Gaia Sagrada, ayahuasca, Ecuador

Gaia Sagrada, ayahuasca, Ecuador

An Ayahuasca ceremony in Ecuador.

Not for the Faint of Heart

I have been retired in Cuenca, Ecuador for over five years. I am content, happy and have a network of friends. And I feel like there should be more—more of something. 

Am I just wasting space, breathing good air?

When I decided to do an Ayahuasca ceremony I knew I wanted a real Shaman, a safe environment, and I did not want to trek deep into the jungle to do it. 

After a bit of research I decided on Gaia Sagrada located about 45 minutes outside Cuenca, high in the Andes mountains of Ecuador.

Gaia Sagrada arranged for a driver to pick me up along with Poppy and Adam. It was a long and winding road into an Andean valley near the small community of Jadan (A Qhechua word that means “Close to Heaven”).

Gaia sits on 55 pristine acres in the Andes Mountains. Just as we arrived it started to rain. With a hand full of umbrellas, Jerry, the General Manager, introduced himself and showed us to our rooms.

Casa Tranquilo, Gaia Sagrada, ayahuasca, Ecuador

My room in Casa Tranquilo was a single with bathrooms in the hall and showers behind Casa del Sol.

The Cottage, Gaia Sagrada, ayahuasca, Ecuador

After settling in I joined the other attendees in the Cottage, a little house with living room, library, kitchen and bath where people congregated.

I was surprised to meet so many people from England, Wales, Scotland and Australia. The accents and conversations were delightful and interesting. Most participants were under 40, with about half being in their 20s. At 72, I was the oldest. 

Gaia Sagrada provides a meeting of South and North American cultures, with South America providing authentic shamans and ceremonies; North America the clean comfortable rooms and English speakers.

Gaia is the brainchild of Christine Breese who wanted to provide a safe and spiritual environment for people to experience the sacred medicine plants of South America. 

Christine also is the founder of University of Metaphysical Sciences in California.

Gaia has permanent staff of about 15 as well as the shamans who assist guests during their stay and during the ceremonies of Ayahuasca, San Pedro and the Sweat Lodge. Gaia also offers a work/stay program.

I had prepared for this journey by eating a clean, light whole food diet in the week leading up to the trip and eating only fruit the morning of my first ceremony. 

Maloka, Gaia Sagrada, ayahuasca, Ecuador

The Ayahuasca ceremonies take place in the Maloka, an open-air wooden yurt. 

Three to five Shaman along with staff members are there to help if you need assistance during the ceremony.

The participants sit around the outer edge of the circle on pads with blankets and backjacks (that type of cushion and back that fold up for sitting on benches in ball parks or around campfires).

As we settle in candles are lit and the shaman prepare. Prayers are offered to Mama Aya. Tobacco juice is passed that is snorted up the nose; this is to open the pineal gland. The shaman pours Ayahuasca for you and you are given an orange slice to cut the taste. I had heard so much about how bad the Ayahuasca tasted that I was relieved to find it not so bad.

The candles are snuffed and the journey begins. It takes about 15 minutes to an hour for the Ayahuasca to take effect.

Green Quark, Gaia Sagrada, ayahuasca, Ecuador

I had set my intention for Mama Aya to open my heart and to give me what I need—big mistake. My journey started with a sense of being paralyzed even though I was aware I could move if I wanted. My first vision was of giant spiders walking over me. Although I was terrified, I realized how beautiful these rainbow colored creatures were. I remained calm because I knew I was safe and this was a journey I chose. I saw images of lights and colors like carnival rides and occasionally a clown face. (This clown face can be seen around Cuenca on the tops of trash cans.)

Salvador, Gaia Sagrada, ayahuasca, Ecuador

As Salvador, the Shaman (Ayahuascero in Spanish) observed, I dry heaved into a bucket. It felt as if he were charming some deep entrenched thing out of my gut. The songs would rise and ebb, pulling at me then letting me rest. 

Later the Shamans’ songs produced an icy cold feeling and I asked for more blankets. I began to shiver and shake until I was exhausted. The Shamans had beautiful voices and the effect was intense. 

Both my ceremonies were like this. I am told it takes three ceremonies to began to experience incites and visions. My experiences were about healing. At the end Salvador said to me, “I know this is not what you wanted, but you had necrosis of the heart and there was a lot of work to be done.”

Gaia Sagrada, ayahuasca, Ecuador

The Ayahuasca ceremonies begin around seven in the evening and go until close to dawn.

After the ceremony there is a light meal and everyone heads off to bed.

Most of the other participants had experienced Ayahuasca before and they appeared to have much more pleasant experiences. Also since they were younger they probably did not have so much stuff to deal with.

Monday was a day of rest, which I sorely needed as I had little sleep the two previous nights. Several of the young men played guitar and sang as the rest of us set around talking or checking email.

The San Pedro ceremony started at nine Tuesday morning. We trudged up a steep hill to a glade in the woods. We again had the tobacco ceremony, and then took the San Pedro.

I was able to keep it down only a half hour. Afterwards I was exhausted and lay over on my backpack and watched the others. They appeared very happy and very funny. Fifty-two-year-old banker Leo, Mike from New York and Fernando from Austin kept everyone laughing.

We then ventured to a spot in the meadow. The young people offered to carry my backpack and Mike walked me from one location to the next. We ended in a spot above the Maloka where we were offered more San Pedro and a chance to talk about what we wanted in life. Christine was a compassionate listener offering gentle advice. This ceremony ended around nine pm with a light meal.

Wednesday I returned to Cuenca feeling lighter and a little disconnected as if my nervous system had been reset.

Ayahuasca is not for the timid or closed minded. Would I do it again? I plan to do one or two more ceremonies. And I will go back to Gaia Sagrada.

—Gertie Italiano

Gertie Italiano hails from Mississippi but considers Nevada her home. She has lived six years in Cuenca, Ecuador where she taught cooking classes at a local orphanage, then starting a catering business. She has retired again and is looking for her next thing.

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