lake titicaca lsd
lake titicaca lsd

Sophie standing in Lake Titicaca, on her first LSD trip

An acid trip on the Bolivian Isla Del Sol? Yeah that was a pretty sweet one. It was also my new friend Sophie’s first time with LSD. Figuring that you yourself may never have tried psychedelics but may be interested in LSD, this post will centre on how the experience was for Sophie; a first-time tripper. She kindly wrote about the experience from her perspective for me upon request, and I’ve included her writing in sections precluded with and S: and in blue, and interspersed them with my own account of the experience. Also, indented, I’ve put a few comments on aspects of the psychedelic experience typical to LSD.

  • N.B. This is by no means an exhaustive or complete account of an LSD experience, or even our experience that day, rather a fun piece that I hope will pique your curiosity and perhaps make you consider LSD and other psychedelic substances differently. There’s also some resources for first timers at the end.

Background

S: Apart from our adventure in the Bolivian jungle, I’d had no experience with psychedelics. As soon as John told me all about the effects of acid and his experiences, I knew I would like to sense this myself too.

As we headed east leaving the Amazon and our ayahuasca chapter behind, I revealed to Sophie that I had a few tabs of LSD and we could take some together. Having both just been told that our next destination, The Island Of The Sun, alleged birthplace of the Incas, is ‘the most beautiful place in Bolivia’, it didn’t take long before we’d decided that it would be a more than opportune time and place for some consciousness experimentation. I’d long wanted to help guide someone through their first LSD experience and figured if I was to ever fulfil my vague and lazily pursued pipe-dream of one day becoming a shaman/psychedelic therapist myself, it would be exactly the type of experience I should be notching up.

Though I’m still no expert, I’d like to think of myself as a fairly seasoned tripper these days and reasonably capable of dealing with any difficult situations which may arise. Besides, and much more importantly, Sophie felt good about it and was very positive.

The Day Of The Trip

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The bay we arrived in to

Lake Titicaca is mahoossive so it was only after a 2 hour boat ride that we arrived to the eastern side of the island. After finding a room at a place that was essentially sheds built onto the side of a mountain, we headed in the direction of where we’d heard quiet beaches could be found.

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Heading down to the beach

S: As we explored the eastern side of the island by foot, we found an idyllic small hidden beach. We walked down a rocky hill, past a small abandoned cabin, and reached a 300 foot wide beach with no one and nothing else to be seen apart from the dry landscape and clear water. We sat down in a little dune. We took the acid and sat in silence, with our faces turned to the bright warm sun.

It was just after midday when we took the acid, 3/4 tab each. I estimate that each of our doses were about 50-100 micrograms each (current drug laws make it very hard to know what you actually have – let’s fight for legalisation! OK, more on that in another post). I figured it was a good idea to take less than a full tab after others’ feedback on this batch; one example – a few weeks earlier I’d given a tab to a curious Korean girl I’d met in Sucre advising her that half the tab might be best for her first time – she later contacted me telling me she had tried half and that the trip was strong, much stronger than she’d expected and had lasted more than 14 hours(!). So anyway…

The Trip

After about an hour we both began to feel lethargic and sluggish like just we’d eaten a fat and heavy meal (we had in fact eaten a sandwich and were probably sensitive to the digestion). We lay back and relaxed and it passed after about twenty minutes as the trip began. As the psychological effects came on, Sophie told me that she had the sensation that her body wasn’t ‘hers’. Looking at one of her feet she dug it into the sand a few times, as if it were numb with pins and needles, and testing her sense of touch. She was smiling and seemed to be enjoying the novelty.

‘It’s so weird – it’s not mine!’

Looking bewildered, she picked up a small stone from beside her and threw it at her foot.

‘Yes, but it is useful, you’ll need it later’ I smiled.

  • The ‘this body is not my body’ sensation is not an uncommon sensation for people to experience on psychedelics. For this reason, looking at yourself in a mirror is weirdly fascinating.

We lay back and relaxed as you would do on any day at the beach. A little scraggly dog appeared and decided to chill with us, I happily appointed him mascot for the trip and Sophie named him Sam.

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Me and Sam: a dog’s life

S: After a little while, I started to feel very relaxed. The sun on my skin felt very nice and comforting, and there was nothing else I wanted in that moment. I was sensing a lot, but emotionally in a very stable and positive way. The more I allowed myself to just take in the moment, the more I felt happy, content and at peace. I’ve never experienced myself being so present; my thoughts did not drift off to the past or future, I was able to fully feel how it was to be there.

  • Happy, content and at peace – Yes, this is why we trip!

S: I decided to go for a swim. Even though the water was very cold, it felt very nice around my body. I couldn’t get enough of the water and stood there for a while, just feeling the water with my fingertips, legs and belly. I stared out towards the sun and felt good. My feeling was that it was the perfect place to be at that exact moment.

  • Presence – the feeling that there is nowhere else you’d rather be, and nothing that you would change; that everything is as it should be – also not an uncommon effect of psychedelics. Nice.

Sidenote: the water was actually freezing, like really cold. I’d dipped in myself a short while before and at that point was comfortably dried off and happily chilling on my towel again. Crazy girl.

S: There was not much more than the beach, the water, the sun, John and the little dog that came and joined us. The world felt like a little place in those moments.

We passed the day there, simply enjoying the view and listening to music as we lay in isolation from the world and any nagging thoughts of it. That afternoon our bodies and minds were there on that beach.

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I spent long periods of time just gazing at this beauty

After the Peak – Coming Down & Hiking Up

There was no intense peak on this trip and after a few hours we could both feel the effects diminishing. As the effects started to wear off we decided to leave the beach and start heading back to give ourselves time to find our way back to our room before dark. We left the beach and climbed back up to the hiking trail, marvelling at the outstanding beauty from our new vantage point.

Sophie told me that her body felt different again, that physically she felt light and rejuvenated. I didn’t find it hard to believe as she was joyfully bouncing around with a spring in her step and a blissful smile on her face. Looking at our new surroundings we saw beauty from all sides and were charmed by some wild goats trotting freely on the mountain beside us.

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The trail, sorry – didn’t get a pic of the goats

Attempting to capture the beauty of the landscape, Sophie took out her camera and snapped a few pics, but each time, upon glancing at the photo upon her screen, ‘less beautiful!’. Reality just couldn’t be matched.

As we continued walking along the trail, we noticed that we could see our spot down on the beach, where we’d spent the previous five hours or so. We’d been totally oblivious of how exposed the beach was; from the shore we’d only been looking out, and not behind us and up the hill behind. Whilst we were down there we felt totally secluded and had been in our own little universe, but now we could see that the spot was clearly visible to anyone walking the trail. Being one of the top tourist spots in Bolivia, there was a decent number of people hiking around that day. We imagined tourists hiking along that day and seeing us down there – myself sprawled on the towel and Sophie standing topless and motionless in the still cold waters of the Lake – and doubled over in hysterics. People don’t typically visit the Isla Del Sol to have a beach day, it’s more of a hiking/Incan ruin tourist pull, so imagining what people might’ve been thinking as they saw us on their way round was hilarious and we continued cracking up in bursts of laughter for a good ten minutes. Even thinking about it now brings a smile to my face.

