Sustainable ayahuasca: Harvest, plant, brew, drink, enjoy

Join the Natural Medicine Gathering: harvest, plant, cook and drink sustainable ayahuasca with yackahs (Kichwa shamans) in the original home of ayahuasca!

sustainable ayahuasca

The First Annual Natural Medicine Gathering / Hambi Minga Mundial, which will take place in Tena, Napo, Ecuador, April 11-15, is a networking event for yachaks, drinkers and dreamers, community projects (ecotourism, botanical parks, reforestation, medicine making, permaculture) and various environmental action groups. See the programme here:

As part of the gathering there will be some sustainable ayahuasca ceremonies and we just talked to a good friend in the market. Her grandfather was a yachak (Kichwa shaman) and her mother is still looking after the mother ayahuasca plant that her father used for generations in the family’s chakra/finca (forest garden).

It has not been used for around a decade, thus grown big fat and ripe for ceremonial purposes. It is beaming with power from deep in the forest (the community is where there are no longer any roads, in the heart of the home of ayahuasca (see links below)), ready to go, wanting to come out.

This plant we can go and harvest sustainable ayahuasca together in a group with the family and members of their community. That means we will also plant seedlings from it. [Possibly we can visit another very big, wild plant in the area, as a pilgrimage, but its precise location must remain a secret!]

What we harvest we can take back to town and cook; then drink it at the gathering (obviously we test it before hand to be able to dose it well and understand its particular energies).

This is a great chance to meet the ayahuasca plant in its original home, living in the forest, and ask for permission to take it home. And, of course, also bring offerings.  It is also an opportunity to visit a community undergoing profound changes, since the road is now arriving. Visiting will help validate and revalorise their tradition, their medicine and revive their hope for a future which will inevitably be in the civilised world. Not an easy transition. They need as much help as possible.

AND: It is a chance to contribute to the emergence of sustainable ayahuasca.

This will happen in the beginning of April – Get in touch if you are interested:

About the (original) home of ayahuasca, see these two very informative pieces by Gayle Highpine:

Unraveling the Mystery of the Origin of Ayahuasca

The Ecological Zones of the Amazon Basin and the Civilizations that Grew from Them

Amazonia – por la Vida

How to get to Tena, Napo, Ecuador (Amazon)

How to get to Tena, which is in the Napo region:

If you fly into Quito it could be worth a visit, but it takes close to an hour to get into town by taxi, depending on traffic and where you want to go, and you are going in the wrong direction, so to speak, away from Tena. However, the Old Town is architecturally pleasing. Mariscal Sucre, Gringolandia, in the New Town, has all the things you expect from a tourist destination – bars, cafes, shops, pickpockets and so on – great place to meet people.

From Quito you take the bus to Tena from Quitumbes bus station: Terminal Terrestre Quitumbe, which is located 10km southwest of the old town. It can be reached by Trole bus (C4) to the last stop. The Trole bus is very cheap. Takes approx. 45 mins. A taxi costs about $12 to $14.

Buses to Tena leave all day long, about once an hour until 10/11pm, and the route is operated by a number of companies.

The bus ride takes approx. 5 hours and cost $6. The last 2-3 hours are very beautiful, as you descend from just over 4000m (almost 13.500 feet) through the cloud forest, into the Amazon and down to Tena at 500m (1640 feet). Steep cliffs, waterfalls and amazing views. So it is a good idea to take the bus early in the day. It will be dark at 6.30pm

If you fly into Quito and want to avoid Quito (it’s a big city in 2850m with little oxygen and much pollution, but some lovely places and sights!) and instead go straight to Tena then you have several options:

  • Prebook a taxi (search online) that will take you straight to Tena from the airport. That costs around $180.
  • Take a taxi from the airport to Pifo (which is a small town on the main road to Tena via Baeza) and ask to be dropped just after the roundabout to get the next bus to Tena. The drivers will know. That’s a 10-15 minutes ride in taxi and costs $10. You can prebook and prepay the taxi inside the airport to avoid bargaining. By the roundabout in Pifo you simply wait until a bus comes past that goes to Tena, there will most likely be others waiting or people standing selling fruits and drinks. From Pifo the bus ride will be about 4 hours only. The buses leave pretty much every hour from Quito until 11pm. For the intrepid traveler this is an easy trip, if you speak Spanish also. If you do not speak Spanish and you are not used to independent travel, this is not a recommended option.
  • Ask us to arrange for pick up. We can get a taxi from Tena to come and pick you up in the airport. That will be about $150 and can fit 3 people comfortably, 4 people with a squeeze.

