Shamans, Ayahuasca Ceremonies, Poison Dart Frog and Kambo

                                                  The Amazon Jungle





River Transportation….motorized canoe




The Amazon jungle has held something of a mystique for me, as well as an interest in shamans which goes back to my interest in Native Americans and Eastern gurus for many years. So this is a story of having spent five weeks in the Amazon and some time actually in the jungle experiencing Ayahuasca and Kambo with a shaman conducting the ceremonies. It’s a mix of experiences, thoughts, stories, people and poetry stimulated by the energy of that place.

I spent five weeks in Iquitos, Peru, a location which has become quite popular with tourists to experience Ayahuasca as well as something known as Kambo. It is the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon and can only be reached by boat or plane. I have experienced Ayahuasca before with three ceremonies in Costa Rica and found it to be very valuable and mind expanding. It broadens your world view and kicks you out of some stuck ways of thinking and perceiving the world. I might also say at this point it is quite effective in the healing process of traumatic experiences of various kinds, and PTSD. There is much research being done in the treatment of PTSD with persons who have fought in the military (see MAPS) with excellent success. But I wish to report more directly my personal experiences with both Ayahuasca and Kambo.

In my personal research related to Kambo, and in conversation with my shaman, I decided to do three ceremonies. In some ways it was a personal experiment. I read that Kambo can sometimes improve eyesight. Exactly how I am not sure. But after cataract surgery I have had some floaters return to one eye with the other eye having a different condition which affects the eyesight in such a way that reduces clarity. I asked my shaman if Kambo might eliminate those floaters. He said it is possible but it would require 3 ceremonies to get the best results. Since I like to experience things such as this myself before possibly recommending to others a certain experiences I decided to proceed. I was quite comfortable with whatever the results might be. I don’t experience fear with these experiments, but rather anticipation and have learned to trust and let go of control, simply flowing with and embracing whatever comes. Let me add that Kambo is non-hallucinogenic. It is a physical experience and is meant to be a cleansing process which gives more strength and energy to the person. Whereas Ayahuasca is hallucinogenic.

Each Kambo experience lasts about one hour. The shaman takes a pencil like stick and lights the end of it on fire. In my case he took the end of that stick and quickly poked my left arm above the elbow. He did this twice more for a total of three burn marks. Then he prepared the Kambo which he had in a dried condition on a stick. The Kambo is a poison from the Poison Dart Frog. This frog is small, only a couple inches, and cannot be held with the bare hands because the poison covers the skin. It is handled with a glove, and the poison is scraped off the body or collected from the body. The frog is then released to continue its life in the jungle. This is the poison that some tribes in the jungle put on the tip of their blow gun darts to hunt and kill animals. Highly toxic.

The shaman asked me to put some saliva on the stick with the dried Kambo, which I did, and then he mixed it. Following this, he applied a portion about the size of a pencil eraser to each burn mark. Then it was just a matter of waiting. Very soon I began to feel my body heat up, my heart rate increased and I could feel my head and face throb and become heated up. I looked in the mirror during the second ceremony and my body was beet red.

At some point you will more than likely throw up and feel better because your stomach begins to churn and feel really lousy! Some people report experiencing deep agony and just want to die. Doing my first ceremony, I became aware that I needed to go to the bathroom because it felt like a bowel movement was imminent! Sometimes participants do experience diarrhea. I was some distance from my room so an assistant who was responsible for me did his best to assist me in walking the distance. I was disoriented and weak, felt like I couldn’t go any further and would have to stop every few steps. At one point I pretty much collapsed on the floor for a bit, struggled to get up. I wasn’t at all sure I would make it to my room. But I persisted and proceeded to my room with great effort and eventually got there and to the toilet. I sat on the toilet with a bucket in my hands in case I threw up. It wasn’t long until I emptied out from both ends!! And felt much better. Soon I got up, went to my bed and lay down for a little before I intended to go back to the ceremonial room.

My assistant said I didn’t need to go back but could just lie in bed and rest. He would be back in 30 or 40 minutes, which he was, and said I could continue resting or get up and have some food, which I did. Actually I felt quite good.

Burn marks of Kambo Ceremonies. Three marks for each ceremony. The poison is absorbed in the body through each burn site

I did two more ceremonies the next two days and the experience was somewhat different. After the Kambo was applied to my 3 burn marks at the second ceremony, I decided to go into a state of meditation. As a background comment, meditation has been an important practice for me, in one form or another, for most of my life. So I adjusted my focus and proceeded to breathe in a particular manner. I could feel my stomach begin to settle gradually, the discomfort decrease and finally disappear completely. I did not throw up in this or the third session but after the initial discomfort would just lie down and rest before getting up and eating. The shaman checked with me and when he could see I was experiencing no discomfort, got up and left. He wasn’t concerned with my well being any longer. I rested.

The question for me is whether or not my going into a state of meditation might have short circuited some other kind of result. That I don’t and won’t know, but I’m feeling just fine with good energy which has not been a problem in the past anyway.

