Confessions of an Ayahuasca Newbie

There’s an unwritten rule in the universe that when your life hits a plateau, you must either get a radical haircut or do something even more drastic—like travel halfway across the world to try ayahuasca in the heart of the Amazon. I opted for the latter, figuring that if I was going to unravel the mysteries of my existence, a bowl cut wouldn’t cut it.

My name’s Danny, and at 35, I was the human equivalent of a paused YouTube video. Stuck. So, when my best friend Matt—who’s part thrill-seeker, part spiritual guide with a sprinkle of madness—suggested we attend an ayahuasca retreat in Peru, I couldn’t find a good enough excuse to say no. Except, of course, the fear of vomiting my soul out in front of strangers, but that seemed to be part of the package.

We arrived after what felt like days of travel: planes, buses, and a particularly questionable boat ride that I’m pretty sure violated several safety regulations. As we approached the retreat, nestled deep within the jungle, it struck me just how far from New York City I was. No honking taxis, no subway screeches—just the serene (and slightly eerie) sounds of the jungle.

The retreat itself was a collection of small huts and one large communal hall, all connected by muddy paths that laughed in the face of my inappropriate footwear. Our group was diverse, a mix of seasoned spiritual travelers and wide-eyed newbies like me. We were greeted by our shaman, Juan, whose gentle eyes seemed to hold decades of wisdom. Or maybe it was just chronic sleep deprivation; it was hard to tell.

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Our first ceremony was set for the evening. The anticipation was thick, almost suffocating. I spent the day getting acquainted with our surroundings and the people. There was Maria, a yoga instructor from Spain who could bend like a pretzel and had an unsettlingly intense gaze. Then there was Tom, a retired postman from Australia who’d apparently been chasing spiritual highs since the ’60s.

As night fell, we gathered in the ceremonial hall—a dim, round space that smelled of earth and incense. We sat in a circle on cushions that did little to ease the hardness of the ground. Juan explained the process, the visions we might see, and, oh, the small matter of the “purging” that was almost guaranteed. Great.

 

When it was my turn, Juan handed me a small cup of the ayahuasca brew. It looked harmless, smelled peculiar, and tasted like a mix of old socks and despair. I swallowed quickly and braced myself, not sure what to expect but hoping I wouldn’t embarrass myself too badly.

The waiting was the worst part. Everyone was quiet, introspective, or maybe just trying not to gag. About 20 minutes in, the sounds started—groans, sighs, and yes, the unmistakable sound of purging. I tried to stay focused, to be present, but a part of me wondered if I could sneak out unnoticed.

Then, it hit me. Not the urge to vomit, but a wave of images and emotions so intense that I could barely breathe. My mind was a kaleidoscope of colors and memories, some I recognized, others I didn’t. I saw my life laid out, the joys and the profound regrets, my deepest fears about loneliness and not being good enough screamed at me from the depths of my consciousness.

At some point, I started laughing. Not a soft chuckle, but a deep, belly laugh that shook my whole body. I laughed at myself, at the absurdity of my fears, at my serious approach to life, and at my terrible choice of footwear for the jungle. Tears streamed down my face, but I wasn’t sure if they were from laughter or some deeper emotional release.

When I finally stopped, I felt lighter, like I’d shed a weight I’d been carrying for years. I looked around. Some were crying, others sat in stunned silence, and a few were still in the throes of their own journeys. I felt connected to these strangers, bound by the raw vulnerability we’d all displayed.

The rest of the retreat passed in a blur of similar ceremonies, each one peeling back another layer of my psyche. I’d love to say each session was profound, but honestly, some just involved a lot more of the aforementioned purging and wondering what the heck I was doing there.

When it was time to leave, I felt a mix of relief and nostalgia. I hadn’t found all the answers, but I’d asked new questions and maybe that was enough. I was still Danny, just a little more open, a little braver, and with a newfound respect for practical footwear.

As Matt and I boarded our series of progressively less questionable transports back to civilization, I realized that this trip hadn’t just been about seeking answers. It was about learning to ask the right questions—and maybe, just maybe, about learning to laugh at myself along the way. After all, if you can find humor on the edge of a hallucinogenic breakdown in the Amazon, you can probably find it anywhere.

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