LASA2017 / Dialogues of Knowledge: XXXV International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association

Shortly after the Natural Medicine Gathering the Latin American Studies Association is organising a conference in Lima, Peru, with a focus on Dialogues of Knowledge:

About LASA2017

LASA2017 / Dialogues of Knowledge

XXXV International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association

LASA President

Joanne Rappaport
Georgetown University

Program Co-Chairs

Mauricio Archila
Universidad Nacional de Colombia

Juliet A. Hooker
University of Texas, Austin

Congress Theme

Fifty years after LASA was founded, its membership looks very different: we have grown from a core of mainly North American social scientists and historians to an academically diverse organization with notable growth in members from the humanities and the arts; 40 percent of our members live in Latin America and the Caribbean; there is a growing indigenous and Afro-descendant presence; we share the podium at our scholarly panels with activists, journalists, and filmmakers. Today, the concept of Latin America overflows the traditional geopolitical boundaries of the region with, on the one hand, a growing presence of Latin@s in North America and a burgeoning Latin American diaspora in Europe, while on the other hand, Latin Americanist scholars have begun to envision their research in a broader global context and from more interdisciplinary standpoints. Finally, theory produced in the global South, and in Latin America in particular, is gaining increasing purchase in both academic and nonacademic circles in the North, reversing the traditional directionality in the flow of ideas and recognizing the growing presence of knowledge producers from sectors that have traditionally been excluded from academic dialogues.

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Ayahuasca, diet and traditions: some cursory reflections on diversity

During the Eleventh International Congress of Ethnobiology: Local Livelihoods and Collective Biocultural Heritage (2008/Cusco, Peru) we put together an ayahuasca ceremony with a group of Kichwa shamans from Napo and a group of shamans from Colombia. It was a ceremony for academics and practitioners attending the conference – for them to get an insight into what ayahuasca is and how shamans work.

One of those present during an initial Q&A said: “I’ve just eaten, can I partake?”, to which a Colombian shaman answered: “Yes, no problem; you drink a cup, you vomit, then your stomach is empty and you’re ready for the dosis”.

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The 3rd annual JONDACHI FEST: January 20-22, 2017, TENA, NAPO, ECUADOR

The Ecuadorian Rivers Institute writes:

¡Salvemos al Río Jondachi!

The Jondachi, one of the last remaining free-flowing tributaries to the Amazon and Ecuador’s premier kayaking destination, is threatened by imminent hydroelectric development.

The Jondachi was slated to be dammed in January 2015. The Ecuadorian Rivers Institute’s legal defense of the Jondachi and the exposure generated by the first Jondachi Fest have effectively stalled out dam development…for the time being.

We need global support to continue fighting for this legendary and iconic river. If we can secure protected river designation for the Jondachi, a door will be opened for future conservation of threatened rivers within the Amazon Basin. 

The ERI’s defense of the Jondachi River represents a pioneering strategy for international river conservation, engaging local stakeholders and promoting a clear alternative for resource management by preserving the Jondachi as a wild and scenic, free-flowing ecological corridor between the Andes and the Amazon.

Learn more about our efforts and the Jondachi River below:


The natural medicine gathering is just another event on the frontier of civilisation….

One for the fat people: the surprising conclusion to the fat science debate

Just spent the evening looking over Tena with Fidel Andi after having talked organisation, politics and healing practices. We sat in silence for a while. “The town has grown“, I said. “Phuusf“, he answered, “and it’s still only long city…“, showing me a sausage-like shape with his hands, “…it will grow in other directions in the future“, then pointing across the town below us – with all its lights – towards the Llanganates in the close up horizon.

