On July 1st and 2nd, 2022 I attended my first two ayahuasca ceremonies with a shaman.
I met Daniela, a nice Venezuelan young lady who drove us to the ceremony. We left Panama City at 3pm from Albrook mall bus terminal. She also picked up Antonio, a 24 year old Guatemalan man who went to his first ceremony the month ago at the beach ceremony site.
It was a rainy Friday afternoon and protesters were blocking roads around Panama City, so traffic was even heavier than usual. We crossed the Panama Canal via the Bridge of the Americas.
On the ride to the ceremony site 8 km south of Capira, Panama we got to know each other and talked about our previous experiences with ayahuasca, also called yagé. I first drank the medicine in October 2018 at a friend’s house in Austin, Texas. He wasn’t a shaman, more of a psychedelic mad scientist. After taking the medicine several times and finding relief from depression, I ordered my own ingredients online, brewed it at home and took it by myself. I lost count of how many times I took it. Many people ask, so I estimate about 30.
The ceremony was at a farm called Finca El Rosal in a rural mountain area called Chica, with a panoramic view of a river that winds through a mangrove forest and empties into Chamay Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
Daniela parked the car at a house a few kilometers from highway 1, the famous Pan-American Highway which stretches 30,000 kilometers from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to the southern reaches of Chile and Argentina, broken only by that pesky Darian Gap between Panama and Colombia.
We hiked a kilometer further up and down a hilly dirt road that had turned to mud from all the recent rains. Shaman Tambo, a 35 year old Salvadoran man, met us near the ceremony site and carried our one gallon water jugs the remaining distance. We arrived at five. The ceremony was another six hours later, starting at 11 pm and continuing until after sunrise.
The ceremony site is a simple metal roof structure with a concrete floor that participants lay on with yoga mats, sleeping bags or air mattresses. I didn’t buy any of these because I am traveling and they are too bulky to carry. There were also several rope hammocks that are made for people shorter than me. I laid in a hammock many times but could never get comfortable. On Saturday morning I finally found the perfect bed setup as laying in the fetal pose on three chairs with padded cushions sitting side by side.
Next I met Claudia in person for the first time. I had been chatting with her on Whatsapp for a few weeks to apply, pay and prepare for the ceremony.
Preparations include not consuming pork, salt, sugar, garlic, dairy, spices, vitamin C, alcohol, drugs and most importantly psychiatric medications for a week prior to the ceremony; no sex, red meat, animals larger than a human or coffee three days prior; a light vegetarian diet the last two days and only water after 3pm the day of the ceremony. And absolutely no sex with red meat or animals larger than a human, especially while drinking coffee and taking psychiatric medications.
Besides Tambo and Claudia, I met Tambo’s wife and another young man. There were still thirteen participants and three assistants yet to arrive.
The altar table was set up with Tambo’s guitar, percussion instruments, harmonica, a singing bowl, one candle, fresh cut flowers, crystals, lovely beaded bracelets for sale made by indigenous peoples from the Inga tribe in Putumayo, Colombia, rapé inhalant tobacco and most importantly the medicina, yagé, more commonly known as ayahuasca.
Earlier in the week Tambo was in Putumayo with his shaman master brewing the yagé elixir, which consists of boiling the leaves of the chacruna plant and the roots of the caapi vine. The chacruna leaves contain a high concentration of DMT which causes the hallucinations. However, enzymes in the human digestive system normally break down DMT preventing any hallucinations. The caapi vine is necessary because it contains an MAOI inhibitor, which stops the enzymes from digesting the DMT, allowing drinkers to experience the bliss and occasional horrors of the ayahuasca trip.
This short video does a great job of explaining ayahuasca.
More people trickled in, including a group of four Venezuelans from Toronto and Windsor, Canada. One of the ladies had been to a previous ceremony and brought her son, best friend and best friend’s daughter for their first ceremony.
I didn’t care for them as soon as they arrived. The son and daughter were in their early 20’s. My first impression of the son was him yelling at Claudia about hurrying up to get change for his entry fee. I later found out their original flight got canceled and it was a big hassle for them to book another flight and finally arrive in Panama. If he was that angry in the peaceful setting of this ceremony, I can just imagine what he was like at the airport. I decided to stay away from his negative energy the whole weekend.
Eventually everyone arrived and Claudia began the rapé (tobacco for inhalation via the nose, not rape, no one got raped) portion of the ceremony, which consists of blowing tobacco into both nostrils of the recipient with a pipe. It causes intense burning in the nasal passages and the frontal lobe of the brain. It’s always funny to watch peoples’ faces right after the rapé is blown into their nose. It’s always a face like, I think I just made a mistake.
Claudia told me Tambo had only recently taught her the rapé ceremony and this was her first time administering it. Claudia administered the tobacco on the left side of ceremony using a single barrel pipe, so those recipients had to receive two blows. She was also explaining the details of the rapé to each person, so it was taking quite a while. Then Tambo had people from the right side of the ceremony where I was sitting come to the altar and using a double barrel pipe and a brief blessing in Inga language, quickly administered to the remaining half of us. We all meditated for a short time after receiving the rapé.
Then Tambo began telling stories and giving instructions for the ceremony in Spanish. I was the only one who had poor Spanish listening skills (I’M WORKING ON IT OK! THESE LATINOS SPEAK REALLY FUCKING FAST. Just joking. Serenity now, serenity now.) A young man named Alejandro volunteered to translate everything for me in real time. He was listening to Tambo speak in Spanish and talking to me in English at the same time, which I found amazing. Tambo told Amazonian parables about jungle animals and safety information such as where not to walk and who to talk to if you have a problem.
Next we went around the circle and introduced ourselves, revealed our intentions for the ceremony and what our superpower is. I am always nervous about doing this sort of thing in front of a large group of strangers. Public speaking was my most dreaded class in college and I didn’t learn to tame the fear of speaking to an audience. I do enjoy making groups laugh though. My intention for ayahuasca has always been healing from depression. However, since I left the US I haven’t had a single day of depression. Maybe it’s something in the food there or the fascist oligarchy that keeps so many poor, stupid, fat and unhealthy. I also found out I had a vitamin D deficiency, something doctors in the US never checked for in my 25 year struggle with mental illness, instead putting me on pharmaceuticals that helped them pay for their BMW’s and helped me lose my mind. I am now taking a simple daily vitamin D supplement instead of prozac or its 100 clones with all their unpredictable side effects.
So this time my intentions were forgiveness, healing from past traumas and anger reduction. Forgiveness is something that my therapist has been trying to get me to embrace for the past 3 years. I have been obstinate and resistant to forgiving those that I don’t think deserve my forgiveness.
But recently she sent me a documentary on forgiveness and I realized I have fallen into the same misconceptions of forgiveness that so many others do. I realized that forgiveness is not to excuse those that have wronged me and make them feel better. It is about letting go of the traumas that I am holding onto but are holding me back from growing and moving on with my own short, precious time. Like so many others, I considered forgiveness a weakness. Now I know that it is in fact a strength and a very useful skill to have.
I’ve wasted so much energy planning and exacting revenge on these people when I could’ve been perfecting Bron-Y-Aur on the guitar.
Leave a Reply