  • Uncontrollable laughter is also not an uncommon occurrence when tripping, and quite frankly, an absolute joy. There is something so liberating and joyful about free and unrestrained laughter; it’s one of my favourite aspects of tripping.
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Night falls on the island

As the laughter died down we made our way back and went for dinner at the only restaurant in ‘town’, a small family place with 4 tables and a 10 year old kid as the waiter. We talked about our day and the trip together – a classic ‘debrief’ over dinner. After arriving back home, we perched on the mountain beside our room and gazed up at the stars, a tree dancing with the wind in our view. Tenderly, almost wistfully, speaking of the native’s beliefs, Sophie let out:

‘You know, sometimes I understand why they believe in Pachamama’

Me too Sophie, me too.

Final thoughts from Sophie

Are you glad you tried LSD? Was it a positive experience?

S: Yes and yes, it was even better than I expected, I’ve never felt so truly in the moment, not being distracted by thoughts, the surroundings, past or future.

Was it how you had expected it to be? And how was it different from what you expected?

S: Honestly I expected it to be less fulfilling, I mean, I expected to feel a happy and relaxed feeling, but not so much the capability to let go of all thoughts about past and future, and therefore the feeling of being totally relaxed. I also didn’t expect to feel so alert yet relaxed and open at the same time.

Delving Deeper: LSD as a Tool

I would definitely describe this first time trip on LSD being a success. However, we didn’t delve into any particularly deep areas of thought, or have the induced psychoanalysis that I associate with acid. As on this trip, it can be quite easy to simply pass through an experience in wonder and enjoyment of your surroundings without probing deeper territory. Psychedelics may indeed lead to deeper questions and revelations (as with my own first experiences), but as in this case, it’s not guaranteed. This may have been due to the strength of the dose, it may not have been enough to push us into that realm, or it could have been the captivating view that pulled us into the outer sensual world rather than our own internal worlds – honestly I’m not sure – but if you are hoping to learn some kind of bigger lesson from your experience it might be worth having a list of things/obstacles in your life with you to think about, and setting aside some time during the trip to do this. Doing this whilst tripping can help to see things from a new angle and get a fresh perspective on how you might approach and overcome problems in your life.

Notes From The ‘Guide’:

To be entirely honest, no difficult situations reared their heads and there was nothing I needed to do. Everytime I asked, Sophie told me how relaxed and good she felt. I honestly believe that the potential dangers of psychedelics are overstated. If you are sensible with set and setting and don’t have a history of mental illness, my personal view is that you will not only be fine, but stand to have an incredible experience with much to gain – not only during your adventure to new territories of consciousness, but also beyond the experience and in your life after the trip has ended. Finally I would recommend that you don’t resist or fight against what you are experiencing; accept it and go with it – that’s my first advice to anyone intending to take a psychedelic of any kind.

Due to the smooth nature of the trip, I don’t think there is much useful advice I can pass on as a guide other than the obvious: be positive, supportive and calm.

For first time trippers or trip sitters – there are some fantastic books and online resources, here are a few to get you started:

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 

That’s it! Potential trippers, I hope you’ve found this post useful. See you around 🙂

microdosing in bolivia

The wilderness of Bolivia – where the trip took place

Background

I first seriously started considering my multi-microdose wilderness trip immediately after I’d booked the three-day tour to the Salt Flats of Bolivia- the day before it started.

A multi-day trip through desert past lagoons, geysers and other natural wonders was fairly calling out for a psychedelic and despite having read a few online articles on the positive effects of microdosing, I’d never actually gotten round to it. This struck me as a perfect opportunity; the landscapes surely couldn’t be hurt by a bit of chemical manipulation but I also didn’t want to trip so hard when I’d be spending a lot of time in a packed 4×4 nor feel uncomfortable with my fellow travellers.

I didn’t tell anyone of my psychoactive ingestions; I didn’t want to be that guy who shows up and does acid everyday, well actually I did, obviously, but I didn’t want to be treated any differently.

Admittedly this ‘experiment’ wasn’t conducted under the strictest lab controls. It was the first and only time I’ve ever been on a tour of this nature, to altitudes that high (up to 4000m), or even in Bolivia – quite a few incomparable variables then. To add to the scientific rigour, or lack of, I couldn’t measure out my doses, so I just used small pieces of a tab, ranging between a tenth and a fifth of a tab each time, with the tab containing around 180μg. I’d read that it’s not effective to dose on consecutive days but I figured I’d see for myself how it works – at least that makes it an experiment right? Well, I guess this is more of a trip report then, but I’ve also tried to write analytically of the effects I felt and there is a summary of them at the end of each day.

Having never microdosed before I thought I’d do a little test run on the afternoon the day before the tour started. The fact that I was also going star viewing at an observatory with telescopes that night threw in a tasty motivator only elevated by the cool fact that my location, the Atacama desert, is one of the best places on the planet to stargaze. Realizing that it’d be more crazy not to take acid in this circumstance, I went to my room, took out my nail clippers, trimmed off a corner and chucked it down.

Day 1 – San Pedro De Atacama

[Apparently there was a decent amount on that corner and it turned out to be more of a semi-trip than a microdose.]

With its narrow dusty streets the small town of San Pedro De Atacama was like the set of an old Wild West, but lightly charged with the modern day atmosphere that tourists quietly milling around provides. Walking around with a spring in my step I felt coolly elated and couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Thoughts slowed down, and my awareness of the spaces between them grew; there was an absence of typical mental background noise which gave a lightness to my inner being – it felt more spacious. My cognition was more focused, there was a crisp quality to my thoughts and more lucidity in my mental navigation.

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The main strip of San Pedro De Atacama

Back at the hostel I got chatting with my two roommates, a couple of friendly European girls. Socially I felt very comfortable, even probably more than normal. Chatting with them I felt calm and content, they’d just come the other way from Bolivia and we shared some stories. At one moment I saw a twinkle in the eyes of the German; she looked alive, I mean really alive. I was in that rarely visited field of experience where you once again realise that other people aren’t merely characters in your story- something within the depths of her pupils had revealed to me the easily forgotten fact of her being an actual living being with a life as vivid and complex as my own. As we looked into each other’s eyes I felt a deep human connection. Even though we’d just met I felt close. Both she and her friend seemed like genuinely good people and I felt an instinctive trust towards them.

Leaving the girls I went alone to the edge of the desert. Gazing out at a huge mountain lying before the tangerines of sunset I felt an underlying peace and stayed out there in peaceful contentedness, returning to town only after darkness had fallen. Lit up by small streetlamps the town looked magical by night, the scene coercing in me that feeling when you feel like you’re in a movie, when everything seems so scenic and atmospheric, and beauty seems to be more readily sprouting and observable in typically mundane scenes. Unfortunately the stargazing tour was cancelled due to clouds so, bumping into them again, I went out for dinner with my two roomies. I didn’t feel particularly hungry and could’ve easily skipped the meal but ordered something anyway thinking it healthy to eat something. The evening with the girls was a pleasure, I again felt at ease and had a thoroughly enjoyable time with them before we said our goodbyes.

Summary

  • Elation
  • Absence of typical mental background noise
  • Clearer thinking & lucidity in mental navigation
  • Socially felt very comfortable and positive
  • Easily felt human connection (increased empathy and trust)
  • Magic & beauty perceived much more readily than usual
  • In-a-movie feeling
  • Overall felt pretty damn great

Day 2 – Into Bolivia

After yesterday’s significantly stronger than expected dose I thought it wise to wait until after the border pass before dropping; the prospect of simultaneously dealing with a come-up and a customs official didn’t particularly appeal so I’d prepared a piece of tab, put it in a folded receipt and tucked it in my wallet ready for deployment. Stamped out of Chile and into Bolivia, it was about 8am when I was leaving the customs control shack and with the ink still drying on my entry stamp for Bolivia, I administered the first dose of the desert-drive sessions.

