Me and Mama Ayahuasca

Journeying into the cosmic sisterhood of the sacred vine.

| Summer 2015

Amazon Explorer's Club

The view from Captain Bill’s Amazon Explorer’s Club in Iquitos, Peru, a bustling river town where an estimated 25 percent of the tourists are ayahuasca journeyers on their way to or from retreats.

Photo by Tracey Eller

I sit cross-legged in front of a shaman, a juice glass full of viscous, ruddy liquid warming in my hand. It’s my second night of ceremony. It took two pours of ayahuasca to get me going last night, so this time he has poured me a lot.

I silently incant over the glass: Dear Mama Ayahuasca, I would like to look at the circumstances around my divorce tonight, what I still need to understand. And please show me anything else you want to show me.

In a spirit of abandon, I throw back my head and shoot the aya’ straight down my throat in one gulp. The crickets and frogs raise their volume in the night outside.

It’s on.

The Anteroom

I am in Perú as the recipient of a Cosmic Sister Plant Spirit Grant, funded by Zoe Helene’s company Cosmic Sister, which sponsors women to travel to the Peruvian Amazon rainforest for ayahuasca retreats. We are spending the week at Nihue Rao Centro Espiritual, a retreat center just outside Iquitos founded by shaman Ricardo Amaringo, Colombian-American physician Joe Tafur, M.D., and Canadian artist Cvita Mamic. The area around Iquitos is thick with such centers, and it is easy to spot ayahuasca tourists from all over the world—dreadlocked, tattooed, with a fey look in their eyes—in the cafés of the town.

Helene based the Cosmic Sister Plant Spirit Grant on the premise that although ayahuasca can be a means of healing and empowerment for women, so far, women still experience ayahuasca within the male-dominated cultures from which the practice derives. She wants to give voice to the women who drink ayahuasca, who in turn, in their own way, are giving voice to the vine.