In the last few years more and more people are heading to Peru to drink the visionary medicine Ayahuasca. While the medicine can provide remarkable insights and healings, the process has become a great money spinner in Peru and unfortunately anyone can buy the medicine and set himself up as a shaman. While there are many sincere and genuine healers in Peru, there are many worrying reports of women being sexually assaulted or even raped by shamen while under the influence of ayahuasca. Currently, there is no regulation of people offering ayahuasca ceremonies and often tourists arrive in the country unaware of the stories of other women's experiences.
I've personally heard of three women who were raped or sexually assaulted, both at 'reputable' centres in Iquitos; I met another tourist who had seen something happening in the ceremony she attended, when the wife of a couple was sexually assaulted while her husband was on the other side of the room. Sadly it seems that travelling with a partner or friend is no protection against these men who prey on vulnerable women.
So if you are a woman and planning on attending an ayahuasca ceremony on a trip to Peru my recommendation is always go to a centre that has been recommended to you by someone you know. Never go with a tout from the streets or a travel agent. Just because you've seen a shaman on a film or on YouTube doesn't mean that they are reputable.
There are several centres now who offer lady shamen and clearly that is a much safer possibility.
I can highly recommend Lucine & Tracy at Ayaintegral in Pucallpa. These two lovely American ladies worked at the Temple of the Way of Light before branching out on their own. Lucine has been drinking ayahuasca for more than 10 years and has a Masters degree in conflict resolution; Tracy also has a Masters Degree and has a background in counselling and both have international life coaching practices. They work with male and female shipibo shamen in Pucallpa and integrate the ayahuasca experience with counselling, meditation and yoga.
Percy Garcia's DAS centre outside Iquitos is also well recommended. He has a female interpreter assistant and for 6 months of the year a lady apprentice shaman who also speaks English. I've worked with Percy and found him a sincere, honourable man. He actually trained as an architect, but the plant spirits wouldn't leave him alone and he pursued the healer's path instead. Percy's centre offers single ayahuasca ceremonies as well as longer retreat experiences. He also offers a dieta experience where you build a relationship with one of the other Peruvian healing plants. This can be a week or longer. The centre has comfortable huts with own bathrooms and is located about half an hour out of Iquitos. His interpreter will collect people from their hotels and take them to the centre. There are also a few friendly cats who adopt people and accompany them home after ceremony. Cats really soak up negative energies and can be very healing after an intense time with mother ayahuasca.
The Temple of the Way of Light is another very well known centre who work with lady shamen. There are 5 or more Shipibo ladies working there, many with decades of experience with Ayahuasca. The Temple is one of the more high end centres, but the food is great, the accommodation comfortable, and the experience very safe with knowledgeable facilitators. It's located about an hour or so (depending on the season) from Iquitos by taxi and boat and with quite a walk through the jungle to enjoy.
Ayahuasca can be an extreme experience and little information is provided in terms of aftercare. It may take months or years to integrate the experiences you have during one or more ceremonies; and my personal experience leads me to feel that ayahuasca is not a 'one stop' cure-all, but can best been seen as a way to access deep healing information, that then needs to be resolved and integrated with counselling, hypnosis or one of the energy psychology modalities that allow processing of deep psychological issues. People who have undergone traumatic experiences earlier in life may need extra support in finding resolution and may find that Ayahuasca causes more problems than they expected.
I can't stress enough that Ayahuasca is a powerful medicine which is not for recreational use. It's not a fun trip.
Bruce Parry from the BBC series Tribe and Amazon has featured ayahuasca during his experiences with tribal people. In one episode a native Indian proudly announced that he had drunk ayahuasca 3 times in his life. In his tribe, this was considered exceptional. For most native people drinking ayahuasca may be a once in a lifetime experience. Only a shaman will drink the medicine regularly to allow them to heal their patients. Bruce also drank with Percy Garcia and a clip from the program is available on youtube.
Stefi told me about her experience with the medicine.
I had cancer the year before I started drinking ayahuasca so for me the experience was seeking healing so my cancer didn't come back. It's now two years on from my ceremonies in Peru and I'm still finding new understanding from my time out there. When I returned home after a month doing a special dieta and drinking ayahuasca 3 times a week I had lost 15kg and was falling apart psychologically. I had one experience where I saw all my dark side. This is a common ayahuasca experience where the aspects of the personality that have been denied or suppressed are brought into view. Deepak Chopra and Debbie Ford have both written about the power of reclaiming the shadow, but you have to acknowledge it exists before you can do anything with it. Spending two hours while every horrible thought you've ever had in your life is paraded before you is humbling... all the jealousy, the rage, the bitterness, the vengefulness, the curses you have uttered, and the hurt you have caused other people."
Alison had a very different experience. "I had drunk the medicine a few times but nothing much happened. I'd seen some strange clowns and carnival type visions, but nothing more than that. In fact I was a bit disappointed with what I'd experienced, particularly compared to other people who were having amazing insights and fabulous visions. I wasn't expecting anything special on this night, but after a couple of hours I suddenly felt myself in the presence of the Divine Mother. I was consumed with bliss and ecstasy and suddenly understood all the things I'd read about Christian Mystics and how they felt consumed with a Divine presence and communed with God. Suddenly the desire of many people to sing and praise the Divine made perfect sense to me. I felt truly blessed to have been gifted that experience. It's something I will remember for the rest of my life."
There are several websites/forums dealing with ayahuasca and you can check my recommendations against people on those websites.
Ayahuasca can be a life-enhancing experience if approached with a level of reverence and with the guidance of a good shaman. Make your experience a positive and safe one by being cautious in whose hands you put yourself.