Story #1 - My first plant ceremony in Peru - October 2016
October 10, 2016.
My partner at the time was an incredibly talented and amazing well known social entrepreneur from Silicon Valley, Leila Janah who sadly died from cancer three years later (October 9, 1982 - January 24, 2020). Leila wanted to go to see Machu Picchu for her birthday so we went there. The “sacred” site is stunning and the energy incredible.
We also enjoyed a few days in Lima where we even did some paragliding and loved its fantastic food. Here is Leila taking off from Miraflores and myself over the coast of Lima, I was still a beginner it was a bit stressful as the wind sometimes stops abruptly and I would have to find a last minute spot by the beach, no way to go back to the start, but everything went well.
From there we flew to Cusco, Peru. The city was the capital of the Inca Empire before the Spaniards took it over in the 16th Century. It’s stunning.
The food is incredible, here something we had in Cusco, not sure if that restaurant still exists, I forgot its name.
We got coca tea! Cusco’s elevation is around 3,400m or 11,200 feet. Some people have some altitude sickness there, I could definitely feel it climbing stairs with my breath, so it’s not uncommon to have locals recommend chewing coca leaves, perfectly legal in Peru.
Coca leaves are not only legal in Peru, they are available as tea in every single hotel we visited and I enjoyed the tea. All it did to me was like a coffee, it woke me up and made me feel great, it wasn’t very strong. Did you know that Coca-Cola was actually using the cocaine alkaloid from 1885 until about 1903? According to Wikipedia, the coca leaves contain only 0.23% to 0.96% of the alkaloid.
Later I heard indigenous tell me “you white people ruin all our sacred plants and make poison with it”. Wikipedia states that “the coca leaf, when consumed in its natural form, does not induce a physiological or psychological dependence, nor does abstinence after long-term use produce symptoms typical to substance addiction”. It is only after our human industrial process that we turn it into an addictive and dangerous “poison” that I have never tried and not planning to try. The same sad “turning plants into poison” goes with tobacco and cigarettes…
A friend of Leila’s contacted her on What’sapp “randomly” and told her “if you’re in Peru you absolutely need to do a plant ceremony. Leila immediately took notes on her notebook and shared it with me and I started googling it and finding all kinds of non sense and scary stuff about it.
I took a photo of her notes, they say “Maestro Edinson Panduro - Shaman in Puerto Maldonado”, written by Leila. A few notes that would start a new path.
At that time I had not done any substance in my life apart from alcohol (!), coffee, sugar, etc. I stopped drinking entirely more than two years ago seeing it now as poison. Interestingly enough, this is by far my most popular post and podcast on this newsletter. I have participated to eight Burning Man in a row from 2011 to 2019 and was known at our camp Robot Heart as “Loic doesn’t take anything ever”. I had smoked a two or three joints in the past and always hated it so I declined anytime I was offered anything, which can be quite often at Burning Man…
I told Leila no way, I am not going to do this, but I will go with you and sit next to you. I quickly changed my mind and decided to do it. It was also her first time…
We took a very short last minute flight from Cusco to the Airport of Puerto Maldonado in the Madre de Dios Region of Peru.
Little did I know how this trip would change my life forever, I was flying right next to the Yawanawà village in Brazil I was about to spend so many months in a few years after… Good luck predicting the future when a cool tourist trip is about to change everything.
I believe in synchronicities in other words that nothing is random and this was going to happen in a way or another. This was Leila’s gift to me before leaving us and was quite a special gift.
We landed and were greeted by a very nice peruvian medicine man, Percy Huaman. A few minutes later, we were on a boat on one of the thousands of rivers of the Amazon forest, feeling it for the first time both Leila and myself. The trip was only a few hours long.
The boat stopped at the border of the National Reserve Tambopata. They took our passports and stamped them taking a full page, like a visa to the unknown. Here it is on my passport.
We arrived at a retreat place, Explorers’ Inn. People come here to see the Amazon forest but we barely saw anything, we were here to drink it.
We arrived around 15h and at Sunset, our first ceremony ever was about to start. The little house had nothing inside and the comfort was minimalistic to say the least, I am glad I took some photos. There were two basic mats and… buckets, one for Leila and one for me. The two “shamans”, Percy and Edinson sat on the floor.
Here we are with the two Shipibo shamans. Edinson who died shortly after from a motorcycle accident, Leila, Piercy that I am still in touch with and myself.
Would you trust the our two shaman friends with what was coming next? No feathers or weird clothes here, they run the ceremony dressed like this.
We sat at sunset, Edinson started blowing some “mapacho” tobacco smoke on us and handed me first with a cup of the famous ayahuasca brew. I remember my thoughts “will this kill me? Likely not so let’s do it and surrender”. Leila took her cup as well.
