Traveling to participate in an ayahuasca ceremony

It can be easy for those of us, seasoned travelers, to think that we have got it, that this will be a piece of cake and that we have nothing for which to prepare.  But we should remember that the nations in South America, like Peru, have ayahuasca ceremonies in the jungle, a place which has its own issues, and that these areas are remote, with few amenities and even fewer people.

There are some factors to keep in mind before you go.  

•    Learn about the area where you will be traveling. Do some research to find out about what plants, animals, and insects will be in the area, so you are more familiar with which ones are deadly and which ones are (mostly) safe.
•    Do some research on the culture of the country. It helps you become more accepted and acceptable to understanding how people interact, how they live, how they eat, and how they socialize – like the adage advises, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”.  
•    You should learn about the shamans and the healing processes that taking Ayahuasca involves.  It cannot be overstated that we cannot apply our urban ways of thinking to ancient traditions like those of the shamans.  Healing is not just getting a prescription and taking a pill – it is a process.  The knowledge of diseases and how they got into the body is different.  The cures are completely different than how we would conceptualize them.  Because you are traveling to a country to partake of their healing traditions, it would be helpful you to learn about what you are heading into. You will be more respectful to your hosts and you will likely get more out of the ceremony in the process.

Foreign foods and water

The foods you will be eating in South America may be very different than what you are used to.  Be sure that any food you eat is cooked very well and served hot and fresh.  Allowing foods to sit in the “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees serves as a breeding ground for food-borne bacteria.  Raw foods like fruits and vegetables that come with a peel are also safe, but the skin should be cleaned before you cut through it into the fruit below.  Any other foods you eat you should watch being prepared, to ensure your preparer has clean hands when making them.

Your treatment center should have bottled water available for you to drink and they should be using purified water in the preparation of your ayahuasca.  Their kitchen should have proper sanitation standards so you can consume your drink without worry.

You should also ask for sealed bottled water when you go to a restaurant. If the seal has been broken, it may not be safe to drink, since it might have just been filled with tap water and the source is not necessarily known. As added insurance, you can pick up some water purification tablets and/or a portable filter at any camping or outdoors store to be sure any water you drink has an added layer of safety.

Keeping your own hands clean is also important. You may not have running water in toilet areas, so having some hand sanitizer gel or sanitizing wipes can be crucial. You should also not use unpurified water to rinse your toothbrush with or to wash your face, as bacteria present in the water may get into your bloodstream though microcuts in your gums from the toothbrush or into your eyes.  

Know some basic first aid skills

In the jungle, you may encounter some issues that in the city are easily handled by a quick trip to the pharmacy or into the medicine cabinet, but that when you are in a remote jungle, you cannot handle as easily since you don’t have access to these comforts.  You may get cut by branches and you will need to clean the wound and bandage it to prevent infection. You may get a burn from one of the portable lamps, or get overheated from the jungle heat. You may develop a blister from the heat and moisture. Whatever you do, do not pop the blister.  Cover it with a specially made blister bandage.  You do not want to open the skin and give viruses and bacteria a way in.  

We recommend taking a first aid class and becoming certified. A survival first aid course will serve you better than a Red Cross one designed for home emergencies. Survival first aid course will help teach you how to improvise in the jungle and use what is around you, should your kit not have enough or the right type of supplies. You will go through role-plays so you have some practice in performing the techniques you will need to know in the jungle.  But you also need to take a basic medical kit with you.

Travel smartly and safely

There are times where we feel like we just don’t have enough – we don’t have the latest flat screen TV or the fanciest car.  We fail to remember that in third world countries and poor areas we are seen as ridiculously wealthy. We become targets for theft of our phones, our tablets, our laptops, or our clothing.  There is an additional safety factor to consider, in that you may be physically harmed in the robbery, too.  To help prevent this you can pick up some tools at travel supply websites that will help keep you safer, things like good locks for your luggage, a doorstop alarm that you can tuck under your hotel door at night to alert you to a break-in, and a money belt or wearable cash bag that you can keep next to your body.

Zip-top plastic food storage bags are great places to put your important papers and passport to ensure they stay dry and safe.  You should also make copies of your driver’s license and passport and keep them in a separate place.  It wouldn’t hurt to give friends or family a copy of these documents for them to keep for you as well.  You should be sure someone has a copy of your full itinerary and you should keep in touch with key people so that they know you are alright and that you have made it to each stage of your journey.  Taking out some inexpensive travel insurance is also advisable, particularly if the policy provides for evacuation coverage.

