Huallaga River in the Peruvian Amazon

Facing the Dragon: An Ayahuasca Experience (Part 1: Exposure)

In September of 2015, I had my first ayahuasca experience and I haven’t been the same since.

I was listening to Joe Rogan’s podcast and Aubrey Marcus, his guest, spoke about the first time he discovered ayahuasca. It was 2012 and my first time hearing about it. I sat enchanted by his description. I don’t remember his exact words, but I remember the feeling. His pauses. His exasperation — trying to find the right words — spoke volumes of what he went through. Ayahuasca opens the mind to an unimaginable experience, you’d have to live through to truly understand. Now, after my own experience, I know this to be true.

(Update 02/04/17: Podcast of my ayahuasca experience)

The Beginning

2012 was an interesting time for me. In my late twenties I had achieved all the things in life I was “supposed to” — graduate level education, a great job, nice apartment, car, etc. Despite (or because of) having these things, I was still trying to figure out who I was. I spent much of my early twenties running away from the tough life questions, “Who am I?” “Why am I doing this?” “Am I doing the right things?” I was more focused on buying things, traveling, meeting women, drinking, smoking and using other recreational drugs to pass the time.

This is a frame of a music video I did in 2012–2013 time period.

When I turned 28, I started to wonder if I’ve been wasting time. Not completely, but enough to feel as though something was missing. I turned back to the questions I spent a lot of time avoiding. I searched for answers wherever I could — self-help books, personal development blogs, new age religions, podcasts, etc. Those resources only gave me parts of what I’ve been seeking, but not everything. Pieces were still missing.

Then I heard Aubrey (trying to) describe the ayahuasca experience and I thought it might help my search. It could help me get a more complete picture. I wasn’t sure how it would work but I was willing to give it a try. Ayahuasca is said to give one deep insights about themselves and the nature of the universe. In my thirst for knowledge, ayahuasca was a stone I could not leave unturned.

Finding Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca is illegal in the US and several other countries around the world. It didn’t take much Googling to figure that out. It’s illegal because (I assume) the effects are akin to psychedelic drugs that are also illegal, such as LSD. This actually made me more interested in trying it.

In Peru, ayahuasca is not illegal. It’s actually used as medicine. Shamans and other spiritual healers conduct ayahuasca ceremonies to help heal all types of ailments, both physical and spiritual.

In my journey to answer the question, “Who am I,” ayahuasca was my next stop. I had to try it and my only (legal) option was to fly down to Peru but, I didn’t want to go alone.

Being Afraid

I didn’t want to try ayahuasca alone and I don’t know exactly why. Even now when I try to explain my eagerness to getting others to join me I’m at a loss. I think I needed some validation to ensure that I was on the right path; I don’t know. What I do know is that the urge to find people to participate in an ayahuasca ceremony with me was present.

Trying to convince people to join you in an experience, while not knowing why you want them there is a challenge. My reason for wanting to drink ayahuasca was to soul search, but I was too embarrassed to tell my friends that, which made convincing them even more challenging. When I approached them with the idea, the group responded with a resounding “NO.” I was disappointed but, to be completely honest, I also felt relieved.

I was afraid, now that I think back to it, of two things:

  1. My friends making fun of me for being on a spiritual journey and
  2. What I would find out about myself on that journey.

I wasn’t self-confident enough to stray far away from the group and I wasn’t brave enough to face what I would learn about myself. I was insecure and had little self-confidence in this area of my life.

When I approached my friends, I set myself up for failure. I didn’t explain why I wanted to go and I didn’t explain why they should join me; I wasn’t ready.

Their consensus gave me a reason not to face my fears and I was contented. So I put ayahuasca on the back burner and continued searching for answers in other, safer places.

Getting Ready

Years later, M, one of my closest friends, sent an email to the group about traveling to Peru to partake in an ayahuasca ceremony. I smiled when I read the email. It was the beginning of 2015 and I was a new man. In the time between hearing about ayahuasca and M’s email, I went through a lot of ups and downs trying to figure out who I am. Loves were lost and found, career paths changed, I move to a new city, learned a lot, failed in many areas and succeeded in others all the while continuously learning. I lived my life more consciously and was more self assured. I smiled because I was ready.