Edinson lead the ceremony and sang some shipibo songs called Icaros (that I wish I had recorded but there are many online and on Spotify) I would like to learn singing them one day. It seems the language has the same roots as some songs I learned with the Yawanawà, which makes sense.
After about half an hour the room got pitch dark and we could hear thousands of animals in the jungle around us, as if the animals were also singing for us.
I got the first “vision” in my life. It felt like full on 4K TV right there in my head, eyes closed and it was incredible. I had never seen or felt anything like that.
An animal showed up (in visions), it was like a bit cat, maybe a small jaguar I do not remember exactly.
The cat said “finally you’re here” in a voice I could hear as if I were hearing someone speak. There was nobody else in the room and no animal though. That was so special.
I’m like “what do you mean finally I’m here?”. Yes, I was talking to a cat visiting me in visions…
“Well, we have been waiting for you. What have you been doing all this time?”
“Mmmmm I have been building tech startups in San Francisco”
“Would you like to see the forest?”
“Yes, let’s do it!”
A long trip started at this moment I started walking behind the big cat and followed him a little intimidated. I was in the “Avatar” movie, the good sides. The forest was all illuminated and thousands of animals seemed to look at me and were very nice. I was not scared, everything seemed to be happening as it should.
What can be more “normal” than me in a deep dream but conscious in it, following a cat in the Amazon jungle and hearing voices… The only choice was to surrender.
“Would you like to fly” the cat said.
“mmmm right. Why not.” I said a little worried.
“Okay let me turn ourselves into eagles”
Boom. I became an eagle and the cat was one now too and we started flying over the beautiful Amazon forest along with thousands of other birds. It was stunning. No need for a paraglider anymore.
We landed. I started feeling all kinds of things happening in my stomach. It became very intense and I purged heavily. It wasn’t very nice but I went through it. I was now laid down on the floor itself and could not move at all. My whole body seemed immobilized. The shaman was singing non stop and the songs were reassuring and guiding, but it was physically hard.
Then I started to see all kinds of complex patterns I had never seen in my life.
Everything was turning and moving, millions of colors. I was still thinking and was like “wow, this cannot come from my imagination or my brain, I cannot create this, it is too beautiful and complex, so where is it coming from?”.
I wish I could have switched on a video recorder of the movie I was not only seeing, I was in it entirely. Fortunately many artists paint them. It was a bit like this.
Also many patterns typical of what people see in the Chipibo tradition, they were constantly moving and evolving, zooming in and out.
It was “like that” but much better definition, much more complex.
Also, all kinds of beings were appearing and disappearing, sometimes like if they were checking me out to see who was that guy and what he was doing here.
I remember very clearly seeing the below pattern. It was all animated, everything was turning and in 3D or… in 4D.
A few years later I visited a monastery in Bhutan and spent a long time in front of that very same painting with the vision.
I told the monk who was curious why I was looking at it for so long. He said “do you like it?”. I said “Yes, but I have also seen it in a dream”.
The monk asked “Where?”.
I said drinking plants in the Amazon forest. He asked “Do you have some?”.
I smiled and said no, then asked him “How do you see this here?”.
He pointed at a monastery and told me there was a dark cave in it. He said if you spend 3 years in that cave meditating you might see it too. I politely thanked him for the invitation but declined.
This was incredible though and a realization that everything was connected.
I saw in the Amazon forest a mantra called “The Wheel of Life” that the Buddhists believe is the representation of the cycle of existence. How amazing is that. I kept thinking I needed to understand better buddhism ever since so this is why I was so happy to encounter Choeze Kuchen Rinpoche recently and I told him the story.
After a few hours of non-stop visions and intense physical feelings and purges I felt really well, opened my eyes and had a huge smile on my face. Leila was there also feeling good and she told me she also had incredible visions as well.
I was so happy. I felt I had absolutely never seen any of this and had literally the most stunning experience in my life.
I told the Shamans I wanted to do it again tomorrow, and we did.
The dreams kept going all night while I was sleeping, but I was also resting at the same time.
Next day I felt incredibly well and rested and started journaling tens of pages. Leila did the same.
I felt I had seen for the first time what people call the divine. Everything changed as I understood I could access spaces that were unknown to me and my passion for this exploration “of the other side” (Ayahuasca means “vine of the dead”) only started and never ended.
I honestly regretted I did not have this experience before and thought that all the horrible things we read about it on the Internet are just stupid. This was the most amazing.
We sat for a second night the next day, I will tell this story too as we both had a completely different experience.
Here we are writing our dreams the day after this first “initiation” into another world. I still have that notebook but not with me right now, it will be good material for more stories.
Maybe I should say what we saw isn’t another world, it is just “our” world but we finally see it better.
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