The Personal Healing of Age-old Plant Medicine in Peru

From Venezuela, after spending 10 days there for the Feria Internacional del Libro (International Book Fair) in Caracas, I went directly to Peru where I hooked up with my old friend and fellow Mexika healer Tekpaltzin (Frank Blazquez) of DeKalb, IL. This was on November 18.

I flew into Lima and the next day I took another flight into the Amazon jungle to a sleepy and tropical place called Puerto Maldonado near the Bolivia/Brazil borders. At the airport I received a vaccination shot for Yellow Fever that's supposed to last 10 years. I got a certificate for this and then went to meet Frank.

Frank had already spent a few days in Puerto Maldonado before I arrived. I got there in almost 100-degree shirt-clinging weather. He introduced me to a Quechua-speaking medicine man from the jungle named Panduro. Maestro Panduro does many amazing ceremonies, but he's known as one of the few who are considered real masters of the healing powers in the Ayahuaska plant, which comes from these jungles and has been used to heal for tens of thousand of years.

For more than ten years, I have been doing indigenous medicinal ceremonies with peyote. It turns out both the Raramuri (my mother's tribal roots) and the Huichol (my wife Trini's) peoples of Mexico have been doing peyote ceremonies for tens of thousands of years. The peyote ceremonies I took part in were under the expert guidance of a Navajo medicine man from Lukachukai, AZ named Anthony Lee. His family also adopted my wife Trini, and subsequently the whole family, and we've been back to the Navajo rez every year since then for all-night prayer meetings, sweats, and other ceremonies.

Once with the help of Tekpaltzin, I consumed Huachuma, also from Peru (and also known as the San Pedro cactus). But Ayahuasca comes from plants. Maestro Panduro explained how the preparation also includes the Chacruna plant, another healing plant from the Amazon.

Being in the Amazon, it turns out, is the best place to take Ayahuasca. I first tried Ayahuasca last year in Qosqo (Cuzco) and Lima when Trini and I (and three other members of our San Fernando Valley sweat lodge circle) did healing work with Aeli Ronin of Lima and Maestra Dona (Dona is an indigenous woman from Iquitos, Peru, also in the Amazon).

This was a very strong and healing experience, but I always felt I needed something more. This time I needed to do this in the jungle with one of the best known masters of Ayahuasca use. Frank arranged this after he had already undergone some intense experiences with Maestro Panduro a few years ago.

We stayed in a couple of small and cheap hostels in Puerto Maldonado, which turned out to an amazingly alive and compact city in the Madre de Dios department. At the first hostel, we were directly across the street from the main marketplace, full of people, products, noises, and smells. Motor scooters and three-wheeled motored vehicles were everywhere, the main way for people to get around. For one sole, which is about 30 cents, you can get a ride almost anywhere in town in a motorbike or three-wheeled motored vehicles (these were the "taxis" around here).

However, the noise of dogs barking, roosters, and early-morning preparations for the marketplace got Frank and I up earlier than we wanted. We found another hostel for about $13 a night (the first one was about $8 a night) in a more quieter section of town and decided to move.

We met Panduro's wife, his 11-year-old son, and other family members. Panduro, 55, also has an older daughter and son who are both out of the house. Panduro does most of his ceremonies in the large front room of his house built specifically for this.

After showing us around and eating at some fantastic local spots (although we were on a red-meatless/dairyless diet), we prepared for the first night of my ceremony. Frank had already gone through a night of Ayahuasca healing before I arrived.

I won't go into the details of this ceremony. It may come up in poems or other writing, or not at all. But I will say this--the ceremony was intense, difficult, painful, but also most healing. I got a dosage similar to those given in the pueblo. Apparently a number of US groups come down here for Ayahuasca ceremonies, but they are most often introduced to this on a much milder level.

What I went through was what the old veterans of these ceremonies have been doing for years. The first night was wild and amazing. The next night was supposed to help bring some loose ends together and a measure of closure. But it turned out to be more intense than the first.

Not only that but because of the trouble that Maestro Panduro saw me in, he brought me another large dosage of the medicine later in the evening. I went through quite an experience. As much as I wanted to back off, to run away, to just let this go, I didn't let on that I would even consider this. I took all the medicine Panduro felt I needed and carried out his instructions. I didn't come all this way just play around or to lose heart.

Of course, the fact my 32-year-old son Ramiro is behind bars in a state prison in Illinois also helped me stay strong for whatever the medicine felt I needed. Many prayers went out his way.

In addition, I've had a particularly hard year in 2007 -- the year of my last 52-year cycle under the Mexika calendar. Tia Chucha's Bookstore & Cultural Center was forced to move out of its space early in the year--a massive project that we're still reeling from (fortunately, we're in a new location with our programming in full force). I also had to see my mother placed into a home for Alzheimer's patients, one of the most painful things I had to see happen. I also suffered through an ass-kicking attack of gall stones (that sent me to the emergency room) and several weeks of pain due to slipped disks in my back that had me unable to get out of bed for a while.

Also, my 30-year-old daughter Andrea and my 11-year-old grand-daughter, Catalina, moved away from the house after being with us for six years--although this was the right thing to happen as Andrea finds her independent way in her career and as a single mother (we'll always be there for her).

But, man, do I miss them.

I withstood all this, including some hard times with Trini. And in the end, I feel much stronger, more centered, and ready to take my writing, my health, Tia Chucha's work, my family's situation, and community work to new and higher levels.

The medicine is still in me--it'll be with me for the rest of my days, intertwined with my DNA. I'm not sure if or when I'll need to do another ceremony in the Amazon. But for now I'm taking what I've already undergone as far as I can -- to maintain my sobriety, but also for a re-generative push into new layers of what I must do in my life, for my family, for my art, for our community, and in this world.

We're at the ends of times. We're also at the beginnings of something new and vital. The world is unraveling, but we must also get a hold of the new threads the future is handing us, and with awareness of self with awakened & initiated souls to help re-imagine and re-weave the world.

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