Invited to the Shamans’ Village?

On the last day of the Ayahuasca program, the Buddhist women in the group comes up to me. “Hey Meghan, so I hear you’re coming to the shamans’ village with us after the program.” Huh? 

“What? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I am confused, but I have to admit, I’m kind of intrigued by Luco (the Peruvian shamanic apprentice from the center) and am trying to pretend like I’m not feeling a mild vibe there.

“I heard that Eluco invited you to come out with us to their village.” Oh shit. Maybe my Spanish was worse than I thought. I do tend to default on saying si, esta bien (yeah, that’s good!) to things I only half understand. I do remember conversations about hanging out after the program, and when I was leaving, etc. I had a couple extra days.

“Oh. Well than I guess I am!”

After an extremely intense ten days, the program is over. I find myself in tears as we take the final group photo, and reality sets in that I may never see some of these amazing people again. We have all exchanged phone numbers and email addresses, and swear we will keep in touch.

I am so happy to have been here. The Western shaman is an inspiration to me, someone I would like to be like someday. I am coming back as soon as possible. For now – a new adventure begins as we head to the shamans’ village.

 

Riding the Boat Along the Amazon to the Shamans’ Village

Steep and broken, wooden stairs lead us down to the cargo boat. There are people milling about everywhere. It’s a bit overwhelming coming from the tranquility of the lodge.

We are heading out to a remote village in the Amazon, where hardly any tourists have ever been, the home of the elder shaman and Eluco (who are family by marriage – Luco’s ex-wife is the elder’s daughter, so he is Luco’s kids’ grandfather.) They’ve also been working in the same Ayahuasca circle for years, under Don Julio, who had recent passed.

Luco had apprenticed under his older brother Celiz (who was killed) and continued on in the same circle with the elder shaman (which is how he ended up working at the Ayahuasca center as the Elder’s “apprentice” – more in name only than practice since he’d had 25 years of experience in the Medicine).

We are about to partake in Ayahuasca ceremonies with indigenous shamans, on the native land where the plants grow in the Amazon. My heart lit up in intrigued excitement as to the rarity of the experience. You couldn’t force this shit to happen if you tried.

After getting situated in our freighter-boat cabins, we got ready for a 12-hour ride along the Amazon river. It was late afternoon, and the sun was bright in the sky. Luco’s supposedly not-serious girlfriend is there, so I guess I was mistaken about the vibe.

My soul fluttered with the beauty of the Amazon. A rolling show of lush greenery, birds, flowers, amazing trees, small animals. Luco pointed out some of the plants we use in the Ayahuasca mix. It was breathtaking. A dark cloud loomed in the distance, heading straight for us.

We sat in awe as we watched this elder shaman put his hands to the sky, as if to combat the lightening. His mouth blew back at the oncoming wind. He waved it in the direction he wanted it to go. Rain pelted the water in front of the boat, and droplets began to prickle our skin.

He didn’t give up. With a force and a fight, the storm took a turn. Just enough so it didn’t soak us with it’s fall. This shaman, it appears, blew away the storm.

 

Arrive at the Shamans’ Village

Luco knocks on the door of our cabin around 4am. Groggy from the abrupt awakening, we gather our things as our stop approaches. We are corralled into our group, immersed in a crowd of pushy locals, itching to get off the boat fast. A pig shrieks loudly as it is roped to be taken off the boat. Curious kids and babies stare at us, hidden behind their mothers.

As the large boat bumps into the metal dock, Luco warns us to brace ourselves. A flood of vendors storm the boat, attempting to sell their empenadas, chicken, cheese and fish before the stop is over. I sway with the crowd, breathing, grateful I am not claustrophobic. Though I admit, I am a bit overwhelmed.

The Ayahuasca Shamans' Village in the Peruvian Amazon

The Ayahuasca Shamans’ Village in the Peruvian Amazon

After the vendor flood, the crowd pushes through to the temporary wooden board connecting the boat to the dock. With my weighted backpack making me top-heavy, I pray I don’t fall into the water during the chaos.

