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Thursday, 7 June 2018

Toronto - Rediscovering "Home"

Toronto is my hometown, the city I was born and raised in. My large extended family all live here.

Graffiti Alley, downtown Toronto

Yet, Toronto has never been a place I called home. Partly because I never properly explored it, always fringing along its outskirts. And partly due to the fact I never really fit in amongst my peers growing up.

Nearly 8 years after first moving away, after coming down to earth from traveling, along with a reassessment of my life goals, I felt ready to come home and reconnect with my family. After all, they are always willing to take me back. They are my blood, my kin, and there's an intangible connection there, for better or for worse.

I spent some time living with my sister, then with my parents. Then I spent a summer living in a cabin in the woods north of Toronto. But all this time I had been far from the heart of Toronto. Finally, with the understanding that family's family but I needed to find my own people, I moved to downtown Toronto in February 2018.
One of my favorite things, making beer, has become a family affair
Making lasagna for mom and grandma out of dumpster dived ingredients

There was a mix of fear and excitement. I had a few friends from before I left, but for the most part, it was a fresh start. I was mature enough now to find my niche anywhere I go, but was fearful of the competitive nature of such an expensive and big city, filled with busy people always on the go.

I managed to find enough work to keep me afloat and give me the time I valued to check out all that Toronto had to offer. I went to music shows alone and underground clubs where I danced on my own, yet not totally alone among a sea of die hard clubbers. I attended free bike maintenance workshops, and a variety of other events that catered to my interests, such as language learning meetups and environmental talks.

Slowly, as I half expected and hoped, I began making real human connections and building friendships, both new and old. These connections came in unique ways - one was through a common friend no longer in TO, another through dumpster diving, another through the bicycle workshops, through a music festival, a few through Couchsurfing, and a super interesting roommate.
Getting a tattoo from my best friend in TO
Whenever I dumpster dive eggs, I picture those chickens pooping those eggs, just for us.
They say that you are defined by the closest five people you surround yourself with. It's telling how when I first left Toronto my peers were all engineers and professionals who eventually bought houses and started families. Now they comprise an eclectic crew of tattoo artists, graphic designers, farmer's market managers, dogsitters, musicians and dumpster divers, passionate human beings who live young and dance their butts off.

Then, one day I brushed past the wings of an angel - at least an angel in my visage - a punky, tattooed and dreaded Asian girl. I met her while she was practicing flow arts in a busy city park nearby where I was slacklining. We hung out the week after in the same park, chatting and getting to know eachother and I thought we had a pretty surreal connection. In a cheesy way, my consciousness slightly expanded just by meeting her, someone like her I never knew existed yet was seeking, someone I intuitively knew was out there somewhere in the universe.

Alas, I was on my way out of Toronto yet again, and our meeting was ever so fleeting. Not having any expectations or knowing at all what might have been, meeting her was still the icing on the cake at the end of my Toronto experience. It was a confirmation about the city I came back to, that I could find my way in this big scary place.
Slacklining in the park the first sunny and warm day of the year

For a reason that's both necessary and trivial, I had to return to my nomadic ways, a bit sad about leaving. But more than ever, I feel like I've grown roots in this city, built a foundation of friendships, and am proud to call it home.

For all of the travails of Toronto (and big cities in general) - traffic, rude people, cost of living, to name a few - I really love big cities because it's where the action's at. Toronto serves as the environment for a critical mass of human creativity and diversity to come together to create beautiful arts and music. This is what I love most about my hometown.

Next time I'm back in Toronto, I hope to build further on the foundation from the previous 4 months. So come sing and dance with me and let's enjoy what this amazing city has to offer!

Sunday, 18 March 2018

A Fork in Every Traveler's Road

Traveling is like any other experience once you go deeper into it - it becomes incredibly nourishing and fulfilling in ways you could never imagine. You learn things about yourself you never knew were there, you have unforgettable experiences, you make amazing human connections. And sometimes the traveling experience becomes so addictive that you end up giving up your previous life entirely, to go traveling for years, maybe even decades.

And at some point you look back and wonder how you got to this place in your life, having experienced more than most people do in five lifetimes, yet feeling like you're on the outside looking in...
A lovely mix of working/volunteering travelers in Ollantaytambo, Peru 2017

Here in a nutshell (or not) is the emotional journey that leads the traveler to this eventual fork in the road. And I'll use some nerdy science to explain!


