Huachuma + Vilca: The Three Shamanic Worlds at SpiritQuest Sanctuary - Part Three

Medicine Path Huachuma + Vilca Three Shamanic Worlds at SpiritQuest Sanctuary

Huachuma. Echinopsis Pachanoi. San Pedro Cactus. Grandfather wisdom.

A powerful and profound teacher plant, native to the Andes Mountains of South America. The earliest known usage spanning back to the Chavin, the cradle of Andean civilization, arising over 3,500 years ago.

Banco Huachumero Don Howard, the white wizard, master of the highest form of the art, conducts the Huachuma ceremonial experiences in the traditional Chavin style. He shares his knowledge and wisdom, stating that both Huachuma and Vilca were "the catalysts for the great pulse of consciousness at Chavin." Most interestingly, from the 800+ years of their plant based shamanic practices, archaeological evidence suggests that they lived a life FREE of warfare! Not all that surprising when one has worked with and experienced what this teacher plant has to offer.

We were to be initiated into the three shamanic worlds over three successive mesadas; the psychoactive effects of the plant lasting for 10 - 12 hours. Water, Earth and Air. The Lower, Middle and Upper Worlds. Spiritual Awakening, Realization, and Ascension. 

The visionary bridge between life and death: Vilca, was to be administered on the final night of the final Huachuma mesada, as the climactic finale to our Amazonian plant medicine journey.

Chavin totem atop the Star Deck.
Photo: Rico Torresa


Indescribably beautiful. I feel ecstatic that I'm here with others who are experiencing a similar journey, yet in a sense - heartbroken, that people I know back home will most likely never experience, live, or truly know the same level of beauty, love and magic this place and this medicine has to offer.

It's mind boggling that these internal experiences and levels of emotional capacity are available to us as human beings. To know that people go through life without having access to or knowledge of any of this, or to dismiss these experiences based on false assumptions and misconstrued ingrained belief systems, saddens me deeply.

Time slows down, to the point of stopping. It ceases to exist. You're completely immersed in the present moment. Just being. The spiritual guru Ram Dass' words, "Be Here Now" have never been so relevant. It all makes perfect sense. You're truly living and experiencing each infinitesimal individual slice of time, moment to moment.

Time had no meaning. All we ever have, day to day, is now. A concept I already knew intellectually, and occasionally had glimpses of, but this plant teacher really left me in the thick of it. Because time passes so slow, it feels like a lifetime in just one single day. I mean, it's hard to really fathom experiencing every single moment in time so deeply, with no thoughts at all to distract you, no thoughts available to analyze, no thoughts to allow ruminating on the past or the future.

A vast spectrum of emotions surfaced. I cried. Tears of joy. Tears of sadness. Tears of overwhelming gratitude. I laughed from my open heart. I smiled from ear to ear. The dorkiest, cheesiest smiles you'd ever see. I breathed deeply through moments of intensity, not allowing myself to become attached to the sensations, just allowing them to flow through. To rise and fall like waves, continuously rolling through the ocean that was my body and consciousness...

Probably my most glamorous look yet. Absolute amazement as the cactus flows through me. Photo: Nicole Hawkins

Probably my most glamorous look yet. Absolute amazement as the cactus flows through me.
Photo: Nicole Hawkins

No surprise after my previous ceremonies with the spirit of Ayahuasca, I was once again anxious before drinking. I don't think a time will ever come where I don't feel a slight anxiety or apprehension before ingesting a psychedelic compound. 

Don Howard could sense my uneasiness. "Relax. Calm...." he whispered in my ear. Standing at the center of this previously unseen sacred alter, specifically used for the Huachuma mesadas, I downed the cactus brew, which was a 'test dose' for all of us to ease into this new medicine. Bitter, but no where near as foul as Ayahuasca. 

"Today we come together to celebrate the Mother Spirit of Water: Yacumama. Think about what water means to you," Howard suggested. We gathered our packs and begun our boat ride down river. Birds soared overhead, trees passed by, swarms of butterflies fluttered above the glassy river. The water felt silky smooth against my hand. The main psychoactive chemical present in the cactus - mescaline, had begun to kick in. A warmth and mild drowsiness was pleasantly welcomed throughout my body. 

The mighty Rio Amazonas.
Photo: Darin Basile

Everything was exceptionally beautiful. Overwhelmingly beautiful. I was so incredibly grateful to be alive. To be here. To be human and to be able to experience all of this. The internal sensations stirring within. The external landscape I was bearing witness to. Beads of water pooled in my eyes. Tears of joy and appreciation. Pure beauty.

