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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…