Iquitos and Sacred Valley in Peru
Focus is on healing, not hallucinogenics
Arkana Sacred Valley location: 1-week retreat.
Summary: Though it was my first and only retreat experience, I have nothing but positive things to say about the place and the people, this is everything you could wish for and more. No safety concerns, no medical concerns, no concerns about being forced to do anything you don’t want to do. The staff were able to manage the retreaters, assembling a group of strangers that large always has the potential for difficulty, but fortunately everyone was positive and supportive of each other. Amazing experience, would highly recommend it. For more detail, see following:
Price: I was glad to have the 1-week option as I didn’t know what to expect and thought 2 weeks would be too long. After the first few days, I wish I would have booked another week, some people were able to extend their stay. There was an option to come a day early, which I was able to do, which saved me money on flights and I didn’t have to worry about altitude sickness by staying in Cusco. I also paid extra for a private room, which was a good call due to the “cleansing” process I experienced throughout the week. It may cost a bit more than the other retreats, but you get what you pay for- the facilities were clean and comfortable, the staff work extremely hard and put in long hours, the ceremonies were very involved and the activities were abundant and well planned. It’s basically an all inclusive. I think the higher prices also served to weed out the people who may come for the wrong reasons. The itinerary was a bit fluid, but there was a good mix of spare time and scheduled activities, with lots of time for nights by the fire.
The Facilitators: I cannot praise or endorse these amazing people enough. Chandra, Pamela, Kunti, Rayo, beautiful people inside and out. Fluent in English, and translate for the shaman. Incredible singing voices, Rayo also plays guitar. The love they feel for everyone and each other is genuine, there is lots of laughter and joy. They have a passion for helping people, put in long hard days, and always make time for anyone who needs. The focus of this retreat is dealing with whatever issues are negatively affecting your life, and helping you resolve your issues in an empathetic and gentle way. I was worried there was going to be a lot of mystical and hippy mumbo jumbo forced upon me, or a bunch of people looking to get blasted out of their minds on the new trendy high, it was not like that at all. They give their advice and help you understand your experiences, and guide you through the week, you are free to participate as much or as little as you want. They assist in the shaman with the ayahuasca ceremony and conduct the Temazcal (sweat lodge) and Sapo (Sonoran Desert Toad) ceremonies, they also administer the Rape (ground tobacco). Kunti shared her extensive knowledge about Sapo, and prepares the medicine. I had one ceremony with Chandra and Kunti, and one with Pamela, Rayo and Kunti, and had 2 totally different and amazing experiences, which are indescribable. I highly recommend this experience. Even though I was completely comfortable with the staff from the first day, I was glad I did the Sapo at the end of the week, when I was more open to letting go and going through the process. A past retreat participant Mike from USA had stayed on as an assistant. Mike was a great intermediary, was able to answer our questions, help people out during the ceremony, go outside with anyone who needed it to allow the facilitators to continue the ceremony, and help out with anything in general. He was a great asset and resource to have.
The Shaman: Diago Sanchez Rojas is the shaman, from a long lineage of Shipibo shaman. Though not ancient and withered as you picture a shaman would be, he has an air of quiet wisdom and confidence about him. He speaks little English, Pamela translates for him. He is calm, kind and caring, and still makes little jokes when you least expect it, was joking the ayahuasca was like chocolate milk. Very approachable, I wish I spoke Spanish. The facilitators cannot stop saying what a unique and talented shaman he is, and how they were so lucky to find him. Diago’s wife, I believe is also a shaman, cooks up the ayahuasca at their home village in the jungle and ships it over, she also brought over some beautiful clothing and tapestries for purchase on our last day there.
Participants: There were 16 people ages 20-70 from all walks of life with a wide range of personal issues they wanted to work on. I feel honored and fortunate to have been part of this group. Great vibe, fun and interesting people. The group really bonded through the week. Some people added an additional week, I wish I would have as well. With any large group, some drama is expected, the facilitators were able to manage the people having issues and direct them back into focus
Facilities: Site is a converted hotel, comfortable beds, hot showers, flush toilets (garbage for TP), power outlets North American 3 prong grounded plug compatible, no converter required. The free Wifi is slow/intermittent, but they encourage you to disconnect anyway. I was able to keep in touch with loved ones via Facebook and WhatsApp. The facility is gated, but people were free to leave on their down time, some people went running, some people went shopping and exploring, the area was very safe. I went in December, it was forecast to rain everyday. We only had rain at night, good mix of sun and cloud, definitely needed a hat and sunscreen, was lucky to not have any mosquitoes. Lots of flies if you leave your windows open.