As we pulled up to the dock, my friends in the other boat saw the tears streaming down my cheeks, the glint of gratitude and appreciation in my eyes. There was no doubt they knew exactly what I was feeling, as they were feeling the same thing.

We slowly made our way towards a small indigenous village, passing through overhanging fruit trees creating tunnels, and across worn-down wooden bridges. We seemed to spend lifetimes in amongst the creamy brown dirt paths that branched off from the village's central hut. 
I savoured the taste and played with the texture of grape-like fruits and bananas, while the cutest brown-skinned children of the Alamas tribe ran around us laughing and coaxing us to frolick and join them in their light-hearted fun.

Not quite sure what local fruits Wild-Man Christian was distributing, but damn they were delicious.

It took a little while for me to realize what was actually happening. I had noticed that I wasn't analyzing anything with my mind, I was just simply being in my body. I said to myself several times, "It feels so real, that it doesn't actually seem real... Like I'm just observing from the outside."

I stepped away from the group and ventured off down a path for some time alone. I stopped and listened to the sounds of nature around me, and began melting into the surrounding jungle. My sense of self was vanishing. My visual field dissolved into the outside world leaving no separation between the awareness of self and other. There was no sense of my physical body, no thoughts to cling onto or bare witness to. No self-identity at all. Chris disappeared. For a moment in time, I was the jungle. Nothing more, nothing less.

A very short recording during the first Huachuma mesada. It was difficult trying to vocalize and articulate how I was actually feeling.

The boat ride back in the evening was the first of three of the most enchanting nights of my existence. The way the silky smooth water seemed to glide through the river. The silhouette of the trees against the illuminated night sky, brightened by a full moon. We looked directly behind us, as it rose right in the middle of an opening between the trees on either side of the river. Disregarding the cactus that was still flowing through me, I couldn't believe how large this moon was. Hues of yellow, orange, cream, white and red.

The boat turned slightly and the moon disappeared behind the jungle silhouette. It felt like not a moment passed and we had barely turned, when the moon appeared directly in front of us! It was a magical moment I will never forget. I gave up my seat on the side of the boat to my little-big sister, Nicole. I wanted her to experience sitting right there, gazing out towards the darkened jungle landscape. She wept. I wept. I was crying at the thought of how no one back home will understand these moments of true love and beauty.

Universal love. Unfathomable beauty. Love, without judgement. Love, just because being alive and experiencing life is a beautiful phenomena. Love is everything. The hippies in the 60's were right all along... Love is all you need.

Sharing some love with my little-big sis, Nicole.


Hands down, absolutely without a doubt, the best day I've yet to experience in my entire life.  Pure. Orgasmic. Intense. Ecstasy. Indescribably breath-taking. Wow. Ten and a half hours after drinking the cactus brew and I still feel like a snake has wrapped it's tender coils around every inch of me, smothering me with pure love, pure orgasmic love...

The effects began on the boat. Visual acuity was greatly heightened. The clouds in the sky had never looked so amazing. Above the Amazon River, all colours of the rainbow lined the outer edges of the clouds, a glowing sparkle radiated outwards as the golden glow of the sun illuminated them. (To this day, gazing at the atmosphere above has never quite been the same...)

Run down shacks lined the streets of the town we had docked at, children kicked soccer balls, and locals were drying out their haul of fish in the sun. Houses on stilts, which weren't much more than broken down walls holding up a roof, were homes to families. Passing several bridges and dodging a couple of motorbikes, the real trek through the jungle began.

Palm tree plantations, changing sceneries, make-do bridges made of logs, sometimes a single log crossing a small valley creek bed... It was like I had stepped into Avatar. Walking barefoot and feeling the ground beneath me was incredible. We were celebrating the middle world, Sachamama, our connection to Planet Earth, Madre Tierra, Pachamama, Gaia - our Home. My brother Jon said he felt like a Jaguar running through the jungle. The medicine was strong. The connection was powerful.

Photos never do the real-life visual experience justice.

I stopped and turned to Nicole. "Shhhh... Do you hear that? Listen... WATER!!" And before we knew it, we'd ditched our bags and were running down to a hidden slice of paradise: The Enchanted Stream. Being doused in water while you're under the influence of Huachuma, is out of this world. Jumping off mini-waterfalls, smothering our bodies with mud and clay, floating in the shimmering pools...
Laughter deep from my belly ensued, as I watched Jon cover his head in mud, stating in a Buddha-like fashion, "I am... I am one." 

