Travel Magazine

There’s a Place Called Santuario.

By Tilda Y

“How can anyone get enough of healing?” asked Liam, in response to my comment that people get addicted to Ayahuasca, the Amazonian vine that opens portals to other worlds as well as heals physical and mental illnesses.

Retreat centres have sprung up everywhere in the Peruvian jungle, attracting hoards of people from the “first world”, all in search for answers and solutions in this raw and untamed part of the planet. Travellers, seekers of natural healing, and the curious.  People of all walks of life could find themselves drawn to the prospects of attaining powerful visions and cure.

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The Pride

I too was drawn, inexplicably.  But there was a problem- my pride.

“I don’t need this healing business, I don’t need to go to a retreat. That’s so gringo. Determination, patience, and time will do the job. There’s no need to go chasing after an exotic plant.”

That was my stance.  And it didn’t help either, that the vine has been capitalised by people looking for riches by packaging cures for people looking for quick fix.  Stories of fake shamans, ill intentions, and the bastardisation by the foreigner who cannot help but exploit native cultures. And of course, a story or two about deaths that happened on these retreats. That could be enough to scare anyone away.

The skeptic in me was more than proud to say, “I’m not falling for any of this spiritual bullshit.” My heart was pulled against my will as usual, and I had opened my mind enough to try it twice in the Sacred Valley of Cusco.  With two ceremonies that gave me no visual trip but what I could only describe as ‘strange feelings’, the logic was clear.  Stay away, it’s not for me. But once again, a little voice somehow managed to sneak into my cerebrum, suggesting that I had not yet experienced its full power.

To search, and then to surrender.

The search for an authentic experience began.  Looking for a healing retreat that felt right was more difficult than I imagined. I didn’t want to end up in a center in Iquitos that would make me feel like one on an assembly line of first world problems to be cured with a psychedelic brew.  It was after some trolling on the internet that I found Santuario, a little known place near Pucallpa. Somehow, that photograph of a wooden house by the thermal river made it click. This was to be my place.

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And so there I was, spending a very short but glorious five nights with two other lovely seekers from the UK.  Yes, just three of us, and Master Enrique’s beautiful family. With no cellphone reception, we would spend all day on hammocks, exchanging stories or reading by the river whose vapour purified our beings.  The sound of the river soon became part and parcel of our days.  We’d take our showers with water from the thermal river. There was a ritual.  First with water, then with a plant bath that would cleanse in place of soaps. Our taste buds that had been assaulted by excessive flavours were now given real, pure and simple food.  Each of us had our own plant medicine to take.  When I arrived, I had a bad case of food poisoning, which was cured by Master Enrique’s concoction made by one of the hundreds of plants that grew in the area.

Yes, we were drinking trees.  The Amazon is the lab that doesn’t seek to profit from your illness, the doctor that actually cares.

The ceremonies were powerful.  Memories, light, sorrow, tears, and deep joy filled me with each haunting Icaro sang by Aime, Enrique’s wife. My body lost all its strength as the medicine took over.  There was nothing I could do but to surrender.

Surrendering my pride was the best thing I could do for myself, surrendering to the universe who has given me life after life, journey after journey.  Dawn came, and as the first light cut through the darkness of the maloca, all I could feel was an overwhelming sense of gratitude.  I could not be more blessed than I already am.  My life was satiated with richness, it could almost hold no more.

As I write this, I still struggle at moments to keep anxiety in check. So what has changed? Many little things, including actually being mindful of the negativity that threatens to swallow me whole. And as they say, being aware is really the first step.

I hope to be back to Santuario soon, to  purify, and then to marinate in pure goodness.  I guess Liam was right, you never get enough of healing. And no, I don’t even care how hippie that sounds.

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