At this point it is about 3 weeks after the Kambo ceremonies and as far as my eyesight is concerned I don’t see any difference in clarity or a decrease in the floaters. Whether that will change over time I will have to continue to observe. Even if there is a decrease in the floaters, it really won’t be clear if it is a result of the Kambo or simple what sometimes naturally occurs over time when floaters reappear. And eventually there is always surgery.

The Lodge…in the rainy season, the water rises to just below the floor of this basic eco lodge…

                          Reflections while in the Amazon Jungle

There is the sickness of knowing everything

There is the sickness of argumentation

I think I’ll just own not knowing and ignorance

Maybe sometimes that opens the prison doors

Please, you be the winner

I think I’ll opt for the joy

Of a heart broken and healed by the

Laughter of the jungle children


                  Reflexiones Mientras estás en la Selva Amazónica

Existe la enfermedad de conocer cada cosa

Existe la enfermedad de la argumentación.

Creo que tendré que no saber y ignorancia

Quizás a veces eso abra la prisión puertas

Por favor, se el ganador

Creo que optaré por la alegría

De un corazón roto y curado por el

Risa de los niños de la selva.

Sunset on the Amazon River


                                   Now for the Ayahuasca ceremonies

Just for therecord, I have participated in a total of 6 Ayahuasca ceremonies. Three in Costa Rica, and three in the Amazon jungle up river from Iquitos, Peru. My experiences both times were very positive. Please understand that the information following is based primarily on my personal experience. Each person’s experience is unique to that person, your previous experiences, personality type and other factors.

To get to the location in the jungle for one week, three of us went up the Amazon River for about two hours and then changed to a motorized canoe to go another hour up a much smaller tributary. It is dry season at this time and the tributary was low. In the rainy season, the water can rise as much as 40 feet as the snows melt in the Andes mountains and flow into the river eventually, so at times we had to get out and walk along the bank to make the canoe lighter and able to navigate some shallower parts of the tributary. Actually, there were a few occasions when some of us got out of the canoe and walked in the river to guide the canoe to find the deeper parts when we could get back in again. Don’t even think about Anacondas and Piranas! Eventually we got to our very basic ‘eco lodge.’

So what is the Ayahuasca brew which we eventually drink in the ceremonies. Usually there are two ingredients, natural plants, that make up the brew. The ayahuasca vine, thick enough to swing on, scientifically named Banisteriopsis Cappi vine which contains potent MAO inhibitors. The other ingredient is the leaves of the Psychotria Viridis shrub which contains DMT. These two together produce the hallucinogenic effect. Alone they willl not. Drinking the brew leads to an altered state of consciousness which can include hallucinations, out-of-body experiences, and euphoria. This brew has many health benefits and has been used as medicine for thousands of years by shamans of the Amazon and other places that have access to these ingredients. It is now being found to be very effective in healing PTSD and psychological trauma from different causes.

This combination is boiled in a pot of water after being cleaned and smashed. After the initial brewing, the water is removed and reserved. This process is repeated with the left over plant material until a highly concentrated liquid is produced. It is cooled and strained ready to drink.

The ceremonies here begin at 9:00pm. There are mattresses one the floor and the shaman is seated in front of us just behind a sort of alter with various items used in the ceremony. He spends some time initially giving us information about the process and how we will proceed.

The shaman used tobacco as part of the ceremony, blew smoke into the Ayahuasca bottle, chanted to call in the nature spirits, asking for our protection. He walked around the room shaking a bundle of leaves, continuing to chant/sing for our protection and did so in the four directions. When finished with this initial ritual, he sat down, blew more smoke into the ayahuasca bottle. Finally he called each of us to sit before him and the altar. He poured ayahuasca it a cup, handed it to the individual and suggested the participant take a little time in quietness and state our intentions to ourselves for this ceremony. This foul tasting brew is not sipped like fine wine but drunk straight down. The taste itself was almost enough to make me throw up on the spot unlike the anise tasting brew in Costa Rica which with a bit of humor made me ask for more!

After drinking the brew, you return to your mat and either sit up or lie down and wait for the cleansing moment when you begin to throw up and the hallucinations/visions to begin. Some people also experience diarrhea. You have an assistant who will accompany you to the bathroom to make sure you make it there safely. He will also wait and walk back with you. You will likely throw up several times.

The amount and nature of the medicine varies with the shaman. Usually for the first ceremony, or for your first experience, you are given a smaller amount to see how you respond. The first cup was never sufficient for me so after about an hour, I was given another cup. In Costa Rica it took three cups. I liked that Anise!! You have a bucket by your matt for when you need it. I don’t remember throwing up at other times in my life, even as a kid, but I suppose I must have. Nevertheless, the experience was rather pleasant, I always felt better and the visions began to come. I was completely enthralled by them. I am unable to articulate that experience and the joy, the enchantment, the delight. As the shaman was singing icaros (songs sung by the shaman to Mother Ayahuasca, the medicine) I knew I had heard these songs before. They were very familiar, they were known, although there was no way I would have heard them at any point in this lifetime or this dimension. During the ceremony, the shaman would come around to each of us, chanting, singing, and at one point he knelt at my head, put his mouth next to my head and with cupped hands blew into my head. Then continued singing icaros and moving on to others.

