I went to Peru on a gust of air that swept through my life. It was completely unexpected and felt as though the universe was offering me a beautiful gift and all I had to do was pay attention and go for it. I went at the promise of drinking the ancient shamanic brew, Ayahuasca and I went expecting a total master cleanse. I was aware that this meant it was going to be physically demanding as well as utterly emotional on top of the spiritual enlightenment that was going to be achieved through the drinking of the plant medicines. I knew it was not going to be easy, but there was no way of preparing myself for what was actually going to transpire during the two weeks. I conquered fears and mastered emotions. I became one with not only myself but also the beautiful and mysterious creepy crawlies that called Amaru Spirit home. My heart spilled open and left all that weighed it down on the Maloka floor. I transformed into a fairy, and I made some really beautiful connections with each incredible individual I went on this journey with. I am forever thankful for every moment of this truly exceptional experience.
An Invitation of a Lifetime
It all began on September 12th when I went out for dinner with my dad here in North Bay. He lives four hours south of me but he took a job stunt coordinating the show Cardinal that shoots here in town, so that we could hang out over the summer. It was a lot of driving for him, but we ended up having a lot of fun. It mostly consisted of eating out, drinking beer and baseball games on the tele, but I did get to bbq him some burgers on the beach one night which was really cool. By this point in the year I had already been flying high for months now – working on a tv show in a beach town makes for some truly top-notch summer entertainment – but I never could have guessed that it was possible for the year to get any better until my dad and I went out for dinner one night.
When we got to the restaurant, The Crown and Beaver, and sat down, my dad recognized a guy sitting at the bar by himself. He hesitated at first inviting him over to sit with us, he didn’t know if he’d want to be disturbed, but my dad was compelled and Mike joined us. Mike’s a camera drone pilot for Film and Television, and he and my dad have worked on a number of projects together over the last 6 years or so. This was the first time I had ever met Mike and he completely blew me away with all of the stories he’d accumulated while traveling the world for the last few years filming a Nature docu-series called Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan. He eventually came to telling stories about going to the Amazon and their search for the infamous Candura fish – a tiny freshwater catfish that, if you were to pee in the water, the fish could swim up the stream, up your urethra and wedge itself in like a fishhook using their gills, resulting in possible amputation to remove it. Now, as super creeped out as I was hearing about this fish, I was super jealous that he’d been to the Amazon! It’s been my number 1 dream destination ever since I first did a project on it in grade 8, so like, for 17 years. When he then told us about how for the past 4 years, every December 1st, he and some of his closest friends travel to Peru to a place called Amaru Spirit to drink Ayahuasca, my jaw was on the table. Add to the dream of being in the rainforest, to do Ayahuasca in it was way beyond. I expressed to Mike how big of a dream of mine this was, and right away he emailed me an invitation to go with them in just two and a half months!!! I kept my cool, but I swear I was jumping up and down inside, or maybe that was my heart pounding, or the butterfly’s going insane, I don’t know, but it felt pretty darn exciting. I couldn’t believe this super cool person was really inviting me to go on a trip to Peru to do Ayahuasca with all of his super cool friends. I could have sworn I was dreaming. I wasn’t 100% sure how I was going to afford the full price of the trip, but I had to figure it out. There was no way I could say no to an opportunity to go on this life-changing dream trip with what I knew was going to be an absolutely marvelous group of people.
My dad was sitting there, obviously, throughout this whole conversation, and he couldn’t believe it either. He wanted this trip to happen for me almost as bad as I did. He understood how amazing this invitation was and just how much it meant to me. He drove back home the following night and discussed the whole thing with my mom. She was excited for me too!! The following day I talked to them and they had decided that with my 30th birthday coming up in less than a month, and then Christmas a month after that, they could give me money towards the trip instead. YES PLEASE!! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! Forever and ever grateful, THANK YOU! And then that same day, possibly the day after, in astoundingly perfect timing, I was hired to perform a stunt on Carter! (Which turned out SO much fun!) Holy shit! Blown away. That meant I was going to be coming into a nice little payday soon and could afford the trip. I was jumping up and down inside again, and just so fucking happy. Without any delay, I emailed Mike saying ‘I’m in!’. Starting to understand why it felt like a gift from the universe? Things were lining up so beautifully, it felt like divine intervention.
