The ayahuasca diaries 1: Abuelita’s way

19th May 2017

The story of our adventures during Ayahuasca ceremonies on a farm somewhere in Chile’s lake region…


Our shaman, Wilder Antonio Muñoz Sanchez. Credit: Cynthia Cittadino

Enter the shaman

“We have important work to do here tonight,” said the shaman.

The forest enveloped us in itself dark embrace. The fire stuttered. We sat in a circle, swathed in blankets against the cool Chilean night. Our Ayahuasca ceremony was about to begin.

Wilder solemnly thanked us for the importance we were placing in Abuelita. We must remember to thank her throughout, no matter what we experienced.

“Some may wish to cry out, others may laugh. But if you must cry, cry for yourself, laugh for yourself. The ceremony will last only four hours.”

With those slightly ominous words, and a final exhortation to respect the ancient spirits of the forest, he began to sing to the medicine.

A little night music

The shaman’s song begins in a yawn and a whisper. It may strike the listener as skilled or coarse; perhaps they will find melody in its meandering course, or encounter dissonance; some might perceive rhythm, and others no sense of time at all. But the language of music will fall short in all attempts to describe or measure its worth. The shaman’s song is not for our mortal ears, but for those of the spirit. And as my mortal ears received its sound for the first time, they heard only the gentle rise and fall, the nameless words. Soon they would hear more…

From the shaman’s right, each came up to receive their dose. At my turn, I knelt before him. He poured from an incongruous Coca Cola bottle, half filling a white espresso cup with viscous black liquid. Ayahuasca combines the vine and leaf of two plants. They are boiled together with water over the course of eight hours to reduce. This batch, Wilder told us before the ceremony, was prepared by his young nieces and nephews in Peru to instil it with their innocence. Still an initiate, I wasn’t sure whether this was a genuine nod to the purity of childhood, or pure kiddy drug peddling. Kneeling before the shaman, I tipped the medicine back in one go: a lumpen gobful of sticky aniseed cough mixture. Silently, I returned to my place and waited. So began the first ceremony.


The Ayahuasca vine growing in the Amazon rainforest

The waiting game

After half an hour of meditation, nothing was stirring. I kept my eyes stubbornly closed, hearing the shaman’s words replay. This is a journey we take with the heart, not with the mind.

“Gracias abuelita,” I silently offered to the medicine, waiting expectantly for some sign.

Ayahuasca is a great teacher. And so, that night, as others began to gasp, laugh, mutter, and cry, I too was forced to learn my lesson. Early on, the owner of the farm where the ceremony was taking place left the circle. He was ridiculous in a sleeping bag body suit which, paired with his white hair and beard, transformed him into a polar bear stumbling around on its hind legs. All night we could hear him howling in the forest where he had spent his childhood days. 

Ayahuasca kicks in

Soon, a female member of our group was taken strongly. Too overwhelmed to heed the shaman’s instructions, she leapt to her feet, attempting to conduct the circle. “It’s all about loooove and compassion,” she chanted. Her voice rang out, lingering sensuously over the words. “Come on guys, you have to practice what you preach.”

For the rest of the night, she remained enchanted, occasionally kept in check by a stern controlate (control yourself) from the shaman. The rest of the group seemed lost to the plant too. But as the shaman’s song reverberated around our heads, I felt nothing more than a surge of ecstatic love. Even the dreaded purge remained at bay.

Post mortem

Over breakfast, lunch and the course of the next day, I was subjected to the ravings of my fellow trippers. Light, colour, sound – the whole works. By dinner time, embers of resentment were burning in my gut. I happened to sit by the shaman, who began to talk of some people who were too duro – hard – to let the medicine in. Patience was required. Was that me? From the other side of the table, the farm’s owner quizzed me about my experience. I admitted to disappointment, not only at the effects, but at myself. Surely, I had been ill prepared to let the medicine work.

“But what do you mean when you say that? Who’s disappointed at who? Who’s thinking the thought?”

I prodded tentatively around his statement and was forced to admit that mine was rather a strange construction.

“Your mind is like a garden,” he counselled. “Weed it. Chose the thoughts you want to grow there. Chose only those that serve.”

A change of heart

The next night, the ceremony was once more ready to begin. Everything was the same. The circle, the fire, the shaman’s instruction. Only my mind was different. A long and quiet day of meditation had levelled the shifting sands of thought to a single intention: surrender.

All of you will be great spiritual warriors tonight, intoned the shaman. He began to sing once more to Abuelita. This time, it would be her way – or nothing.

Tune in for The ayahuasca diaries: part 2 coming soon. In the meantime, subscribe so you never miss a new post.

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