Choosing a healing center. 

Iquitos is a hub for plant medicine with seemingly endless options for healing centers and shamans to choose from. However, not all shamans are created equally and that’s why it’s extremely important to do your research before choosing a retreat center. Ayahuasca is a very powerful plant medicine that should be brewed properly. As well, the shaman that conducts the ceremony is going to be your intimate spiritual guide and protector on the journey, so choosing a shaman is something to be done with the utmost intention and care.

Back in the states, Andre and I had narrowed down our choices to about 4 different retreats. Our decisions were based primarily on gut feelings, price, schedule, shaman bios, and retreat information. In the past I’ve listened to some podcasts about Ayahuasca by this incredible woman Lola Medicine Keeper from ‘The Wild Playground.’ I decided to contact her and get her recommendation for a good retreat. She raved about one that happened to be one of the 4 centers we narrowed our choices down to, The Rainforest Healing Center, aka Chakra Alegria de Amor. They had dates that worked with our schedule, so we decided to trust the synchronicities and book with them.

My experience with Ayahuasca in Peru.

Back in Iquitos, on a Sunday morning, we checked out of our hotel and walked a few blocks to a restaurant that was our meeting place. One by one we started meeting our soon to be family for the next week. People from all over the world were coming together for a week of healing in the jungle; a family from Switzerland, a woman from Dubai, a woman from London, 2 women from South Carolina, and 3 of us from California. After a hearty breakfast, we loaded up the vanand made our way out of the city. It was interesting driving through other parts of the area. Small villages would just appear after miles of vegetation. People walking to and from end to end. A couple times we drove past some cemeteries. They were the most lavish buildings and landscaped creations in the whole area. I found it ironic that here where the people lived in extreme poverty, dirty conditions, working hard from 8 to 80 years old, only once they die do they go to “rest” in a beautiful place. It bewildered me.

We pulled up to the start of our healing adventure, a small hut at the end of a dirt road. Waiting for us were the crew that would help carry our bags to the center which was a 3km trek through the jungle. Everyone slipped into rubber boots, while Andre and I laced up our hiking boots. We were warned that it gets really muddy, hence the rubber bootage, but Andre couldn’t find any in his size, and all of the places we’d been where we were told we needed rubber boots, in retrospect we could have gotten away without them so we thought we’d be ok in our hiking boots. At first the trek was pretty easy, slightly up and down along a dirt road. Then the mud showed up. Everyone was playing follow the leader, but without rubber boots, we had to make our own path. Thick mud covered and caked our boots. This time I was regretting not having the rubber boots. The 3km hike took an hour and a half with the sun and humidity having us sweating profusely. We just couldn’t wait to be there already. 

Finally, we arrived. We were greeted at the entrance to the healing center by our shaman Juan. He was waiting there to smudge us so that we’d be cleansed of negative energy before entering this high vibration land. The entrance was a small bridge adorned with braided leaves, ginger flowers, and proteas. It was stunning and I was very impressed with the attention to detail made! The true beauty of it though was that this floral adornment wasn’t for our sake, I believe it was made as an offering to the sacredness of the land we were about to enter. We were told to ring a bell 3 times and ask the land permission to enter. Once granted, we crossed the bridge leaving all negativity and egos behind. There really was a palpable change in vibration once inside this land. A beautiful blue butterfly swooshed by leading us forward along the path; a symbol of the transformation awaiting us all. I could feel the frequency of harmony in this place, and it felt like pure magic. 

 Appreciating a 500 year old Almond tree. It still produces edible jungle almonds that taste curiously a lot like coconut!

Appreciating a 500 year old Almond tree. It still produces edible jungle almonds that taste curiously a lot like coconut!

We arrived at the kitchen house where we gathered to meet our facilitators, learn the ropes for the coming week, and make our way to our tambos. Our tambos were the huts that we’d be staying in. Andre and I just assumed that we’d be together, but they actually separated us. We weren’t expecting this, so they sat down and talked to us about why they feel couples do better work at the center when they’re separated. We agreed to it, and I was paired up with a female roommate, and Andre has his own special tambo. The way the healing center is laid out is a really special design. From the kitchen house, it’s about a 7 minute walk uphill through the jungle on round slabs of reclaimed wood leading to the Maloca - the structure where each ceremony is held. 

 The path from my tambo to the maloca.

