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Peru

La Purga

Ayahuasca

November 26, 2022

At 5am, we’re wakened for our plant medicine. I haven’t been able to sleep since last night, so I’m feeling severely sleep deprived…and also finally hungry, which makes me sad that I only have dieta food to look forward to: more boiled carrots, beets, potatoes, and rice porridge. A few tomatoes for variety.  

By the grace of god (or Pachamama), we had a break in our dieta at lunch and had a delicious chicken soup. After several meals of dieta food, it was amazing to have something with flavor. Unfortunately, it was the only real meal of the day because Eladio left strict instructions that we were not to have dinner in order to abide by the rules of the dieta. Sleep deprived, hungry, and grumpy from the ceremony the night before, the group of us nearly staged a revolt, working ourselves into a lather over a lack of communication about meals, the lack of having enough fruit, and other minor offenses. The result was a few terse words with Eladio.

When we went for our plant medicine at 5pm that evening, we switched to a new plant: this time, it’s chulla chaqui caspi, a tree bark that is meant to give the drinker strength. To my great relief, it tastes a lot better than ajo sacha.

November 27, 2022

Jungle walk with Jefferson

We awake at 5a for our morning plant medicine. Today we’re helping Jefferson, Eladio’s son, make a fresh batch of ayahuasca for tonight’s ceremony, so after breakfast (another bland meal of boiled vegetables), we accompany him into the jungle to harvest plants that will be used in the brew.

The ayahuasca “tea” is essentially made up of several ingredients, but two are the most crucial: the vine from the ayahuasca shrub (banisteriopsis caapi) and the leaf of the chacruna plant (psychotria viridis). Chacruna contains the chemical compound Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which provides the visual component of the experience. By itself, DMT is not bioavailable when ingested into the stomach, so without the ayahuasca, it passes through our system harmless. However, when combined with ayahuasca—a powerful Monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), such as what’s found in many antidepressants—the DMT is able to cross the blood-brain barrier and it’s activated in our body. Together, they have the effect of quieting the default mode network in our brain (the part that many neuroscientists believe comprises our “ego”), providing an overall sense of contentment and well being, and creating visual and auditory hallucinations (the ‘pyrotechnic’ part of the experience). It’s because it’s a powerful dose of MAOI that ayahuasca requires some precaution—there are many foods, medications, and even OTC supplements that are contraindicated. 

After harvesting some chacruna and wambesa leaves, Jefferson asks us to pulverize a stack of cut ayahuasca vines. We pound the vines until they open, revealing a tender inner core. Then, we layer the vines in a large pot and top them with the leaves we gathered. Jefferson fills the pot with water, places the pot on a fire that he’d prepared, and the day-long process of cooking it all down begins. We discovered that the medicine we’d been drinking over the last two ceremonies was made between 2-4 weeks ago. We all agreed that none of us were having the visuals that we were accustomed to, so we were all interested to see if there was a difference between this fresh batch and the batches we’d been sampling. Considering the fiasco of the last ceremony, we were all ready to have a deep, connected, distraction-less experience.


8:00 pm Ceremony 3: I went up to Eladio’s altar and took my drink of the fresh medicine. This batch was uniquely foul tasting and made me gag immediately. I walked back to my mat, desperately holding back the urge to vomit so I wouldn’t be forced to drink another cup. Thankfully, I was able to keep it down. Within a much shorter amount of time than usual, the effects of the medicine hit me with intense body sensations. I felt unable to move as pulsing pressed into the sides of my body, as though the entire world had turned into a heartbeat and was squishing my body like a wet sponge. Then, the visuals began. Again, they were not as intense as I like, but more than the previous ceremonies with visions of spiders (naturally), shooting stars, and the image of a statue of an Inca warrior lying on its side, with a bright green stream of vomit coming out of its mouth. I recognized this image as one I’ve seen before in a past ceremony. As the visuals continued, my neck pain intensified—whatever Eladio had done to ease my neck pain in the previous ceremony had long worn off and my neck was as uncomfortable as it had been for days. After adjusting my pillow and my position on the mat a number of times, a voice began talking to me. This voice is something that appeared during my second round of ayahuasca ceremonies and has continued since, particularly when I’m feeling really “connected” in the psychedelic experience. Gently, the voice said: “Every time you adjust your position to make yourself more comfortable, you are fighting it. The pain is not from the pillow, the mat, or the hardwood floor—it’s the tension you’re holding in your body from everything that makes you feel uncomfortable. No amount of adjusting will help because the tension will still be there.” The voice advised me to “stay with the discomfort,” accept it, and it will pass. I started doing what the voice said, staying with the discomfort instead of shifting my body, and miraculously, the discomfort passed and I was able to relax. I was still aware of the tightness in my muscles, but I was able to tolerate it without it being a distraction.