Luco and his guys surround us like the Secret Service, making sure we are protected against the elements of curious people. Finally, my feet are on the wet earth and we climb the stairs to safety.

Luco puts us all in what are called mototaxis, half motorcycles with two wheels in the back and enough room for a bench of three. Our stuff rides in the crate in back. We take off in the early morning moonlight, with local passerbys eying us curiously.

The wind blows freshly on our skin as we head to the home of the elder shaman Luco works with and his family. This was going to be an adventure requiring a lot of trust and flexibility, considering none of us speak very good Spanish.

They show us to our rooms. The Buddhist woman and I have our own, sharing a big bed surrounded by mosquito netting. After a long day and night, I finally get a good sleep.

 

Morning in the Shamans’ Village

Roosters crow and children laugh as I am awakened to the heat of the day. I meander into the common room.

“Buenos dias,” several people I haven’t yet met greet me. I feel a little out of place in this house.

“Hola, soy Meghan, mucho gusto,” I introduce myself. Turns out the crowd is the elder shaman’s large family, with an array of teenage to adult children. An adorable little girl walks up to me and touches my necklace. She is smiley and sweet, and likes me already.

“Hola, como te llamas?” I ask her name.

“Tatiana,” she melts into a shy puddle. Turns out to be Luco’s daughter, maybe six or seven years old.

“Hola, Tatiana, me llamo Meghan. Mucho gusto! Te gusta arte?” I ask her if she likes art. She smiles with excited affirmation. “Uno momento.” I go grab my markers.

Tatiana (Age 7): One of the Ayahuasca shaman's daughters in the Peruvian Amazon Village

Tatiana (Age 7): One of the Ayahuasca shaman’s daughters in the Peruvian Amazon Village

Within minutes, there is a crowd of kids with paper spread out in a circle around me, happily creating colors. Each one runs up to proudly show me a new segment of their work. I am in heaven.

We are ushered to another house down the street for breakfast. My eyes sparkle with delight as a huge sea turtle strolls casually passed. I am a little nervous about what we will be eating.

I am relieved to see a plate of spaghetti. They must be taking it easy on us. I try not to grimace at the pig’s foot atop of Luco’s plate. He sees my stifled expression and giggles.

More downtime during the day was a perfect opportunity to make some friends with people I related to out here – kids. By the end of the day, we had a gaggle of little girls leading us around town. First to the morning market, where they sell fruits, vegetables, the best cheese on Earth, fish and meats, breads, and spices until about 9am.

Then to the town store, where in one room, they sell snacks and soda, clothes, cigarettes, soap, etc. It is the only place in town with electricity all day (they have their own generator.) The rest of the village gets it from about 6-10 at night. Third, to the plaza area, past the school, where kids run and play, and at night couples take romantic walks.

 

Village Life in the Amazon

Back at the house are told it is time to go bathe in the river. A community event, I see. I don’t have a swimsuit, so I grab some shorts and a (dark) tank top. We walk for about ten minutes to a beautiful river. Children squeal as they launch themselves in from the hanging wooden bridge. Women chat and look curiously at us while doing the family laundry. We ease into the water timidly.

Bridge in the Ayahuasca Shamans' Village in the Peruvian Amazon

Bridge in the Ayahuasca Shamans’ Village in the Peruvian Amazon

Within minutes we are in heaven. The fresh water rushes over us as we sit in rock crevices, laying back, looking up at the perfect sky.

The sun smiles through the trees and vegetation. I feel so organic and natural as I become one with this place.

Walking back, the hilly dirt road is slippery from the rain the night before. After finally being cleansed, the Buddhist slips in her flip flops and slides down a bit, covering her front half with mud. The gaggle bursts into laughter as they help her up.