The path from my tambo to the maloca.

 Inside Andre's tambo.

Inside Andre's tambo.

The Maloca is this stunning custom designed round building that’s been created to provide the most beneficial healing experience possible. From the Maloca extend 5 more paths leading to the different tambos. The tambo I stayed in was named “Paradise.” It was a two story tambo, so two girls were in the bottom and then I had the top with my roommate. My roomie was Payal, an Indian woman living in Dubai. Each tambo had its own unique bathing area connected to the stream that runs through the land. Showers consisted of filling a bucket with water from the stream and pouring it over your body. It was the most refreshing thing, and I looked forward to it each day! The land is home to over 150 medicinal plants, so the water we bathed in was infused with the medicinal properties of all these plants! I could feel it and taste it!

 The amazing maloca.

The amazing maloca.

 The front door of the maloca.

The front door of the maloca.

Our schedule for the week included 3 Ayahuasca ceremonies with a day off in between. There were three delicious and nutritious home cooked meals per day; breakfast at 8, lunch at 12, and dinner at 6 (or 18 if you prefer), except no dinner on ceremony nights. With our free time we were encouraged to be selfish with ourselves and just do whatever we felt we needed - read, journal, meditate, chant, shower, hang out in the jungle, swing in a hammock. Most of the time everyone kept to themselves, however at meals we were social and got to know each other more. By the end of the week we had really bonded as a family, not only with one another, but also with our facilitators, and our shaman.

 Sunset from a hammock on the deck.

Sunset from a hammock on the deck.

 A wild jungle flower that smelled like a lily and tuberose!

A wild jungle flower that smelled like a lily and tuberose!

 Inspiring reads.

Inspiring reads.

Upon arrival we all discovered that we’d get to experience the honor of helping make our own Ayahuasca brew! The rule at the center is though, if you cook, you plant. So that meant that our group would also be responsible for planting and thus replenishing the land with this sacred vine. The brew is made with two different plants, the Chacruna leaves and the Ayahuasca vine. Monday morning, the day of our first ceremony, we gathered at the Chacruna forest to collect our leaves. We were told to approach a Chacruna bush, talk to it, thank it for it’s healing, and then before we plucked a leaf, send our intention into each leaf. Together we collected over 5 kilos of leaves. Then we made our way up to the maloca to prepare the Aya vine. The vines were already cut so our task was to hammer the bark off and beat the vine until the inside was exposed. This was quite a workout. Both Andre and I had blisters on our fingers afterward. The shaman Juan and his helper finished the job, and started the long and arduous brewing process. The vines and the leaves are boiled and steeped for about 12 hours. It’s a very labor intensive process and requires constant supervision.

 Andre hammering the Ayahuasca vine.

Andre hammering the Ayahuasca vine.

At 5pm we were all instructed to bathe with a bucket shower including a special bath of Ajo Sacha - a pungent garlic scented plant with clearing benefits. We were then instructed to dress in our white clothes which symbolically acts as light for Mother Aya, and wait for the sound of a conch shell which meant it was time to meet at the maloca for ceremony.

 Freshly bathed in Ajo Sacha.

Freshly bathed in Ajo Sacha.

One of the attributes about The Rainforest Healing Center I appreciate most is the fact that the facilitators meet with you one on one before each ceremony to help you set your intention, and then the day after each ceremony to help you process and understand whatever experience you had.

I had a great intention setting session with the facilitators before my first ceremony. I first shared with them the things I wanted to heal and work on; we talked about my life, and they helped me narrow down my primary intention. My intention going into the first ceremony was, “Please Mother Aya, help to show me forgiveness for everything harmful I put my body through. Help me accept and heal with unconditional love.” They also encouraged me to write a letter of forgiveness to myself, burn it, and spend some ‘me’ time in the jungle. So I went back to my tambo and wrote a letter to myself forgiving myself for everything that made me feel shameful, sad, angry, judgmental, embarrassed, hurt, everything I could think of! I took this letter up to the maloca where Juan was brewing the Ayahuasca over a fire, read the letter back to myself, and threw it in the flames. It was rather amusing watching this piece of paper that was laden with ultra heavy emotional energy and memories practically evaporate, and poof! Instantly turn to ash. I did feel better, and lighter. Then I wandered around looking for a place to sit alone and undisturbed. I found a spot, sat down, hugged myself, and spent the next 30 minutes just loving myself. It was wonderful. I spent the rest of the day writing and chanting, sending Andre huge amounts of love, and just being. I felt so ready for ceremony, and ready to work.

