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My journey with Ayahuasca

Shelley standing with shamans in Cusco

As Ayahuasca becomes more widely discussed in the mainstream media (GOOP, Netflix) I feel compelled to share my own experience with the powerful psychedelic.

Ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic plant medicine native to the Amazon, used by indigenous tribes for religious and spiritual purposes. It can heal internal wounds and help you to reconnect with nature. It's also used to treat people with PTSD, addiction issues, severe depression and anxiety.

Going to an Ayahuasca retreat is not a decision to be made lightly. I chose to take my journey at Etnikas, in the beautiful Sacred Valley of Cusco. It came recommended by a friend who had been there before, and had doctors and nurses on site which made me feel totally safe.

Before arriving at the retreat, we were advised to abstain from taking any medications, vitamins, illicit drugs, alcohol, meat, spicy food and sexual activity of any kind - the better you prepare, the better your experience will be. There was also a pretty intense medical questionnaire to fill in. It’s important to answer the questions honestly, as certain medications - or a history of mental illness - can react badly with the Aya.

The day before the retreat, our group of seven from around the world met in Cusco town centre to take part in a cleansing process where we had to drink cups and cups of volcanic water until our pee was clear. This took hours, with the retreat leader checking our toilet until they were satisfied we could leave. Quite bizarre!

Sacred Valley in Cusco, Peru

The following morning, we were picked up and driven to Etkinas, in the Sacred Valley, and settled into our accommodation. Our first ceremony was to start around 8pm, so we had the day to explore. Nerves and excitement were running through the group as we got to know one another. We each had an appointment with the doctor to check our vital signs, and a psychologist to judge the amount of Ayahuasca we should drink that night. As (luckily) I have not had any major trauma in my life, they said I could handle a double dose - ‘two fingers’ worth.

Going into the ceremony, we were each asked to set an intention. Everybody had their own reason for being there, and for me this was my last stop after eight years living overseas and six months backpacking around Central and South America. I was unsure if moving home to NZ was the right decision (it definitely was!) and what I should do with my life moving forward. So, my intention was to gain clarity on my future.

I can safely say all of all of us were a bundle of nerves when we entered the yurt that first night and took our place on the individual beds of blankets and pillows that had been spaced out around the sides. Next to each bed was a spew bucket (that would come in handy later) and we BYO’d tissues and water.

Ayahuasca tent in Cusco, Peru

The shaman said some prayers and completed her rituals, then drank from the Ayahuasca cup herself. It was then brought around to each of us to drink our designated dose. The muddy liquid tasted foul, someone suggested it was like marmite and bong water. But it’s a means to an end. And then we waited...waited to purge. People around me started reaching for their spew buckets, and I was already starting to feel a bit trippy but nothing came up. One of the helpers came around to check my bucket and, upon seeing it was empty, encouraged me to scull some water, because if you don’t purge the Ayahuasca it can cause problems in your gut months later.

Drinking the water brought on the purging. It looked like green snakes were slithering out of my bucket and all of a sudden I was very, very high. I sat in my makeshift bed, in the dark room, not really moving for hours and watching the intense visions. Around midnight, someone rang a bell to signal the ceremony was over and we were helped back to the kitchen area. I was exhausted because we had fasted all day, so all I wanted to do was sleep.

Our next ceremony was planned for the following evening, but because it was Christmas Eve and the villagers surrounding the retreat would be setting off fireworks, it was moved forward to mid afternoon. After the previous night’s intense experience, I was terrified about doing it all over again so soon. I thought about sitting the ceremony out, but I’d paid a lot of money to be there - so, why not experience it to its fullest?


We took part in a ceremony with an Andean priest giving thanks to Pachamama, which was pretty special, before entering the tent for round two. This time they gave me a smaller cup, but I was already feeling pretty anxious about what was to come and after I drank, I left the tent to have a little cry outside. Again I purged, and the Sacred Valley mountains in front of me again looked sparkly. My guide asked me if I wanted to go join the others, and I reluctantly said yes. Once inside, a shaman who hadn’t been with us previously, sat in front of my bed and sang the Icaros (prayers to Mother Ayahuasca) and I could see grey smoke rising from my shoulders. I was told later in our post-ceremony group therapy session, that this was negative energy burning away.

I came away from the second ceremony with an overwhelming feeling of self love and self assurance, like I’ve never felt before. Although I didn’t get the answer I was looking for in terms of what I should do with my career, I felt at peace with moving home to New Zealand, and knew I had made the right decision.

Mother Ayahuasca gives you what you need, and that was enough for me. The prolonged effect of open-mindedness lasted for at least a year and helped me settle back into Auckland life.

I think Ayahuasca would benefit everyone. If you are curious about learning more, send me a message and I'd be happy to answer any questions. Otherwise, my final piece of advice is go to a reputable place to do it. It is a serious plant medicine and you need to be in a safe environment, under the guidance of a reputable shaman, to take it.

Enjoy the journey.

Andean Priest performing Pachamama ceremony in Cusco

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