[The dose was fairly strong again. Yes, I know microdosing should be sub-perceptual amounts and the effects this day certainly weren’t that, but hey, I’m still learning this game.]

The Tour Starts

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Tour crew

The other 5 in my tour group were good company, I sensed good vibes from them and felt at ease and open. I was interested in their stories and I chatted and joked with them in high spirits as we passed lakes, mountains and geysers, occasionally bumping into other tourists on other versions of the same tour. We took a thermal bath in the middle of nowhere in the freezing chill and it was awesome! Everything felt fresh and new, everyone was in good spirits and there were good vibes all round. Excellent morning!

holdb.jpgAfter lunch we had some long stretches in the car to make it to our place for the night. During these stretches I felt more or less comfortable in the experience of a light trip and never once felt nervous. However, I also never felt totally relaxed. This was a strange reversal for me as normally on a long journey I feel settled and find it easy to relax. I suspect it was at least partly due to the jagged rhythm of our almost constant movement; driving from one especially picturesque natural phenomenon to the next, jumping out for a bit before jumping back in and then heading onto the next one.

Despite this, when we were in the car, I never felt like I was ‘waiting’ for or in anticipation of the next stop, I still felt very present, enjoying looking out at invariably awesome views. I suspect driving through such landscapes may well have pulled me into present awareness minus the acid, but I could definitely feel it adding a nice little edge, gently but noticeably.IMG_1223op.jpgOutside the car the wind was pounding so hard that it was seriously chilly. Being smashed by the wind however, was exhilarating, at least for me; at some stops the others didn’t fancy it and stayed in the car. Myself and one of the other guys got out at every stop, always sadistically eager to get out into the pounding gusts – we agreed that it made us feel alive!

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Shaun, at one of the stops only the two of us got out

In the second half of the day I had a soreness in my lower back, a common side effect for me after the peak of an acid trip. We had long stretches of driving and being stuck in the car for most of the day wasn’t ideal as I couldn’t use my go-to cure of stretching. Luckily I was sat up front in the seat with the most room- the others had been travelling together and as the newbie to the group they insisted I take the prime seat for the whole day. As everyone else drifted in and out of sleep I breathed and meditated calmly through difficult moments and the pain never became more than a slight discomfort. Arriving to the accommodation in the evening I stretched out on a bed which helped my back but still felt a little off physically – I figure the change in altitude (+2000km) had a fair part to play in this. For the evening I had a vague tired restlessness but didn’t have much problem going to sleep.

Summary

  • Life had an extra vigour – more animated and stimulating
  • Again, felt not only comfortable but enthused and cheerful in social situations
  • Vague restlessness – never totally felt relaxed. It seemed to be a weird mix of surface level presence with an underlying uneasiness, a background hesitation, that despite feeling fine and in positive spirits, for whatever reason something telling me ‘you can’t totally relax’
  • Sore lower back after halfway mark – typical for me on acid
  • Good mindfulness through physical discomfort

Day 3 – Deeper Reflection

[This day was much more comfortable physically, I didn’t suffer from any back pains and had no need to meditate through discomfort. Also I remembered I had my windbreaker and ditched my layers, much better – 90% of the chill was coming from the wind. Without resisting the nippy gusts I felt much easier.]

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On this day the stops were magical, the most beautiful of the tour, easily topping the first day. I had feelings of calmly blissful euphoria during moments spent out under the sun in these marvellous surroundings. I relished being out in these remote spots of natural beauty and each time the call came to get back in the 4×4 and move on, I felt a tinge of disappointment; I could’ve happily stayed longer at any one of the spots. Reluctant to go on, I was always last one back in.

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I could’ve stayed here for days

As the day before, the afternoon had some long stretches of driving. Long stretches of silence filled the car as everyone else dosed off again. With the territory devoid of any signs of humanity the long quiet drives lent themselves to reflection. There was a difference in the quality and themes of my thoughts compared to normal, and I slipped more readily into alternative perspectives, thinking unusually deeply about choices in my life, the roots and causes of things, why I am who I am, the movement of everything within the great stream.

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Gazing out felt kinda like time travel, I imagined our ancestors thousands of years ago treading this same unchanged landscape, nomadic tribes of hunter gatherers wandering this rough terrain for days and weeks on foot in search of a place that might be a settlement.

I tried to imagine how they perceived reality, disconnected from the matrix, no society-at-large to keep pace with, no news narrative to keep up with, zero sense of official history – only stories handed down from relatives or through tribes. As one of them, your reality would be the land and sky infront of you; the curves at the edge of turquoise lakes, the patterns within robust rock formations, steam dancing out of geysers. Following the stars for directions, counting the fingers until sundown, scanning the landscape for plants or movement – of prey, predators, and perhaps other people; an old alliance or group of wanderers speaking an alien tongue – this is what I imagined to occupy the minds of those wayfarers, this is how I imagined their reality.

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What a different world we occupy than that of our cousin adventurers who made their way across this same land. For those nomads, lack of modern media and technology meant the impossibility of constant news and reminders of events happening miles away in places one’d never go; no disturbing news of the latest natural catastrophe or political scandal, no feeds of photos of other people living an entirely separate life, no bombardment of commercials or the desire for needless things that they create. No hunter gatherer ever looked at a screen and read of the latest buffoon to be made president or moved their finger to give approval of an image by or of someone they’d never meet; the only source of information outside of direct experience would’ve been the mouth of a living being standing in front of them.

Imagining their simpler existence I envied their lack of the moral dilemmas that we are faced with in the consumer society of today: What tech products can I buy without causing child labour in the congo? What clothes can I get without endorsing sweatshop slavery? Should I stop eating meat to lessen my carbon footprint? What should I do about the corrupt political system – vote for one of a choice of crooks, or not vote for anyone? And then, what can and should I do to play my part in positive societal change? None of these thoughts would have passed through their minds. Though they might still have had deeper thoughts about the more far-reaching ramifications of their actions, they were free of the overt madness that faces us in the modern globalised world as their basic actions for survival wouldn’t have had the same clearly traced consequence on the lives of people the other side of the world. Utilitarian considerations would surely be less labyrinthine and confounding. They would never have been forced to be made aware of the upshots of their actions so explicitly before being seemingly left with no option but to continue living in the very society that is the cause of these problems, therefore also contributing one’s own share to the evils of the world.

But there, I could see land untouched by civilisation. I peaked into the land and life of the past, saw ancient formations and structures that outdate the ancient cities of Athens and Rome. Staring out at the landscape I imagined those drifters and with the raw plainness of pure nature before me, tapped into their freedom from this modern psychological bind.

Summary

  • Physically more comfortable than previous day
  • Euphoric moments when outside under the sun
  • Incredible beauty
  • Wanted to spend more time at most stops
  • Peaceful contemplation
  • Enjoyed expanse of nature

Day 4 – The Last Day

[This was the first day that I felt diminishing effects from the D and therefore the weakest of the 4 days. I figure this was due to my body building tolerance.]

