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It was meant to be a night of discovery, of potentially finding a new path in life in the depths of a Colombian jungle. However, for one British teenager, the only ‘path’ he found was the one leading to his sad end, his lifeless body dumped at the side of a road.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement for all those who swear by the spirit ‘healing’ properties of ayahuasca. Whatever about the nasty side effects of the hallucinogenic brew itself, the actions of those responsible for the night are questionable, to say the least.
In their defence, deaths from taking ayahuasca, or yagé as it’s also called, are rare. So more than likely they were in a state of panic having to deal with a dead Western body. They could have done better though than abandoning it on the outskirts of the nearest city.
That aside, as unsettling a picture as it is, the unfortunate death of Henry Miller has put, what is for some, the ‘holier than thou’ drug of ayahuasca back in the media spotlight. Indeed in the past, I have been castigated by its adherents for having the cheek to even classify it as a drug. You see, because it’s indigenous and has been taken by South American tribes for centuries, you can’t put it into the same category of all those drugs that the mere mortals of the Western world regularly consume.
It must be stated that I’m not commenting on this without actually having previous experience of it; unlike some others. And I also have to say that when I went to take ayahuasca in the hills surrounding Apulo I went very much with an open mind. In fact, I was expecting, or at least hoping for, something of a life-changing event; such expectations being based on the eye-opening experiences detailed in a BBC documentary by Bruce Parry some years back.
Alas, it turned out to be a disappointing affair on a number of levels. For one, while it was a secluded setting it was far from an intimate one; and according to ayahuasca veterans, your first time taking it should be with a good Taita/shaman and just a few very close friends. While the Taita seemed to know his stuff, on the latter requirement it was more like an ayahuasca orgy than anything intimate. There were at least 20 people there taking it. This included some young children whose adverse reaction to it – not just the standard vomiting but fits as well – made the whole thing very uncomfortable.
As regards vomiting, hearing a chorus of people puking and groaning is something I tend not to derive satisfaction from. Fair enough, it’s meant to be part of the ‘cleansing process’ as the experts say, but vomiting isn’t exactly one of my favourite things in the world to experience – that’s either seeing other people at it or throwing up myself.
To that end, in what ayahuasca aficionados would term unnecessary resistance (‘let it take over your body; just let go man’), I did my best not to vomit after taking my one-and-only cupful of the brew. Such resistance proved to be futile, but I did have a few painful hours before I finally succumbed. When I did eventually throw up, I immediately passed out – on top of my deposit. There followed a brief ‘trip’; the ground became luminous green with things taking on a vine/snake-shaped appearance.
That was the height of it though. There was nothing profound out of the whole experience à la Bruce Parry. I did say at the time that I’d give it another go, provided the setting was more intimate. Thus far, however, the desire for round two has been lacking.
It might be just a case of horses for courses – stick to your own ‘poison’ and all that. Perhaps my west of Ireland blood has me too stubborn for the ‘delicacies’ of Amazon tribes.
*For a related piece, see The ayahuasca ‘trip’.
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