• #1: The job started in Lima, arriving from Ecuador in the North via the Panamerican Highway and a 35 hour bus ride.

    I had very tiny budget because I had already spent six weeks on the continent working on a book. Now I had about seven weeks left to shoot my film on Ayahuasca - the hallucinogenic brew only found in the amazonian rainforest.

    Without knowing anybody and no knowledge of Spanish I started researching in the capital with its 10 million people.

    #2: There are basically three main places in Peru from where you can enter the jungle. One of them is Iquitos - the northernmost harbour on the Amazonas river, only reachable by plane or boat - considered to be a psychedelic capital of the Ayahuascas world.

    30% of its tourists travel there for one reason only: getting high on the once sacred medicine which is now degenarating the city to be the centre of charlatans, self-proclaimed gringo shamans, new-age gurus and spiritual freaks from all over the world.

    #3: The second is Pucallpa - the less "famous" kin of Iquitos but just as good as the first - it is located in land of the Shipibo tribe, who are considered the masters of the shamanic rituals. 

    #4: Unfortunately, to reach the jungle from Lima, you need to cross the Andes mountain range and at the time there were huge floods in the region causing massive landslides. The resulting road closures left me unable to reach the destination. After three days and three unsuccessful attempts I decided to change course and head east rather than north aiming to eventually reach the third of the ports: Puerto Maldonado.

  • #5: But first I had settled for Cusco, the second biggest city in Peru. Situated in the Andes, about 3000 meters above sea level, it is a region where another sacred plant, the cactus San Pedro containing mescaline, naturally grows.

    Both plants, Ayahuasca and San Pedro, along with others like coca, are considered cultural heritage in Peru and are treated accordingly, as sacred and in their natural form, also legal.

    #6: Since the fifties, when William Burroughs and the Beat generation, and later the brothers McKennas discovered Yage and brought it to the wider public, more and more Westerners have been drawn to Peru, lured by the potency of the plants. Accelerated by the onset of globalization, the '90s saw 'ayahuasca' becoming an international trend - today we can truly witness an 'ayahuasca boom'. Where there is demand, there is also business potential which makes searching for the traditional way of drinking more difficult.

    #7: I started to cast nets in Cusco, but after meeting a young gringo in skinny jeans handing out flyers around the Plaza de Armas (main square) inviting me to a shaman's office the next day, I soon realized that this was not the place. So I moved further into the mountains, into the Sacred Valley, an area right beneath Machu Picchu and its self-proclaimed centre, a small hippie town called Pisac.

    #8: You can basically find two types of travellers here: passersby exploring the area, heading for Machu picchu and shopping in one of the best traditional markets in the country; and then, long term hang-outers who enjoy the year-round springlike climate, more-developed infrastructure and the fact that this place attracts exactly these kinds of people. 

  • Life is easy in Pisac: everybody seems to be on their own mission:
    travelers pursue their quest for spiritual awakening with legal hallucinogens and locals grow businesses from reiki, yoga, ayahuasca restaurant diets - or mescaline ceremonies taking place en masse under the full moon.
     This is the reality in today's Peru and I decided I needed to also show this aspect.

    #9: First, I intended to shoot a film about both the Ayahuasca and San Pedro master plants since they represent female and male principles in indigenous cosmology. However, I wasn't able to find anyone in the Sacred Valley who would be authentic enough to talk about the traditional way of working with mescaline... It took almost a week to find someone.

    #10: Eventually, I did. The footage of a mescaline field full of San Pedro cacti (where my ceremony took place) ended up as the opening Pisac sequence. an interview with a young gringo ayahuasca "student" who was in Peru to study master plant knowledge and make it "more understandable for westerners."

    #11: But, I didn’t find enough people able to talk about wachuma - as they call the cacti here - so I decided to narrow the focus on ayahuasca only. To find the vine in its natural environment, you need to travel into the jungle.  

    I set out for Puerto Maldonado, a frontier jungle port of about 60,000 inhabitants with only one backpacker hostel. Moving away from tourist areas it was harder to find English speakers, so a major concern became the language barrier.  

                                                                                             > continue : CURANDEROS — Part 2

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