Ayahuasca Retreats – Drinking Ayahuasca in the Brazilian Amazon
Ayahuasca retreats are an excellent way to connect with the powerful ayahuasca plant. In this article, I speak about my recent trip to the Amazon and how this experience shaped my life.
“The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life and activity; it affords protection to all beings.”
~ Buddhist Sutra
For the one-hundredth time, I jumped out of the boat to help dislodge the hull from the log we were stuck on, and as I was about to put my bare foot on the shallow river floor, I saw a stingray the size of an extra-large pizza. Wait, what? Stingrays in the Amazon River?
Everywhere I looked, sitting in that boat on the river, there were various hues of green. Birds of all different types flew above me, and the sounds echoed like a jungle symphony. I was in the middle of the Amazon Jungle, the world’s most vital rainforest, four thousand miles from California.
The Amazon Jungle is the planet’s heart; as with all hearts, many surprises lurk in its shadows—like stingrays in a river.
The Amazon Rainforest is the largest tropical rainforest in the world, covering an area of approximately 5.5 million square kilometers. It is home to a staggering diversity of flora and fauna, with millions of species of insects, plants, mammals, and birds, many of which are not found anywhere else on Earth.
The Amazon River, the second-longest river in the world the Nile is the longest), runs through this rainforest, creating a network of rivers and streams that supports the ecosystem.
The Amazon Rainforest is crucial for global climate regulation, storing vast amounts of carbon dioxide in its vegetation and soils. The region’s climate is typically hot, humid, and wet, providing ideal conditions for the growth of dense forests.
Ayahuasca Retreats – Why Was I In The Amazon?
The Amazon is home to several indigenous tribes that traditionally use ayahuasca and other plant medicines, such as Hape (sacred tobacco) and Kambo (frog medicine), to heal our traumas and cultivate a relationship with great spirit. My journey of healing and celebration for life has been deeply supported by ayahuasca, and I was in the Amazon to connect with the roots of its lineage.
Much of my internal journey has been about reconciling the struggle between my mind and heart. Ayahuasca has helped me drop into my heart more effortlessly. Grounded in the heart, life feels different, words are softer, feelings are deepened, and the mind is quieter. On the other side of this internal transformation is a portal to something mystical. Since I started working with ayahuasca, my relationship with that mystery has expanded, and the world around me has changed positively. There have been subtle and profound shifts in how I relate to myself and life. I was in the Amazon because of ayahuasca.
The Noke Koi Tribe
Natascha, a planet medicine goddess, planted the Amazon seed in my heart in 2021. She would tell us stories of her time spent on ayahuasca retreats in the wilderness with Brazilian tribes, describing the lush jungle and the magic she often felt in this country. I knew this was my destiny.
When I heard these jungle stories, I could feel a strong pull on my heartstrings, playing me like a beautiful icaro. I have sat with Peruvian, Colombian, and Brazilian teachers on my medicine journey. I have also sat with Western teachers from those lineages. I greatly respect all of the ayahuasca traditions, and each one offers something beneficial. However, there is something about the Brazilian tribes that has always felt familiar. When I heard the phrase só alegria, I knew I was home. It means ‘only joy’. I think about this phrase often. It is a great mantra to bring into your life.
I was first invited to Brazil in August 2023 after a month-long dieta with the Brazilian Yawanawa tribe. I researched the trip in anticipation of going on an ayahuasca retreat. I looked at booking my tickets and peppered the organizer with questions. Something in me knew it wasn’t the right time yet, but still, I was feeling called. I had no idea when or how it would manifest, but I knew it would happen. I trusted and relaxed in the unknown. My intention for 2023, sparked by Natascha in a ceremony at the end of 2022, was to ‘manifest into the unknown with wholehearted intention.’ I intended to sit in an ayahuasca ceremony in the jungle. The universe delivered. How important are our intentions? Very.
A few months later, a few people in my community sat with a Paje (Paje is the Brazilian word for shaman) from The Noke Koi tribe. They were all raving about the ceremony. My dear sister Luna then suggested visiting the Noke Koi in the Amazon, and she organized a small group trip. It was a complicated path for me to say yes to the trip. I had already booked a European pilgrimage to visit my sweetie. My mind and heart entered a five-month battle, and three weeks before the trip to the Amazon, my heart won. I resolved to join my friends in their journey to spend time with the Noke Koi.
The Noke Koi, also known as the Noke Kuin, are an indigenous people residing in the Amazon Rainforest in the Brazilian state of Acre. Acre is in the west of the country, bordering with Peru. The Noke Koi culture and traditions are deeply intertwined with the rich ecosystem of the Amazon, relying on the river and rainforest for sustenance and medicine. The Noke Koi are considered the healers of the Amazon, and their name means ‘original people of the forest.’
Uni Ceremony – Ayahuasca Celebration
The origins of ayahuasca are rooted in the indigenous cultures of the Amazon rainforest region in South America, where it has been used for centuries for spiritual and medicinal purposes. It is generally made from two plants: the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and the leaves of the chacruna plant (Psychotria viridis). The indigenous cultures discovered how to blend these two magical plants to formulate the psychedelic brew called ayahuasca.
