November 24, 2022
Today is Thanksgiving, the one holiday I actually like and feel sad to miss in the US. However, in a way, it’s appropriate that I’m here on this day. Last night’s gentle ceremony (The Bat notwithstanding) helped me to overcome some of the anxieties that I arrived with. In particular, I was anxious about the ayahuasca itself, having heard that jungle ayahuasca was much stronger than what I was accustomed to. My mind was filled with visions of a bad trip and I feared having a profoundly negative experience in a foreign place. Yet, what I experienced last night was so gentle that it set my anxiety at ease and left only a feeling of gratitude and peace. This feeling of connecting with gratitude is a pervasive part of all of my experiences, which makes it entirely appropriate that I am here on this day.
I didn’t sleep well last night, as is typical when I’ve done ceremonies in the past. I was only able to get about 2 hours before it was time to get up and cleanse myself in the lagoon, as instructed. Still slightly unstable on my feet, I gingerly stepped down the slope to the lagoon, its water the color of black tea (a result of all the tannins released from the jungle leaves that lie at its bottom). I scooped the water over my head, arms, and face (yes, I realize this isn’t what Eladio had in mind when he told us to cleanse ourselves, but I’m not a ‘plunge-into-the-murky-unknown-depths’ sort of person, so it will simply have to do).
Then, we have breakfast. Today’s breakfast and lunch meals are our last ‘normal’ meals before the dieta, so I try to savor it, even though I find my appetite is much suppressed from both the heat and the repeated onslaught of nausea-inducing beverages. Eladio comes into the dining hall and chats with us. He looked at me and said he saw me struggling with back pain during the ceremony. This surprises me because my back pain didn’t start until the lights went out. The moon was obscured by clouds last night, so without artificial light, the maloca was engulfed in total darkness. How could he see me through that? Yet, somehow he saw (or sensed) my discomfort.
After breakfast, we lounged in our hammocks, listening to music and relaxing. Eventually it’s time for our plant bath. The plant bath is also for cleansing—it’s water from the lake mixed with a few drops of rose water, the result of which is a delightfully aromatic cleanse. We each go to a shower stall where a bucket of water awaits us. We scoop the water out and pour it all over ourselves—the water is cold, prompting a chorus of “ah!” coming from each of our stalls as it hits our bodies. We’re instructed to dry naturally in the sun, so after our dousing we sit on benches outside the maloca, swatting away any bugs that are attracted to our floral smell. After we dry, we enter the maloca one-by-one to receive a blessing from Eladio. I go in for mine and hear him utter some words asking the spirits to protect me, then he took a swig from a bottle of agua de florida—an aromatic liquid that is used in the ayahuasca ceremony for both cleansing and protection—and blows the liquid on my head, down my back, down the front of my shirt, and in the palms of my hands. Then, he crossed my arms in front of my chest, squeezed me tight, released me, and pressed a few points on my back—the result of which was a lovely back adjustment. Remembering what he told me at breakfast, I appreciated his attention.
Later in the day we have our first class with Eladio in which he teaches us about the elements of the ceremony, the purpose of the dieta, and about the importance of paying proper respect to the spirits of the jungle. Then, we have our first drink of plant medicine. For me and the other woman in our party, LY, it’s a drink made of pulverized ajo sacha, or jungle garlic. It tastes exactly as you might imagine—like drinking concentrated garlic juice from a particularly sharp variety of garlic that burns ever-so-slightly as it goes down. This plant is supposed to help clean our bodies of toxins and reduce inflammation. After I down my glass, I have a brief moment of nausea, then it passes.