How long this goes on depends on the strength of the medicine, as ayahuasca is called. Usually between 4 and 6 hours. Sometimes after the actual ceremony was over I would return to my room and the visions would continue for another 2 hours gradually fading away. Then I would fall asleep.

If you want to slow things down a little you can open your eyes and that helps some, but you really aren’t in control. To get the best results, you need to do your best to stop thinking, focus, let go of any attempt to control the process, and observe. For one participant, this was his first experience and the visions come too rapidly and frequently for him and he didn’t want to continue. He also stated that his visions were somewhat dark and this was uncomfortable, so his assistant went with him to his room and talked with him, gave him some lemon water and he was fine. There was never any danger, but a lack of understanding of what actually was taking place and how to prepare as well as handle it. This might be more of a challenge for you if you have a scientific mind which requires precision, control, black and white thinking, which of course is necessary if you are an eye surgeon but can take some practice in letting go when trust and letting go is most beneficial.

My purpose or intentions in participating in these mind altering ceremonies is to go as deeply as possible into my spirit. It is a spiritual journey for me, a way of perhaps transcending early conditioning and coming to understanding at a deeper level what my truth is, and not living someone else’s truth. I find such things as Ayahuasca, meditation, among other things, an immense help in this journey.

In my first ceremony in the Amazon, one of my intentions was to be transported to have a conversation with my daughter Lori. This did occur, which is not unusual. However, I have not checked this out with Lori to know if she experienced our encounter that night. Generally, my approach to intention is to state some in a general way and then surrender, let go, trust Spirit, Mother Ayahuasca, to do what is best, often that which is beyond what I would know.

On one occasion in the middle of a vision which had taken me to some amazing depth, the words suddenly appeared, “This is your death.” In that moment everything went blank. I had no consciousness of anything, not even of blacking out, nor of going anywhere. Perhaps the best way I can come close to describing this place or space is that is must be something similar to never having existed at all. I found that to be quite fascinating, to perhaps not exist at all. Eventually, I came back and regained consciousness, an awareness. How long was I gone? I don’t know but best guess would be maybe an hour.

So what was going on during this time? Another fascinating question. Something very important, I would suspect. My thought would be that Mother Ayahuasca had some work to do in reconfiguring my brain and I needed to be totally out of the way. Despite my desire to totally surrender, and being who it is that I am, there would likely be some remnant of resistance there. For whatever this work was to be, and for it to be most effective, there needed to be no resistance whatsoever, so Mother A, with her usual sense of humor, says I’ll fix that!

In these visions, some report dark experiences and hallucinations which can be uncomfortable for the unprepared. Images might appear which created some fear ink the participant. Only in my last ceremony did I experience dark visions, hallucinations. The background was obscure and faces, images, like something from a very imaginative fantasy movie or a scary movie filled with wild and crazy characters, faces, masks, powerful otherworldly potentially harmful characters, depending on the richness of ones imagination appeared. I was enthralled and was so much enjoying these figures, invited them to come closer. I wanted to know them and I wanted these visions to continue. There was joy and no fear but a desire to see what they do or say to me. They left all too soon and I experiences a sense of disappointment. Perhaps the figured they couldn’t scare me, or felt accepted, do left.

It is also a distinct possibility that having some understanding of Jungian dream interpretation is useful here. I understood that all these figures come out of our own mind and not outside of us. They are a part of us that we have neglected or pushed away for various reasons, consciously or unconsciously. The appear when our defenses, our barriers, are down. They simply want to be known, to be recognized and loved, integrated into our lives to be more of a whole person. Once welcomed and loved, they disappear or give you their gift and become a valuable part of you.

Some of the benefits of these experiences, is that they will expand your vision of the world, of existence. Most of us are at a place developmentally, regardless of education, in which we have a very narrow view of the world, of life, of existence. This is not a criticism but a recognition that life is a series of transitions, of developmental stages to move through. A problem can arise when we become fixated at a certain stage, mentally, physically, spiritually at a certain level of development. Ayahuasca can open up our perhaps rather narrow vision of the world to one that is more expansive, one that includes all of creation and how it is that everything is connected. If we have suffered from a trauma or various traumas, PTSD, these ceremonies can give us some distance and healing rather than not having this distance and continue to be thrown back into the experience when something triggers us and re-traumatize ourselves. We move from a micro vision of the world, of existence, to a big picture, macro vision. I would suggest we will never really understand our day to day life without this larger micro, big picture vision in which all the little things of daily existence fall into place.

So these are some of my thoughts and observations that I wanted to share those who might be interested. Don’t hesitate to messenger me if you have further thoughts or questions.

Another blog will follow describing more of my time in the jungle and in Iquitos.

Jaguar Pen and Ink drawing……Wayne Yoder


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