Carry the embassy location and contact information for your country with you in case you need to reach them.  Foreign travelers from the United States can also file their trip with the State Department and this way the embassy in the country you are traveling to is aware of your trip.  If a storm hits, they can help with the search efforts because they know you are in the country.

What should you leave behind?  Your expensive clothing and jewelry, for starters.  Just don’t even bring them on the trip – you will not be needing them, since the purpose of your trip is spiritual enlightenment or purging of negative energies. You should also not carry large wads of cash every day.  You should split up your money, placing some into in your wallet or front pocket, and the rest in your money belt or neck pouch.

You should employ some healthy respect for your surroundings, too.  Be aware of who might be watching you take money from your neck pouch or out of an ATM.  If you need to do any currency exchanges, use only regulated and official money changing businesses.  Keep your cell phone in your pocket so you have all of your attention focused on your surroundings.  You will make yourself a target for thieves if you are distracted while walking about.

Make sure you have a travel buddy with you at all times so you are not alone and are therefore less likely to be exposed.  Keep your wits about you at night, and don’t go down alleys or into the remote jungle in the dark.  Some places are not safe to go into during the daytime, either.  If you have a reliable travel guide, all the better, because this person can tell you what parts of town to avoid.  It is a lot like navigating an unfamiliar city in the west.

Just as you would in the west, don’t accept a drink from a stranger that you didn’t order, and only use official taxis to avoid being taken to a dangerous destination or being ripped off.  

Be sure you book your entire trip before you leave home, and that you are set up to work with a genuine ayahuasca retreat.  This way you can be sure you will not fall victim to opportunists who have a minimal amount of knowledge or who seek to take your money and then leave you.  There is a very real danger in relying on someone who does not have a full knowledge of ayahuasca and its effects, because of the purging that goes on and the visions that result. Failing to know how to handle these situations can lead to disastrous health problems or even death.  You have to know that you will be safe, since you will not be in your normal state for several hours.

There are places that have sprung up, particularly in Peru, that are only there to take advantage of the tourists and that don’t actually treat the guests well.  There are instances of people dying (although rarely) and of women being raped while under the effects of the ayahuasca.  Some of the so-called shamans at these tourist-trap centers do not give appropriate doses of ayahuasca, or they dispense it with no observation or follow up.  With the increase in travelers to South America in the last couple of years by as much as 5 times, the shady centers and charlatan shamans have multiplied quickly.  You should also avoid any place that offers to train you in the ayahuasca ceremony – it takes years of practice to learn how to do it correctly, and it is not something you can learn how to do in a few days or even weeks.

By doing your homework before you leave, you can locate a quality center, search for reviews, and find recommendations.  This way your trip will be safe and have the meaning for you that it should.

Be ready for an adventure

You are indeed going on an adventure, and you should be approaching your trip with this mindset. You never know what will happen, and the ability to approach any situation with both flexibility and humor will be the keys to your enjoying the trip more.  You’re going to encounter bugs and heavy rains, delays and missed connections with people you are to meet.  Be ready to “roll with the punches”.  

Remember that you will be in a remote area with little access to the comforts and technology of the west.  By preparing ahead of time and having spare parts on hand, you can be better able to handle what may come. Things like extra buckles for your backpack or spare shoelaces can make a problem go away quickly.

Approaching the trip with your mind

Remember that you are going into South America for an experience.  You have the chance to look at each stage as either a hindrance or an opportunity to learn.  If things go wrong along the way, take a few moments and reflect on why this happened, and on how you can turn your mindset around.  If you have to wait for transportation, use that time to look around you and appreciate all that you see.  Study the rain as it falls from the leaves of the trees over you.  

You can find a real sense of community through coming together when things go wrong.  If you all work together to resolve the situation, you can find some common bonds, something the ayahuasca ceremony is also able to provide, so the entire experience is enhanced.

Approach the trip with an open mind and a ready heart for whatever may come.  Don’t try to force the spirits to do things for you, but rather make yourself ready to go where they lead you.  Above all else, relax and enjoy the experience, even if some of the visions may be frightening.  The shaman will help you purge your body of the negative spirits, and you can return home with a whole new take on the world and quite the tale to tell.

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