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We rose early, driving out over miles of salt flats to see the sunrise from what used to be an island where the Incas made offerings to the god of the sun. After getting there and climbing to the top I took a seat facing the mountains to the east. It looked pretty cloudy so I didn’t think we would see the sunrise and after a while figured it wasn’t coming so got up to go over and chat to the others. Moments after I’d gotten up, Shaun called over to me ‘John!’ and pointed as if the sun had just popped up behind my back. I knew he was fucking with me so I flipped him off. ‘No really!’ he pointed again. I turned around and there it was; the tip of the orange arc peaking over the mountains. I’d missed the split second moment of appearance – but I didn’t feel disappointed, the inevitability of it seemed obvious; clearly I was never meant to see the sunrise on that crisp morning. I laughed to myself and took it as a lesson on patience.

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I was in good spirits and seeing two guys chucking an American football on the flats went over to join them. I enjoyed the simple joy of chucking a ball and sensed a freeness amidst the disconnection of being in the middle of salt flats. It felt like being in the middle of an ocean. It wasn’t a typical experience of what I would consider being in nature: surrounded by trees in a wood or forest, or amongst towering mountains – there I could see flat endless pure white terrain to the horizon in every direction. It was the most distant I’ve ever felt from organised society, even being with other people.

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At the end of the tour our driver left us in Uyuni, my first experience of Bolivian society. Walking through the town I felt excited to be in a new place, but not noticeably more so than how I normally feel arriving in a new place. Having taken the dose on this day around 5am, I suspect that the acid had actually worn off by the time we arrived. With a few of the others I grabbed a bus to Potosi, I was heading northwards towards the Amazon in my quest for ayahuasca.

Summary

  • Diminished effects on the 4th day. This was probably the first actual ‘microdose’
  • Positive outlook – didn’t feel disappointed missing the moment of sunrise
  • Physical activity felt good – tossed that pigskin like a pro

Conclusion

Am I glad I did it? Absolutely. At the end of the tour my feeling was gratitude; for the opportunity to see nature on such a scale, the cheerful company of my fellow tourers, the magical places, and all of them combined. I imagine that most who are fortunate enough to go on such a tour, dosed or not, also feel grateful, but personally I know the experience wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t.

Though the doses may’ve been more effective if I’d taken a day’s gap (or 3) between each one, speaking from the other side I can say I still felt obvious effects for the first three days. However, there was a clear and significant dimishing on the 4th day – interestingly I’ve also read online of someone reporting likewise; not feeling any diminishing effects on consecutive days until day 4 (and they actually microdosed).

This was an entirely new experience for me; it was my first time on a tour of that nature, first time taking a lower dose, and first time taking acid on consecutive days. This obviously makes it very difficult to make any cross-comparison between the variables.

Does that render all of my observations as totally invalid? I don’t think so. Even if I’d taken nothing away from this wonderful experience it’d have been worth it on its own merit, but beyond the joys of the trip itself I do feel I’ve gleaned some useful info on the effects of acid at lower doses. I found that it’s totally fine for me to be around other people and can actually make me more talkative and open, enhancing interactions and conversations.

The experience has also led me to believe that in certain potentially stressful situations, ones that may therefore seem especially inappropriate on a psychedelic, a lower dose could actually be an aid of great benefit. An aid in staying mindfully calm and focused, and to lessen the chance of spiralling into negative thought patterns or ‘freaking out’ – interestingly something that high doses of psychedelics are often believed to increase the odds of. Obviously this requires more investigation and I intend to try microdosing again in a more controlled environment. Stay tuned.

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Grabbing a bike from the hostel, I dropped a tab, chucked my shades on, and armed with my bag containing a few essential supplies, headed northwards towards Maldonando on the road hugging the coast. Despite being low season there were still a handful of people scattering the beaches in Punta Del Este and I sought as deserted a setting as I could find. The cute Uruguayan attending breakfast advised me to head that way in my search for a quiet beach ‘sin gente’ – without people. With a clear sky and a grin on my face I left the high rises of the trendy resort city behind.

After cycling for about an hour or so and with Hoffman’s molecule beginning to kick in, I spotted a small gap in the road for the beach. I dragged the bike over a mound of sand and was confronted with the perfect spot; sand and waves as far as I could see and, as I’d wished, noone in my vicinity. There were a couple people in sight, but a good mile or so down the beach and enjoying their own patches of shore. Spot found, I slumped onto my towel and took a moment to slow down and set myself. Relaxing every muscle, I felt the weight of my body sinking into the sand and the heat from the sun’s ray pouring over and into me, warming me through.

Closing my eyes, I went deeper into relaxation and allowed the sensual lysergic waves of the come-up to wash over me, as the tide massaging the sand just ahead. The barriers in my mind began to disintegrate as my experience became smoother and more fluid.

Then a very strange thing passed. My thoughts became an odd and scrambled amalgam of English and Spanish. Perhaps the normal state of affairs beneath my superficial consciousness, in that moment I had a great awareness of an internal lingual battle and began to realize how much the Spanish language had penetrated my psyche over the last few months of study and immersion. New insights flooding in, the complexity of my cognition reached a zenith triggering an explosion in my brain; I began to reel with ideas and an inner dialogue commenced on the processes and implications behind language, its acquisition, how it affects our thought processes and interactions with each other, how this creates culture; and all of its influence on how we perceive and create reality. Rarely visited ideas, concepts and considerations began to flow freely to (or from?) my mind at an incredible rate.

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Something like that

In a flash an idea and its comprehension came to me, what I now know to be the theory of linguistic relativity – how learning a new language doesn’t just change the physical makeup of the brain but how it can also change the way the learner sees the world. Throughout my learning curve I was aware of changes in my mind; thoughts, words and phrases appeared in Spanish more frequently, but I hadn’t really appreciated the way it was changing how I was seeing the world. I remembered a study I’d read about in relation to colour perception. It found that Japanese speakers have far more words to describe the color blue, and are therefore generally able to see more shades of blue than English speakers. At the other end, the Himba tribe of Namibia in Southern Africa have only five words to describe all the colors in the world. Researchers observed that, without a word for the colour blue, the Himba struggle to tell it apart from green – an easy feat for us English speakers. Colour perception is just the tip of the iceberg- imagine how language influences how we perceive places, people, ideas, emotions, reality. Language is huge! Uncle Terence was really onto something.

This relationship between language and humanity and their influence on each other is an ongoing dialogue. Korean is an example of how humanity’s influence on language has effectively worked back to influence human interaction and society. Language, like humanity, is in constant flux. As we use new words, develop new ways to communicate, collectively we all affect language in a way that will again bounce back and influence society and humanity. Language changes reality and reality changes language, simultaneously through millions of exchanges the world over. Language can be manipulated consciously to affect reality, for positive ends or more sinisterly as Orwell warned in 1984. Language can’t be separated from reality because the two are bound – this truth rang out to me as I lay on the sand, continuing to dip and dive through subtopics of the implications of language .

As these reflections died down, I looked out to the sea and the waves rolling in over the sands. As I involuntarily flickered through various points of perspective the colour of the sand changed, from glowing gold to deep mocha to maroon, just as the maroon deepened it switched in an instant to a dazzling daffodil. Swimmers on I headed out to the sea and with the water up to my waist, I put my hand to the waves as they rolled over. Watching them closely, I studied their form. I could see the fractal in action, simultaneously seeing the same form across scales, like Hokusai’s Great Wave Off Kanagawa, and how the waves broke into tiny versions of themselves as they hit the beach; I was witnessing the ancient Hermetic teaching: As above, so below.