Beyond the most obvious and somewhat superficial reasons of going to cool places and checking off the bucket list, it can be hard to understand why one goes traveling in the first place. There certainly are more subtle, less obvious reasons why we travel.

From our tender youths, our brains are actually operating largely in the theta wavelength - this allows our brains to make and reproduce observations - in simple terms, in our youth, we learn to copy the behaviours of our family and our peers, to learn and conform to the culture of our society.

After age 7, our brains switch to a different wavelength, beta - signalling a new stage in life, one where we discover what it is we want for ourselves, how to carve out our own identity. And in this new stage, if we already fit in to the society around us, then there's no change needed or tension to address.

However, if we have a disconnect from the society around us we end up longing for escape. This societal disconnect could be with family, community or even country.
Stargazing in Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia 2017

When we travel, the whole experience is usually so new and stimulating that we tend to get wrapped up in the novelty of travel. Rarely do we see it as escaping from our native society as if it were a prison.

But it no doubt includes this reason - an opportunity to get away from everything we once knew, the society we grew up in, to start afresh with a clean slate, a chance to rewrite those cultural norms we learned until (and since) age 7.

So most of us go traveling for two general reasons - we are simultaneously being pulled to new experiences and pushed away from home.

But at some point the pull gets old. Like any other experience, if you travel long enough, eventually the novelty wears out. Believe it or not this can actually happen, you can start getting tired of traveling!

It happened to me anyway. At some point along my travels, I discovered that my passion for traveling had dwindled. And yet I was still doing it.

Eventually I realized the reasons as I have just been discussing - the novelty of traveling was fading away, and I was mainly escaping. In my younger days I did feel a disconnect from society, which fueled my escape. I also began long term traveling out of both discovery and escape, and now the latter was all there was left.
Playing... hopscotch? Annapurna Base Camp, Nepal 2014
This is the fork in the road - the moment when the novelty of travel fades away and no longer becomes a strong reason to continue traveling.

There are certainly long term travelers who make exception to the fork in the road - there are some whose lust for travel never dies, there are some whose disconnect from home is so strong they simply never want to go back. And there are some who never become aware of this fork in the road realization.

If you're reading this and feel stuck in your life, ask yourself this - do you feel stuck in your society, stuck in your job, stuck with your friends or family? Perhaps it is time to ride along your beta waves and go traveling to find your true identity.

Or if you are traveling without a purpose, are you simply continuing to escape from home? Then perhaps it is time to go home after all. And as difficult as it will be to confront the reasons you originally escaped, hopefully you have now developed the tools and adaptability through traveling to be able to overcome those reasons.
On my way to my hitchhiking spot towards Berlin - Warsaw, Poland 2015

Personally I did eventually return home. It has been a long process of overcoming, and I am still in the process of it. But luckily I have learned the tools and patience necessary to slowly reintegrate into Toronto society.

However, the travel bug has returned and I am longing - not for escape - but for adventure once again!

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

I am a Modern Day Hippie and Proud of It

I dove into hippie culture a couple of years ago, attending music festivals, discovering psychedelics in a big way, long term traveling, and overall living a free life.
I like bright colours - India, 2014
At a beautifully small intimate music festival - near Vancouver, 2016
Shambhala Music Festival, 2016

Since then I've had a hard time describing myself in conversations with people. I consider myself a hippie now but had a bit of an identity crisis at one point, as I noticed that a lot of people avoid using the word, as there seemed to be a lot of negative connotations attached to it.

Hippie is a term I have been individually mulling as well as discussing with others for quite awhile, and I think I am ready to share my thoughts about it. But first, a little context.


The Hippie Era came into existence with the introduction of LSD to American culture, thanks to rogue professor Timothy Leary, who originally secretly experimented with it, then defying the constraints of his research project, unleashed it to the world.

Leary famously told everyone to "turn on, tune in, drop out" as LSD dissolves boundaries created within our minds. The result is peace and love, tie dye, and a tendency to lose faith in authority.

But peace and love was the association that stuck with the hippies of the 60s.

Today, however, it's quite a different story. Today, hippies are mostly associated with dreadlocks and irresponsibility. As outcasts from society who dress in ragged clothing, don't shower, don't work and wander around aimlessly and often selfishly nourishing their bottomless need for spiritual fulfillment.

