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Overall, ayahuasca is a valued part of Peruvianspiritual and economic life. The government tour-ist agencies sponsor ayahuasca festivals, thebrew and the raw materials for its manufactureare openly sold in markets, and even Peru’s cur-rent president Alejandro Toledo participated inan ayahuasca ceremony.Ayahuasca tourism is popular elsewhere inSouth America as well. Some tourists visit Bra-zilian ayahuasca churches such as the SantoDaime. Others go on the more expensive Ameri-can-led retreats. While the four-star ayahuascaresorts may feel overly contrived, any tour ledby Peter Gorman is almost certainly going to beinteresting.For the past decade, many ayahuasca tour-ists in Peru have flocked to Iquitos. Anotherpopular location, although it lacks a hotel, isthe Shipibo town of San Francisco, which canbe reached by a taxi ride from Yarina. In fact,the enormous sign at the entrance of San Fran-cisco proclaims that the town is the “Centro Cer-emonial del Ayahuasca.” There are at least acouple of ayahuasqueros in almost every Shipibofamily. Many of these practitioners are willingto host services both for other Peruvians andalso for foreign visitors.
A Medical Caution
Most shamans are unfamiliar with Westernpharmaceuticals, so it is the tourist’s responsi-bility to be aware that ayahuasca can have ad-verse interactions with various prescription medi-cines, particularly some medications used to treatAIDS, depression and psychiatric disorders. Forinstance, one AIDS patient died during a cer-emony in Bolivia, although he was sufficientlyhealthy to dance at the beginning of the ser-vice.
About The Ceremony
Unless a tourist spent a long while gettingto know a practitioner, the character of a com-mercialized ayahuasca ceremony would probablybe shallower than a ritual conducted solely forthe benefit of the shaman’s relatives and com-munity. In a commercialized ceremony, one couldobserve the ritual procedures and enjoy listen-ing to the chanting of icaros. Probably the doseof ayahuasca would be mild, as the shaman wouldusually rather err on the side of caution, prefer-ring to give too little rather than too much.Given the linguistic barriers and cultural misun-derstandings that are likely to confound com-munication even in the ordinary state of con-sciousness, it is only prudent for the shaman totake reasonable precautions to prevent problemswith foreigners.
I had the opportunity to spend time get-ting to know several ayahuasqueros who per-form ceremonies for tourists. “B” is an elderlyshaman in Yarina, a town near the city of Pucallpa. I lived in the ceremonial hut in hisback yard for a week, observing the nightlyayahuasca ceremonies that attract up to a coupledozen visitors. I became familiar with B’s lead-ership style because his son, the director of thefamily religious practice, was giving workshopsin the United States. I discovered that B is afrequent liar, a shoplifter, and that he soon asks
“Unless a tourist spent a longwhile getting to know apractitioner, the character of a commercialized ayahuascaceremony would probably beshallower than a ritualconducted solely for thebenefit of the shaman’srelatives and community.”