This is the second part of my written account of my time spent in the jungle of Orito, in the Putumayo Department of Colombia. In this article, I will cover my experience of drinking medicine in the jungle and my observations of living among the Awá people for 3 weeks in the summer of 2022. I hope you find the below writings a useful and enjoyable read. You can read the first part of this article here.
Preparing Yagé Crudo – Raw Yagé
Upon arriving at the entry of the road leading to the house of Taita Giovanni in Orito, Putumayo, I was handed a big sack of yagé vine to carry to the location we were going to cook the medicine at. It was a good 25-30 kilos of yagé, in addition to my backpack, and by the time I finished the 40 minute trek, I was sweating profusely and felt that this was a great way to arrive at the territory. The next day we started early. We woke up at 6am to start the day with aguapanela and/or coffee and breakfast, and then went off to the cocina (the designated place to prepare the medicine). During the first two days we just peeled the bark off the yagé vine and collected some chacruna leaf for the brew. We also had to chop wood and carry it to the cooking area so that we can feed the fires necessary to sustain the cooking process.
On the third day, we brewed some of the vine and leaf to begin the preparation process of the first batch. Taita told us that we were going to prepare yagé crudo (raw yagé) to drink that same night. It was our first ceremony during the medicine preparation and I felt very excited that we were going to drink in the Maloka in the home territory of the Taita.
Yagé crudo is medicine that is prepared without cooking. We collected some parts of the yagé vine that came from the lower part of the plant – close to the roots – and we placed them in a wooden tub carved from a tree trunk. The process then involved us smashing the vines with two big wooden hammers for close to one hour until the vines had become very fine fibres. We then took them out and placed them in a big saucepan and added a few litres of water for them to soak in.
We then did the same process with the chacruna leaf, creating a very fine paste from the leaves and adding it to the vine fibres to soak for a moment. After that, we took a much-needed break – I felt like I had just come out of the gym. Cooking the medicine is a very labour-intensive process and I was beginning to realise just how much work goes into being able to drink a cup of this magical brew.
I felt immense gratitude for every single ceremony I have had and all the people that put their work, sweat, back pain, hand blisters, and prayers into the medicines I have had the chance to work with. It is considered that the effort that goes into the preparation of the medicine also contributes to the strength and healing properties of each brew. And this is why the process is done in the same manual manner and no machinery or tools are used to make the work easier – this offering of one’s work is an integral part of the process.
Once the medicine had soaked for 10-15 minutes we then strained it using a cloth so that we could get a clear very liquid yagé crudo. We had a good six to seven litres of the crudo and went to shower and rest before the first ceremony of our stay in the jungle.
Drinking Yagé in the Jungle
We started our first ceremony sat in a circle around the fire and smoking a tobacco each. There were five of us – Taita Giovanni, Juan Pablo (Taita’s right-hand man), Govinda Maharaj (a Hare Krishna monk and medicine musician), Juan (the environmentalist lawyer who protects indigenous lands), and myself. What a special moment! We smoked the tobaccos and shared prayers, giving thanks for the opportunity to be there and asking for permission from the territory, and protection from the spirits of the jungle, as we engaged in our first ceremony and the ritual of cooking medicine.
We drank the raw medicine, but this time around it wasn’t just a small 30ml cup like the ones Taita serves in his Maloka in Santa Elena, or served in any other place I had been for that matter. We drank a good 250-300ml water glass full of yagé crudo. The taste was rather refreshing and I could sense a lot of the taste of the chacruna leaf. The ceremony was very calm and I had a very mild chuma (the state we enter when we connect with the medicine). I felt very grateful to share the experience with such a small group and drink together with the Taita in a space where he wasn’t there only taking care of everyone but was drinking medicine with all of us, going through his process.
The night of the first ceremony was a Saturday and we drank again the next Wednesday and Saturday, and the following Wednesday. In the following two ceremonies, we had the option to drink crudo or cooked medicine, and I opted for the crudo as I wanted to take advantage of this preparation of yagé. I was told it is easier on the kidneys and liver and actually ‘cools’ them down after having drunk so much cooked medicine. The next two ceremonies were also very special as we got to drink with the Awá people. Having heard that Taita had returned to his lands many people came to visit him, pay their respects and look for healing of various ailments. We did ceremonies with 15-20 people in total and it was a very special experience to meet so many people who have been drinking yagé most of their lives. These people live in the jungle and have a special relationship with the spirit world, nature, and the medicines. Also, I hadn’t realised until then that Taita had studied Chinese medicine, and acupuncture in particular, for three years! He provided acupuncture treatments for two patients during our time there.
The last ceremony closed the whole process of preparing the medicine and our time in the jungle. Once we had done all the medicine cooking, we had another ceremony where it was just the five of us, Taita, Juan Pablo, Govinda, Juan the lawyer, and myself. Again we sat around the fire and smoked a tobacco. Taita said a prayer for all of us, for our paths, for the medicine, and for all the people who would drink it, and asked us to pray to ourselves for anything else our hearts might want to ask for at that moment.