“Pobrecita!” the girls tease. Poor thing! ‘Pobrecita’ became her nickname the rest of the trip. Mine was simply ‘La Mega’ as Meghan turned out to be difficult to say (I think it translates to ‘the big!’ But I’m pretty sure they don’t mean it like that – I hope).

We meet more and more people as the day comes to a close. Luco’s nephew was super nice (I think in his early 20’s.) And the adorable toddler I really bonded with (I think he had just turned three.) Everyone was so nice and friendly, even though we were clearly gringas. They would stare curiously, and always smile back. It was amazing.

We were told we’d be going for a boat ride. Several of us climbed into a wooden boat with a long motor (kind of on a stick) to explore this offshoot of the Amazon River, the Ucayali. I love being on the water…the wind blowing through my skin while the sun bronzed it…the energy was so clear and fresh out here. The United States felt like molasses compared to the levity of this place.

Tatiana sat with me the whole ride. After learning about plants, birds, and even seeing the small, pink dolphins (which I didn’t even know  existed) we headed back, all a bit tired from the hours on the water. Tatiana taught me a song she learned in school, and we sang happily on the way back.

Lunchtime, we had an amazing soup. I wondered what the marvelous meat we were eating was.

Meghan and Little Hamilton in the Ayahuasca Shamans' Village in the Peruvian Amazon

Meghan and Little Hamilton in the Ayahuasca Shamans’ Village in the Peruvian Amazon

“Cual es eso?” I asked Luco.

“Recuerdas la tortuga del mar de ayer?” Remember that sea turtle from yesterday? My face dropped into a shocked, “poor sea turtle” expression. But I have to admit, it was really fucking good.

This would be our last meal, as the ceremony was approaching. I could not believe I somehow had the opportunity to do an ancient ceremony, in a village in the middle of the Amazon, in the home of a Peruvian shaman.

I mean come on, you can’t plan this kind of shit. There are no websites out here, and very few tourist have ever seen this town, except for an occasionally biologist researching the plants. I was so incredibly lucky.

 

“Oldschool” Ceremony with the Ayahuasca Shamans

Before the ceremony, we met the rest of the mesa (here the word is used for the shamans and apprentices of the group.)  I was nervous, as the Western shaman had mentioned it being a bit “oldschool” out here (is that bad? There was a fear-based tone in his voice.) But I didn’t care. I was thrilled for this adventure.

We were the only ones in the circle with our toilet paper rolls and water bottles ready to pour on our heads in case we go over the top. Some of them didn’t even have puke buckets! These guys must be champs.

I was a little worried about the bathroom situation, which had no door (thank God it was off to the side a bit) and you had to pour a bucketful of water down it to make it flush. I hoped I could do that while crazy mareado (in the state of experiencing the Ayahuasca medicine.)

The ceremony was eerie, with a conglomeration of jungle spirits that I had never seen before. We are much deeper in the Amazon out here, and I noticed a distinct difference in my visions. I still saw some of the psycho funhouse shit like at the previous center, but along side of jaguars, plants, and beautifully dark jungle flowers.

This one was not nearly as scary as during the program, which is interesting because Elder shaman and Luco are the ones who cook the medicine in both places. Maybe it was because there were less people, or maybe the boot camp approach.

All I knew, is that I was happy to have such a cool, manageable ceremony where I could actually get up and pee if I had to. It was amazing.

 

Goodbye (for now)

Several of us went to the local nature preserve the next morning, owned by a university in Iquitos for biology research. It was breathtaking…walking through the jungle woods, touching plants and trees. A small pond glimmered with love.

Time to head back. We said our goodbyes to these beautiful people. I still felt a connection with Luco, regardless. I guess time would tell.

We had no pictures, as the experience felt almost too sacred to take. I would be heading back to the United States tomorrow, and book a plane ticket back immediately – before I forget the truth.

______________________________

~ Meghan Shannon Elder (@beyond_meghan)

Ayahuasca Preparation and Integration Specialist at Beyond the Ceremony

Accelerated Spiritual Development Coach at Beyond the Whirlwind

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2019