The first time I stepped inside a maloca¹, I was consumed with fear and anxiety, unsure of what to expect from a ceremony involving the famous sacred medicine renowned for "healing people from within." Despite my initial determination to embrace the experience, my nerves overtook me, and I found myself yearning to disappear. As they kindled the fire in the maloca's centre and separated us by gender, the women were advised to abstain if they were experiencing our menstrual cycle². The shaman³ requested calm and meditation, cautioning us that the collective energy might be intense. They showered us with tobacco leaves, spritzed rose water, inhaled rapé⁴ pipes, and consumed mambé, a toasted, ground, and filtered Amazonian coca leaf powder typically mixed with yarumo⁵ leaf ashes as an alkaline supplement, and used ceremoniously as a means of communal wisdom sharing.
The air seemed dense, charged with curious and intriguing energy. You could hear the shaman's seed necklaces leaving their powerful trail like a rattle making its way around the fire. There was something very seductive about the fire, the wood crackled and transformed into giggling ashes, releasing fiery kisses with a passionate embrace, filling the air with a mysterious essence, akin to the mesmerizing sway of a serpent's dance. As the whispers of the people dissipated, the ceremony commenced at approximately 9 pm.
The shaman called us up individually, and when it was my turn, I approached the altar and drank my first cup of Ayahuasca⁶. My body immediately reacted with nausea, and my face contorted from the strong taste that went down my throat. It felt like drinking the thickest and most aggressive liquor that my palate had ever encountered. After returning to my spot, I lay down. I tried to hide under the blankets and closed my eyes tightly as if I were about to jump from a plane. I fell asleep and began to hear animal sounds in my dreams. The atmosphere became rough and uncomfortable, and even though I squeezed my eyes shut, I saw faces...eyes opening and closing in a cosmic symphony, turning into skirts and then falling to the ground like a theatre curtain. The curtain fell, and the roof and sky collapsed over my head. Enormous things, like my beliefs, expectations, and surname, crumbled irreparably. When I was inevitably awakened by the psychedelic experience, disoriented and terrified, I opened my eyes. I was afraid to move, and it was difficult to recognize the location of my arms and legs.
I was able to crush the snake with all the strength of my feet, and as I saw it die, a feeling of emptiness opened up in my heart. I fell into this emptiness as gently as a feather landing on water. Then, a vision of myself cradling my mother in her womb appeared before me. I could feel the profound silence in her belly and the harmony of her heartbeat. My grandmother's face was filled with tears, and my aunt seemed to be sinking in mud. I felt the pain of wounded women in my family, searching for shelter like limping wolves in the forest. These visualizations, though at first seeming obscene, made sense in my subconscious like a movie where all the pieces fit together perfectly. I swam in the sweet liquid of our wombs, simultaneously mother and daughter, among memories of past lives.
The effect of this magical plant scanned my entire body, from the deepest recesses of my scalp to the tips of my toes, leaving only debris of pain in its wake.
I opened my eyes suddenly. Immediately, I felt strong nausea again, threw off the blankets, reached for the bucket, and a monstrous eruption came out of me, a sustained noise. The retching insisted on hunching my back to finally exorcise me, my abdomen wanted to release something... a definitive force made me let out a dry and raw groan, and the exhaustion of resistance came out of my mouth in the form of dark liquid leaving me in a state of confusion, exhaustion and profound ecstasy. I think these states are not designed to be written in a single sentence, I am still trying to collect that moment of glory, which felt like a victory for finally scaring away those demons hidden in my throat. Seeing them eye to eye made me incredibly happy, even though their insinuations terrified me to the point of madness. I kept falling for their tricks until I realized the craziness of allowing them to take up space in my life. What a beautiful and profound feeling of emancipation. A kind of tumoral weight divorced from my soul. It was like the exhumation of a corpse that leaves an empty space in the earth ready to recover the life that belongs to it.
The ceremony continued amidst icaros⁷, palo santo, tired voices, shaking leaves, and dying embers. The night advanced and the fire was reduced to ashes. My feet easily tingled to the rhythm of the timid light entering through the palm roof. Waves of blood ran through my body. That night, under the maloca, I began a journey of self-recognition, irreversible, where I felt a sweet lightness under my feet. I had visited other realms, whose beings lived a type of freedom that I could now also savour. I discovered new languages, other forms of life and communication, it was a true honour to have been invited to play in other dimensions where my bones came undone, my head unscrewed, and I let go of cables, anchors, armour, masks, umbilical navels, hymns, borders, flags, tanned albums, inner voices, sunken boats, shackles, suddenly everything ceased to be mine. Everything shattered like a tired screen broadcasting the same channel and dissolved into the throat of an infinity that ceased to be ominous. All lost significance with a certain romanticism, like when one lets go of a lover in front of a magnificent sunset. I speak of a good lover, one who leaves you drooling with love and departs in peace.
The next morning, as I stepped out of the maloca, I felt the joy of a child eager to be born. One of the helpers offered me a cup of aguapanela⁸ that tasted like heaven. The light was subdued, the breeze cooler than usual, and I noticed for the first time the presence of the mountains, their comforting company, and the seductive effect they have on those who bring them to life with their gaze. I felt that my senses had been reset, as if new. The smells were exhilarating, and my skin tingled as easily as if an angel were whispering in my ear every half hour. The only thing that seemed not to flow easily were the words, but I didn't need them much in that perfect state of tuned contemplation. Yes, I had definitely been reborn, this time with a lighter heart, a steady bow, and a sharper vision.
¹Maloca: Traditional construction used by some indigenous communities in South America as a space for ceremonies and rituals.
²Participation of menstruating women is not recommended in some ayahuasca ceremonies due to the belief that menstrual blood may interfere with the energies of the plant medicine and cause uncomfortable or unsafe effects, but these beliefs and practices vary among different traditions and practitioners.
³Shaman: Spiritual leader and healer who practices healing and connection with the spiritual world in various indigenous cultures.
⁴Rapé: Preparation of powdered tobacco that is inhaled through the nose, used in some indigenous traditions of South America.
⁵Yarumo: Tree of the Cecropia genus in Latin America, used in traditional herbal medicine to treat health problems and its leaves are sometimes used as an additive in the production of mambé.
⁶Ayahuasca: Psychoactive beverage used in traditional ceremonies of some Amazonian indigenous cultures for ritual and medicinal purposes.
⁷Ícaros: Sacred song used in traditional Amazonian medicine ceremonies.
⁸Aguapanela: Aguapanela is a traditional Latin American beverage made from unrefined cane sugar and water. It is commonly consumed in countries like Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. The cane sugar is dissolved in water and heated until it forms a syrupy texture, then served hot or cold. It is often used as a natural sweetener and is believed to have various health benefits.