The room for the night’s ceremony had been meticulously set up: 20 single mattresses lined up neatly along three walls. Along the fourth, facing the U-shaped bedding arrangement, sat a divan bearing an array of exquisitely coloured, carved and plumed musical instruments. Placed atop each mattress was a meditation chair and blanket, and by its side a bottle of mineral water, a roll of toilet paper, a hand towel and a small plastic bucket. “That beautiful bucket is your best friend,” the Spanish-accented man in the brightly coloured shirt intoned cheerfully. “Keep it close.”
I had signed up for a triad of ayahuasca ceremonies, to be guided by a Peruvian shaman, or medicine man. The shaman had been trained in the preparation and administration of traditional Amazonian plant medicine by his grandparents, themselves lifelong shamans who had descended from a long line of nature-based healers.
I picked an unclaimed mattress and awaited the next step with some trepidation. I’d never done anything like this before and was unsure of what to expect. It didn’t help that the few others in the group who’d done ayahuasca before looked nervous too. I was to learn that no matter how many times you do it, every experience is totally unpredictable.
A highly concentrated tea brewed from a combination of the ayahuasca vine and leaves of the chacruna, both native to the Amazon jungle, ayahuasca is often called a drug by people wh