How did this happen? In the course of half a century, the term hippie went from being a unique niche in society to being derogatory. While the core values of hippieism from the 60s were retained since its inception - that of peace, love and rebelling against authority - these values have been usurped by more superficial traits such as their unkempt appearance or lack of footwear.

While hippieism was a new and novel thing in the 60s, over time it has evolved to become an easy target for society. Since society is consisted of a vast majority who conform to its norms, this majority feels threatened by those who don't conform in the same way.

However, with the growing awareness in the world of how modern society is getting so many things wrong more and more people than ever are starting to not conform. Or as Timothy Leary put it, they're turning on their brains, tuning in to the real issues, and dropping out of society.
Just a bunch of hippies on the beach - near Tofino, BC, 2016
Meditation session - Tribe Festival near Canmore, AB, 2016

And those who don't conform are getting lumped into one fringe category - that's right, the hippies. So the user group "hippie" has become watered down to encompass all people that don't conform from potheads, festival goers, anarchists and artists all the way to permaculturalists.

This has brought a lot of confusion to the identity of hippieism and left out of the argument is the core values that highlight the positives.


Stubborn as this goal may be, I want to reverse the watering down of the term. I want to restore the old definition and restore the integrity of what it means to be a hippie. If this means risking my own reputation as I describe myself to others, I don't care. I'm happy if I can take the next step and arrive at a meaningful discussion about the topic.

The real meaning of being hippie goes to the core values - it's about peace and love, living closer to nature and connecting with other people. It's not about Native headdresses, eating granola or hula hooping.

In these values I personally strongly believe. In these values I am proud! And I want other hippies to be proud too.

But I know that it's much easier to judge a book by its cover. Too bad that doesn't work with me. Because I rarely dress like a hippie. No dreadlocks, a few small hidden tattoos, unripped jeans and normal sweaters, no obvious smell (though grandma says otherwise).

I choose to fit the appearance stereotypes in select contexts - at music festivals, or when I'm traveling. But in most contexts I look like you're average joe.

Unfortunately, every user group is subject to such extremism, in which a few extreme users taint the reputation of the entire group. A few bad cyclists give all bad cyclists a bad name, and fuel for drivers to hate all of them. And of course we've heard of religious extremists and terrorists, which give all followers of that religion a bad name.

All this extremism just causes labeling and an us versus them mentality. And it needs to stop.

So call me an advocate for real hippies! I hope I can dissolve the boundaries within your mind about what a hippie is. If you are interested in dissolving boundaries with me, let's talk and get to know eachother!

PEACE. And ...
Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia 2017

Saturday, 13 January 2018

We Are All Icebergs

The concept of consciousness might be boggling to you.

After all, science has to a large degree explained how the world works, satisfying our basic need for understanding of our universe, yet it hasn't come close to understanding consciousness. Curiosity about our consciousness is an itch that is hard to satisfy. For many it is left to be scratched by priests, shamans and mystics. It is just starting to be scratched by quantum physicists (or is it?).

I am certainly not one of these authorities on consciousness, and it is still a concept which continues to boggle me. But allow me to share my own perspective, a picture of consciousness I've painted over long hours of solitude and contemplation.

My perspective of consciousness

If I were to use an ocean based analogy contrasting our own land based existence, then our consciousness is the great blue ocean, an infinite expanse, and I am just an iceberg floating on its surface. The surface of the ocean is my reality, the sensory world I live in. Or at least it is what I perceive to be real, and what's real can be validated by my fellow iceberg colleagues like you - making it a shared reality.

Despite how you perceive me, there is more to me than meets the eye - I am so much more on the inside. In fact, only 10% of an iceberg is above the ocean's surface - meaning 90% of an iceberg is underwater!

Similarly, the real me are the thoughts and emotions swimming in this unheard and unseen space of consciousness just below the surface. This realm of consciousness is the same ocean that both you and I float in. However, underwater it is too opaque for me to see you or other icebergs, thus extremely difficult to see each other for who we really are below the surface. Though we have a shared consciousness in this realm, this is not a shared reality.
The ocean of our being includes the great abyss, our subconsciousness

Yet despite how well I think I know myself and my iceberg body, there is even more to me than I thought. Below my consciousness, which goes down to only 100 metre below the surface, lies the great abyss.

The abyss houses my subconsciousness. The abyss is my subconsciousness. It is where all my thoughts and emotions eventually go, sinking down and accumulating over time.

