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Travel

Exploring the travel craze of Ayahuasca tripping to South America

@TomTaylorFO

This summer at Glastonbury, an orgiastic festival will be televised to the rest of the world. Peace, love and epiphanies will mark the pinnacle of communal human experience as Paul McCartney transubstantiates on stage to a volley of ‘Hey Jude’ that makes so much sense of the last few years that he is instantly canonised as a saint on the spot. 

All the while, Julia, 34, from Margate, will be squatting over a toilet in such a way that her buttock will be forever half a foot away from coming into to contact with the festering foulness, as trench foot kicks in, and she questions her life choices amid a downpour which is anything but heavenly. 

These are the highs and lows that we live by when we venture towards spirituality—sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you. Most of the time, however, it’s a little from column a and it’s a little from column b. 

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Most folks who have taken the trip to South America to see what new horizons Ayahuasca can bring forth or clouds that it can shift, will find themselves in the same predicament as Julia from Margate, wondering whether simply a few days off from work, detoxing on endless tea and a few garden centre trips, might not have been more aligning for her mildly whacked out chakras. 

However, there is a grandeur to a pilgrimage to the jungle that can’t be denied. The sheer awesome sight of primordial life wrapping around you in a rhapsody of oneness, elevated ten-fold by the onset of dehydration and a nervous anal sphincter desperately clenching shut the floodgates of diarrhoea like the man of Tiananmen Square, is undoubtedly something that eviscerates the dull drudgery of everyday life. And there is a lot to be said for that in of itself. 

The notion of ‘finding yourself’ might have a gag-inducing hippy overture to it these days, but if you’re traipsing through the Earth’s final frontier of wilderness in cargo pants laden with papa, heading towards a psychedelic experience and you don’t at least have a tinge of self-discovery then your mind has surely already been more well-thumbed than David Attenborough’s passport and if it got any broader then it would implode and become abstract like the concept of love. 

In short, if you’re in the amazon openly accepting the fact that you are about put your body through the rigours of the most mythologised hostel practices in history, then you are open to a life-changing experience in one way or another. Whether you go the route of “seeing the Earth and trees breathing around them and being in touch with alien life forms” as one source told me on my travels or bracing the epiphany of “I had absolutely no idea how much faeces the human body held” as another declared, you will have learnt something about yourself. 

But beyond finding out about yourself, what about finding out about ayahuasca? Why is it that this has become the answer for people? Why exactly did diminutive folk singer Paul Simon shun smoking menthols and strumming his dogeared guitar in a Manhattan high-rise to rub shoulders with sweaty Australians back in the day? 

Well, for those who perhaps don’t partake in National Geographic reportage, according to the ADF, ayahuasca is defined as: “A plant-based psychedelic. Psychedelics affect all the senses, altering a person’s thinking, sense of time and emotions. They can cause a person to hallucinate—seeing or hearing things that do not exist or are distorted.”

They go on to add: “Ayahuasca is a decoction made by prolonged heating or boiling of the Banisteriopsiscaapi vine with the leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub, although there can be a variety of other plants included in the decoction for different traditional purposes. The active chemical in ayahuasca is DMT.” 

Adding: “Ayahuasca has been used for centuries by First Nations peoples from contemporary Peru, Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador for religious ritual and therapeutic purposes.” In these countries, it has been used for 1000 years to mark coming of age and other ceremonious moments, but so has the commune wafer and you don’t get half as many stars flocking to cathedrals these days. 

While many new age celebrities have attributed it to alleviating anxiety and various other mental health issues through its epiphany inducing trances, a fair few others have simply spewed it all back up. Paul Simon, it would seem, sits somewhere in the middle. “Ayahuasca has always been there. Nobody outside of the Amazon knew anything about it,” he told Billboard Magazine.

Adding: “And there are several main sets of healers that use ayahuasca. I wouldn’t say that it heals – but I wouldn’t say that it doesn’t. It seems to work sometimes for some people, seemed to really not work for other people. I’m not a proponent and I’m not a detractor. I just wrote the song [‘Spirit Voices’] because this had been my experience.”

Others like Lindsay Lohan have claimed that it helped her to let go of “the wreckage of [her] past life,” and Jim Carrey reportedly refused to come down from a mountain while in the grips of an ayahuasca trip until he truly believed he could earn $10 million a picture. And Sting was a world away from his Newcastle hometown of Wallsend when he stated: “I may be out of my gourd…”

Continuing: “But I seem to be perceiving the world on a molecular level, where the normal barriers that separate ‘me’ from everything else have been removed, as if every leaf, every blade of grass, every nodding flower is reaching out, every insect calling to me, every star in the clear sky sending a direct beam of light to the top of my head. This sensation of connectedness is overwhelming. It’s like floating in a buoyant limitless ocean of feeling that I can’t really begin to describe unless I evoke the word love.”

According to the Ayahuasca Foundation, a standard ten-day retreat will set you back about $2,450. Whether that makes you more predisposed to connect with the universe is anyone’s guess, however, one source I spoke to said that while he hasn’t tried ayahuasca he has shit himself in public while out of his gourd and wouldn’t recommend—so perhaps the glowing testimonies from Peru are proof of the spiritual inclination that a monetary fee helps to induce. 

However, all glibness aside there is a serious undertone to the tourist boom of epiphanies. On a spiritual level who are the naysayers of this world to cynically scoff at those who genuinely seem to have reached a level of self-acceptance and peace thanks, in part, to the decoction? But on another level, do questions need to be asked about whether it is another example of the colonization of ancient practices for western means?

The fetishization of a faecal extracting folly in the jungle that is good for a great anecdote and a few groovy sights but leaves you wondering whether staying in the bar would’ve been better; a wanton western commodification of an ancient practice for the sake of an Instagram post; or a mind-altering mental cure that supports locals sustainably? Those are questions you might have to consult a shaman, Julia from Margate, or an academic expert depending on which way you’re inclined to have answered.

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