Vision Quest Camp and Leticia, the Colombian Jungle

If you look closer, you can see the double rainbow!
If you look closer, you can see the double rainbow

A Vision Quest is a rite of passage in some Native American cultures. It is usually only undertaken by young males entering adulthood but it is now offered to everyone who is striving to finding the path. It is a commitment that people make for 4, 7, 9, and 13 days in consecutive years. The Quester is planted to a spot in the mountain in a square by him/herself and there’s no interaction with other people, food or drink for the first 4 days. There’s only nature, sky, earth and yourself. At the end of 4,7 and 9 days, a bunch of fruits and peyote water are brought to the quester which help them to continue until the end of their time on the mountain. After I was being invited to a 20 day camp in Colombia to practice this spiritual gathering, I packed immediately and started my journey!

Trip from Brooklyn to Colombia

IMG_0301I spoke too soon about being super lucky to have avoided the snow storm that hit New York City  when my plane was able to take off only with 1 hr delay. The sad reality hit me when my backpack didn’t show up in the luggage belt in Bogota after most of the passengers got their luggages. Apparently the plane left New York without taking some of the luggages, which included mine.

I arrived at the hotel around 1 am to meet the rest of the group with my small hand bag. As it was prearranged, the group got up at 6:30 am to take the shuttle that we had paid for in advance which would bring us to the Vision Quest camp. After saying goodbye to them with tears in my eyes, my waiting period plus calling the airports in Bogota and Newark began.

The next morning, when I stepped out my room, I was given the best news of my life: my luggage was on its way to the hotel!
After picking up and giving a big hug to my bag, I ran out the door immediately to the bus terminal and 8 hours, 3 buses and 2 cars later, I made it to the Vision Quest camp before the sunset that was near Villa Leyva, a popular colonial town.

Vision Quest Camp

I set my tent up pretty easily with the help of the adrenalin I got and I was right on time for the opening ceremony that same night!

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Since I didn’t have a watch, I am not sure about what time the opening ceremony started but at the end I was told that we had sat in the Maloka for 16 hrs.

The opening ceremony included drinking Peyote, the cactus medicine. It was my first time with this Mexican cactus medicine and I must admit that I found it pretty interesting. About 120 people sat around the big fire in a circle and the shamans fed us 3 to 5 spoons of the peyote paste one by one, which had a taste like coffee. That was followed by a cup of the peyote tea that circulated around the room.

 

peyote-plant
Peyote looks like this and is a type of hallucinogenic cactus.

The night continued with the lead of the shaman and the counsel members who sat in an altar with beautiful medicine songs sang by them and the other group members along with a rattle and drum, smoking tobacco wrapped in corn paper, people getting well (vomiting), supporting and giving thanks to the Vision Questers who would leave for the mountain upon the end of the ceremony, drinking water from a brass cup from the bucket, eating tiny bits of corn, meat and fruits that symbolized the food that would keep the questors full on the mountain.

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The rituals continued for hours and hours even after the sun was up. When the shaman finally concluded the ceremony, we all went to eat a healthy breakfast made in our camp’s kitchen. Following that, first the questors went to the temazcal (sweat lodge) and then the supporters. I was one of the supporters who would help with planting/harvesting my friends and stay in the camp over the course of their quest to support them with prayers and daily rituals and chores such as helping in the kitchen, building the children’s play area, cleaning the toilets, cutting wood, etc.

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We are a big family sharing the same dream

Throughout the camp, we did 3 ayahuasca ceremonies with the lead of 3 shamans from the Cofan Tribe, a San Pedro ceremony in the temazcal, shared countless stories under the moonlight, bathed in the river, learned and sang beautiful Native American songs and kept the spirit alive for the brave vision questors up on the hills. From what I heard from them, our voices combined with the strong drums gave them the courage to finish their quests especially during the tough times when they considered coming back to the camp.
For me this was a unique experience in terms of unplugging from the bullshit of our daily lives in modern societies and connecting with nature and tribal cultures. It IS possible to live without electricity and infrastructure by completely depending on mother nature. It is also amazing to find your inner power and surrender to nature for so many days without eating or drinking. I am in total admiration for the vision questors and the leaders who put together this amazing camp.