After this breakthrough, I was able to focus on my experience more thoroughly. I came here with a goal to receive clarity on a few small issues and they were quickly and unceremoniously dealt with, batted away (Pew! Pew!) as though they were minor afterthoughts to the real issue at hand: that of my physical discomfort. At times, I’d ‘surface’ from my reverie and become aware of the discomfort in my body again, but I was able to stay with the feeling each time until it passed into the background, no longer relevant, overtaken by the next deep thought.  I felt elated, thinking that I’d finally broken through a physical barrier. I continued to journey through my mind, visiting thoughts and people from the past and present, resolving conflicts, and feeling connected and grateful. 

The medicine continued to be strong within me throughout the night, but I hadn’t yet vomited. At this point, perhaps I should elaborate on why ayahuasca is known colloquially as “la purga.” The psychedelic brew is known to induce purging of all kinds and it’s believed that this purging helps you to rid your body of negative energy and emotions, trauma, and toxins. Vomiting is only the most obvious form of purging—but purging can also be uncontrollable yawning, sweating, sighing, tears, and my all-time favorite (ahem): GI purging. Having said that, though I hadn’t yet vomited, I cycled between bouts of nausea and my all-time favorite. Between reveries, I repeatedly got up to weave my way to the toilets, incapable of walking in a straight line. With only a headlamp shining a dim red light to guide my way, I kept finding myself somewhere I hadn’t intended. The feeling of deep intoxication and GI purging continued well into the night, longer than I am accustomed to. After the ceremony concluded, I continued to feel nauseated and knew I didn’t want to return to my room while feeling that way, so I stuck my fingers in my mouth in hopes of triggering a purge. I barely got my fingers in there when a powerful purge released itself—one that completely emptied my stomach, but still didn’t provide relief for the nausea. I stumbled back to my room, unable to sleep and feeling ill. In an impossibly short time, the call for the 5am plant medicine came and I had to stumble, still deeply intoxicated, into the maloca for my drink, which I promptly purged into the bucket next to my bed the moment I returned to my room. I continued to feel sick and dizzy for hours more, not really returning to normal until late in the afternoon. I had to admit it to myself: this particular batch of medicine, though better in terms insights and the connection I felt to the ayahuasca itself, was far too strong for me. This evening has also been an eye opener for me. When I first arrived I marveled at how calm I felt. I’ve been in the jungle before and knew how difficult it was for me in the past, so I repeatedly checked in with myself to make sure I felt okay. I inwardly congratulated myself, mistaking my outward calmness as a sign that I had finally grown comfortable with it. However, after the night’s ceremony, I can see now how I was internalizing all the little micro tensions–I am referring to all the tiny uncomfortable moments made up of lack of sleep, lack of feeling clean enough, heat, humidity, bugs, uncomfortable beds, feeling constantly wet and nauseous–all of the little things that on their own are tolerable, but together had piled up in my body. It’s making me take an honest look at my own limitations. 

Thankfully, there will now be two days off before the next ceremony, so I can give my body a much needed rest. 

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About colleen finn

Colleen Finn is a globe trotting, sight seeing, day tripping, frequent flying traveler with a penchant for voluntourism.

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