For the next two and a half months, I was living on Cloud 9. I was writing things in my notebook like “I’m so unbelievably excited that it’s not possible for my body to feel truly the excitement that I’m containing. I think my heart just might explode if that were to happen.” and “This is my biggest dream come true. My #1 on the bucket list, checked off.” There were a couple of times that I would tear up thinking about it. I was overwhelmed with excitement and gratitude and it’s so wild to me now that I get to look back at it all, and when I do, a similar feeling still overcomes me.
After two and a half months of looking forward, and keeping busy with work, a funeral, and a flood, I was off to the airport! My bag was packed with all of the essentials, double flashlights, a Polaroid camera, tea tree oil, bug spray (the good stuff, not the natural stuff. That shit just won’t cut it in the Amazon. Trust!), a book, and a notebook. While I sat waiting for my flight at 9am, I got talking to a couple of women, one who was on her way to Bali for a dance retreat that she was going to be teaching at, and another woman who had been living in Toronto and Mississauga for the past 6 months studying English and was now on her way back home to Mexico. The young woman learning English at one point so aptly said to me, “When you’re on your way to your destiny, you just want to get there.” She had surely meant destination, not destiny, but the mistake made it all the more perfect. She was so right because in that moment I was only just beginning a journey, both literally and metaphorically, that felt like my destiny, my calling, and I could not, and still cannot, wait to get there.
HOLY FUCK I’M IN PERU
I got to Amaru Spirit probably around 3 pm on December 1st. It took three planes to get to Iquitos, but in that time I had met up with Mike and a couple other members of our group, Frank and Delara. After landing in Iquitos, we all ate a lovely little lunch at a river-side restaurant called Dawn on the Amazon before hopping on a couple of tuk tuks that took us to the final stretch of our travels, the boat ride. It was a long 30 hours but it really builds up the sense of adventure.
After arriving at Amaru, we were given the option of going into an Ayahuasca ceremony that evening, and I was just like HOOOLY SHIT! Hold up a moment, I still need to catch my breath! Thankfully Delara was feeling the same way and so the two of us opted out and simply enjoyed our dinner while the guys went almost immediately into ceremony. I was a little blown away that they could jump into an ayahuasca ceremony so soon after so much traveling, but I guess they’ve done this all before numerous times and I suppose it gets easier.
That evening, Delara and I sat on the patio of our absolutely unreal Tambo (house) and watched an incredible storm slowly rumble its way towards us from about 40 minutes in the distance. The sky was red, and the voices of the jungle creatures were slowly replaced with the roar of rain and wind tearing through the canopy. I was so excited. This was such an incredible moment to experience. After Delara and I split ways, I just layed in my hammock with the breeze filtering through the screen walls lightly rocking me back and forth and I reflected on my first day in Peru. I’d had my first encounters with the brown mantled tamarin monkeys, and I got to hear a parrot say “hola!” and then laugh like Delara and I were laughing. That never got old. I’d eaten a lovely vegetarian dinner with my new friend, and now, I was laying in a hammock, in a tambo, in Peru, listening to a thunderstorm. Unbelievable. I also thought about the guys in the ayahuasca ceremony, trying to fathom the intensity of their nights. The thunder was so loud it cracked the night wide open, I believed it must also be cracking their minds wide open.
The First Day
The next morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn, to the sounds of the jungle, a small lizard by my bedside (for anyone freaking out at that thought, I had a very effective mosquito net snug around my bed), and in the trees outside I could see a monkey! This one was different than the ones I had seen before, it looked orange and a bit bigger. I think they were spider monkeys. I got to see them a number of times again, but never as up close and personal as the tamarins. One threw some sort of fruit at me though! Anyway, that morning, the monkey, the trees, the breeze, the lizard, it all added up to a pretty spectacular way to wake up.
When I went to breakfast around 8:30, I discovered our group of four had transformed into 7. We now had Dominic, Krystle and Kat with us. We started that day, and every day that followed, with a smoothie between 8-9am. It was served in a glass pitcher, and on the table with it was always a couple of bowls of either bee pollen, raw cocoa chunks, or dehydrated tapioca balls that we could spoon into the smoothie to give it an extra boost. After that first smoothie, I never tried the tapioca balls again, they were so hard I thought I was going to break a tooth, and I need no more of those. I can’t say I loved the raw cocoa, but to this day I continue to make a smoothie just about every morning for breakfast and I always add bee pollen to it. I never could put my finger on exactly what was in those smoothies every day, except for the obvious banana, but I could tell that whatever it all was, there was no denying, it was healthy.