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Fractal in Hokusai’s Great Wave

After dodging the act for few minutes I took the plunge and dunked myself under. The immersion was overwhelming. Springing back to my feet for air I felt an incredible freshness – I’d just baptised myself!

Reborn and back on my towel, resuming my survey of the tide, a flash of Newtonian insight hit me; in one moment I saw and instantaneously understood the push and pull of the waves, how the two forces work against another, that this is the way of the world and the universe; the whole is the whole and never changes, and so within, each action must have its equal and opposite. Like when you lower your finger into a glass of water and the level rises; each and every action contains within it its own inverse force.

Checking the time I burst into laughter, the arrow of time had crashed on to that beach with me and slowed to an almost imperceptible crawl. The present moment expanded and intensified and it’s permanent endlessness was obvious. My being in it somehow elongated and expanded as thoughts of past and future evaporated. Memories and imaginary futures were still accessible, but somehow more distant, less relevant, less real. I was really there; on the postcard beach with its mesmerizing metamorphosing hues and the glorious irrepressible radiation of the sun. I smiled contentedly; with minutes passing like hours I would have the ‘week-long’ beach retreat I’d been longing for.

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Dali – a pretty good depiction of time on the beach

Feeling creative, I took out my pad and began to draw. I attentively followed the pen as it glided across the page, viewing as one might watch an ant making its way with a fragment of leaf; immersed but only as a spectator. Wavy lines began to form smooth-edged shapes and as form took shape I became intensely focused on every slightest touch of my pen to the paper. I looked at how the forms were shaping up on the page and my mind spouted a multitude of ways that I could manipulate the ink on the paper to create a symbol or image. The page my universe, I held my face a couple of inches from it, earnestly and sparingly using the ink as if the balance of the universe depended on every drop of coloured fluid that stained the tree fibres. Continuing my phenomenal cosmic intuition, I was acutely aware of and acting in the knowledge of Newton’s third law; for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. With every drop spilt I felt the intrinsically contained counterforce as it was happening in the exact antipode of the universe – each drop falling was pulling with it its mirroring force.

After finishing what ended up being an abstract piece on how water symbolises the flow of energy (yeah I was out there), I closed the paper universe and re-entered the world of the beach. Receptive to all kinds of non-ordinary sensations, I rolled over and pushed my hands into the sand, feeling the epic time span of its formation. Enchanted by the grains over the pulsing veins of my palms, I proposed that all religions, or any system of ethics proposing a moral code of conduct or behaviour; must stem from, at their core, beliefs about the balance of energy; fundamental beliefs about the natural law of the universe.
We are the universe experiencing itself and in this cosmic twist we are life trying to catch up with itself, the ouroboros snake eating its own tail. Something about the human condition pushes us on, collectively we have a compulsion to measure and document in a striving for understanding. From this flying rock we have started measuring and studying the whole thing anyway we can: our minds through psychology and bodies through biology, matter through chemistry, our surroundings through geoscience, out to the distant reaches of our expanse through physics and astronomy. Even the perceived edges of the cosmos are no barrier to the yearning; abstract ideas are explored through philosophy and the limits of knowledge scrutinized through epistemology. It’s a yearning for totality; the hidden belief that progress has an end point and that there lies total understanding capable of ensuring completeness, its what yogis and monks are searching for on a different course to the scientists; union.

Enlightenment is a tricky word, we hear it in stories of mystics and saints, but for the majority of humankind who have never actually experienced the state, the word is only a symbol for some kind of magical fabled myth. Like the sound of Hendrix’s guitars for people born deaf, its mere legend, belief of its existence can only come from logical reasoning or faith, not experience perceived directly and without symbols.

From our ordinary consciousness total comprehension lies out of reach, each of us are only windows of perspective amidst an infinite sea within a sea. But the hint of a higher plain is glimpsed by all; perfection is perceived from some of the windows along the way. It’s rare and uncapturable, present in isolated moments, for the most part existing as an abstract concept and never outright in objective reality. Perfection is beauty and exists within the eye of the beholder. Glimpses are fleeting, impossible to recall to direct experience or to remember how or why you saw things the way you did – as Van Gogh saw the night sky; the universe as alive and continuously complete in its changes. It is in this type of perception that those tantalizing views lie, forever leading us on.

Following my ruminations on how states of mind influence perception, I was brought back to earth when a guy sat down on the beach a bit down from me. Due to my morphing perspective I couldn’t tell how close he was but considering the beach was empty for as far as I could see it puzzled me that he would choose a seemingly close spot – why couldn’t he find his own patch?

I looked over at the stranger and felt uneasy. Soon after a middle aged couple arrived and set up base at a spot which also seemed to be fairly close. The effects from the tab were beginning to subside at this point and with my deserted paradise gone I decided it was time to move. With the sun in its descent I headed back out to the road to find another patch of beach on the way back to the hostel.

Soon after setting off the bike chain was choking and the bike was failing me. As the cars whizzed past I pulled over and, trying to remain calm and focused, set about in an attempt to fix it. After a fairly lengthy investigation I discovered that a piece of the bike where the chain attaches had come loose and fallen off. I backtracked, retracing my route whilst gazing at the floor for the missing piece, but my search proved unfruitful.

The road was long, straight and each kilometre indistinguishable from the next, I wasn’t sure even how far along I’d come in the morning – that damn perspective trick was tripping me up again. I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to push the bike back to the hostel but it seemed far and I wanted to make it back before dark to get another bike and head out to enjoy the conclusion to my trip.

With my hands and probably face coated in chain oil I stood on the side of the road and waved a passing cyclist down. As she pulled over, her skin was changing colours; the peak may have been over but the acid was still pumping. Despite my lingual revelations that morning I found it pretty damn hard to recalibrate to Spanish and after a rather awkward conversation fulls of stutters and half sentences on my part it became clear there was nothing she could really do to help me, and I felt a bit silly for flagging her down in the first place. She went on her way and left me with my broken bike. On the plus side, I’d gauged from the interaction that I wasn’t actually so far and began to push the bike along the pavement.

As I passed another gap out to the coast, I saw a woman facing out to the sea, moving her shoulders and arms in circular motions, like some kind of dance or martial art, but as if she was psychically controlling the waves before her. She was alone, and she seemed to be in some kind of transmission, channeling energy from the water. As I tread on, pondering what mystical act this lady was doing, the sun’s rays continued bombing down. In no time I was sweating heavily, but with destination in mind I put one foot in front of the other. Sure enough, after a short while I started to recognize landmarks at the edge of the city.

Dropping the bike back at the hostel I decided to head back out on foot for a nearby beach. Despite a few groups of people around I felt relieved to be back on my own with no conversations to muster through or appearances to keep up. I crashed back onto the sand and lay drifting through day dreams, face down I sank through the sand into a delicious siesta.

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If only the photo could come close to the reality

I awoke feeling refreshed. The acid was still knocking but less intensely and with a lightness that was absent before. I headed over to the fisherman’s boardwalk and found my buddy Rodrigo there on the lower level; we went to that spot everyday for sunset. He lit up a joint rolled with a roach and a pinch of tobacco – he knew how I liked them and generously bucked the South American trend of only herb and paper to suit my preference- and we smoked gazing over the bobbing bodies of water to the horizon where the sun was about to begin its descent.

