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Mind–Altering Vacations: Ayahuasca in Brazil

Condé Nast Traveler

Arts + Culture

Condé Nast TravelerMind–Altering Vacations

by Barbara Cleveland


The buzz: For more than 3,000 years, Amazonian tribes have been using this tea—brewed from the vine of the ayahuasca plant and the leaves of the chacruna, a member of the coffee family—to cure emotional ailments. Current practitioners describe it as a confrontation with one's innermost self. But this is no sissy sipping experience: Because the tea contains dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, you'll have emotional highs similar to what you experience on Ecstasy and hallucinations on par with peyote. The trip can last from 2 to 5 hours, depending on the amount of tea you drink.

Where to score: Heart of the Initiate, a U.S.-based organization, offers ayahuasca workshops at an eco-resort on the coast of Brazil, where the indigenous, religious, and ritual use of ayahuasca is protected by federal law. The workshops—either 8 or 17 days—begin with 2 days of decompression, followed by ayahuasca ceremonies every other day, led by an experienced shaman. The company insists that ayahuasca is not a recreational drug, warning that you should expect to "get comfortable with being uncomfortable."

Where to chill: The simple answer? You won't. The ceremony itself can get quite intense—there's chanting, songs in tribal languages, incense, and, of course, drinking the tea. And you should expect to throw up. Just as in ayurvedic traditions on the other side of the world, vomiting is an expected and therapeutic part of the process. Champions claim that ayahuasca purges the digestive, circulatory, and neurological systems, and many participants report a feeling of well-being and internal "cleanliness" that lasts after the ceremony.

How to come down: Feel free to wander within the bounds of the resort, but don't give in to the siren song of the beach—the riptides can be extremely dangerous. Coming down from the experience as a whole, though, is a longer process. Past trippers talk about sporadic bursts of emotional insights for weeks after the workshops—so you may as well do that on the beach in Rio.

Copyright 2009 Condé Nast Traveler

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