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Ayahuasca Experiences: Into the Amazon

Ayahuasca Experiences: Into the Amazon

For centuries, shamans in the indigenous communities of the Amazon Basin have been preparing a hallucinogenic brew known as Ayahuasca for spiritual, self-improvement, and healing purposes. Apprentices spend years studying the healing properties of individual plants and the spiritual associations of each under the guidance of an elder shaman. During this time each apprentice develops his own spirit songs, icaros, believed to be taught to them by the spirits of the Amazon.

Recently, Ayahuasca’s popularity has been on the rise, along with other shamanic services, as a segment of what’s commonly referred to as mystical travel has been on the rise throughout Peru, thanks to promotion by government tourist agencies which even sponsors ayahuasca festivals. Travelers interested in trying Ayahuasca can visit healing retreats where they can take part in multiple ceremonies. Many do so for a spiritual experience, increased self-knowledge, or, increasingly, as part of their struggle against depression or addiction. If you’re interested in arranging such an experience, contact Pirwa Travel Service for more information.

Preparing the Brew

The Quechua name is rooted in the native belief that ayahuasca is the cord which permits the spirit to leave the body without dying- aya means spirit and waska, cord. Preparations can include a varying combination of leaves, seeds, and bark, but the caapi vine, considered the gatekeeper and guide to otherworldly realms, is always present. In its natural state, the vine is a purgative, but boiled together with other plants it has hallucinogenic effects.

There are many other barks and plants which can traditionally be added for their spiritual properties; Remo Caspi bark, for instance, is used for healing dark energy, and Capirona bark for cleansing. Each plant which could be added has a recognizable spirit. For example, Ayahuma bark, used for repairing fractured souls, appears as a headless giant.

The Ceremonies

Ceremonies last about four hours and begin during the dusk following a brief midday fast, when the shaman blesses the ayahuasca with mapacho tobacco to ward off negative spirits and pay homage to the ayahuasca’s spirits, asking for their assistance. Each participant is then given some of the bitter brew and the lights are shut off. Unfortunately vomiting is to be expected, and is considered part of the purging of dark energy. The shamans will begin to sing or whistle his icaros to the rhythm of their chakapas, leaf rattles, to call forth the unique assistance of different plants and to guide participants through the process. The visions begin after about 20 minutes; many feel that they are traveling among realities and wrestling with their fears. Sting speaks very favorably of his experience trying Ayahuasca in a Brazilian church, during which he says he had a vision of chasing a bee through a Joshua tree for hours.

Popular Ayahuasca Destinations

The most popular Ayahuasca destinations are in the Amazon, especially in the large jungle city of Iquitos and the outlying Shipibo indigenous community, San Francisco. If you are unable to make it to the jungle, you can also participate in Ayahuasca ceremonies in the Andean region, including the Sacred Valley of the Incas outside of Cusco.

CAUTION: As most shamans are unfamiliar with Western pharmaceuticals and preparations vary widely, it is your responsibility to research possible severe adverse reactions with prescription medications or allergies. If you are taking prescription medication, you are advised to abstain, as trying ayahuasca without being certain which plants and in what quantities your shaman has chosen could be risky.

A Peru for Every Type of Backpacker, pt 2

A Peru for Every Type of Backpacker, pt 2

This is the culmination of our two-part article on the different types of backpackers and what Peru has to offer them. So far, we’ve dealt with the hiking and trekking enthusiasts, the extreme sport junkies, the eco-travelers, and the cultural immersionists. What’s left?…

Time Travelers

From the modern high rises of Miraflores, Lima and the pre-Columbian pyramid shrine in their midst to the traditional villages and towns of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, with vibrantly dressed locals chatting on cellphones and internet cafés housed in adobe structures lining cobblestone streets, Peru is a land of contrasts which in the throes of modernizations still offers up a past rich in mystery and wonder.

  • The world-famous mysterious Nazca Lines and the remarkable thousand year old mummies of Chauchillas
  • Kuelap, a fortress in northern Peru of the Chachapoyas, the most formidable foes of the Inca.
  • The Inca Fortress of Saqsayuhuamán on the outskirts of Cusco and the Lost City of Machu Picchu, the worldwide icon of the Inca Empire
  • the pre-Inca city of Caral north of Lima, the oldest city in the Americas, which as a flourishing urban center as far back as 2600BC


Culinary Crusaders

Whether or not you’re a foodie, chances are some fresh ceviche in Lima and roast guinea pig (cuy) in Cusco are on your travel to-do list, the former for the delicate flavors and the latter for the bragging rights. The culinary crusaders among you, hoever, probably have a list that’s more dishes than tourist attractions. What shouldn’t you miss?…

  • Marinated, grilled, and skewered beef hearts (anticuchos) in Ica, proud guardian of Afro-Peruvian cuisine
  • Pollo a la Brasa. Why eat roaster chicken in Peru when you’ve had it before? Because here, it tastes like nowhere else
  • Stir-fried tenderloin and fries known as lomo saltado
  • Seco de Cabrito, or stewed goat in the north
  • In the Andes, Olluquito con Charqui, is a firm potato-like tuber stewed with charqui (dried alpaca)
  • Even if you’re not ready to go as far as some toasted ants, the jungle region has some great dishes to offer, such as Juanes, bundles of chicken and rice cooked in banana leaves, and Inchicapi peanut stew.