The real me - my ultimate reality - is here. The totality of my thoughts and emotions over the course of my life, written, like a history book. But not written in stone. Floating in the depths, these thoughts and emotions are still active, stirring up massive currents which dictate the wave patterns of my ocean being all the way to the top, altering my perception at the surface and, ultimately, driving my behaviour.

In real life, this cyclic effect is constantly happening - surface stimulus which I experience trickles down into my consciousness, which processes the experience in real time, and eventually filters down into my subconsciousness for long term storage. My subconscious creates habit patterns which cycle back up to the surface, in turn changing my future surface experiences. Ultimately, all of my behavioral patterns, biases and triggers are driven by my subconsciousness.

Sometimes negative experiences trickle down as trauma. Like garbage thrown in the ocean, trauma is heavy and sinks right to the bottom. If I ignore it, it eventually accumulates, polluting my entire ocean right up to the surface, driving my negative thought patterns and behaviors such as addiction and depression.

The good news is my abyss is not written in stone. But if I want to change a behavioral pattern or trigger, I have to dive into my abyss, go deep sea fishing and fish out all my traumas from the past which lodged itself into my subconsciousness.

This process is also known as healing.

There are many ways to go deep sea fishing. But no matter how you do it there is no easy way and there are no shortcuts. If you want to change your old thought and behavior patterns, you have to go inside yourself. Going inside yourself takes a careful balance of energy, effort, time, solitude and emotional support. Finally it takes facing your demons.

I have done a lot of deep sea fishing the last several years. I've done meditation and yoga. I've done psychedelics and psycho active substances, most recently and notably ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is more like a deep sea excavation rather than just fishing. The effects are on a large scale, and it takes time after the intense experience to process and integrate all the learnings.
Meditation - one way to go inside yourself and face your demons

The day after an ayahuasca ceremony, looking hunchbacked and feeling sickly
Sometimes I have seen an ugly dark side of me, diving deep down into my abyss. But I have also had lots of positive experiences which buoyed me - long term travelling, solitude in nature, and deep human connections. The totality of these experiences have helped me to fish out many demons from my past lingering in my subconscious. I am proud to say my abyss is not so dark as it once was.

When we think of achievement we tend to think about looking up and reaching for the sky. But too often to move forward in life we need to take a step back and look inside of ourselves. Many of us are too afraid to do this, too afraid of what they'll see.

Don't be afraid to do the work. Do not fear the fear.

There are no shortcuts. Modern life has created the modern phenomenon of stress through social isolation - we no longer connect with others, nor our selves. Modern life has produced no solutions either - only medications which serve to distance us further from our selves.

The formula is quite simple: a combination of time and inner work. Do meditation, do yoga, take time to yourself, solitude in nature, and be creative. Spend quality time with the people you care about the most. If you want to take shortcuts, be warned that psychedelics, if used improperly, can harm as much as it can heal (I can definitely offer you guidance you through this process).
Look up and reach for the skies, by looking inside yourself and peering into the darkness
And finally dance! The explosion of energy that comes from your body connecting to music is very powerful and healing. Dance away, my friends.
Shambhala Music Festival - BC, Canada

Friday, 29 December 2017

Where's the Coffee & Quinoa?

Peru seems to be trending as the 'Superfoods Capital on Earth.'
Yes, I just coined this phrase, but it's nothing special or surprising to anyone. Neither is it surprising that Peru has long been a mainstay for special high quality foods such as coffee and chocolate.

Bless Peru and its magical climate. It resides just south of the equator but the vast majority of the rural peoples, the Quechua, reside in the picturesque highlands of the Andes. Cusco, for example, sits in a valley at 3,400 m, and the surrounding hills rise up to 4,000 m.
View from the top of a 9-hour hike, near Cusco, overlooking the Sacred Valley - Coya, Peru ~4,200m

Same as neighbouring Bolivia - I remember taking a tour of the salt flats, a desolate expanse of white, lying at 3,600 m. Occasionally, we passed hills with vacant patches of soil. I was surprised to learn that these fields will thrive with quinoa during the rainy season. These special conditions give birth to the hardy nutritious plants we love to buy, hard to find anywhere else on Earth.
Quinoa actually grows in the hills surrounding the salt flats! - Uyuni, Bolivia

But despite superfoods starting to fill up grocery store aisles in the western world, such as quinoa and maca, it's not exactly as ubiquitous in the local culture as one would expect.