That afternoon, we each had an individual little powwow with Slocum (owner, founder, tobachiero) and Nicky (a coca shaman) where we discussed our intentions for being there. I told them that I was looking to connect even more so with myself and my heart, and maybe find some answers on what I needed to do next with my life. Slocum did an energy reading and he determined that my physical body was ‘pretty good’ but that my energy body was ‘a little out of balance’ and that I needed to bring my brain, heart, and gut more into line with each other. He could sense that I’m in my head a lot. Slocum determined that for my master plant cleanse, the tobacco dieta, I was going to be given three drinks, commencing the following day for a day and a half. I had no idea what this tobacco dieta was, but I was informed it involved drinking tobacco and my gosh that sounded absolutely horrendous (*Spoiler Alert* It’s worse than it sounds). I was a little freaked out at the sound of this, and I still had yet to make it through my first ayahuasca ceremony in just a few hours, and that was making me nervous too!
Before each medicine ceremony, there is a short period of fasting, so our lunch was the last meal of the day. Always plenty of veggies, and some rice, quinoa, or noodles. At 4pm I got to experience my first flower bath, and for that I wore my bathing suit, and outside on the porch off the dining room, I sat on a chair while the shaman, Jose, poured bowls of water and bits of flower and plant material over my head, shoulders, and legs. He would blow the smoke from his mapacho (tobacco) down my back, down my chest, and over my head and he would recite some sort of blessing. The flower bath is used to cleanse the energy body before doing any sort of shamanic work, as well as to attract the spirits in the plant medicines with the natural perfume of the flowers. Apparently, plant spirits don’t like the way humans smell. The water was always flippin cold, but you’re supposed to let it all dry on you and let the pieces fall off naturally, and I really felt beautiful sitting around covered in the plant bits and smelling like flowers. I, of course, saved some of these leaf and flower bits from each of the plant baths and stuck them in my notebook.
I was feeling pretty anxious about the ayahuasca ceremony coming up shortly. There was seven of us going into ceremony that night, and four of us for our first times ever, Delara, Krystle, Kat and myself. We all discussed it a lot, what we thought might happen, our fears, what questions we would like Mother Ayahuasca to answer. The guys were really wonderful sharing their stories with us, all absolutely mind-bending, and Dominic was helpful giving us tips and things we could say to the sacred Mother. Things like ‘thank you’, even for the bad experiences, and he mentioned that if we were feeling apprehensive at all, too fearful, then she’ll usually stop what she’s doing because she doesn’t want to cause us any harm. But also, in other words, you won’t necessarily have any experience at all if you’re feeling too frightful.
The First Ayahuasca Ceremony
When I went into that first Ayahuasca ceremony, I was feeling a whole mess of emotions. I still didn’t understand how this moment had come upon me so soon. What on earth was I getting myself into?! I’d always heard that ayahuasca tastes horrible, so I wasn’t looking forward to that part of it. I’d also heard that it makes you vomit, so I wasn’t looking forward to that either. Connecting to the spirit world, now that I was looking forward to, albeit entirely intimidated at the enormity of what that meant. The Maloka, where the ceremony is held, is quite the magnificent space, and it held such an energy inside that I felt comforted instantly upon entering it. The ceremony started at 7pm when the night had already settled in the forest. We arrived at the Maloka to 3 candles lit in the center of the floor, and mattresses and buckets bordering the walls, one for each participant, as well as three spots for Jose, Slocum, and Sto (helper/facilitator). We started the evening by claiming our spot along the wall, wishing the other participants a good trip, breathing deeply and settling our minds. Sto began the ceremony by cleansing and grounding our energy by smudging each of us with the smoke of some burning Palo Santo, or “holy wood”, front, back, the bottom of the feet, top of the head. I always liked this part. Shortly after the smudging, Jose and Sto went around the circle spoon feeding each of us the ‘pre-medicine’ (which I never did ask what exactly it was, but I believe it’s just Ayahuasca..?!). The candles are blown out and we relax. About 15-20 minutes after the pre-medicine, our names are called one by one to go up and kneel in front of Jose for our serving of the sacred Ayahuasca. When my name was called, heart pounding, I got up, walked quietly to where Jose was sitting and knelt down in front of him. It was pitch black in the Maloka so he held a flashlight near the neck of the bottle, and as if this whole experience wasn’t magical enough, like straight out of a fairy tale, a thick and curling waft of smoke slowly drifted from the bottle’s opening as he poured my serving of the black tea into the cup.
Story will continue in Part 2.