Quito to Macas, Amazonia

I probably wouldn’t have based myself in Quito for five weeks if I hadn’t been waiting for Ben’s visit, and I wouldn’t say I fell for Ecuador’s capital as I did for Oaxaca (México) and Medellín (Colombia), but I enjoyed my amazing panoramic view of the old city from El Panecillo and was quite productive there. As well as listening to Juliet Stephenson reading ‘Middlemarch’, filing my tax return and updating my will, I also did quite a bit of sightseeing, got vaccinations for yellow fever (free) and rabies (two shots for $50), caught up with 20-odd friends and had a thoroughly successful visit from Ben. A local specialist electrical shop tried but sadly failed to fix my Dog Dazer.

The other thing I did in Quito was decide to attend an ayahuasca retreat before leaving Ecuador. I already have enough to feel terrified about in Peru (namely its immense scale and packs of vicious, cyclist-hating dogs), plus ayahuasca retreats are considerably cheaper here (I’ll have to plunder my savings), and the shaman are regulated. I’ve been toying with this idea for years since one of my oldest friends first did it in Peru; in Quito conviction struck and I researched the options quite quickly, booking an eight-night, four-ceremony retreat that fits nicely into my itinerary for my third and final month in Ecuador.

Of course, some will say ayahuasca is a load of woo-woo nonsense, or that taking it is cultural appropriation. They may be right. Few who take it remain unchanged.

After leaving Quito I cycled the Quilotoa Loop, and walked around the crater at 3,900m above sea-level. As I did this I reflected on my intentions and hopes for the retreat. I’m now making my way down from the Andes to Macas - which is in the Amazon region at just 1,000m above sea-level - ready for my retreat from 8-15 March.

Nearly ten years ago in July 2009 something happened which altered the course of my life. While I was in Quito the ‘ten-year challenge’ craze on social media caught my attention and I began planning a significant blog post reflecting on the past decade since that event. I re-read some of my key writings (including correspondence), and asked for reflections from close friends. But then, for a couple of reasons, I decided to wait until July to write that post.

As well as reflecting on the ways my life - and I - have changed in ten years I’d like to set some intentions for the next five or ten. Not necessarily precise notions about where I’ll be or what I’ll do, but intentions for how I’ll continue to grow. (Note: Re-establishing a regular, simple meditation practice is certainly top of list - space to tune into Self. Putting more time and energy into relationship with others is likely to be there too.)

Most of the past decade was characterised by rapid change and resulting growth (and you might say being ‘unsettled’ is my new normal), but lately I’ve been wondering whether spending so much time alone isn’t retarding my personal growth and maybe even reversing it in some ways.

Maybe it’s the enormity of South America (let alone of absolute freedom and solitude!), but I’m feeling a bit lost and overwhelmed! I also feel grumpy and misanthropic quite often, which is our family’s way of saying ‘I’m not quite OK but I’m barely aware of it and haven’t a clue what to do about it so rraa’.

They say taking ayahuasca can feel ‘like ten years of therapy in one night’. I really miss the regular therapy I invested in for 5.5 of the past ten years, so I’m hoping there’s some truth in this.

The psychological transition out of my LTR (from 33-35) was the most humbling experience of my life to date. It broke me down and I put mySelf together anew. As I approach 43 I am now ready for ayahuasca to break me down again.

My unexpectedly emotional mushrooms trip last summer awakened me to a level of feeling and healing that neither talking therapy nor reading (and rarely relationship) had yet achieved. Events of last summer also highlighted how my tendency to dissociate from feelings (while being drawn to feelers) continues to blight my romantic relationships especially.

This is going to sound uncomfortably woo-woo for some of my readers, but I am going to ask ayahuasca to show me what I cannot see/ how my coping mechanisms are blocking me.

They say one’s intention or question for ayahuasca should be short so you can remember it while tripping balls all night. They also say it should cut to the heart of what scares you. Specifically I am thinking of asking ‘Help me feel it’. I may be advised to pick one feeling (or one per night), in which case I’m inclined to choose joy, love/compassion and sadness or anger.

“In its proper ceremonial setting, under compassionate and experienced guidance, the plant - or, as tradition has it, the spirit of the plant - puts people in touch with their repressed pain and trauma, the very factors that drive all dysfunctional behaviours. Consciously experiencing our primal pain loosens its hold on us. Thus may ayahuasca achieve in a few sittings what many years of psychotherapy can only aspire to.” - Dr Gabor Maté


May I be open and courageous enough to make the most of this privilege.