When I arrived in Peru I was expecting to see this stuff everywhere - yummy coffee and chocolate served on street corners, quinoa as a staple in restaurants. I was surprised when I could barely find these things anywhere! I really wanted to find out where this stuff was hiding. I did manage to ask some locals, and "local foreigners" living in Peru, about this phenomenon.

Enjoying hot chocolate at a tourist cafe ~$3.50 CAD - Pisac, Peru

Enjoying delicious local chocolate in solid and liquid form
It turns out that quinoa has joined coffee and chocolate as international commodities. And in this international marketplace, it makes more financial sense to ship such desired and expensive products overseas.

Thus, whenever I stayed with locals, or went to a local restaurant, the coffee served was always the cheap, instant variety. Coffee is actually not commonly drunk in Peruvian culture; tea is much more common. It makes sense when you consider that, due to the elevation, it actually gets quite cold at night and during the sleepy hours of dusk and dawn.

Cafes, as coffee goes, do not exist in Peru. Peruvians are family oriented and prefer to gather in their homes. Nearly everyone has a cell phone equipped with cheap data and Whatsapp, but noone owns laptops that require coffee shops offering fast Wifi. The only coffee shops I could find were in the tourist districts.

Same goes for chocolate. It appears that locals don't eat much chocolate. In local stores, I found cacao in the raw form, but ready-to-eat chocolate seemed only available in tourist joints. It makes sense because even the cheap chocolate was quite expensive - it wasn't much cheaper than in Canada.
Thankfully chocolate is pretty easy to dumpster dive back in Canada - 23 five packs = 115 Lindts!

Quinoa is most commonly served actually as a warm drink from street stalls, sometimes with milk (quinoa con leche). In local restaurants, quinoa is occasionally used in starter soups. However, rice, and to a lesser extent pasta, is the main staple that is served with almost every main course. I never found quinoa served in place of rice, except at tourist restaurants. There was also no such thing as quinoa salad, a western delight.
At a local food court in Sucre, Bolivia

Food stalls are normally operated by old Quechua ladies

A fairly typical meal in Bolivia - meat is ubiquitous in local South American diets
Despite westerners associating their superfoods with places like Peru, the local diet here consists of common international staples. I already mentioned rice and pasta, but livestock meats such as beef and chicken, and vegetables like tomatoes and potatoes (which originated in Latin America), lettuce, onions and garlic, dominate the plate.

It would be pretty challenging to eat here as a veggie or vegan traveler, as Peruvians eat meat with just about every meal. The only veggie joints I found were, again, in tourist districts. I, on the other hand, was searching for more elusive meats.

More unique local foods such as organ meats were also uncommon, though I did manage to find cow hearts, liver and tripe (sorry veggies and vegans). I didn't get to try the specialty food alpaca, but I managed to indulge in guinea pig. But perhaps the best uniquely local dish I tried was ceviche, which consists of raw fish garnished with raw onions and a lime-based sauce.
One of the most common street foods is anticucho - skewered beef, sometimes cow hearts ~$1 CAD

My favourite South American dish - ceviche, raw fish - a specialty in Lima. Range $3-$10 CAD
Guinea pigs raised in a local Quechua family's kitchen
A specialty from the highlands of Peru - "cuy" or guinea pig. I paid $16 CAD at a specialty restaurant

Peru is blessed not only with a rich variety of fruits and vegetables, but with a year round growing season. The markets are always flush with cheap and plentiful vegetables, but also local fruits such as mangoes and apples, as well as unique fruits from the nearby jungle such as granadilla and chirimoya.

I'm one of those rare people that are not a big fan of bananas. However, I thought I would enjoy them here, as I heard one can find more local varieties sweeter and more flavourful than the internationally dominant Cavendish species. Well, perhaps I didn't try hard enough to search them out, but I did visit many local markets and rarely saw any unique varieties.

Bananas, after all, are perhaps the world's most common and cheapest international fruit (ever wondered why it's half the price of apples?). Grocery stores in Canada intentionally lower its price below profit margins just to attract would-be shoppers into their store, so they can buy other things, like avocados, one of the most profitable foods.

Thankfully the locals in Peru can still enjoy avocados without it getting too expensive for them. For now, the US and Canada still get most of its avocados from Mexico.