The panorama was beyond spectacular. I stared in awe, trying to open my eyes wider to somehow extend my vision to better receive all the information from the flowing colours and morphing shapes. We sat there late into the evening long after the sun had set, watching the oranges deepen and the thin arched whispy clouds slowly trudging their way across the broad seascape. Those hours played host to one of the most beautiful and life-affirming vistas of my life. From my vantage point on those wooden planks, perfection did exist.

[Elusive Ayahuasca – Part 1]  .  [Elusive Ayahuasca – Part 2]

Part 3

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Bolivian Amazon -home for the week

Camp life

The day after the 1st ceremony I had a classic post-trip day feeling: a lethargic slumber but mentally light and with a bright outlook. I reflected on my visions from the night before, if they had any meaning it was about the impermanence of thoughts and how they create our reality. Something was lacking though; I only reflected on this theoretically and without the feeling where you truly realise something and know it in your bones.

At the kitchen the French couple Mabelle and Jean were saying their goodbyes. Jean was leaving that day, he had to drive a van back to Chile to sell. Mabelle was different again, she was floating and smiley, she seemed to have processed some of what had passed in the last ceremony. She’d decided to stay at the camp to do one more ceremony, she felt she had something unfinished and incomplete with ayahuasaca and felt that staying for her 3rd ceremony would be for the best. She hadn’t been apart from Jean in 10 months but they didn’t seem to have any doubts about their decision. Jean wished us ‘buenas ceremonias’ and left for Chile. I smoked a fat joint with Augustino after breakfast and headed out to the river.

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River chilling

It was decided that our last two ceremonies would be on consecutive nights, my last two nights staying in the jungle. This meant the next 3 days and 2 nights would be free to settle in to life in the jungle and relax. I passed time reading and meditating and went with Sophie out to the river everyday to cool down from the baking sun and escape the bugs. We went out for walks in the surrounding rainforest and really started to bond as we got to know each other more deeply.

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During these days I shared many conversations with Augustino and learnt more about the people and the project there, and got a sense of their life in the rainforest. Augustino, now in his thirties, was from Ushuaia, a resort town in Patagonia on the southernmost tip of South America; ‘the bottom of the world’. He’d left home in his late teens, travelling South America working as an artisan, as many do, making crafts to sell on the street and juggling at traffic lights for money. He’d met Maria on the Isla Del Sol, a beautiful place on Lake Titicaca popular with hippies and artisans. He’d first took Ayahuasca with Guillermo years before, and later Guillermo took him on to work at the site. Later, he had invited his nephew Carlos who’d also followed the same artisan/juggler route, to come and work at the site too.

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Inside the temple, a palapa

I also learnt of their process of making ayahuasca, how they go on an ‘excursion’ of a couple of days up to the nearby mountain to bring the necessary plants back to create the brew of ayahuasca, and how after they spend days grinding the vine, boiling it and making the brew, all the while drinking ayahuasca and singing tributary ayahuasca songs day and night. Just your typical working routine then.

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Where the ayahuasca is made

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Boiling spot for aya

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Preparation process

The Shaman’s Story

Augustino also told me of the years of training that Guillermo had done to become a shaman, drinking ayahuasca almost daily and learning from the elders. Guillermo had started his psychedelic journey at the extreme end – with Datura, AKA Jimson weed, at the age of 14 (seriously), before going on to take and learn about San Pedro, temazcal ceremonies, and ayahuasca. He had an instant affinity for ayahuasca and drank it many times eventually joining the Santiago de Chile branch of the Santo Daime church. There he received ayahuasca and teachings from the fathers of the church and began to start conducting ceremonies himself. Amongst other traditional medicines he went on to learn about kambo, the frog poison cleanse, before receiving a message from ayahuasca to go to Bolivia. He and his family sold all their things, came to Bolivia, bought land, set up the project, and a few months later, I was there.

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The shaman, Guillermo, playing icaros in the temple

Final ceremonies

Ahead of the final ceremonies Augustino offered us some more advice. Intentions should never be something material – ‘to get a better car’, but always something relating to the spirit – ‘to be a better person’, ‘to be healed’. One should stay with their intention in mind during the ceremony, and not lie down too soon in order to stave off feelings of sleepiness and drowsiness. At the next ceremony there would be an offering of rapé (snuff tobacco shot up the nostrils for cleansing), and apparently this would aid us in staying alert and awake. Going in to the 2nd ceremony I had a strong determination to stay focused on my intention and relaxed. On the day, after a light early brunch, we drank chicha de yucca- yucca smashed into a juice-like pulp, with Augustino advising that it would help with the body’s processing of the ayahuasca.

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The altar w/ bottled ayahuasca

The 2nd ceremony – 4 Cups and a Side of Rapé

Aswell as the resident trio, this time all three of them in white shirts for the ceremony, Mabelle, Maria, and Guillermo’s wife were present. As we arrived to the temple that evening there was also a new face by the fire, a young Frenchman who would be beside me for the ceremony. He drank before me each round and quite clearly had trouble doing so, taking a good minute to finish the cup, raising his arm to cover his mouth as he gagged between every gulp. Typical French hamming it up.

The ceremony followed the same rhythm – opening prayers, icaros, bell, drinking in silence, vomiting, icaros, bell, drinking and so on. Guillermo’s wife joined in with many of the icaros, her voice soothing and beautiful. This time I sat up straight in meditation posture with my eyes closed for nearly all of the ceremony and continually returned to my intention, using it like a mantra. There was no meditation this time round but the rapé after the 2nd cup.

The Rapé

After the round of ayahuasca Guillermo walked over to a knee height cross, faintly illuminated by a small candle at its base, just outside the temple. He explained that anyone was free to come and take the rapé, a mix of pulverised tobacco and other plants shot into one’s nostrils for mental and physical cleansing. A sacred shamanic medicine that’s been used by healers of the Amazon basin for thousands of years, I’d wanted to try rapé for a while and after a couple of the others I made my way over to the cross.

Using a thin wooden pipe with a bend in the middle, Guillermo loaded the tobacco mix into one end, pointed the other end to my right nostril, placed the pipe to his lips and gave a short sharp blast of air. The mix shot up to somewhere behind my eyes and landed with an explosion of ridiculously intense stinging. I reeled back instantaneously, shaking my head in an instinctive attempt to somehow lessen the burning sensation permeating the area below my frontal lobe. After spitting and managing to open my eyes again through the subsiding pain I stepped back to receive the rapé in my left nostril. The burning was reignited and spread further than the first. As I paced around I spat and blew my nose. My sinuses felt clearer and Augustino was right; I was wide awake.

After myself the Frenchman went up for his rapé. Augustino administered his and, true to form, the Frenchman gave a show. After receiving his first shot he jerked about feverishly as if he were being tortured, continually shifting his head to face a new direction as if he would find the magic spot which would relieve him from his agony. His hands and arms followed the jerky dance as Augustino called him back for the second nostril, but he was oblivious to the calls. After repeated calls and as the agitations died down, Augustino was able to get him back for the second nostril; the queer dance received a new lease of life and he was off again, I couldn’t help but be amused.

After the rapé the icaros started up again and the ceremony continued as per usual. Again, my experience throughout was one of normal waking consciousness accompanied by feelings of wooziness. Nothing notable passed, with the exception of one occurrence.

Déjà vu

Somewhere between the 3rd and 4th cup, whilst laying back I experienced a strong and clear déjà vu. I had experienced that moment before; by the fire, the icaros sounding out, in the jungle, on that night. Normally with deja vu there is the sense that we’ve absolutely experienced it before but we’re not sure when. This was different in that I remembered exactly when I’d experienced it before. I had experienced that moment before in a dream, two years prior, on a 10-day silent meditation course. During the course I’d had the most vivid and intense dreams of my life, extremely clear and emotionally heavy, many of which I still remember to this day.

