“Let me tell you about the trip that saved my life.”
I was hooked the moment I read that last line of the Introduction to Sean Michael Hayes' Five Weeks in the Amazon: A backpacker's journey: life in the rainforest, Ayahuasca, and a Peruvian shaman's ancient diet.
In his first book, the former pro-skater from Canada, turned skate coach to the pro's, details his experience traveling to Iquitos, Peru to partake in a series of 10 ayahuasca ceremonies.
For those not familiar with ayahuasca (aka yagé), it's an Amazonian brew that includes the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and leaves of Chacruna, or other DMT-containing plant species.
Ayahuasca means “vine of the soul” and it's been used for centuries by indigenous ethnic groups in the Peruvian Amazon to create a visionary state of mind.
Guided by shamans, those who ingest the drink can expect an altered state of mind for the next four to eight hours. This is often preceded by a physical purging that involves vomiting and diarrhea.
The author's adventure begins in Lima, a city I've gotten to know well. It is against this backdrop that we're introduced to the his personality, perspectives, philosophies and vices.
Things get more interesting once Hayes hops his flight to Iquitos, a city in the heart of Peru's northern Amazon that is only accessible via boat or plane. I've yet to visit, so his vivid descriptions of the environment interested me in addition to his purpose for traveling there.
Speaking of purpose, he states early on “I want to know what is true, so instead of putting my faith in another man's ideas of what's true, I'll search for the truth inside me.”
Five Weeks in the Amazon is as much about an inner journey as it is an outer one. The strength of the book is the author's willingness to be share his thoughts and feelings in a raw and honest way.
It always catches me by surprise when someone has the guts to be so open, especially as it relates to mental health. In Hayes' case it's his struggles with depression. He also talks candidly about his failed marriage, loneliness and drug use.
At times, these themes weigh heavily on him and us as readers. It's this openness about his reasons for traveling to the Amazon and partaking in the ayahuasca ceremonies that kept me reading.
Would he discover the meaning of life during one of the ceremonies, as one of my roommates told me he did last year?
He asks some big, philosophical questions of himself about life and his place in the universe. Would ayahuasca be the conduit to equally big answers?
If you're at all curious about ayahuasca or enjoy thought-provoking travel memoirs, I highly recommend Five Weeks in the Amazon. It's available for Kindle ($3.99) and in paperback.