We are riding along the lonely Nauta Road at midnight, very mareado from an ayahuasca ceremony that has just finished. Former school principal cum racing car driver cum ayahausca shaman Malcolm Rossiter, who manages the Blue Morpho Ayahuasca retreat, is at the wheel. His partner Loretta rides beside him. In the back seat of the Blue Morpho Toyota Hilux, my wife Zoe and I take in the bumps and bangs of the road, and watch the shining eyes of creatures in the grass. Somewhere around Km 30, we see something right out of an ayahuasca vision. Two moto-taxis, festooned with yellow, orange, red, blue and green flashing psychedelic lighting, are rolling along eerily along the Nauta Road. They look as though they are from a spirit carnival from another dimension. The apparition is startling, the lights chaotic. As we pass, the bright lights temporarily illuminate our truck interior with a Mardi Gras of colors. Then the strange motos fade into black.
Malcolm lets out a sigh of relief. "Thank god you folks are in this vehicle with me. Otherwise, nobody would believe that sighting." We wouldn't even be out in a vehicle at night, but Zoe and I must race off to Lima the next morning to get an emergency US passport from the US embassy, as hers was inconveniently stolen from her when her purse was snatched during an evening stroll on the picturesque Iquitos promenade. Another tale, another time.
Days before, while sitting at Dawn On The Amazon café on a blazing afternoon eating a burrito, I commented to a local named Jonny that I was headed with my wife and three friends to Blue Morpho Shamanic Retreat Center, for five ayahuasca ceremonies there. "Oh man," he quipped "They only care about money!"
Such is the reputation of Blue Morpho among some people, that the fees they charge show a love of money, rather than a love of shamanism. I disagreed with Jonny, pointing out that I had previously enjoyed a rather amazing ceremony there with Blue Morpho founder gringo shaman Hamilton Souther, his apprentice Malcolm, and his maestro don Alberto Davila. Jonny was obviously not convinced, but he withheld further comment. When you consider that many places around Iquitos charge around $50 per night for an ayahuasca ceremony, the more than eight times that amount charged by Blue Morpho seems excessive to some.
But Blue Morpho has done the near impossible, eliminating every conceivable discomfort, except for the challenge of drinking ayahuasca, and going through a ceremony. The accommodations are clean and spotless. The linens are new and fresh. The bathrooms are sparkling. The showers have been scrubbed to a fastidious gleam. The food is delicious and impeccably prepared. The folks who run Blue Morpho explain what is going to happen in ceremony, and provide a thorough guide book packed with useful information. They have a library, well kept forest trails, and a clean pond for swimming. All participants get to help make ayahuasca, a valuable experience. And in ceremony, if you need help, all you have to do is ask, and someone is there with a clean puke bucket, a helping hand to the toilet, or cold water to pour over your head if you are just too far gone, way too mareado.
Finding Blue Morpho is one of the trickiest parts of the deal. Head down the Nauta Road to around Km 53.5, and you will see absolutely no sign of the place at all, even though you are right there. The discreet driveway is unmarked. No buildings are visible. There is no welcome sign. There is nada, nyet, zip, nothing to suggest that the most widely publicized shamanic center ever is right there. It's easy to miss, and hard to find. You could pass it many times and never ever get to it. And maybe that's the point. Despite the international publicity gleaned by Blue Morpho, it makes no announcement of its presence. Think stealth shamanism.
Over the past four and a half years I have habitually gone to Espiritu de Anaconda at Km 14, run by maestro Shipibo shaman Guillermo Arevalo. But Guillermo isn't there currently, the place is re-named Anaconda Cosmica, and to put it bluntly, there isn't a lot of reason to go there without Guillermo. His main apprentice Ricardo Amaringo is gone, having started a center of his own. So when my friends wanted to be taken to Peru for ayahuasca shamanism, Blue Morpho was an easy choice, and they could afford it.
Founder of Blue Morpho Hamilton Souther is off starting his new course "Modern Shamanism," and so running Blue Morpho and co-leading ceremonies with don Alberto is center manager Malcolm Rossiter, whose aptitude for psychology and a polished gift of gab make him an ideal ringleader for the ceremonial festivities. After my wife Zoe and my friends and I settled into our spacious and clean bungalow, we headed to orientation, a conversation led by Malcolm. "We're all here to go into the world of traditional ayahuasca shamanism" he told us "and so today I want to share with you the basics, and to answer any of your questions."
I contrasted this well-led orientation to an experience I had two years ago at another center. Three young women who had never drunk ayahuasca showed up a few hours prior to ceremony. They were from New York, and I was the only English-speaking person available to them. As a de facto guide, I gave them a basic idea of what was to happen, and how a typical ceremony went. Still, they were ill-prepared. They were each served overly large amounts of ayahuasca, and they all freaked out and had a miserable time, clutching each other and sobbing through the fearsome night. At Blue Morpho too, people also freak out and have rough nights, but not because of inadequate conversation and preparation.