Sadly, about halfway through the trip, I started getting sick of the food here, something that never happened in India. After awhile, it seemed like all the restaurants served the same thing - starter soup and a main course of meat with veggies and rice. The soup was quite nice, but the main course is normally devoid of spice and flavour.
A bustling outdoor market where you can find anything your heart desires - Urubamba, Peru
I love street food! A Bolivian specialty - deep fried dough with a bit of cheese ~$2 CAD 

This tiny street stall served amazing liver ~$2 CAD - La Paz, Bolivia

After 2 and a half months on the road I was looking forward to going home and eating home cooked Chinese food. But not before stocking up on some of the aforementioned superfoods at the local market. I purchased specialty coffee ranging from $8-$13, chocolate bars for $3, 1 kg bags of cacao for $4, bags of maca for $3, a large bag of turmeric for $3, and a hefty bag of chia seeds for just $2 (all prices Canadian). I also brought back some mandioca, or yucca dough, something of a trendy gluten alternative.
My souvenir stash (maybe half are Christmas gifts!) of textile goods and edible yums

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Ayahuasca / All In My Head / Mother of All Purges / A Hell of a Journey \\\

I couldn't pick a title for this blog / and, appropriately, it seems like no matter who you talk to regarding their ayahuasca experiences, it's something impossible to summarize or explain \

It dissolves the borders of normal every day experience // the degree to which it dives into the depths of your soul, dreadfully dredging up the dregs from below the thin surface of your consciousness \\

Mother Ayahuasca is like a well meaning but overly nosy and painful houseguest, that peers into the deep forgotten corners of your house, the basement and attic of your soul /// and reveals it for only you to see. The gravity of which can be, to put it simply, transformative or life changing \\\
A beautiful jungle spot, just a river boat ride 15 minutes out of Rurrenabaque

The Bolivian Amazon - the scene of my first ayahuasca retreat in its ancestral setting

, I say? Yes, well, let me elaborate / ayahuasca is an ancient ceremony going back well before science began "healing" people. It was, and still is, in some Amazonian tribes, a rite of passage for youths entering adulthood. There is a lot of ritual involved - the central substance of the ceremony is Mother Ayahuasca. However, the ceremony is normally preceded by Father Tobacco. Both plants, in Amazonian lore, are considered teacher plants with ancient knowledge \

How ancient? Mother Ayahuasca actually consists of two plants: chakruna contains the psychoactive ingredient dimethyltryptamine, or DMT. It so happens, // coincidentally or not \\ that humans have receptors for this molecule in their reptilian brains, and naturally produce DMT during birth and death. It also happens, coincidentally or not, that in the very same jungle one finds the plant ayahuasca, whose contents necessarily inhibit the liver which would otherwise deactivate the DMT molecule after ingestion of chakruna.

Everyone should do ayahuasca once in their life, though few will be lucky or bold enough to do so, as the experience is becoming rapidly commercialized and losing its integrity. I did two ceremonies /// Why two? Because it's such an amazing experience, as I have up til now so obviously described? \\\

Well, the answer to that is no, not necessarily. Allow me to patiently expand on this.
The ants here understand their role & purpose in life. For everyone else, there's ayahuasca
You see, the stories you always hear about ayahuasca experiences are those of people having stunning visual experiences, like real life dreams / it's like being in your own private Imax theatre, and the director, Mother Ayahuasca, is screening the movie of your life, a visual manifestation of your subconscious desires and fears. It's nearly a 5 hour movie, but you come out of it feeling like days, perhaps months, pass by.

However, the stories you never hear about ayahuasca experiences are many more. That's because everyone reacts differently to it. The most significant story you never hear is of people not having visual hallucinations at all, which is actually quite often for first timers.

Mother Ayahuasca is a strong purging agent, and she more often performs intense physical purging during one's first encounter with her. This is why one must begin preparing up to one week before ayahuasca, by eating a clean diet. This is why, around 1 hour into the ceremony, one normally purges the brew by throwing it up.
Phillip, my Shaman during my first ayahuasca ceremony - Rurrenabaque, Bolivia
But okay, without further ado, let me share with you my own /// personal experience \\\ to the highest degree of which it is possible (which is really not very possible).
Warning: written content contains painful and potentially disturbing physical descriptions
Note: it may be possible to write, but is impossible to fully describe one's ayahuasca experience
Okay, let's begin.

My experience was a fairly unique one. Trust me when I say it was not in a good way... one ceremony facilitator told me that out of 500 or so ayahuasca ceremonies that he's witnessed in his life, he's seen less than 10 cases like mine.

