 an ayahuasca session for 200 Soles and for me one for 300 Soles, but I paid a much higher price:
    He poured on a rainy-cool morning on my body a very cold flower-plant-bath from head to toe (the water of the river in a tiny canyon, I washed myself with at 6pm had been much warmer), ignoring that I had from 3 days and nights on a boat on the Amazon already quite a heavy cough. At the first long moment my lungs stopped completely to breath. I toughened myself within my body, still thinking I would be with a shaman who knows what he is doing.

    He did not: I ended up with a heavy pneumonia what kept me in bed for more than 2 1/2 weeks, and to be able to travel back into my country I had to take antibiotics.

    When I got from Alfredo’s wife informed that „we all leave in 1 hour“ I dared to point out that I didn’t get a fair deal when not getting everything according to the verbal arrangement. I deliberately pointed this out in a very gentle way: “Since it is Christmas, it is my Christmas gift to you that you do not need to give to me the meal and the flower-plant-bath.
    “Oh, you want your flower-plant-bath”, Don Alfredo stated. “If I do get it, of course I want it”, was my answer.
    This fast bath, prepared for the afternoon of the day before, but the 1 hour delay in getting picked up by Alfredo’s son, hadn’t allowed to give it to me at that time.

    Before the bath, Alfredo, who has exactly the same age like me, pointed out with strange energetic movements of his hands towards my chest, making me somewhat suspicious, that I would need 4 sessions more with him. In a kind of theatrical way (best sign not to be a true shaman!) with a changed voice he told me, that I would have been with many shamans and I would need a cleansing. It sounded like he wanted to say the shamans with whom I have been would have been bad for me. I had, however, been with 2 old traditional shamans who had been very authentic; they seemed even in a „genetic“ way connected with their land, where they and even their father and grandfather grew up. This authenticity was just what I was missing in „Don“ Alfredo. I didn’t go for these further 4 expensive sessions with him – and this was probably my biggest mistake…..

    You cannot believe in all the good sounding human words his son, who connects with you first in Iquitos, is telling you. He (35 years old, student of law) is the best one to twist the words to get your confidence, but the actions you receive are completely contrary to the words. I.e. my ayahuasca ceremony, for which I paid more than US$110 started simply an hour later, since the family had to speak a lot about completely other things in their native language Shipibo, what they called “taking me into their family” while I only had the chance to pick some words in Spanish, a language I speak completely well and what made me knowing that they spoke about completely other things.

    This “shaman” seemed to me like a visitor on the land where he practices. Coming from Pucallpa he bought the land 1 1/2 hours by bus from Iquitos 7 years ago from an Australian woman. He has no root-connection to the land. I have been in Peru with 2 shamans on their chacras, I have been years ago connected with many shamans in Mexico and in Guatemala (because of my professional see http://www.alloneness.com), but I have never seen anywhere such a superficial connection of a shaman with the land he/she is on like in this case. I have also never seen a shaman pouring a 15 to 20litres cold bath over a person. Never, ever.

    So at the final end it is not a surprise that this man has put on the way into the jungle on a tree the big sign in English: “WELCOME to the jungle”.
    I can imagine that Alfredo was once truthful, but by now he plays a show and is simply in search of money.

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