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Gringo Ayahuasca: Meet Carlos Tanner

This is a conversation with Carlos Tanner on how he got involved with Ayahausca and his thoughts on braving the brew.

After visiting an Ayahuasca retreat finishing several Ayahuasca ceremonies in Iquitos, Peru this past month I found myself sitting next to a man in an internet cafe. I noticed that he was talking to a companion about Ayahuasca, so I decided to introduce myself.

It turned out that I was talking to the owner of an Ayahuasca retreat center based out of Iquitos.

Carlos Tanner is a new-comer to the Ayahuasca scene in Iquitos and is the co-owner and founder of Ayahuayra, a center for Ayahuasca shamanism. As I spoke to Carlos he told me about his latest visionary project, a Curandero Seminar that will complement the annual shamanic conference held during the summer in Iquitos.

I asked Carlos all the questions I could since I’ve become especially curious about the relationship between Ayahuasca shamanism and gringo westerners, like myself.

Talk about the evolution of your spiritual journey. How did you come to be involved with Ayahuasca shamanism in Iquitos, Peru and where are you now?

I was a rather normal kid, but because of a near-death experience as a two-week old baby due to hospital negligence, I was sick much more often than most kids.  I guess early on I did not trust modern medicine.  I began reading Carlos Casteñeda in high school and in college experimented with many mind altering substances.  After graduating with degrees in philosophy and art, I traveled the country in my VW bus and was introduced to many new things, one of them being salvia divinorum.  Research into this magical plant led me to ayahuasca, and synchronicity brought me down to Peru two times to meet my teacher don Juan.  The most profound experiences of my life kept me here for good, and completely changed the direction of my path in life forever.  For the last four years, I have been developing a healing retreat, an educational course, and now the Amazon Curandero Seminar.  I am planning an online course to be offered next fall as well.  I feel it is my mission to spread the wisdom of plant spirit medicine, as it is currently in danger of being lost to modern ignorance and capitalist greed.

What about the journey of the Ayahuasquero you work with. How did you come to meet him and what has his training been like?

Don Juan Tangoa Paima is such a unique person.  I doubt I will ever meet anyone like him.  His grandfather was a samurai, his grandmother from Goa, India.  His other grandfather was a Peruvian curandero from a long lineage of Amazon healers, passing the wisdom on to his mother and then to him.  At the age of 19, he fought in the Vietnam war for the U.S., where he was wounded and received the purple heart.  He worked for an oil company upon his return to Peru, until a near-death experience involving a poisonous snake bite made him change his ways and return to his original path as a healer.  He began studying with the indigenous tribes of the rain forest, eventually settling into the Ichuari community, some six days from Iquitos by boat.  He began having visions that he was to bring the science of plant spirit medicine to the white culture in order to save the world from imminent destruction, so he moved to Iquitos and began teaching gringos.  I am one of many students that don Juan has had.  Now, with the educational courses we offer, he will have many many more.

I met don Juan through friends of a friends, really just a bizarre coincidence, if you believe in those.  I don´t, so to me, it was divine providence.  Studying with him has been an adventure worth writing about, and I hope to publish several books on my experiences with the maestro, don Juan.  I would say, however, that don Juan is my guide and the teachers are the spirits themselves.  Don Juan introduces me to them and makes sure I stay safe in my explorations, but my true teachers live in the spiritual dimensions.

Does he receive criticism from other local shamans for not being entirely Peruvian?

He used to experience a lot of criticism, especially because he is such a powerful curandero, and often without meaning to, he would show up the local curandero in his search for teachers.  After some time studying with various tribes and ayahuasqueros, he had made some enemies due to jealousy.  A group of nine brujos got together and killed don Juan´s wife, for they still could not get to him.  His wife did not drink ayahuasca, and her death left him with three children to look after on his own.  They got by and he eventually remarried, and his current wife attends ceremonies and drinks ayahuasca.