It was a very special experience and I felt like I had been through a trial, feeling a sense of pride and achievement for the time spent in the jungle in very basic conditions, nevertheless full of so much meaning, magic, and unforgettable moments.
We had prepared another batch of the crudo that same day, but I still hadn’t tried the medicine we had cooked over the last couple of weeks, so we all drank a cup of the cooked medicine. It was a stronger experience than the previous ceremonies, as I had already been working with the medicine for some time and was connected to the plant, however, I could still handle the chuma and maintain concentration and calmness.
Once my process with the first cup was over, I began to make myself comfortable and ready to rest when Taita said to me “¿Ivaylo, y tu no vas a tomar crudo?” – “Ivaylo, aren’t you going to drink crudo?” I hadn’t planned on it but I thought that since Taita had offered it to me, I had to do it.
I drank a full glass of the Crudo and laid back waiting for the medicine to come on. I had been practicing sustaining the medicine for as long as I can, resisting the urge to vomit. I had the goal in my mind to hold it in for at least 30 minutes (the second cup is usually more challenging to keep down than the first one). I had to put in a lot of effort and focus on my breath to be able to hold the medicine in and finally, 30 minutes had passed and I allowed myself to purge.
From that point onward I entered one of the most intense experiences with the medicine that I have had on this path. It was so powerful that I caught myself praying to the medicine to please stop, to please let me rest, saying that I couldn’t take it anymore. The Taita felt I was having a tough experience so he came to me, sprayed an aromatic herbal potion over me, and smudged me with some copal (a sacred smoke produced from the resin of a tree). He also got me to drink water so that I could vomit more easily.
Oh my God! I had never had such a powerful experience where I prayed to the medicine to let me go. The vibration was so high that I couldn’t stay still, constantly moving and having to give myself hugs for reassurance. I didn’t know what to do other than just hang in there. I really suffered during that time and yet with the ceremonies I had attended, I knew that there was only one thing to do at that moment – surrender and say thank you. So as I was going through this most intense experience, feeling desperate for it to be over, I said thank you. Thank you medicine for getting out of me all these things that need to go out. Thank you for the healing, thank you for the opening of my heart and the paths ahead of me. Thank you for being here. I am so grateful to be able to experience this moment… lying in the fetal position and feeling very vulnerable.
Eventually, the chuma went down and I came back to the space, feeling a sensation of having just come out of battle with my brothers in arms around me. I could hear the Taita purging intensely just outside the door of the Maloka and I felt very honoured to be sharing this moment with him as well as the others in the ceremony.
I sat there contemplating the experience I had just had and I was overcome by this immense sadness. I thought that I would like to give my father a journal for him to record his thoughts and feelings so that one day when my unborn children become adults they could connect with him through his writing. The thought of losing my father one day brought me sadness and I teared up a bit. However what really broke me open was the thought that I didn’t have the equivalent journal from my mother who passed away in 2013 so my children would never be able to meet their grandmother, to know what a special person she was. I was surprised by the amount of grief that came out, as the topic has been something I have worked on for years. I cried with profound sadness for about 30 minutes, feeling so sad and heartbroken for not being able to share with my mother today, as an adult, having done all this inner work and having created a life very different from the one I had ever imagined. Having become the person I am today. I felt this huge grief that I could not meet my mother as an adult, and only as her little boy son.
The long moment of deep sadness and release was followed by a sense of immense gratitude for of all the love and beauty she gave me while she walked the earth. I smiled and I laughed filled with deep contentment and happiness for the gifts I had been given and most of all the biggest gift of them all, the gift of life that my parents gave me.
It is difficult to put into words how calming this experience was and what a deep change of perspective and commitment to my family it created in me. My parents have given me the biggest gift there is, to be alive, and even if they hadn’t done anything else, I already have so much to thank them for. And the truth is that, well, they did much more than that and they have sacrificed a lot of themselves for the good of our family, for me and my sister.
Upon reflecting on this most intense ceremony, I thought that it was exactly this intensity of the medicine, this very challenging, high-voltage chuma, that could excavate this deep-seated sadness and grief still residing in me. It is oftentimes these most intense and challenging moments that break open our defences and release the stored blocked energies from our psyches and bring about the sense of relief, liberation, healing, and gratitude underneath.
Lessons From My Time in the Jungle and Living With the Awá Nation
During my time in the jungle of Putumayo near Orito, I was going through a moment of conflict with my older sister. Without getting into too much detail, I was feeling very frustrated about a conversation we had had right before I went to the jungle. I was mad and I felt I was right to be mad, all the evidence pointed to it… Yet I was sad about the whole situation, as even if I felt I was right, feeling disconnected from a family member is not a winning position.