We were talking again. “So, fat from a pig is no good in the diet after healing work?“, I had wanted to revisit that thing about fat for a while, “…but neither is the fat of the guanta (Cuniculus paca)?” I mentioned about the otherwise desirable bush meat in the Kichwa diet. “No, the fat of the guanta is not good“.

“What is the problem with fat?”

  • “It is toxic, it causes inflammation”.

“Does all fat cause inflammation, is all fat toxic?”, thinking about omega science.

  • “No, there is good fat and there is bad fat”.

“So some fat is good fat?

  • “Yes, the fat of the crocodile is a fine medicine!”.

“Do the animals that have good fat tend to be slimmer beasts?”

  • “Yes, maybe. The problem with fat is contamination, in food and in the environment. Some animals don’t eat well and it goes in their fat and end up in your fat. It can be difficult to digest”.

“Yes, good fat is good”, I cleverly added.

  • “Yes, it helps you when you fast, it gives you energy, sustains you”.

Then we talked about how the chemical industry uses the “third world” to dump an infinite stream of toxic chemicals that unwitting people buy and use every day, because there are are no other options for sale. Salt, refined sugar from poor sources, low quality vegetable oils, cleaning agents, cosmetics, insect repellents and god knows what. So much work to be done for public health, but at least we solved the big question, the hot topic at debate, coming to the shocking conclusion that fat is an ambiguous bunch of triglycerides: There is good fat and there is bad fat. All things have two handles, beware of the wrong one.

Staying longer – needing help with Visa?

Naturally we encourage long stays, now that you have likely travelled to a faraway place. Get to know the local ways. But many will need a Visa extension if they want to stay more than three months…

Although anyone can sort out their own Visa extensions — many if not most nationalities automatically receive a 3 month tourist Visa upon entry, which can no longer be extended by leaving the country, for example going to Peru or Colombia for a few days, and coming back; you are only allowed 180 days per year, counting from the day you first entered, without a proper extension — it can be useful to get help.

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Real food, wild food, from the forest

The food at the gathering will be real – no chemicals, no corporations – coming from forest gardens; and it will be wild – collected by locals wandering the woods – straight out of the Amazon: comes in the mornings on certain street corners, small amounts, hand collected and irregularly. To get the good stuff you have to be there early and build relationships over time to know when and what is likely to come in the next few days. It’s no supermarket, but it sure is superfood.

In preparation little salt will be used and it will be from a natural source in the Andes adding precious minerals. No refined sugars, but some nutritious panela (rapadura / dehydrated sugar cane juice) will be used for taste, energy and also to add minerals.

What the season will bring, we shall see. Here are some relatively random examples from the last month:

Traditional Knowledge in the Ecuadorian Amazon

“Antes los gringos decían que somos estúpidos,
ahora quieren llevarse nuestro conocimiento…”
(Kichwa grandmother)

[“The gringos used to say we are stupid,
now they want to take our knowledge away…”]

Joining the gathering you will be entering into a foreign culture and even if you have been in the Amazon before, even if you have been here many times, you might not have spent much time finding out about the history, political economy and the ways in which Amazonian science, logic and medicine differs conceptually from its counterparts in Euro-American philosophical systems of understanding and making sense of the world.

Want to say a few things in Kichwa? Download Gayle and Elias’s wonderful little phrasebook.

Paradigmatically different things have to be understood, if you want to grasp them properly, in their own terms, not merely translated into your own language and system of thought – or, as it were, cosmovision. While we can never truly see the world through the eyes of someone else, we can try to listen carefully and slowly generate in our own minds a picture of another reality. This thesis is about that sort of thing: The Protection of Traditional Knowledge in the Ecuadorian Amazon: A Critical Ethnography of Capital Expansion. Chapter 3, Living in Napo: a brief political economy of extraction and colonisation in the Ecuadorian Amazon, is probably a good place to start.

For an easy, but very informative and exciting reading check out On the Origins of Ayahuasca, by Steve Beyer.

Very much worth a read is The Life and Times of Grandfather Alonso: Culture and History in the Upper Amazon, by Blanca Muratorio, which is briefly reviewed here and introduced here: Continue reading