Don Martial Achote is a shaman from Iquitos, Peru, who has been practicing since he was 10 years old, when he took his first drink of ayahuasca with his family. He has taught in villages throughout the Iquitos Amazon area and now works as a shaman at a healing centre two hours from Iquitos by boat: La Luna del Amazonas. We talked to him in the temple at La Luna del Amazonas, and he talks about ayahuasca tourism, shamanism and ayahuasca itself.
Who did you heal when you became a shaman?
I began healing people from my village and around it – anyone who would come and needed to be healed, to be cured by ayahuasca and by other plants.
Do you work more with Peruvians or with visitors?
Right now I’m working more with gringos who come here from all over the world, from different countries, all in search of something, a cure to what ails them. They come here for the medicine of ayahuasca and the medicine of the jungle, and to be cured, so I have been mostly working with travellers. Peruvians are coming less, because they already know the plant. They already know the teachings of ayahuasca, so the gringos are the ones who need the teachings.
What is the main reason that you think visitors are coming to the jungle?
The gringos come because they need to be cured – their bodies, minds and lives need to be cured. That’s why they’re coming. They may have a sickness that can’t be cured at home and they don’t know what else to do, so they come here.
Is there something in gringo culture that makes them come to the jungle in search of something else, something their culture doesn’t offer?
They are missing healing from their culture, and they are missing the teachings that are inside the ayahuasca plant, the teachings for the spirit, body and mind. You have to come to the jungle to get the teachings, to get the healing. They’ve tried everything in their countries and nothing worked, so they come here and are welcomed here.
Is ayahuasca tourism good for the culture of shamanism?
At this moment it is something very good. It’s good for me. Why is it good? Because they need to understand and know the teachings of ayahuasca. How can that be a bad thing? There are natural plants here, natural ayahuasca. The only way to spread the teaching and understanding is to come and then take those teachings from Mother Ayahuasca back home. I prefer to work with travellers and people from other counties. I feel content and complete teaching to gringos, because they need and want the teachings.
What do people find when they take ayahuasca?
They will find health for their bodies, wisdom for their minds and cures for sicknesses. They will be released from the sickness of their minds and that will heal their bodies. The spiritual visions will give joy and happiness, seeing all the flowers, animals, insects, snakes; there are different visions each person will have, and they will help each person differently. The visions are spiritual and some will be good and others will be bad. They aren’t a lie, the visions are reality, they’re a part of our reality. You’ll discover the world of spirits, of plant and animal spirits, and it’s all part of our reality, a reality that Mother Ayahuasca reveals.
Can ayahuasca be bad? There are sometimes reports of deaths.
I do not know of any deaths happening from taking ayahuasca. If you have bad spirits and are sick and don’t have a shaman or guide showing you the way it can be bad, but if you’re with a good shaman, someone who knows and is there for you and your health, there is nothing wrong with ayahuasca and I don’t know of anyone dying from it. They get hurt because of people, not by Mother Ayahuasca. Before we begin each ceremony we ask for God’s guidance, his protection and his permission for our journey together; for him to give us good visions in our ceremony. Ayahuasca is a mix of spirits from the ground and from the earth, and then from the celestial world.
What does being a shaman mean to you?
To be a shaman is to make and prepare medicine; that is it. We are healers and we want to help people with our medicine. We, above all, help people with our knowledge of medicine and plants by making remedies for people. We also protect and guide our patients through ceremonies. We are doctors who are here to help.
What do you want people to know about ayahuasca?
If you have never drunk it before, then you just don’t know, you don’t understand. Why drink, then? Why not drink? It is a healing plant; it is a medicine to cure you, to cure your entire body, and it will clear your mind and clean it from bad thoughts. It will heal you. Don’t be afraid of the healing. Ayahuasca is here to help cure your mind, body and spirit.