Aho!

Leticia, the Colombian Jungle

After the 20 day Vision Quest camp ended, I decided to continue to Leticia, the city at the southern bottom of Colombia, which was considered the end of the road in the country. The reason for my trip was to discover the rainforest and more importantly take the boat to Peru. This way sounded as the cheapest and most fun way to go to my next stop when I found out the one-way plane tickets to Peru cost around $700. As a nice surprise, Daria, my friend from New York who had done her first year of the vision quest decided to join me!

From Bogota to Leticia by plane, we paid $130 usd to Avianca and the duration of the flight was 2 hrs. I had read that Mahatu hostel was a decent place to stay in and cost 20,000 cop (close to 10 usd)  per night per person so an email was sent to the hostel the night before to hold 2 beds for us.

The view from Mahatu Hostel
The  epic view from Mahatu Hostel

The hot and humid air of the Amazon (90F) brushed our faces when we got out of the plane in the tiny airport of Leticia at 1:30 in the afternoon. Our luggages arrived quickly and we got out of the airport after paying a foreign visitor fee of 20,000 cop at the exit. As soon as we put our bags in the trunk of a cab, Petra, our new pretty extroverted German roommate for the next 3 nights jumped in it with us. After a 10 min easy ride, we were greeted at our hostel with fresh mango juice followed by spaghetti made by a hostel guest. When an adorable kitten was added to the picture, Daria and I were giving grins to each other.

The pool that we have been dreaming about after seeing the pics on the internet was super tiny so we skipped it and went for a walk in town. The town didn´t have much to offer to tourists. It consisted of an open vegetable market (our favorite!) and a lot of tiny shops where we got our hammocks from a blind store owner who lived in the USA for a while. It also contained a small dock on the Amazon River where you could hop on mini boats to go to Brazil and Peru.

20140205-071651.jpgThe kitten I found  in the hostel and the view from inside and outside of the hostel. Mahatu was built on a fairly big land, which looked like a botanical garden.

The next day, per our hostel’s Dutch owner Gustavo’s recommendation we took a tour to the Amazon for 90,000 cop per person, with the guidance of a lovely girl named Francine from Medellin. We left the hostel at 7 am and came back at 5:30 pm.

Our small jungle adventure group consisted of 4 girls (us + Petra the German student+ Sasya, a Dutch biologist). We took a cab to Tabatinga which is the Brazilian town right next to ours, to which we accessed thru passing a barricade without crossing a real border. After going less than a minute in the cab, the signs turned to Portuguese and more shockingly, the time was 1 hr later than the actual time in Leticia! Our journey began when we boarded in our boat in the port of Tabatinga.
The tour consisted of a few hrs of boat ride, a couple of hrs of walking deep in the jungle and a natural park/swim break.
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The giant tree we  came across in the jungle, which is  considered  sacred  by the indigenous ppl and different views  of our canoe on the muddy river

The things we were promised to see and status:

Pink dolphins- half check. No pink dolphins were around but we saw a few gray dolphins who swam in the river.
Monkeys- check. A pink faced super sweet monkey came to hang out with us in the natural reserve (see pic) plus we saw a few monkeys high up on the trees.
Parrots- check. One of the parrots was really interested in biting and licking our accessories with her charcoal black tongue while her 3 friends were watching from their branch right next to us.
Fruits- check. This was not promised but fruits have always been my top point of interest in South America. During this trip, I ate my first manzana banana that was an apple in a banana form- or a banana with the taste of an apple and I loved it. We also consumed fresh from the tree lulo and a couple of other fruits I don’t know the names of.
Overall it was a nice tour and we got to see 3 countries (Colombia, Peru, and Brasil) in one day!

20140205-071640.jpgThis pink faced monkey starteled when she saw us unexpectedly in her home  but it didn´t take her too long to become playfull! 🙂

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