Mystic Travelers

A new breed of traveler seeks not only cultural insight but mystical and personal insight as well. The survival of pre-Columbian beliefs in Peru, often in syncretic form, makes Andean or Amazonian Peru an attractive destination for such travelers. What kind of options does Peru offer the mystical backpacker?:

  • Ceremonies at the pre-Columbian sacred sites still believed to contain special energy by New Age practitioners
  • Spiritual cleansings with rubdowns with sacred plants and even with a guinea pig by Andean Curanderos, Healers
  • Hallucinogenic Ayahuasca ceremonies overseen by Amazonian shamans, which are thought to remove the curtain separating the natural and supernatural world, allow one to commune with universal spirits, and to heal problems with one’s own soul and psyche.
  • Very rarely, a traveler gets to visit the town of Queros, which thanks to a willful isolation is considered the town wherein Inca culture has continued unbroken.

Probably your interests fit into more than one category, and the gung-ho backpackers are likely a little bit of each…that just means you’ll have to plan a longer trip! The Pirwa Team includes not only Pirwa Travel Service, which can exist with transport, entrances, and guided excursions, but also Pirwa Hostels, which has 13 different locations throughout Peru and Bolivia. This means that no matter what your interests, and where you end up, you can probably find us nearby!

Stop by the social butterfly Pirwa Colonial Backpackers or the cozy and cheerful Pirwa San Blas Familiar in Cusco, enjoy breakfast on the sunny rooftop terrace at Pirwa Park Hostel Arequipa, or even cross the border and head out on the town with Pirwa La Paz‘s fun-loving team. A a country as varied as Peru, and such diverse groups of backpackers, require a home-grown chain that can offer all that the modern backpacker needs in terms of facilities, budget options, entertainment, and comfort. Check out all of our locations here …see you on the road!

Mystical Tourism: Trying Ayahuasca in Peru

Mystical Tourism: Trying Ayahuasca in Peru

Ayahuasca is Quechua for spirit vine, or vine of souls; it is a brew which shamans of the Amazon Basin have been preparing for hundreds of years

It is employed throughout the Amazon and Andes for divinatory purposes, as a religious sacrament, and for healing. Popular in Peru’s indigenous communities and among many mestizos, it’s seen throughout the country as an herbal medicine rather than an illicit hallucinogenic drug, and a valued part of Peruvian spiritual and economic life, with government tourist agencies even sponsoring ayahuasca festivals.

Popular Ayahuasca destinations include the Amazonian urban center of Iquitos and the outlying Shipibo town of San Francisco, although you can also experience it in the Andean region, such as in Cusco’s Sacred Valley. You can even take part in ayahuasca healing retreats during which you will take part in multiple ceremonies.

Apprentices spend years under the tutelage of elder shaman getting to know the individual plants used to prepare ayahuasca, learning about their individual healing properties and the spirits associated with each. According the shaman, these spirits teach them icaros, or spirit songs, which they then sing or whistle during ceremonies in order to call forth the plants’ unique assistance.

Preparations vary, but of the basic leaves, seeds, and bark combination which are boiled together to prepare the brew, it is the caapi vine which must be present. The vine is considered to be the gatekeeper and guide to otherworldly realms. Traditional additions of barks and plants are often added on top of the main ingredients for their spiritual properties, from Ayahuma bark which is used to retrieve parts of the soul lost to trauma, Capirona bark for cleansing, Remo Caspi bark to heal dark energy, and much more. Each of the many possible ingredients has a recognizable spirit; the Ayahuma bark, for instance, appears as a headless giant.

CAUTION: If you’re interested in trying Ayahuasca, you must take responsibility yourself for researching possible severe adverse reactions with various prescription medications, as most shamans are unfamiliar with Western pharmaceuticals.

Ceremonies take place as night falls, generally after a brief midday fast. The freshly prepared ayahuasca will be blessed with mapacho, a tobacco whose smoke is believed to ward off negative spirits, as the shamans pay homage to the ayahuasca’s spirits, entreating their assistance. The shamans will serve you the amount which they feel you are in need of. The taste is not pleasant, and vomiting is a normal occurrence, viewed as a purging of dark energy.

Once all have drunk, the lights are put out and the shaman begin to sing their spirit songs to the rhythm of their chakapas, leaf rattles and in somewhere around 20 minutes, the visions will begin to appear. Ideally, during this time practitioners seek a window into themselves, wrestling with their fears and releasing negative spirits. Many feel they are traveling among realities. Sting famously says that during his Ayahuasca ceremony, he chased a bee through a Joshua tree for hours. You can expect the average ceremony lasts about four to five hours.

In each of Pirwa Hostels’ thirteen locations throughout Peru and Bolivia, you’ll find the help desks of our own travel agency and tour operator, Pirwa Travel. If you are interested in trying ayahuasca, you can ask them to help arrange this for you. Don’t worry if you haven’t the time to make it to the jungle, as there are also options throughout the Andean region for mystical tourists looking for a unique experience!