What is my case, you ask? It is this: I did not purge Mother Ayahuasca within the first few hours after ingesting it. I did not purge her at all during the entire 4 to 5 hour ceremony. In this time, I experienced some visual hallucinations but far short of what I expected, short of the stories you hear.

It was only until after the ceremony, and after having been in bed for at least an hour, that I woke up seeing colours and geometrical patterns spinning my visual field into a frenzy - and then I knew I had to throw up. However, by this time, the brew had left my stomach and entered into my intestines. As a result, I dry heaved nothing. At this failed attempt, I managed to walk, staggering sickly like a zombie, to the toilet.

This is where my two experiences diverge. After the first ceremony I was able to purge Mother Ayahuasca through pooping. However, for the second ceremony, I was also dealing with constipation.

Stuck in my body, Mother Ayahuasca was furious and searching for escape. In the process, she tortured my senses. She kept my head spinning and disoriented. I heard her tribe in the distance, a combination of a constant low hum with some rhythmic drumming, coming to attack my village. She weakened my body to the point of surrender; I barely had the strength to move.

In this state of everything is impossible, my mind was grappling for sanity. I talked to myself. I lost composure. Sometimes, a sane monologue would return to my head. At other times, I nearly broke down and started to cry. Desperate, with no solutions, I crawled several times between my bed and the toilet, stopping along the way to sit on the floor; the very definition of insanity itself.

Darkness took over my mind. At one point, I had fleeting hallucinations of people I cared about disintegrating into skeletons. Zombies and other demonic figures floated in and out of my peripheral consciousness. At one point, I felt the darkness wrap itself around me like a blanket... and I embraced it. I became one with it. I wondered if I was made of darkness itself.

My mind, strangely clairvoyant, in this way rambled on and on / my body, physically tortured, endured on and on / and Mother Ayahuasca pushed on and on / and on and on like this, we endured this dysbiosis \\\

Eventually, Mother Ayahuasca summoned a way out. She submitted me to fits of dry heaving and, with every gag I felt the brew being pulled up out of my intestines and back into my stomach, where I finally threw it up. Impossibly, Mother reversed my pathways of digestion to force an escape route.

Eventually, I also fought through my constipation to eliminate most of the blockage down there. She still hummed and drummed in my head, making what's left of her presence in my body felt. But, almost 2 hours after waking up, enduring a physical and mental torture I had never before experienced in my life, I finally felt enough relief to get some sleep \\\
A ritual burning, the morning after my second experience - Urubamba, Peru
The next morning, I explained it all to my wonderful facilitators over breakfast. After much wise support and encouragement, I took to rest my still weakened self. But Mother Ayahuasca wouldn't let me rest. The breakfast riled her up, and she spun me back into nausea through the morning.

At one point, I felt ready to wretch the rest of her up. I found the toilet and gagged... nothing came out. But it felt like I purged something invisibly, because Mother seemed finally satisfied with my efforts, and made no more complaints. She quieted her humming and drumming, and I spent the rest of the day resting in relative peace.

The next morning, the second after the ceremony, I woke to very faint humming and drumming, impressed by Mother's persistence. But as soon as I got up, I made a toilet break to finally purge myself of her completely. And so ended my physical journey with ayahuasca \

Jhon / Janneke, my beautiful ayahuasca facilitators at Willkamayu

They say that Mother Ayahuasca does what it needs to do for you, shows you what you need to see. Despite my reservations about this sentiment, Jhon, pictured above, who witnessed around 500 ceremonies in his life, convinced me that this applies still to my situation; that Mother doesn't discriminate. Despite my unique relationship to Mother, and the adversity that ensued, I learned a lot about myself and my own ability to endure and struggle. The second ceremony drew closure on the first, which left more questions than answers.

Jhon convinced me to accept what Mother did for me in the end, and I eventually did come to accept the results for myself. After this deeply humbling experience, I had an amazing week to wrap up my 2 and a half month trip to South America. And after that week I felt very ready to go home and return to find some grounding. \
Hiking with Jhon and Janneke's dogs upon my recovery two mornings later
My recovery hike and amazing view - Urubamba, Peru 

Sunday, 17 December 2017

In Bolivia, Informality Rules

For travelers experiencing countries like Bolivia for the first time, there is the standard culture shock that comes with seeing exotic peoples and nature, and the struggles of getting where you need to go and communicating with locals.