 The brew bubbling over the fire.

The brew bubbling over the fire.

The conch shell blew at around 7:30pm. It was already dark by now and the sounds of the jungle were alive. We all emerged like spirits out of the jungle and gathered outside the maloca where one by one Juan smudged us before entering. We were guided to our seats and waited for the ceremony to begin. Above each of our heads hung a large slab of Selenite used for protection and clarity.

To initiate the ceremony, a bucket of Palo Santo (a fragrant wood used for grounding and purification) was lit ablaze, then put out producing a wonderfully aromatic billow of smoke. We were shown how to properly smudge ourselves in the smoke and took turns going around the circle. Each of us was given a stick of Palo Santo that we offered to the bucket, then meditated on our intention, and bathed ourselves in the cleansing smoke. Once this process was complete, the maloca was smudged inside and out, as well as the bathrooms. 

Juan sat at the altar, the head of the circle. Starting at his right we were each invited up to the altar where he decided through intuition how much medicine to pour for each one of us. It was my turn. I approached the altar and humbly sat before Juan while he looked through me and carefully poured the brew into a small wooden cup and handed it to me. I took the cup in both hands asking Mother Aya for her help and meditated on my intention. Then in one gulp, I drank the potion. It’s not something that goes down all that easily. It’s very thick, earthy, bitter, and can produce a bit of a gag reflex. Perhaps though, some people like it.  

I returned to my seat and waited for everyone to receive their dose of medicine. We all sat quietly in the dark, in meditation for about an hour. As if Juan could sense when Aya arrived, he began singing to her and filling the maloca with beautiful hymns. 

For privacy sake, I will happily and openly share my full experiences with anyone by discretional personal request only. However, there are a couple things I feel comfortable being candid and frank about. In ceremony, one of the things I thought about and brought into my awareness was my cat Kiki who passed away in February. I mentally thanked her for being my companion for so many years, and I sent her spirit so much love and gratitude. I asked Aya what my karmic relationship with Kiki was, and what I received was that we were sisters in a past life. This made so much sense to me, filled me with even more gratitude for her, and again I broke out into the deepest of tears. thought about karmic relationships, and felt like I could see how these bonds we have with family, they’re truly eternal. They last forever. But I also feel like we need to choose that, or if it’s our karma, that we need to learn some kind of lesson(s) from these karmic relationships, and fulfill contracts in each lifetime. Kiki and I fulfilled a contract with each other. This lead me to the idea that we actually, in some way, have a choice as to what we want to come back or reincarnate as. That it’s not like once you incarnate as a human, then every life you’re always a human. Unless of course, that’s your karma ;-) but I feel like depending on your karma, why not be allowed to come back as an eagle, or a whale, or a cat? I’ve always believed animals are the enlightened ones anyway. The difference is however, that the decision to reincarnate as a human is an enormous task. It requires the greatest responsibility, and the hardest work, but it’s truly the most honorable because it’s the way to make the most difference in the world. Our role as human beings is to protect this planet, to stand up for what’s right, to take responsibility, and take actions toward peace and harmony.

My next emotional release and healing came when I thought about my figure skating career. I looked back on all the hard work I put into it, the pain I suffered and pushed through, the sacrifices and decisions I made, and more. The realization that came was - that the ability to skate effortlessly and gracefully across the ice, that’s the reward. Not the medals or the titles. Just the capability alone is the true gift, a gift that I gave myself. The chance to float across the ice, experience the feeling of cold wind rush over my face, the skillfulness to dance on a blade of steel, these are the real rewards. I felt like my decision to be a figure skater was something I made in a past life, and I fulfilled that dream in this life. I skated and skated across my imagination, I cried and cried as I felt a release of energy leave my body. The night eventually came to a close.

Day of 2nd ceremony (Wednesday).