I replied with a “Yes.” I wanted to go for the same reason I had in 2012, soul searching. One of the things I learned since then is that soul searching is a lifelong process and I had yet to process it with ayahuasca. Soon after one more of our friends J, also replied to the email with interest; and then two became three. Now I would have some company on this journey.

Once it was decided, I re-listened to Aubrey’s experience on the Joe Rogan podcast. I wanted to find out where Aubrey went for his ceremony and who acted as his curandero (ayahuasca shaman healer). I wanted the same person to conduct my ceremony, since Aubrey spoke so highly of him.

Orlando Chujandama Huazanga (Curandero Vegetalista)

The curandero’s name is Orlando Chujandama Huazanga, aka “The Dragon.” (Cool name right?) I found his website and contacted him via email. After a few emails back and forth, we worked out the details and we were penciled in on his calendar. To confirm, we’d send him our flight confirmations so he’d know when to pick us up from the airport. It was that simple but it took 3 years and M’s email to get me to make the arrangements.

Being Ready

I told M and J the travel details and to send over their confirmations after they’ve booked flights and their responses were surprising.

First J backed out. He was concerned about the cost and I couldn’t blame him. He has a family to provide for so I can see that being an issue. I understood, but was still disappointed.

With one man out, I wanted to reconfirm with M and tell him J backed out. Then M told me he’s backing out too. M, also a family man, used the same excuse for backing out. He said something about “maybe” “might” being able to go if “this,” “that” or “the third” were to occur. I’m not exactly sure what he said because I stopped listening. I didn’t want to get my hopes up on the slim chances that he’d be able to go. I understood that if I were to go, I would be going alone.

The trip, soul searching with friends in the direction of ayahuasca, fell apart before my eyes, again. It was in my grasp and in an instant it wasn’t. This time I was 100% disappointed. There was no sense of relief. I was ready to face whatever I would find.

I considered not going but, immediately, rejected the idea. I didn’t want to lose the momentum I had in getting that close to the edge, it was truly a “now or never” situation. Once that realization hit me, I decided I would go alone and I began mentally preparing for it.

Gearing Up

Part of my mental preparation was to talk about my planned trip with more friends. I was no longer ashamed of soul searching via ayahuasca. I told people who would encourage me along. Their confidence would add to my own and make me more mentally prepared.

I told my girlfriend first. She knew my trip was a possibility, but she didn’t know I was serious until I mentioned all the legwork I put into planning. After hearing M and J backed out, she said she would go with me. Just like that. I was a little shocked. Apparently, she always wanted to go to Peru for a culinary retreat and figured this would be a good opportunity. It would also be a great opportunity for us to travel together. Two birds, one stone and all that. She wouldn’t join me in the ayahuasca ceremony, but at least we’d be in the same country if anything were to happen. That was more than I would ask for.

Then I got one more surprise. About two weeks before my scheduled departure, M sent an email with his flight confirmation. He was going to make the trip after all. I was extremely relieved. That’s when it hit me. A fear of going at this alone was still under the surface. I mean, I wasn’t afraid of what I would find out about myself. I was ready for that. I was afraid of being vulnerable (on a psychedelic trip) around people I don’t know. I didn’t realize how scared I was about that until I knew he’d be there. I wouldn’t be alone.

All the things that needed to happen for me to try ayahuasca, happened. I learned about it in 2012, although I wasn’t ready then. Right when I became ready, in 2015, I was reminded of it by M’s email. When no one would travel to Peru with me, my girlfriend said she would. And lastly, my subconscious fear of trying ayahuasca alone was resolved 2 weeks before left on my journey… It was as if it were meant to be. Ha. I don’t believe that stuff or, at least, I didn’t…

To Be Continued…

Me, in my best journeyman gear

This was Part 1 of Facing the Dragon: An Ayahuasca Experience. Click here to continue to Part 2: Mission Accepted.

About This Story

Facing the Dragon: An Ayahuasca Experience is the story of my trip to Peru in September 2015 to participate in an ayahuasca ceremony. I’ve broken it down into several parts to make it more digestible for consumption. Below are links to each part. I would suggest going in order but, the choice is yours.

About Me

I’m Rey. I like making music, ux designing, iOS developing, hustling and expanding my mind. I write and produce materials in all my above interests. Join my mailing list to get notified when I have something interesting to share. Until then, let go, accept, trust, love, believe and peace.

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