There is not as much animosity towards mestizo curanderos now, because there are so many, especially living close to town.  It is more rare to find an indigenous curandero these days, and this will continue.

How do you respond to criticisms about Ayahuasca tourism and the idea that places like ayahuayra are to blame for the current surge of potential taxation and legislation from the Peruvian Government. Many people blame folk like you for contaminating the traditional medicine practices with western, materialistic ideologies. How do you balance business with medicine training?

I personally did not drink ayahuasca for a long time because I did not want to participate in a tourist program.  When I met don Juan, he was holding ceremonies for the locals, healing the people of his community.  That was what I wanted to see, and our program is really an opportunity to witness the life of don Juan, to watch him heal the local community of all kinds of afflictions, as well as to receive help yourself.  I have always wanted to disassociate our program from any sort of tourism, and we have continued to move away from tourism-based ideas towards providing educational opportunities.

I have seen some tourist programs and I am truly appalled at how irresponsible those companies are.  I have likewise heard horror stories of programs where the supposed curandero bought the wrong vine and thus had no ayahuasca, where the curandero left the ceremony and didn´t return, and to where people have needed real help and no one has done anything for them.  I do not agree with ayahuasca tourism.  However, I can say unequivocally that it is not the few westerners who are starting ayahuasca tour programs that are contaminating the traditional medicine practices, it is the influence of Western Culture as a whole, and on a much much larger scale.  Blame the pharmeceutical companies who are putting pharmacies on every corner in Iquitos, and blame the US model of capitalist marketing and competition within the health care industry, but the people who are trying to make money off ayahuasca are not the ones threatening traditional medicine, they may be the ones who preserve it, for the encroaching western paradigm is forcing curanderos to earn a wage, to make money, to get paid for their skills.

As the rainforest modernizes, curanderismo becomes less and less profitable, when compared to chainsaw repair or working for an oil well, especially.  For the practice to continue, curanderos must find a way to make money without letting it taint the practice.  This is a challenge, to say the least, but we at Ayahuayra have tried to solve this dillema by continuing to offer free treatment to the locals, which is now subsidized by the money that is provided by foreign travellers and students.

You have gotten to know the local Ayahuasca shamans and medicinal market in Iquitos. Is there competition among the shamans? How does it play out? How should a westernern looking for a safe and healing experience shop for shamans on the web?

A lot of people imagine shamans to be gurus or enlightened beings, when in reality they are doctors.  If you know any doctors in the states, then you know that they are not enlightened beings, nor gurus, although they might like to think they are.  The same can be said about curanderos, only they have a means to act on their competitive nature that would be considered illegal and punishable by law in the states.  Because the spiritual dimensions are still off limits to the current model of justice and law, a brujo can attack another brujo and possibly kill him/her, and no authorities would be called.

This plays out in many childish and immature displays of ego expressed in literal warfare in the spiritual dimension.  It is the one aspect of curanderismo that I detest and hope to avoid any personal involvement in it.  I say hope because I am human, too.  If we had curanderos in the States, and when we do, there will be the risk of brujos doing the same thing.  I guess you can´t have the light without the dark.
How to find a shaman is a very tough question.  The answer that comes to mind is that you must feel that it is right.  Your intuition must lead you, and faith must carry you along the path, and then whatever happens, there are lessons and interpretations and the future will present itself, as it always does to those of us with our eyes open.

There has been an annual curandero conference in Iquitos. Could you explain what this is, what happens at the event?

The Amazonian Shamanism Conference is a exposition of ideas pertaining to ayahuasca and other psychotropic substances.  Studies are being done all over the world, and some of the top scientists and researchers come to the conference to describe their findings.  Shamans are also on hand to give a brief introduction and to hold ceremonies.  It is a place to meet like-minded individuals and try new things.  Don Juan and I have participated in all three conferences, and I presented in the last one.

You are currently organizing a complementary seminar to the annual summer conference. What is the difference between your event and the annual event? What is your vision for this event? How did this vision come to you?