There is also the additional shock of dealing with a culture that operates on a different sense of time.

Because Bolivians are not in a rush. They have nothing to rush to, and nothing to worry about.

In the last few months in both Peru and Bolivia, I often found myself stuck walking behind slow locals. When I say slow, I mean it seems they're not going anywhere soon. When this happens I find myself becoming annoyed, but also envious at the patience they have, that which I lack.
I encountered this lovely local along her walk home

Not being in a rush, Bolivians are also quite informal about things - they're not really into making plans and solid commitments. Unfortunately, this cultural difference can razzle tourists who have certain expectations and timelines, when dealing with locals.

For example, my friend and I booked a jungle tour in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia. The tour picked us up late that morning to take us to their office, then took forever to prepare the gear to get going. Once we arrived in the jungle, we were served lunch at the camp, then we relaxed for a bit - well, the Bolivian guides and staff were relaxed and joking around, while we were ready to get going. When we finally got going, we arrived to our final camping spot quite late, and didn't have time to squeeze in other scheduled activities.

We were quite ticked off (not only due to the fact we got sick from the lunch) because the staff were taking their time every step of the way. This happened in a few other tours as well.
Our very friendly homestay host on Lake Titicaca
Bolivia is not the only country where informality happens - there is a general divide between countries with strong economies, and those without. And between countries in cold climates, and those in hot. This of course is a general observation, and I'm sure there are exceptions.

Why is this the case? Because strong economies both thrive on and demand efficiency and certainty.

For example, in Canada, businesses rely on efficiency and certainty to keep their shelves stocked and maximize profits. With the economy as a base priority, we've developed into a society where we pay good money in exchange for a strong expectation of results and timeliness.

In Bolivia, people pay less money for the same things, and manage their expectations accordingly. As I elaborated in my previous blog, Bolivian local buses operate much more informally than in Canada. There is no set bus schedule - and there are no set stops - you can literally get on and off wherever you want.

As long as there is a bus, of course.
Local bus in Sucre, Bolivia

Micro-buses connecting regional villages don't even leave the station until they have enough passengers to fill the vehicle. Hanga and I once had to go from Sucre to a small village to start a 2-day trek. There was no set departure time for this bus, so we just showed up to the station, a dusty outdoor lot, early in the morning. We had to wait nearly 2 hours for the bus to fill up before we could leave.

While we became impatient due to the lack of certainty (this would never happen in my country!), the local Bolivians waited patiently on the bus while it sat in the dusty lot. After all, they made no other plans that day... except to get there.

In Bolivia, being a small business owner is the norm, not the exception. Bolivia's outdoor markets are amazing, lively places - aisle after aisle, lined up with individuals operating out of closet sized nooks.
One of the largest open air markets in the world - Cochabamba, Bolivia
Local handicrafts on sale at the central market in Urubamba, Peru

When it comes to retail hours, there are none. Shop owners come and go as they please - and they are often not there. Better yet, they are often asleep in their shops. They also set their own prices, and they are flexible and negotiable. In other words, they live their life not by their business, but as they please.

I am envious at times of the way things work in Bolivia. While the informality of things can be infuriating, it forced me to slow down, make less plans, and enjoy the moment and talk to the people around me.
Yta, my charming and friendly hostel "mother" in Cusco, Peru

And while the efficiency and certainty of my home country can be comforting, its byproduct is inflexibility and monotony. It demands infinite productivity and more emphasis on money; less on time, relationships and spontaneity.

I think this is what drives travelers to countries like Bolivia - not just the fact that it's cheap to travel, but the organized chaos that prevails breaks down our own paradigms about how a society is supposed to operate. In other words, travelers seek respite from the rigidity of their own societies, to soak in the organized chaos, fun and spontaneity of more informal cultures.
A beautiful group of "locals" adapted to the slow life in Ollantaytambo, Peru
Because of these observations I hesitate to label countries as first world vs. third; or developed vs. developing, because these are based solely on measures of material and financial wealth. The so called developing nations are actually very rich in time and people wealth, something immeasurable and that correlates better to the ultimate measure - happiness.

Over the past 2 months, it seems to me that, while missing certain modern comforts and conveniences of an efficient society, Bolivians and Peruvians are truly happy people.

Met this nice family among beautiful old ruins - Pisac, Peru

Tourists will just have to deal with the informality that comes with it.