A Night with the Taita: Our Colombian Ayahuasca Experience
Aya = Spirit, Huasca = Vine, Ayahuasca = Spirit Vine or Vine of the Soul
It’s our fifth night in Colombia, and we’re crammed onto a dilapidated bus that’s zig-zagging up the side of a curving mountain, on the south side of Bogota. Our travel companions are the Colombian, Felipe, who, with his brother Nico, runs La Juanita, and Griselda from Spain. It’s a night of firsts. We’ve all just met for the first time, and for all but Felipe, it’s a first experience with the Amazonian medicine plant, ayahuasca.
That we’ve ended up on this bus at all, is just a teensy bit magical in itself. Because we haven’t been actively seeking out an ayahuasca ceremony. Sure, we’re curious about it, but not now…when we’ve just landed and everything is foreign and we feel green and vulnerable.
It starts when I receive an email from Felipe, telling me that he’s attending an ayahuasca ceremony the night before we are due to visit La Juanita. Are we interested in this kind of medicine? Would we like to go with him? I am nervous, but curious enough I suppose, but the Bear, as usual, is all in, all the way.
That we should be interested in such a thing, is no surprise. Spiritual seeking has become a way of being. There have been Buddhist meditation retreats in Thailand and Korea, Enlightened Warrior Camp in the United States, and Network Spinal entrainments all over the world. Why not an ayahuasca ceremony in South America?
Traditionally, ayahuasca was used by different tribes in the Amazon Rainforests, for divination, folk-medicine and other shamanic purposes. The shamans of the time, believed that the vine, contained “spirits” that would assist them in accessing other dimensions, and in healing the body, mind and soul. The physical cleansing or purification process usually occurs through a process of purging or vomiting, hence ayahuasca’s other name, “la purga,” and there are a multitude of other reported emotional and spiritual benefits.
Of course, we are not in the middle of the Amazonian jungle. We are in the Taita’s house on the outskirts of Bogota, with trucks rumbling by and horns honking incessantly. Still, the Taita is the real deal. He was the first indigenous representative for Colombia in the United Nations, and was, the very next week, headed for a meeting with the Bolivian President, Evo Morales (he himself, the first indigenous president of any South American country ever).
After a few hours of rest, the Taita dresses in his traditional clothing and we make our way towards the small fire in the middle of the room. He talks about his recent trip to Japan and the need for all of us to have some element of spirituality in our lives. Of course, this is all in Spanish, so I don’t really get all of it…just the parts that are translated to me. With a final command to “poo, vomit and vision a lot,” the Taita, moves to the side of the room and begins to prepare the ayahuasca brew.
He calls out “Korea” and I know it is my turn. He knows I am nervous, so he calls everyone to stand around me and hold space, while I drink. I look at the greenish-hued brew with trepidation, then decide to just pour it down my throat before I can think about it too much and psyche myself out. And the taste is not that bad, despite all of the horrifying reports I have read online. The Taita has a cup with me, and we clink glasses as though we are celebrating some happy event. I later find out that the Taita rarely drinks, and that he has done this to help me feel more comfortable. He must really be able to feel how scared I am!
Ten minutes later, our entire group of 8 has drunk the bitter medicine one by one, and we sit and wait. Thirty minutes later, a girl quietly moves to the side of the room, where the temporarily empty puke bins are, and begins wretching and vomiting violently. I look on with more than a little fear and wonder when my time will come.
As it turns out, I have a long and challenging night ahead of me…