The Ayahuasca Sessions is a companion collection of interviews by journalist Rak Razam with the curanderos, shamans, ayahuasqueros and seekers that drink ayahuasca. In over two dozen sessions Razam lets the shamans (and the seekers) explain in their own words the demands and dangers of their profession in the 21st century and what they think the unprecedented explosion in Western interest in shamanism forbodes.

Boldly designed and with over 100 black and white photographs, the collection features interviews with:


ADELA NAVAS de GARCIA Adela Navas de Garcia is a vibrant, 69-year-old curandera in Iquitos who treats the local community and sometimes Westerners interested in ayahuasca. Her speciality is arkanas – spells for protection against the black arts of brujeria and for healing. She is also an ayahuasquera trained in plant medicine. Here she talks about how she started in her long career as a female shaman, the difficulties of being a woman in that role and why there needs to be more female healers.

guillermo_tbs GUILLERMO
Guillermo is one of the most well-known curanderos to Western audiences, coming to recognition in French film-maker Jan Kounen’s psychedelic spaghetti-Western feature “Renegade” [released as "Blueberry" outside America]. He also starred in Kounen’s documentary on Shipibo-Conibos culture and ayahuasca use, “Other Worlds”, in which he mentored Kounen through a prolonged ayahuasca introduction. Guillermo comes from a long line of curanderos and has been practicing shamanism for many years, first in Pucallpa and now at his jungle lodge, the Spirit of the Anaconda near Iquitos, and he tours internationally. Here he talks about the rise in Western ayahuasca use and the demands of being a shaman in two cultures.

Percy Garcia Lozano comes from a tradition of curanderos and was initiated into the science of ayahuasca at age ten. Now in his early 30s he is one of the new breed of indigenous shamans straddling two worlds – his indigenous heritage and the globalized 21st century. He lives in Iquitos and balances his work between treating locals and the growing rise of Western ayahuasca seekers.

elias_hero-copy ELIAS MAMALLACTA
Elias is the son of a well-known Ecuadorian family of curanderos, the Mamallactas. Ecuadorian shamanism stresses the spirituality of the ayahuasca medicine and Elias especially chastises those who treat it as a business. Here he talks about the nature of ayahuasca, spiritual tourism and of the need to preserve indigenous knowledge and cultures from oil companies and inappropriate development.

francisco_datura-copy-2 DON FRANCISCO MONTES SHUNA
Don Francisco Montes Shuna is a perfumero curandero and visionary artist of Capanahua origins that founded the Sachamama Ethnobotanical Garden in 1990. Sachamama (which translates to “mother spirit of the jungle”) was one of the first ayahuasca lodges that catered to a Western audience. It now comprises an ethnobotanical garden spread over 60 hectares of mature, secondary rainforest in a designated conservation area, with more than 1,200 species of native plants and trees used for medicinal and spirit work. Francisco is the cousin of Pablo Cesar Amaringo, with whom he shares a passion for painting the ayahuasca visions he sees in his shamanistic trances.

Norma Panduro Navarro was born in the floating city of Belen, in Iquitos in 1944 and died in Iquitos in 2007. She fell sick in her early teens and was introduced to ayahuasca, which, combined with a rigorous diet, saved her life. She then devoted herself to the science of curanderismo and healing the sick with the use of Amazonian plants, becoming one of the most high-profile women curanderas in Peru. In recent years she founded the Estrella Ayahuasca Center to share the medicine of ayahuasca with Western seekers, and was joined by co-partner Paula Harbrink Numan (‘Tarzana’) to promote female curanderismo in a man’s world.

Don Juan is a master curandero who still works and treats his local community in Iquitos. He is also setting up a school for Western students of the art of curanderismo – Ayahuayra the Wind Spirit Center, which is run by his American apprentice, Carlos Tanner. Juan has had a long and colorful history as a soldier in the Vietnam war, a jungle guide, and as a curandero training with teachers across Peru before he settled in Iquitos. He has a grand vision to teach the science of ayahuasca to a global audience to help heal and do spirit work.

Sara Alicia Ferreira Yaimes is a tabaquera – a healer that works with the spirit of the tobacco plant itself and with flower essence baths. Like many who practise the art of healing she comes from a line of spirit workers and has had to balance her family life in Iquitos with her duties as a healer. Here she talks about how she entered the science, the use of tobacco and ayahuasca to heal, and the role of the spirits behind all plants.


kevin_tbs KEVIN FURNAS
Kevin Furnas was a Western shaman from San Francisco who had been training with ayahuasca and other plant medicines for over a decade. He dieted extensively with plants at the Sachamama Ethnobotanical Gardens retreat outside Iquitos for nearly two years, receiving knowledge and wisdom from the plant doctors directly. He was an ayahuasquero and vegetalista in the Amazonian tradition, performing healing ceremonies with ayahuasca and other plants. He moved to Cuzco where he also worked with the “Apus” or spirits of the mountains before his untimely death in 2007. Here he talks about the inherent challenges of being a Western shaman, reincarnation and past lives, and the energetic nature of reality.