Food: Meals follow the restricted diet, but delicious with large portions. Breakfast and lunch served, and large bowl of a variety of local fruit always available. Eating on ceremony days not recommended after lunch, fruit and tea served after ceremony. Filtered drinking water from mountain stream always available and accessible, as is self serve coca tea and hierba luisa tea. Kitchen/housekeeping staff friendly, speedy and accommodating. Take the diet seriously, one girl ate red meat after Machu Picchu, was very ill the next day.
Services: Free laundry service on Wednesdays, delivered by Friday. Massage (deep tissue/Thai/etc)/reflexology/Reiki at extra cost. I had an fantastic deep tissue massage from Kunti. Pamela conducted a Yoga class one morning, also very good.
Ayahuasca: The ceremonies lasted 8pm-2am. Everyone got their own mat, blankets, and vomit bucket, and each person got a beautifully embroidered pencil case-like pouch containing mapacho, palo santo and Florida water, which helps with the nausea. There are 2 bathrooms at one end of the malorca, bring a flashlight with a red lens as the room is in total darkness throughout the whole ceremony. The first ceremony, everyone got the same cautious dose to see how it would affect them. I appreciated that they administer this in a safe and responsible manner. Tastes terrible, not as bad as expected, but definitely worse on the way back up. Best to drink like a shooter. There were a wide range of reactions, from no effect, to life changing experiences. Some people vomited, others not. Be advised, some people experienced diarrhea throughout the week, but this was manageable, and Imodium is allowed if it is not. The shaman and facilitators sing the icaros, use instruments and singing bowls, going from person to person, assessing how they are doing, helping anyone who is in need. It is also quite normal for them to vomit for you if you are unable. So, there are hours of listening to singing and vomiting, no one is supposed to leave until the end of the ceremony, so they can keep everyone safe. Some people fall asleep during and sleep there until the morning. There was a gathering of the group the next morning with Diago and the facilitators, so we could share our experiences and find out what they meant. There was no pressure to participate, but everyone had bonded by then, and everyone was interested in hearing what happened to everyone else. It also gave Diago and idea how much to administer for the next ceremony, and who might need extra assistance. By the third ceremony, people had a good idea if they needed more, and asked for additional doses during the ceremony, which Diago assessed on an individual basis. The icaros and the instruments were amazing, we are hoping they will release a CD or upload some recordings.
Rape (Sacred tobacco): The facilitators will perform a mindful blessing then blow the ground power up each nostril through a wooden tube. Burns for a shot time, like when chlorinated water from a swimming pool gets up your nose. Each facilitator has their own mix, effects range from simply clearing the sinuses to feeling tingly and lightheaded.
San Pedro (Huachuma): This was done offsite at a farm by a large lake in the mountains. It is not anything you’d want to sip on, its like a slimy glass of Metamucil. I only had one glass, others were free to have as much as they wanted. I would describe the effect on my as feeling like I had a good sleep and a strong cup of coffee. The guide Jimmy (?) poured everyone a drink and performed the ceremony, then gave everyone and individual Reiki healing session and tarot card reading. It also included a nice lunch. Great day!
Sapo (Sonoran Desert Toad): indescribable. Has to be experienced. I had 2 sessions, both completely different. First one with Chandra and Kunti was very spiritual, had the out of body/white light experience. The second with Pamela, Kunti and Rayo. I was completely aware throughout and it was more of an emotional release. This is a must do opportunity!
Tours: We hiked up to the salt mines close by, very interesting, Rafael was a fantastic guide. He took the group shopping in Pisco a few days later, I did not go, a few of us walked to a local town not far away and did our own shopping. The Machu Picchu was great, all of out tickets were paid for and organized, we took a bus and train, so the only hiking was at the site. A few people hiked up to the Sun Gate. The rest stayed with the guide, who was very knowledgeable and informative. This was well worth the extra cost, and I have a Machu Picchu stamp in my passport.