Actually, the Amazon Curandero Seminar is a the product of our educational course, which was conceived before the Conference, I do feel it could be complementary.  The seminar is basically our six-week initiation course condensed down into nine days.  There will be six curanderos participating, each leading a 4-hour workshop every day, and three ayahuasca ceremonies during the seminar.  Attendees of the seminar will take part in each of the workshops, where they will learn about how the medicine is made, the purpose and use of the healing tool called the chakapa, the use of tobacco and tobacco smoke, the healing songs called icaros, the medicinal plants and plant remedies, and the animal spirits, among other topics.  Two indigenous tribes will also give lectures and run smaller workshops demonstrating various aspects of their culture, like food preparation, fabric production and decoration, song and dance, and hunting tools and techniques.  Extended retreats will be offered immediately following the seminar, to enable further study with one of the curanderos on a more intimate level.

My vision is for people to get a general understanding of the curandero´s perspective, a basic grasp of the materials and techniques involved in plant spirit medicine, and to make the special connections that will bring about further study with curanderismo.  I feel the only hope for the world is a revolution of the human spirit.  The more curanderos there are, the better our chances of good defeating evil.  The more light there is in the world, the less darkness there can be.
As soon as I started doing the healing retreat, I realized that everyone who came down wanted not only to be healed, but to learn how it was done.  More and more people asked for extended stays, longer diets, etc.  I just responded to the feedback I was getting and it all just worked itself out.

What do you think about people cooking up Ayahuasca at home, here in the states say, without the aid of a trained shaman?

I personally think this is a bad idea.  I also think it is a bad idea to have sex with a stranger you just met at a party.  Does this mean it is not going to happen?  No.  So what can we do?  Well, in the case of having sex, we can at least offer a condom, some sort of protection which, while not the best, is much better than nothing.  I want to offer similar protection to the brave and often foolish pioneers who choose to explore the spiritual dimensions without a guide.  I am putting together a kit that will better prepare people for ayahuasca experimentation.  It will include a recording of an authentic ceremony in the jungle from beginning to end, a booklet explaining the songs and providing the musical notation and lyrics, with translations.  The format of a ceremony will also be given and tips on how to best proceed.  An online course is in the works as well.

We cannot deny the fact that it was pioneers who brought many new things into awareness, and so while there may be many casualties, in the end some real good could come from it.  Safety is the key, however, so I cannot stress enough the need for being cautious.  Don´t try to fly to Mars on the first try.

Does Ayahuasca interfere with the use of other psychedelics afterwards? Is it a “jealous” medicine?

In my experience it is not at all, however, your attitude towards the other psychedelics may have changed significantly due your reverence and respect for the sacred medicine ayahuasca.  You will see that you cannot take another psychedelic recrationally, for you will understand your communion with the other side and thus you may blame ayahuasca for your inability to return to your old habit patterns of use with other substances.  If you had the same reverence and respect for those substance prior to meeting ayahuasca, then your relationship will only grow stronger, as is the case in my experience.

What is your take on the current legislation being presented regarding practicing medicine without a certificate?

This is so indicative of the US model that I must assume that it was given directly to them from the US medical industry, or more like the pharmaceutical industry.  They simply cannot control or profit off of plant spirit medicine.  So, naturally, they would like to do away with it, especially if over 70% of the Loreto region uses it.  That is a lot of potential pharmaceutical drug customers, a lot of potential addicts, slaves to the modern medical industry.  I think the ayahuasca movement is so much bigger than just drug tourism or even natural medicine, I see it as the awakening of mankind to the truth, the univeral truth of all things.  All lies will be revealed, all secrets uncovered, for nothing in this world can hide from the spiritual dimension, and a true global revolution will lead us to our own salvation.  I have faith in this vision, and my life is dedicated to bringing this about, the New Revolution of the Human Spirit.

The website for the seminar is: and the website for Ayahuayra is

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