Drinking Yage (Ayahuasca) in Colombia’s Rainforest

Through a series of “coincidences” I ended up scrapping the last week of our travel itinerary in Colombia and spontaneously bought a flight to Putumayo, a province bordering Ecuador and Peru in Colombia’s selva or rainforest area. (Thanks again Niki! πŸ™‚ )

My plan

The one thing I am planning to do hear: drinking a liquid made of two local plants – a liana and a leaf. In Peru this “drink” is known as Ayahuasca, here people call it Yage. Local tribes consider it a “sacred medicine”. Its power: it quiets your monkey mind to the extent that your deeper layers of being including your energy and emotional body appear on the surface. In this state our thoughts cannot interfere anymore and we give ourselves up to an incredible process of self healing and discovery. Even though visions and hallucinations are common, this plant could not be more different to recreational drugs such as cocaine. I read somewhere you take a normal recreational drug to feel good now but you feel worse later. Here it is the opposite: drinking Yage can be quite unpleasant as it often sheds light upon unwanted or darker areas of our self and is quite often accompanied by vomiting and diarrhoea. However, you do it to feel more pleasant and healthy afterwards.

Yage is used by local shamans or Taitas to cure diseases ranging from depression to post traumatic stress disorder. Even though it is still illegal in the Western world, its medical societies are slowly (re-)discovering the power of this incredible plant.

Welcome to Putumayo! Arriving with today’s only flight at Villagarzon’s country side airport – a unique welcome from Colombia’s selva

My journey

I meet a Colombian and an Austrian doctor at the airport in Bogota and we fly to Villagarzon together, to “The Heart of Putumayo” as one ad displays. Within the first minutes of our conversation it becomes clear that I am in for a magic ride. Listening to Fabio from Bogota, everything seems to be possible in Colombia’s rainforest…

Landing there after a short flight is an adventure itself and the views from the smalll plane are incredible – only green everywhere with a few buildings scattered here and there. There is no luggage belt, the suitcases and backpacks are simply moved to an arrival area manually by airline staff with a huge cart. Our flight is the only arrival of the day – a few minutes later the plain departs again to Bogota – today’s only departure…

No luggage belt here… Is this like flying 50 years ago?

Our hostel is surrounded by forest, rivers and animal sounds. It feels a bit unreal to have high speed WLAN here… But then again – why not? πŸ™‚

After all, we are talking rainforest here…

After an incredible walk to a nearby waterfall the next day, our small group is ready for the first nightly Yage adventure. 20 minutes by taxi and we arrive at a shabby house in a dark area next to a road and a river. A few dogs walk around the property as we enter a dark room lit by candle light only. Four hammocks inside and the shaman (or Taita) who lives here greets us warmly. “No pseudo romantic here” – a spot on comment from Christoph, the Austrian doctor. This is not a place for a romantic yoga retreat, rather a simple room with brick walls. Still, it feels quite authentic and real.

No “pseudo spiritual romantic” in this place… Rather it feels like an authentic countryside setting

Contrary to my expectations there is also also no romantic, spiritual vodoo dance or ritual. The shaman simply dresses himself, sings for a minute or two and gestures us to wait in line for the drink.

My first drink

I must say the taste is a lot worse than expected and it is hard to describe in words. Grapefruit, pomme grenade, bitter, fur kind of a texture… No, this is a far too positive description. In any case, I feel like vomiting instantly. Hang in there, the stuff needs a bit of time to work, I tell myself. Next step, looking for a safe area in my hammock, I lie down. Slowly a feeling of incredible warmth floods my body, starting in my stomache area. After maybe 30-40 minutes single sparks and lighting appear in my head. Suddenly things take off! Landscapes of unimaginable color variety and geometric forms appear and I fly right through them. Free as a bird! Only later do I realize this is actually no other than myself producing these images – something I would have never ever thought of being capable to create…

My smile was clearly before taking Yage – no feeling of vomiting yet!

Things only accelerate from here. One by one I live through events from my past, make peace with an ex girlfriend and receive the most prominent and clear hints what I need to change in my life. Only later do I realize that it is not a given for the first time to go through such a profound and rich experience. Many people suffer from (unconscious) internal blockades that lessen the impact of the plant.

Candles and the shaman’s appearance created some spiritual setting at last

“Thank you so much plant!” I will later on remember having said over and over again. Such is my joy about what I am experiencing… Forgotten are the tough times during the night where I felt thoroughly undignified, kneeling on the wet ground in the rain, vomiting until nothing is left to spit out.

One of Yage’s special powers is that it lets you experience an incredicle connection with plants and animals. I would not describe myself as being a true animal lover. Even bigger my surprise when I genuinely feel a surge of empathy for a dog out on the street. I cannot see him but I can perfectly well understand what he is going through: pure fear. What a unique experience!

Our shaman or “Taita” on the day after the Yage ceremony

Intuition. Suddenly I have this incredible sense of intuition! I seem to “know” what will happen in the next few seconds. A bit later I feel the perfect time to liberate myself from the content of my stomache…

My magic takeaway

The most incredible takeaway from all this is what I seem to be able to do. All skills I experience came from nowhere but myself. Creativity, intuition, empathy with animals. If I am able to do this with Yage, then it is only another step to do it without. In this context science offers comfortable guidance: During Yage/ Ayahuasca sessions new highways between our brain’s neurons are formed. If we keep cultivating these connections, they become the new standard pathways in our brain. This is how we can translate our Yage experiences into everyday life.

The Yage plant grows everywhere here in Putumayo

Even though my other two Yage nights felt a little less overwhelming, the week in Colombia’s south was simply mind-blowing. What a magic place! It is hard not to feel the energy that is being radiated by its wild rivers, its wet and green forest and the endless tales of magic you keep hearing here… Of shamans who are liaterally able to transform themselves into Pumas for instance…

Which other bridges will Yage let me cross in the future?

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