I was very fortunate to be able to share this with my good friend Govinda who shared a deep piece of wisdom with me. He told me a fable from the Hindu epics about a prince and his friend, a demon. This demon had done many bad things in his life but he saved the life of the prince, and for this one good deed the prince was forever grateful and loving and accepting of his friend, the demon.
Govinda told me that when we meditate on the negative qualities of the people in our lives we end up suffocating and killing the love between us and more so, we end up acquiring these very negative qualities ourselves – this is why it is important to meditate only on the good qualities of our loved ones.
This clear pathway helped me to force myself to think about the many good qualities of my sister when I felt anger and frustration coming up. This was initially a challenge as the emotions were very much alive within me. However, with time, I could think about her caring nature, her generosity, her desire to protect the ones she loves, her good heart, her playing ‘teacher and student’ with me and teaching me numeracy and literacy way before I started school, and her inviting me to my first medicine ceremony and helping me pursue a very different path in life. This gave me some perspective and helped to ease my righteous indignation, as well as make space for her being human and not expecting her to have the perfect reaction every time… and that helped me make some more space for my being human as well.
A Reminder of Our Humanness
Living among the indigenous for several weeks, I had the chance to get to see them in their everyday life. On the medicine path and among Westerners in particular, the indigenous people have a certain aura about them. They are perceived as very enlightened, connected with nature, knowing of deep spiritual truths and living in an exemplary way, honouring mother nature and living in alignment with her cycles. And while it is true that the indigenous live with a lot of magic in their lives, they understand nature, the land, the rivers and the animals in a very deep way, and they have a deep connection with spirit and it is not uncommon for someone to have a dream and interpret is direct guidance to be taken action on, I saw a lot of problems in their community. Despite all the medicines and magic they still suffered from alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, broken families, poverty, envy, and gossip, just like any other community around the world, they were not immune to these problems.
Furthermore, spending time with Taita Giovanni and sharing everyday life with him also allowed me to see his human side. As beautiful, sweet, loving and wise a man as he is, he also has his human side and can be reactive, stubborn, impatient, can get annoyed, and can make decisions that I don’t agree with. I had to remind myself a few times that I was a guest and I was so honoured to be participating in the process of preparing medicine, that it didn’t matter that I would have done something in a different way, or that I would have approached a situation or conversation in a different way to him.
It was an important moment in my relationship with him, not only seeing him as the all-knowing perfect Taita but as a human being trying to do his very best every day, going through challenges and having moments when it all gets a bit too much… and yet over and over again coming back to his path of spreading love and healing on this earth. It was a very humbling experience to see the human Giovanni and not only the ceremonial master, the Taita.
The moments with the Taita and his community gave me more confidence in my own discernment and in particular the guidance of my heart. It helped me take him off the pedestal I had placed him on (without his wanting to be there) because I was looking for someone who had all the answers. It also helped me realise that no one has all the answers, not even the Taita after thousands of ceremonies drinking yagé for 30+ years.
We are all trying and we are all challenged and the biggest, purest, most accurate guide and teacher is our heart. I remembered the words of a friend of mine and medicine facilitator, Keenan Lee, that if we can hear our hearts clearly, we don’t need any other teacher. So don’t doubt yourself too much, I thought to myself. Of course, it is always good to have a healthy level of skepticism and question ourselves, but not too much. Not to the point where we think that the human who has all answers and all figured out exists and we try to get to that place. Here is also where faith comes into the equation. We never know 100%, and the gap that gets us to the 100% is faith in our heart and the guidance from the divine that we receive through it.
Yagé – A Labour of Love
Ayahuasca is hard work! I had no idea exactly how much work goes into the preparation process of the ayahuasca/yagé medicine. All the materials transported by foot, all the work done by hand, all the sweat, all the physical exhaustion and willpower to go on despite the tiredness, despite the body being in pain… Wow! Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you to everybody who has ever participated in the preparation of a cup of ayahuasca I got to drink. Thank you for your hard work so that I may experience the healing and growth that this medicine brings. Thank you for doing this great service to humanity and for not letting discomfort prevent you from continuing, and thank you for not looking for shortcuts. I feel such appreciation for people who work with medicine, who prepare medicine, who plant it, and who take care of these traditions. So next time you go to drink ayahuasca or yagé, remember to thank the people who prepared it, for it is a tough process and it requires lots of discipline of body, mind, and spirit.
I hope this text was useful to you and will help you better understand the world of ayahuasca/yagé. I wish you many blessings for your path and do get in contact with us if you are feeling the call of the medicine or are in need of any support relating to the process of planting a beautiful garden within your heart. We have ceremonies with Taita Giovanni close to Medellin and we also are looking to organise our Amazon expedition to the very same location that I talk about in the text above. Join our mailing list to stay up to date with dates for our next ventures and adventures into the world of spirit.
Aho Mitakuye Oyasin