Sunday, December 09, 2007

Couple of Thoughts on Ayahuasca in Peru

On a board I occasionally post on, someone recently started a thread to try to make a list of reputable ayahuasca curanderos one might visit in Iquitos and Pulcalpa, Peru. In short order someone put the idea down and someone else quickly came to the idea's defense by noting that there were stories of people being served datura, rather than ayahuasca during ceremonies--and datura, while one of the 7 Master Plant Teachers is much more risky because of the length of it's effect on the human body/mind and because of the depth of its teachings. Someone also brought up the notion that a disreputable curandero might rape an unsuspecting foreign client during ceremony.
I thought both ideas were nonsense and wound up writing a couple of responses in the thread. Here they are:
In my experience, the people who get ripped off in Iquitos are those who listen to cabbies and street urchins and such who claim to have an uncle or a brother or a dad who is a curandero. There were a couple of jungle guides a few years ago who would take people to a camp, then, the next day, while they were hiking their stuff would be taken and when the gringos got back to camp they discovered their backpacks missing. Which of course ended the trip for them.
Well, those guys eventually got caught.
But the gringos who went with them simply were not being clear-headed. There are plenty of gringos in Iquitos or Pulcalpa at any given time who have been in town a while and know the ropes. Take the time, if you come in cold and don't speak Spanish, to ask them who's on the level and who's not. And don't just go with the first person they mention, check with several. Then you'll have a starting point.
But be realistic: having your stuff stolen in a set up that ruins your trip might be a negative but romantic story to tell your friends at home but it will surely put a damper on your trip.
On the other hand, the Amazon is adventurous, so if you're going to jump in head first, then don't leave an unguarded backpack someplace for a day.
As for the sexual stuff with ayahuasca: I've heard of it happening but in all my years of experience, never actually met anyone it happened to. Not a woman, not a man. I have had ayahuasca with several curanderos who use hands on healing, and that can be seen as a sexual advance by the recipient--and it might be, but is probably more often just a healing. I'll bet most women out there can tell the difference between a healer pulling something from your heart and a someone who's grabbing your breasts.
You might ask people who have had ayahuasca with a given healer whether he's hands on or hands off, and then make your decision accordingly. If hands on is uncomfortable, particularly when under the influence and in an altered state, an ayahuasquero who is going to heal that way will probably not be someone you'd be comfortable drinking with.
I think though, that there are enough people with varied experiences in Iquitos or Pulcalpa these days that when you're thinking of drinking with someone, or going out to the jungle on a riverboat with someone, you should not find it hard to find others who have been with that person or those people and be able to do a little double-checking.
MY SECOND RESPONSE, later in the thread:
Just to add two more cents: Curanderos who work with datura as a primary substance are very very rare and very very proud of their tradition. Many ayahuasqueros, on the other hand, will add a couple of leaves of brugmansia or the similar chiric sanango as ad mixes to their ayahuasca. This is not unusual. And it's no one trying to fool you. It's fairly typical in the Amazon, depending on where the client wants/needs to go. All ad mixes open additional spaces and the curandero, if experienced, sees what needs opening.
But I've never heard of a curandero serving real datura when asked to prepare ayahuasca: he/she'd normally tell you: I don't work with ayahuasca, I work with datura. Or Vice versa. Or in combination. Same with curanderos who work with tree saps or root barks primarily: All are very proud traditions and only overlap a little with most curanderos.
Heck, why would an alleged ayahuasca curandero make you datura, and then sit up with you for 24-72 hours when he could have made you ayahuasca and had you sleeping in 3-4 hours? It's just not a logical proposition. It actually doesn't happen. It's a made up, invented situation. Like saying: What if a New York City cab driver takes me to California instead of 31st Street?
Could happen but won't. Ever.
Same with the rape nonsense: Curanderos work with their families nearby. Almost none work without other people there. It's just negatively fanciful to imagine that a man, in front of his wife and kids and assistants and other participants, would suddenly rape someone--who would presumably be screaming--in the middle of a ceremony. Forget it. Doesn't happen.
Now, if you get met at the airport in Iquitos, don't speak spanish and decide that the taxi driver, who asked "ayahuasca? ayahuasca? Mi Padre!" is your guiding light, well, then you're on your own. But if you've looked around, found out who's who and what's what by talking to people who have been there, then things will generally be pretty kosher. A curandero/curandera who has 4 people drinking ayahuasca simply cannot take time off from singing icaros to rape someone. Next day make a come on? Next day suggest that the person has a problem with intimacy that they can help with? Certainly possible. But that's a far far cry from being raped in a ceremony.


jaha said...

hola peter,
i am currently traveling in south america and am soon heading to peru, in hopes of finding a curandero to work with.

i have researched and found very expensive tours, and then also read about a village in northern peru where it may cost only 60 you have any contacts or resources you could suggest to me?

i am a super shoestring traveler but want to respect the tradition...any thoughts? thank you kindly and thanks for blogging about ayahuasca in peru!

Peter Gorman said...

better to email me at
Peter G

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