I’m a huge fan of Animal Medicine. Animal Medicine is a Native American tradition that believes in the unique healing and message that each animal has to offer and teach us. There is a deck of cards called “Medicine Cards” that you can purchase to deepen your connection with animal medicine. My mom gifted me this deck at a very young age and it’s been guiding me for years. I discovered that the center had a deck of Medicine Cards! I pulled a card while meditating for my second ceremony….Butterfly - contrary (which means I pulled the card upside down). Butterfly medicine, like I mentioned earlier is about transformation. I’ve been calling Butterfly into my life since I had surgery on my ankle a year and a half ago; (see Butterfly’ for my expression of that). When reading about the contrary position, I wasn’t quite sure how that fit me, but after my intention took form, and my ceremony manifested, it all came together. An excerpt from Butterfly in the contrary position reads as follows: “…Why does Butterfly represent courage? Because there is a totally different world outside the cocoon, where the known realities of the chrysalis are no longer applicable. This new world demands that you use your newfound wings — and fly!”

My 2nd ceremony was the most powerful, incredible, and healing experience ever. Again, this information will be shared by request only. The ceremony was full of healing, love, gratitude, more tears, more realizations, and a lot of joy.

Part of my intention for this ceremony was, “Dear Mother Aya, help me to accept myself, forgive myself, and love myself unconditionally.” In ceremony, this intention transformed into a vow. Aya made me vow to accept myself, forgive myself, and love myself unconditionally. It was like she felt that way about me, so in order to heal, I needed to vow, for the rest of my life, to feel that way about myself. I exploded into tears and had a huge emotional cleanse. It was so powerful…and I did, I made that vow to Aya and myself. As I filled myself with acceptance, forgiveness, and unconditional love, I thought about how incredible Aya’s spirit is, and that here’s this vine growing in nature that houses this all encompassing, loving, dazzling, forgiving spirit. It made me think about how magical nature is, how contained within this vine is a whole universe. I thought about planet Earth and how magnificent it truly is, and how heart breaking it is that we’re destroying her. We’re eating at her, all in the pursuit and name of money. It’s disgusting. The Earth is unlimited abundance manifested. We just have to recognize that. My heart ached and I shed painful tears for her.

 Not an Ayahuasca vine, but just the sun hitting a tree in a way that captured my attention.

Not an Ayahuasca vine, but just the sun hitting a tree in a way that captured my attention.

I barely slept a wink that night, but the whole next day I felt like I was floating. As I walked from breakfast back to my tambo, I was stopped on the trail by a cute, fuzzy caterpillar crawling up its silk thread. I sat there watching it work away, and also protecting it so it didn’t get torn down by anything or anyone. I received a message from this little guy - I thought about how I pulled Butterfly medicine before ceremony and how I had this phenomenal experience, but I felt like the caterpillar was teaching me that the process or cycle starts all over again. I took flight as a butterfly, but I have to become the caterpillar again before the next transformation. Nature is our wisest teacher.

 I wanted to try and capture the essence of the amount of gratitude and love that was I was feeling in that moment.

I wanted to try and capture the essence of the amount of gratitude and love that was I was feeling in that moment.

 The little caterpillar messenger. 

The little caterpillar messenger. 

Our last and final day at the center was bittersweet. I didn’t want to leave this oasis. We had bonded with our new family, and I was hesitant to return to the city. On our way out, we planted new Ayahuasca vines around the property. Then as a group we took a van to a little town about 40 minutes away where we got on a boat and cruised down the Amazon looking for pink river dolphins! We spotted them! They were kind of pink and grey spotted. They have a much smaller dorsal fin than ocean dolphins, and their nose is shorter and rounder. We jumped in the scary, brown water, but it felt so refreshing! Fish kept swimming into us and tickling us. We ate delicious watermelon on the boat and had a blast! Eventually it was time to say our goodbyes. Four of us left, and four stayed for a longer retreat. 

 Us with our shaman Juan after planting the Ayahuasca vines.

Us with our shaman Juan after planting the Ayahuasca vines.

 My new Aya sisters Payal, my roommate from Dubai, and Nasima from London.

My new Aya sisters Payal, my roommate from Dubai, and Nasima from London.

I am beyond grateful to Lola for her recommendation, and to The Rainforest Healing Center for an unforgettable experience. Our week there honestly felt like one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever given myself. The solitude, the self care and love, the jungle vibrations, the healthy food, the cool, healing bucket showers, the beautiful hearts and souls to share it with, it was all divine. Thank you for reading this blog with an open heart. It’s very deep and personal to me. My heart and soul is an open book that I’m happy to share, though things have been edited. Thanks for your understanding.