Whether this was a some trick of the mind or there was something more mystical at work -some kind of premonition piercing linear time- I know that the feeling was real. I knew that was where I had experienced it before. The déjà vu moment lasted a few seconds, was followed by my realisation of where I had experienced it before, and then passed. My experience continued as before until the closing of the ceremony; hazy, woozy and unclear.

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Post-ceremony

As the ceremony ended and the silence was broken the Frenchman turned his head to me, ‘good travel’ he smiled. I stood up and as everyone exchanged hugs and well wishes, Augustino came over to me.

‘La chicha uh?!’ he said pointing to me with a massive grin on his face, expecting me to report on a wondrous journey and credit the chicha de yuca I’d drank in preparation. I reluctantly smiled, I so wanted to be able to share in that, to give the response he was expecting: to crack a huge smile and reply ‘the motherfucking chicha!’ – but I couldn’t, nothing had happened.

‘Mañana, mañana’ he reassured me. There was still the last ceremony to come and apparently the medicine worked more strongly on a second consecutive night.
I looked over and saw the faces of Sophie and the French boy flickering orange from the fire. They were sat together talking and I could tell by their expressions and the tone of their voices that they were speaking of something magical, something hitherto unseen – they were sharing their experiences. Mabelle was still and smiling as she stood gazing into the fire, she looked as though she had seen something so beautiful she wanted to cry.

I knew that something special was happening there. Again I could sense the magic, it was present in the people all around me and it filled the fibres of the jungle air, yet it remained out of my reach. I understood and accepted; you can choose to take ayahuasca, but it also has to choose you. You can make the decision to drink it, travel to far flung lands and take cup after cup in the jungle, but you’re not necessarily going to experience anything. I’d heard that ayahuasca will give you what you need rather than what you want, and perhaps this was true in my case but I doubted it; I didn’t feel like I’d got either.

5 Final Cups – Last Ceremony, Last Chance?

The next night, for the 3rd and final ceremony, I had no expectations. I went to the temple totally relaxed and calm that night. It was the same story – varying levels of wooziness within a pervading normal waking state of consciousness. Instead of meditating or keeping an intention in mind I passed the ceremony admiring the rite: the quirkiness of the rituals, the tones of the icaros and the ambience of the night around the fire. And that was it, the last ceremony.

Where Next?

As the ceremony closed I reflected on my week in the jungle. The setting, the ceremonies, our shaman, the people there; all were as good as I could’ve hoped for. The ceremonies were beautiful and I could see how everyone involved in the project there deeply cared about their work and their mission. I felt grateful for the opportunity to take ayahuasca in a safe and beautiful setting with support from everyone there. But, I was still short of what I really came for; something otherworldly, induced deep psychological introspection, perhaps illumination. Drinking ayahuasca in the amazon was the decisive reason why I came to South America and I’d hoped would be a massive revelation of my trip. After all, it felt incomplete. It’d now been 5 times that I’d drunk ayahuasca, and despite my unwavering sobriety I could see that it was having serious effects on the others who drank with me. I’d drank 14 cups in the last week and still had barely broken out of normal consciousness nor had an ayahuasca experience. I felt at a cross roads.

Do I accept that ayahuasca may never give me what I’m looking for, move on with my life and leave it behind? Or defy the messages that nothing’s coming, and keep searching?

The answer was simple: I accept it and the search continues. I accepted that the week in the rainforest wasn’t what I was looking for. I accepted that I’d had no grand experience and undergone no serious change. I was in total acceptance of all my unsatisfied expectations and felt at peace. I accepted it all but I knew in my heart that the search wasn’t over. The mystery of ayahuasca and my curiosity about the brew had only been heightened and I would be back to traverse these terrains another day. I was at peace and ready to leave this chapter open for the time being. I came to the jungle, partook in the ceremonies, witnessed the beauty of the age old ritual around the fire and felt the magic in the place and people – and that was enough, for now. The final chapter on ayahuasca awaits – maybe I’ll find out that ayahuasca just doesn’t work with me physiologically, or perhaps this is just my story, that my aya path is to be a long and winding one with an epic finish. Time will tell, the journey goes on.

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The road out

Time To Move On

I woke up the next day excited to continue my travels, a week ahead I needed to be in Peru to meet a friend before heading on up to Mexico. I’d already decided that I’d head south from Mexico and venture through Central America before returning to South America and once again the amazon where the mystery of aya will still be waiting.

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The village passed through leaving the jungle

I left in the afternoon with Sophie, we were going to end our time together on the Isla Del Sol on Lake Titicaca, ‘the most beautiful place in Bolivia’ according to Augustino. Now that sounded like a good place for a trip

If you would like to learn more about Guillermo and his project and go on retreat there, visit the website Casa Buen Retiro

[Elusive Ayahuasca – Part 1 is online here]

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Temple by day

Elusive Ayahuasca: Part 2

The 1st Ceremony

After Gulliermo’s call I pulled on some clothes, gave Sophie a hug, wished her the best for the ceremony and, more to reassure myself, told her that everything will be OK. It would just be the two of us with the three residents for the ceremony that night. As I was approaching the temple I could see the others inside, the fire in the centre was already burning and sufficient firewood for the evening stacked beside. As I arrived, Guillermo, now dressed all in white for the ceremony, was waking Carlos up by means of prodding him. Carlos was still tired from the ceremony and ‘after-party’ the night before. Guillermo told us where we’d each be for the ceremony and I went over to put my things (head light, sleeping bag, bog paper and water) down.

Guillermo carried a shovel with incense and some herbs burning on it around the temple; I believe this is a rite to protect from malevolent spirits. As I went for a nervous pee Guillermo and Carlos tuned their guitars, and shortly after at around 1:30am with us all around the fire, Guillermo announced ‘vamos a comenzar’ – we’re going to start. He gave us some guidelines – no talking during the ceremony, go outside the temple to throw up, anywhere outside in nature is fine – and also try not to throw up on yourself (the thought drew a childish smile from myself), you are free to leave the temple for periods but always try to return, and try to drink all the cups which are offered – if you don’t want more then tell him and he will only pour you out a small symbolic cup.

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The ceremony started and it was pretty ceremonial. It was indeed a service; it reminded me of church. With Santo Daime being Brasilian in origin, the service was conducted in Portugese. We stood around the fire and the Lord’s prayer was spoken in unison by Guillermo, Augustino and Carlos. This shouldn’t have been surprising considering I knew our shaman apprenticed in the Santo Daime tradition (a syncretic religion which amongst various other spiritual and religious traditions such as African animism and traditional South American shamanism, draws influence from Folk Catholicism), but it did feel solemn, a far cry from my first, and majority of, psychedelic experiences – taken with some friends in a private apartment with music pumping, surrounded by novelties with which to amuse ourselves and a choice of other drugs on hand to select from throughout the trip at our leisure. But there, in a rustic temple around a campfire in the Amazon rainforest, no talking permitted; quite different.

Taking a cup from the altar, a table with a Wiphala pattern tablecloth, a cross in the centre and adorned with various precious stones, a couple of black and white photos of old men (whom I assume are masters/originators of Santo Daime) and some other curious items, Guillermo filled it with ayahuasaca from a glass jug. Augustino walked over, took the cup, held it to his forehead and drank. Carlos followed and with the next cup full Guillermo glanced at me, my turn.