Jaguar Jon, the Buddha reincarnate.

Smiles and laughter from the depths of my soul.

I felt alive, refreshed, and clean, not to mention, completely orgasmic. My body slid down the river in lateral undulations as my eyes caressed the top of the water. I was seeing through the eyes of an Anaconda. Reaching the sand bank, I flopped onto my back and looked towards the tree branches and blue skies, my consciousness drifting into the heavens above. I had a vision of everyone gathered around me, as I lay there dying. Their calm faces peered in, as my soul was carried away with the breeze, melting into the Universe. Extraordinary. 

Once again, it was almost impossible to dwell on thoughts pertaining to times and places outside of the current situation. Huachuma, an astonishing plant teacher for surrendering and being immersed completely in the present moment.

Two of my friends and I had ventured further downstream. For the three of us, it was our own, personal slice of paradise. We smothered each other in the cleansing clay before heading back. I never thought I'd see the day where I was smearing clay all over a grown man's completely naked body. When on Huachuma, right?! What happens in the jungle, stays in the jungle! Well, not quite, but I felt so blessed to have been in a minuscule minority, experiencing this hidden, majestic jungle utopia.

All the trivial matters and materialistic views of Western culture seemed so nonsensical. Mother Nature really does provide everything we ever truly need: air, water, earth, shelter, food and the magnificent awe-inspiring landscapes. It's the simple, natural things that are the most beautiful. 

Back on land, we officially met the Murure people, who spoke to us in their native Huitoto dialect. As we watched them dance, before joining in ourselves, I looked around at everyone else, who seemed so well composed. Internally, it felt like I was harbouring the energy of a supernova; exploding from my center, perpetually radiating waves of orgasmic pleasure throughout the entirety of my body. Jaguar Jon was sitting beside me. Laughter and deep understanding looks were exchanged, replacing the need for words, and from the glint in his eyes, I knew he was feeling the same thing. 

Myself with an elder of the Murure Tribe.
Photo: Jonathan Salazar

Howard with little Maria the heart stealer, and her mother.
Photo: Unknown

The walk back at dusk presented a beautiful sunset backdrop amongst the banana plantations. My buddy Casper and I laughed. "Is this real life?!" We had just stepped back in time under the influence of one of the most sacred, powerful plant teachers known to mankind, and visited a tribe who lived in the jungle. That was their home. We were just swimming in their backyard. Seriously unbelievable. 

The second magical boat ride along the Amazon back to the Sanctuary commenced. Holy shit. How do I try and put this into words...?

In the dark of the night, it looked like we were floating on a bed of silky clouds. The moon was no where to be seen, and with not a cloud in the sky, it left the infinite stars of the galaxies above to penetrate the blackness. Jaw dropping. Literally. Jon and I hung upside down over the boats edge, our heads dangling just above the rushing water, mouths agape, looking in absolute wonder at the sight before us.

The sparkling white dots now appeared to be the ground, which blended seamlessly into the scintillating intricacies of the Universe above. God damn, it was something else. This whole journey has reinforced that there are just some things that cannot be described by words. They can only be seen. They can only be felt. They can only be experienced. I held my jaguar tooth talisman and repeated how grateful I was, as I felt those feelings to the core of my being.

The magic continued at the Star Deck. Don Howard placed a laser on top of the central Chavin totem pole. The purple beam pierced the darkness, connecting Heaven and Earth: the axis mundi. He blew his mopacho smoke through the laser, creating mystical wisps of serpentine haze, right before we had our minds further blown...

The golden-yellow of the full moon began to rise behind the trees on the horizon, a mesmerising ivory glow basking down upon us . Unbelievable. All of us were hypnotized. We stood there gawking, in a trance, mimicking the reverence the ancients held towards the heavens above; Grandfather Sky, keeper of time.

The Axis Mundi, bridging Heaven and Earth.
Photo: Darin Basile

Back down at the alter, we were to end the ceremony with a liquid medicine called Singado. Inhaled through the nose out of seashell , it leaves one with a prolonged sensation of intense burning in each nostril. 

Don Howard: "Do you know what it means to be a warrior?" 
Me: "Well, I think I'm about to find out..."


