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Gringos on the Ayahuasca Trail ... Young Americans Are Flocking to S. America for Pychedelic Promise

Young travelers flock to Bolivia and Peru to do hallucinogenic ayahuasca, which allegedly has spiritual, therapeutic qualities

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She gets in touch with me via webcam from her apartment in Ecuador a week later, excited to share her experience. After adjusting her microphone and holding her cat up to the camera to say hello, she begins rolling a cigarette. “Yeah, I’m still smoking," she says with a wry smile. “But I’m only using natural tobacco from now on. I decided that I don’t want any chemicals in my body, ever again.”

Hermione describes her trip as extremely intense: It featured strong hallucinations, psychic communication with people present and departed, and physical manifestations of the plant ayahuasca as the mother goddess. She repeatedly repressed nausea, only to watch the shaman vomit on her behalf—a process she described as him “purging the negative feelings.”

She revisited traumatic scenes of childhood abuse, drug addiction and rape. And she says that the plant spoke to her, telling her that those experiences were not who she was, and that she did not need to be afraid anymore. “Towards the end of the ritual I had a very clear vision of my pills, the pills I still had left, back in my backpack in the hostel,” she tells me. “And I knew that I had to get rid of them. So I asked him [Juan] if he would take them from me. And he said yes.”

Hermione’s ritual started in the early evening. She went to sleep around 4 am and woke up at 6, feeling “transparent, clean, like everyone could see through me.” She has woken up at 6 am every day since. A week later, she says that she still feels changed, energized, cleansed. She says that other people can see the difference in her. Her boyfriend dumped her yesterday and she declares complete peace with his decision.

“I’m never using any kind of medication again,” she says. And what if the depression comes back? Her brow furrows slightly. “I’m not going to let myself get low again. It wasn’t just the ayahuasca, it was deciding to fight for my life. Last year my life was—from the outside—really good. But if I had owned a gun I would be dead right now. So I ran away to South America. I had to make a change. I stopped taking medication when every doctor told me I shouldn’t. I feel amazing, and it’s getting stronger every day. Every day I remember what she [ayahuasca] and Juan told me—that I am a student of life.”

Linda Stansberry is a freelance writer and regular contributor to  The Fix . She lives in Northern California.

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