I paused with the cup in my hands and thought of my intention before drinking. Fairly disgusting, an earthy taste with an offensively sour punch, but like a nasty medicine, could be drunk without much problem with the will to do so. After drinking his cup, Guillermo returned from the altar to the other side of the fire and broke the eerie silence with song. He sang acapella, the only accompaniment being the cabasa in his hands which he used to mark the rhythm – shake:shake: turn, shake:shake:turn. Some songs he sang from a hymn book, lit by a small candle, others from memory. As he sang there dressed all in white there was a priestly and holy manner about him. I could hear and see the care with which he sang.

After a while the songs stopped and Guillermo returned to the altar, picking up a small bell and ringing it; this signified the second round of ayahuasca. Again, one after another, we returned to the altar and drank the brew. After his turn Carlos left the temple and I heard him vomiting violently somewhere nearby in the surrounding darkness. On his return the songs started up again and at some point the guitars and a shaker were introduced, the trio of them playing the icaros together. The scene was somehow enchanting; the temple lit up by the crackling fire the five of us surrounded, beyond our backs the encompassing darkness of the night in the rainforest, the ceaseless hum of nocturnal life the murmuring backdrop to the holy songs and hymns ringing out to be lost amongst unseen life. The peaceful scene had a strange intensity; I could feel the power of the ancient rite and imagined all the thousands of people before me, stretching back over hundreds and thousands of years, participating in this very same ceremony.

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Night in the rainforest

The songs stopped and the bell rang again: 3rd cup. After everyone had drunk Guillermo announced concentration practice and that each was free to do their own meditation. I did a breath meditation, struggling to maintain my focus, and after about 15 minutes in silence the icaros started up again. My mind was scattered and messy with thoughts flying by. I’d began to feel woozy and nauseous but yet to perceive or feel anything out of the ordinary. I laid back with my sleeping bag wrapped around me and drifted in and out of the music.

At the 4th cup, Sophie didn’t wake to the ringing bell. After everyone else had drunk, Guillermo rang the bell a few more times in an attempt to rouse her but to no avail. She seemed to be somewhere else. I drank in smaller gulps this time round – a mistake which I didn’t repeat; the taste was more apparent and about 3 quarters through I felt the contents of my stomach bubbling up. I was caught wondering whether to try and suppress it long enough to finish the cup or to head out of the temple to throw up. Cup in hand, standing indecisively, Guillermo saw it coming and took the cup from me. I darted out into the darkness and puked up pure liquid for about 20 seconds. Still kinda dazy but with a relieving lack of nausea I returned to the temple and drifted in and out of the edge of sleep, rousing at the last bell for the 5th cup.

At the 5th, Guillermo announces that it’s the last cup and that we can drink ‘a little, or more’. Still yet to feel anything from the medicine, I opted for more and made sure I drank every last drop. Sophie awoke at the bell this time round, apparently back from her travels, and drank a symbolic cup. The songs continued, as did my daze in day-dreams and messy thoughts, but unfortunately nothing else. I hadn’t had any visions, hallucinations, emotional swellings or any real change in perception of thoughts.

As beguiling as the ceremony was I felt a slight disappointment. I had come to travel a deeply personal journey as part of an ancient rite but it felt more like I’d been a spectator to the occasion. This theme would develop during my week stay, and I was starting to get an inkling for the mystery of ayahuasca. Finally the ceremony was closed; the icaros paused, some finals prayers said and Carlos played one last song.

After the Ceremony – Change, Presence and Thought Visions

As the last note rang out the transition was immediate and tangible. It was like a bubble of tension was burst; smiles replaced somber looks and were accompanied by a kind of ‘we made it’ relief. The solemn atmosphere had vanished and everyone exchanged hugs – it was unifying and quite a beautiful thing. As conversations began to start up amongst us Augustino asked me if my experience was strong. I told him not really and he flapped his hand as if already pushing it into the past, ‘la proxima’ – the next one, he reassured me. I still had two more ceremonies to come. Guillermo advised me that whatever happened during the ceremony, to keep my intention in mind in the following days to see if the medicine had any effect.

With the atmosphere light and relaxed, the guys settled down and began chatting amongst themselves. I asked Guillermo if it was OK for me to smoke a joint, unsure as many shamans advise to abstain from smoking weed for up to weeks before taking ayahuasaca.

‘Yes, it’s medicine too’ he smiled.

‘Well if the shaman says its OK then why not?’ I indulged in a smoke and passed the joint on. As I watched the trio chatting and joking with each other, I smiled to myself. It reminded me of my friends back home. Even here, 6,000 miles away in the rainforest, friends liked to close a psychedelic adventure by hanging out and having a joke over chats of their travels. I could sense their bond and felt bittersweet – I felt a fresh connection to my friends back home and missed them dearly.

I walked over to Sophie and asked her about her experience – ‘pretty heavy’ apparently. She’d had visions, images and scenes- a deceased family member in a rocking chair, people dancing in the jungle – visible and discernible for a short while before shapeshifting and morphing to form the next. While she was having them she realised that she had no control over what she was seeing, just an observer, and in her disbelief couldn’t help but smile. As we talked I could see the magic of a first psychedelic experience in her eyes; the disbelief, the experience of something truly magical – the discovery of a new world and unfathomable possibilities; I could see in her the lingering excitement of an adventurer who has recently returned. For that I felt joyous. I felt contented to have been an influence on her path there and reflected that if I didn’t gain anything but she had a positive experience – something to take away to help her on her journey – then perhaps that’s just my role in this chapter. That was enough for me.

Her head was still way up in the clouds. She would say that she wanted to go to the tents to sleep and then seconds after the decision was made would be off again with the fairies, remaining stationary and gazing absently into the distance. By the time we’d got back to the tents and were ready to sleep the sun was coming up and the birds starting their morning call. The joint seemed to have triggered something; I began to feel incredibly present and tuned in to the surroundings. I was really there in the Amazon! The sounds of the forest were intensely magnified, I heard the flutter of the birds’ wings with a crystalline quality as they flew overhead, their weird and exotic calls took on the significance of life irrepressibly living itself out. They sounded more alien than ever, more like a power up sound on a computer game than an animal. I lay awake with mouth and eyes open, listening intently and marvelling in the moment.

As I closed my eyes and began to drift off to sleep, thoughts turning over in my mind, I started to have accompanying visions. I was seeing the growth and construction of my thoughts in the same moment that I was having them, as a kind of 3D image. I would see a bright polychrome construction built up, the form mutating rapidly in time and rhythm with my thought as it progressed. Then, as my thought reached its conclusion and developed no more, the accompanying object of my vision would simultaneously mirror, stopping movement and ceasing its metamorphosis in a moment of completion, before crumbling into tiny fragments and falling away, dissipating as if turning to dust, the canvas of my mind becoming blank once more. As my mind commenced the next thought, a new accompanying vision would sprout from the nothingness and the process would repeat itself. The metamorphosis of the visual thoughts was extremely rapid, the object entirely transforming itself with every passing second, a fusion of something that seemed mechanistic and with man-made forms, but organic in nature, and always synchronised to the movement of my thought. The show continued for about half an hour before melding into my dreams as I passed through to sleep.

Continue the story – the final part … Elusive Ayahuasca – Part 3