Early on there, I met Anatoley from Ukraine. As one of the helpers of the center advised me "Hey, Anatoley is a great guy. We all like him. But don't listen to anything he says, and don't take any of his advice." One of the first things Anatoley shared with me was that he was extremely powerful "All the shamans recognize my power," he beamed. "I'm so powerful, they just leave the room when I show up. They flee in fear." And I thought it was just that he had thick eyebrows. Note to self — Anatoley is very powerful.
Another comment Anatoley made that left me puzzled was "You know that Hamilton is the most powerful shaman anywhere. If he wanted to, he could take away all the power of all the other shamans just like that." Prying myself away, I sought safer ground. I can only imagine that Hamilton would cringe at someone saying such a thing on his behalf. Note to self — this is bad advice.
One of my friends (call him Ed) had been on anti-depressants for decades, and his reason for heading to Peru was to be rid of that pharmaceutical horror. We all had our reasons for being there, but his was quite acute. Zoe and I were there to dive deeper into the pool of ayahuasca shamanism. Ed's wife Alicia was there to deal with some issues related to family deaths. My other friend Benny had wanted to participate in an ayahuasca ceremony for decades.
At Blue Morpho you don't drop in for a ceremony or two. Instead you do a "tour" that may be five ceremonies, or even ten. We were there for a five day tour, adequate time, we hoped, for true healing to take place. And healing did in fact take place, in super-abundance. For if Blue Morpho offers anything, it's real, deep healing through traditional ayahuasca ceremonies. This is why so many people do repeat tours there.
The set-up is that don Alberto Davila, the maestro shaman who presides over the ceremonies, "fills the room with medicine." Don Alberto is an A-list shaman with energy, endurance and tremendous talent. When he gets going waving his chakapa (leaf fan) and singing icaros, the room fills with spirit. And while don Alberto is packing the atmosphere with luminous energy, co-leader Malcolm Rossiter works the room like a maitre d' at a great restaurant. One moment he is in one place, another moment the next. He is constantly giving direction to the helpers. "Get some water for Marjorie over here." "Would you assist Jack to the bano." Sometimes he leans over someone and chants to them, waves his chakapa, adjusts the dim light on his headlamp, and moves on. He works the room hard all night long, responsive to anyone in need, observant of all.
Not everyone in ceremony at Blue Morpho is clued in to the fact that everyone else is also there for their own personal journey. Some take the night's activities as a performance. Chloe from Los Angeles gives us a running commentary of her entire journey, almost every night. This is extremely tiresome. Note to self — space invader. She shouts exultantly at high pitch to one of the helpers "Let it out of your rectum! Oh, let it out of your rectum! Let it out!" Another choice eructation — "I'm a vegan and I want a hamburger!" I'm a humane guy, and I'm sympathetic to others for sure, but I don't give a rat's ass about any of her comments, and wish she were at least 3 Km down the road.
Danny too is full of useless blathering, from a running commentary on his favorite albums to critical observations on clothing, to restaurants he likes back home. My tolerance wears down to the nubs as he prattles endlessly about everything that has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of us journeying in peace. I start thinking about duct tape, and how it could calm the ceremony right down.
The idea is to allow everyone to have their healing, but several of us are just annoyed. Chloe and Danny have neither off buttons nor volume controls. When I am snake-wrestling with a luminous anaconda, the last thing I want is to hear someone else's conversation, nearby and at loud volume.
Despite the space invaders, the time at Blue Morpho is time well spent. Ed releases some kind of gnarly spirit, and has been happily off his anti-depressants since. He seems like a new man. Alicia, Zoe, Benny and I have excellent journeys and healings of our own.
Space invaders and bad advice excepted, the Blue Morpho experience is wonderful overall, and I am deeply impressed by how the place runs. On the morning we all take off back to Iquitos, don Alberto loiters around. He is evidently happy, and we all tell him in our own ways how wonderful it was to be in his ceremonies. Most of us take photos with him. Malcolm too, appears happy. And why shouldn't he be? We came, we drank, the room filled with the potent magic of ayahuasca, La Medicina, and an impressive amount of healing and transformation took place.
The shamanic landscape is changing and mutating, as shamanic teachings are working their way well past traditional cultural borders. As one of the leading entities of that emergence, Blue Morpho is doing a great job, providing an excellent experience for the seasoned and new alike.
At the beginning of my best night of ceremonies at Blue Morpho, I asked the ayahuasca to fill me with divine love, and to show me my plant spirit guides. Within minutes of feeling the ayahuasca, I was thoroughly suffused with boundless love that poured from my heart like the main fountain at the Bellagio. Four times in the evening the ayahuasca asked me "So, would you like to see the spirits now?" The first three times I said "Naw, I'm just happy to lie here filled with love, and to hold Zoe's hand. "Good choice," it replied.
The fourth time, the ayahuasca again asked "Would you like to see the spirits now?"
I replied "Hey, this is where where we're supposed to wind up, isn't it? Filled with love? What do the spirits matter now?"
"Good choice," replied the ayahuasca.
Read more about Ayahuasca and about Blue Morpho.
Read "Dawn on the Amazon Captains Blog" in The Iquitos Times
Photo by Chris Kilham.