I squared up at the mesa and looked towards the powerful jaguar/snake imagery above, my eyes flowing down to the Huachuma warrior tapestry, representing the transcendence of space and time. The ancient human skulls on the table stared towards me, their hollow gaze haunting and powerful. The singado was to help provide clarity and insight, and as I stood there with my nose on fire, it came to me...

I'm a warrior. We're all warriors here. The Huachuma man on the tapestry? That's me. That's us. Warriors. Transcending space and time with the help of the cactus medicine. Finding the strength and courage deep within. Opening ourselves to give and receive love, and expanding our sense of gratitude and humility, to carry and cultivate from here on in. A deep transformation was taking place. I'd never be the same again.

The hauntingly beautiful Huachuma mesa. Note the jaguar tapestry above, the Huachuma warrior holding the two cacti below, and the human skulls on the alter.
Photo: Darin Basile


Hoka hey. Today is a good day to die.

Don Howard sounds his chimes and uses both candles on either side of the mesa to light his mapacho. He blows smoke towards the alter, to the left, to the right, upwards to the sky and down to the ground. He gives thanks to his maestros.
"Para el bien de todos." For the good of all. Then, we drink.

Our destination today - the love beach. So eloquently named by locals, due to the fornication that happens here. Although we didn't witness any, there was certainly no lack of love. Who would've thought? A white sandy beach in the middle of the Amazon river. Laying on the bank, I dug my hands into the squeaky sand. The bizarre vibration it made seemed to match the frequency of energy flowing through me. My buddy Justin pointed out the various faces, animals and stories floating by in the clouds above; a large source of inspiration for the artwork stemming from the Peruvian Andes.

I certainly wasn't melting into the universe today. I was acutely aware that Don Howard had poured a smaller cup for me. Perhaps he knew I'd almost died of astonishment (figuratively speaking) in the prior mesada, and had scaled it back for my own good. Today, I was capable of thought, and full of energy.

I ran around, covered myself in sand, jumped into and floated down the swift river current. I drew massive hearts in the sand around the others who had essentially dissolved into puddles of bliss, and made sure to join them all with interconnecting lines. Standing with a smile on my face, I shared my thoughts aloud. 

"Look, connected with love." 

Incredibly cheesy. But I didn't care. There were no judgements here. No inhibitions. I was free. Free to let out my inner child. To embrace life with a light-heartedness I had forgot for too long. Free to have fun. To smile, to laugh. Perhaps to many, one of the greatest secrets of life - to love, and to laugh often! Words don't do justice in trying to explain this experience, in trying to explain the changes that can occur within. I realized that if I want others to understand, all I have to do is embody it; to be the change.

Rich looking on, as Jonathan and Peter's bodies melt into the sand, their minds dissolving into the cosmos.

Nicole & I in front of the mighty Amazon River.

I became super emotional and began to cry, thinking about leaving all of these beautiful people, to venture off and continue on our own separate journeys. But then it hit me, a profound realization... With my heart now open to give and receive love, I can create this back at home; my longing for real connection. I had finally started sifting off the dirt, exposing the glimmers of gold that had always been there within.
I could harness my inner power, let go of everything that was no longer serving me, and establish a life worth living. A life of clarity, meaning and purpose. A life of love and passion. I have the power to be the gel, to be the glue, that brings people together. 

With a deeper understanding of who I was and what I wanted to cultivate, I could now put myself out there and strive to meet like-minded people, conscious people, to intertwine with, and share meaningful aspects of my life with.
A simple realization, yet profoundly powerful.

Turning attention to the landscape, the sun began to set against the bright, multi-coloured psychedelic-patterned clouds. I was surprised at the enhancement of my auditory system. Across the wide Amazon, on the other side of the bank, I could hear the chirps and whistles of birds high atop the palm trees, as if they were no more than several meters away. In the East, a beautiful rainbow spanned across the sky, while dark clouds gathered in the distance. A storm was brewing.

Flashes of lightning had begun as we boarded for the long, slow boat ride back. It's unbelievable how this had all panned out, night after night, mind-shattering displays of nature in it's rawest, purest form. The bolts of electricity smashed on the horizon, 360 degrees around us. We were very literally right in the center of it all.

Each and every side of our vessel, spectacularly violent outbursts illuminated the gloomy rain clouds. Some were kind enough to linger in the sky; shades of red and purple, a truly momentous occasion. Being subject to the wild ferocity of this external landscape was perfectly fitting, as I dwelled on what was to come: our impending death with the plant medicine, Vilca.