The ayahuasca retreat ceremonies (ayahuasca is called ‘uni’ in Brazil) are very different than those held in the USA. The drink is more bitter than the ayahuasca from Peru and Hawaii and is light brown (see photo below). The ceremonies usually start around 10 p.m. and go until sunrise and beyond. After we drank the uni, there was a short silence before the icaros started.
The Pajes (shamen) performed healings on each of us and sucked out entities, sorrow, trauma, and pain from our bodies. The Paje told one of the women in our group that she had an evil entity inside her and that without his healing, she was going to die. I am glad she decided to join the trip.
After about an hour or two, the prayers and songs began. The tribe held hands and sang harmoniously while walking in a circle. The energetic field was charged with deep prayer and devotion, unlike anything I have ever experienced. The daily dedication of the people to great spirit translates into a supercharged connection to Source. Being surrounded by the lush jungle and the Amazon River also influenced the space profoundly.
Eventually, the guitars and drums emerge, and the music gets everyone dancing. People usually hang in hammocks during the ceremony or wander toward the jungle. There isn’t much structure compared to Western traditions. Hapi is served when you want it, or you can self-administer throughout the ceremony. I liked that part.
Here is a taste of the music.
If you have sat in a sacred circle in North America, your best friend during a ceremony is a purge bucket. In Brazil, there are no purge buckets. If you need to purge, walk outside the Maloka (where the ceremony occurs) and let it hurl, or run for the jungle and feed the plants. It’s you and the wilderness in a beautiful dance of spirit. In many ways, the Amazon rainforest is the authentic shaman in these ceremonies, and the Paje is just there to accentuate her teachings and power.
I felt very connected to the jungle and prayer during the ceremonies. I had much less thought activity and a more visceral experience while listening to the forest creatures. It was easier to drop into my heart and connect with the tribal songs and my prayers than when I sat in US ceremonies. I felt at one with the experience and deep gratitude for existence. My internal state reflected my surroundings—alive, deep, and powerful.
Making Hape in The Amazon
Learning to make Hape was one of the highlights of my stay—Hape has become a vital medicine in my journey and an excellent ally to ayahuasca. The primary ingredient in Hapi is sacred tobacco. Brazil is the largest exporter and third largest producer of tobacco in the world. The state of Acre is one of Brazil’s largest tobacco producers. Most of the tobacco in Brazil is cultivated on small tobacco farms, and many people live by cultivating this sacred leaf.
Traditionally, Hape comprises tobacco, tree ashes, and medicinal plants. As you can imagine, growing tobacco in the middle of the rainforest isn’t easy; thus, many tribes buy raw tobacco in rolled bundles to make Hape. The leaves are harvested and dried into compressed rolls. They look like a thick chocolate popsicle. Our first task was to unravel and break the bundles into small chunks.
If the sun is blazing high above, which happens on most days, the tobacco chunks are left to dry from the sun’s rays. However, there was no sun on the day we made Hape, so we used the alternative method, slowly heating the tobacco over a light fire. The chief told us an old legend that said if the tobacco were overcooked, the family of the person preparing the Hapi would die—a good incentive not to add too much heat.
Once dried, the tobacco is pounded and pulverized using a tree branch and a makeshift bag. The result is sieved through fine cloth, and the remains are ground up until an excellent, smooth dust is obtained. The ash and plant mixture is added. The preparer tests the concoction, and adjustments are made where needed. Prayers and sacred songs are sung the entire time—the whole event is treated like a ceremony.
Ayahuasca Retreats – Summary
Would I go again? Absolutely. If you are considering going to the jungle, I highly recommend it. It’s not for everyone. Like anything in life, there are moments of frustration and difficulty. The jungle challenges the senses, and the insects are relentless. You won’t have the comforts of home, and traveling to and from the village is tiring (six to ten hours in a small boat). However, most significant things require sacrifice. You will come out of the jungle a different person in so many positive ways.
My friend Luna wrote this in our preparation document before we left, and it sums up the most crucial aspect of the trip:
The best way to enjoy the experience in the jungle is to arrive with an open heart and no expectations, understand that there are cultural differences we may not be aware of, and respect the time of the forest and the way of life of its people.
At the beginning of our ayahuasca retreat, she reminded us to pay attention to the jungle—to pay homage to the majesty, and mysteries whispered to our hearts as we traversed her terrain. As I mentioned above, the Amazon Rainforest is the authentic shaman of this journey. She is alive and wise. She sings beautiful songs and facilitates profound teachings. I dream of returning one day, and I hope to see you there.
Luna will offer more Amazon trips in 2024 to visit the Nuke Koi. If you are interested, ping Luna on Instagram, and she will get you on the waiting list for the next incredible journey.
If you want to go to Peru or Columbia, there are plenty of ayahuasca retreats online; I wholeheartedly recommend joining Columbian teacher Ceasar or Peruvian teacher Don William. I have sat with both teachers many times and have complete faith that their retreat experience is exceptional.
Vari Vari (the Noke Koi version of Haux Haux)