Anandenanthera Colubrina. Dimethyltryptamine. 5-MeO-Dimethyltryptamine. Bufotenine

The visionary bridge for life, death, and rebirth.  A powdered snuff taken through both nostrils, elevating one to the highest realms of altered states of consciousness. We all sat there in front of the mesa. Flickering candles showcased the artefacts, crystals, human and jaguar skulls, and the central Chavin totem, giving rise to their shadows on the T-shaped alter.

Howard standing at the ceremonial Huachuma alter.
Photo: Choque Chinchay

I tried to place myself in a calm mindset, ready to accept death, but my mind raced back and forth. Will I? Won't I? My spirit knew the answer, but my ego constantly interjected. "I like being human! I don't think I'm ready to experience this. I'm not ready for this death..."
Yet to give up an opportunity to potentially see what's on the other side and come back reborn... A rite of passage I feel I cannot give up. I finally decided. 

I'm not doing this. I do NOT have to do anything that I do not want to do. I have the power to say yes, and I have the power to say no. And no, is what I decide. And just as quick as those thoughts passed through, a wave of empowerment washed over me. The decision to not partake, gave me the courage, strength and wisdom within to witness and connect with my authentic feelings. To take the time and create spaciousness between habitual reactions and responses. To not just react automatically, or to do what's expected of me, but to respond to my external and internal environment in the way I truly choose.

Howard humbly shared his wisdom, touching on courage, trust, letting go of fear, and filling the heart with love: The Warrior's Path. Shivers ran down my body, and I brought my awareness from my mind, down to my heart. And deep down, I knew what I had to do.

We had the choice to utilize an ancient alpaca bone engraved with Chavin lettering, or a 3,500 year old human knuckle bone, both of which had been used for the same sacred rituals since those archaic shamanic times. I picked up the human knuckle bone. Placing it in each nostril, I inhaled the mildly-burning grey powder from a small tray, and immediately went to my room to lay down. 

Ear plugs in, eye mask on, relaxing all my muscles, sinking into the bed, focusing on my breath: placing myself in as sensory deprived state as possible. Let go. Surrender. I'm ready to leave this physical body behind. I felt my hands numbing. I began to lose touch with my body. There was a warmth within, which I hadn't paid particular attention to. That was, until it started to leave my body. From the center of my abdomen, I could feel that warm life force, the very essence of my physical being, draining out, as the cold sensations of nothingness were left behind. Down my legs towards my feet, down my arms to my fingers, up towards my chest, becoming sucked out from my neck. 

"This is it. I'm dying."

It felt like my heart stopped beating, and as terrified as I was coming into it, I was deeply calm and peaceful. Others spoke afterwards of incredible visions and witnessing a kaleidoscope of colours. But for me, it was like the darkness and the light had combined together to form a single state of being. No duality. No polarity. Just one. No thought. No physical sensations. No self-identity. Purely the overwhelming feeling of complete and utter euphoria. Just that feeling. Nothing attached to it. No 'self' to sense the experience of the feeling. Just the feeling itself: pure euphoria.

Some swirling hues of bioluminescent blue briefly entertained me, as I began to feel the warmth return to my body. It was over. Life. Death. Rebirth.

You know, I'd never been through anything like this before. This was no doubt the most profound and life-changing series of events of my life. The most earth-shattering, mind-blowing, terrifyingly intense, incredibly challenging set of experiences I'd ever been through. A rite of passage that can clearly begin the process of transition - transforming a boy, into a man.
My cup was full. Many of the insights and realizations seem like simple enough concepts to grasp cognitively, yet there is a difference between understanding something with your mind, and experiencing that very thing to the core of your being. And that's what I walked away with. Cerebral informational intellect, turned experiential knowing and wisdom. 
Simple truths, yet profoundly powerful. 

The key? To take everything I had learnt and been shown, and re-integrate that back into everyday life. Arguably the most challenging part of the process. I feel as if I've only uncovered the tip of the iceberg, and no doubt many more revelations would bubble to the surface. But for now, I could embody these lessons and be the change; a giant step forward in becoming a more conscious, loving, humble man, being present and showing up as my authentic self, and continuing to discover the true potential that lay within.

The three amigos. Myself, Jonathan and Peter (looking like a giant). What a journey.
Photo: Nicole Hawkins

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