Scott Petersen is an American from Michigan with crinkly blue eyes and the swagger and style of Richard Branson. As well as being a tour guide and businessman, he’s also a trained herbalist and anthropologist who has been studying for over 25 years with Peruvian shamans. As the Director of the Refugio Altiplano, (Refuge of the High Plains) he has overseen it’s growth to become one of the largest ayahuasca tourist centers on the Upper Amazon. Scott also has a non-profit wing of the Refugio set up to buy the jungle land to protect it from logging and inappropriate development, with some of the money going towards helping create employment and education for the villagers. Here he talks about his background, the healing arts, the future of ayahuasca tourism and Western understanding.

carlos_tbs CARLOS TANNER
Carlos is currently was an apprentice to Iquitos curandero Don Juan Tangoa Paima. A native of Massachusetts, Carlos is a philosophy major who became interested in world religions and the practical applications of spirituality. After visiting South America and drinking ayahuasca with Don Juan, Carlos had many powerful experiences that led him to his current path as an ayahuasquero. He later joined his vision with Don Juan’s to create Ayahuayra – the Wind Spirit Center for Healing for Western students to study curanderismo, and his latest work is with The Ayahuasca Foundation. Here he discusses what it’s like being a Western apprentice, the rise of spiritual tourism and the need for global healing.

ron_wheelock_tbs RON WHEELOCK
Ron Wheelock is an Iquitos-based shaman from the midwest of the United States who trained for many years with indigenous curanderos. Ron was called by the spirit of ayahuasca to do his healing work and in many ways he epitomises the new breed of Western shamans following indigenous wisdom. Here Ron discusses how he got involved with ayahuasca and was called on the path of shamanism, his experiences with DMT, the spirit world and treating Western ayahuasca seekers in Peru and in America. He also comments on the earth changes that are happening and how ayahuacsa is part of that, seeding itself across the globe.

chuck_tbs CHUCK
Chuck has been coming down to South America for over twenty years and participating in ayahuasca ceremonies. As well as being an ayahuasca drinker and seeker himself, he has lent his energies to curanderos such as Percy Garcia Lozano to interface with Westerners, helping facilitate ceremonies, translate for the tour groups and generally advise the curanderos on how to deal with the surge of gringo interest in ayahuasca. In some ways he is more like a manager or an advisor on the blooming ayahuasca scene and has a unique perspective on the global culture.

jan_kounen JAN KOUNEN
Jan Kounen is a French music-video and feature film director who has specialized in bringing the spiritual world to the screen. On locations in Peru and Mexico to film the psychedelic spaghetti western, Renegade (2004, released as Blueberry outside the USA), an adaption of the French comic book by renowned visionary artist Moebius, he discovered shamanism. He fell in love with the indigenous Shipibo-Conibos culture and spent several months learning the ways of their plant medicine, ayahuasca, and filming a documentary about it: Other Worlds, which was re-released as a DVD box set in October, 2006. He has also created a non-profit organization called Spirit of the Anaconda, and filmed a series of one hour documentaries for TV called Another Reality. Here he talks about his work with the shamans of South America, the plant medicine ayahuasca, how it has affected his work as a director and the difficulties of bringing the other world onto the screen, as well as the altered state of media itself.

Dennis McKenna is one of the leading figures in the global psychedelic and scientific communities investigating plant entheogens and indigenous plant medicines. He was involved with the Hoasca Project studying ayahuasca usage by members of the Uniao do Vegetal and issued the 2005 manifesto “Ayahuasca and Human Destiny”. Along with his late brother Terence, Dennis co-wrote the book “The Invisible Landscape” which revealed their psychedelically influenced insights into the nature of reality and spacetime they received during ‘The experiment at La Chorrera’ in South America in 1971 (later recounted in Terence’s book “True Hallucinations”). Here, he talks at length about what happened at La Chorrera and how that influenced his later work with ayahuasca.

Alan Shoemaker is the founder of the Amazonian Shaman Conference held in Iquitos, Peru each year, and an ayahuasquero himself. He was called to South America and studied with various curanderos over the years, receiving visions and knowledge from the spirits. Alan is also a businessman and (when the interview was conducted in 2006) runs a tour company with his wife, Mariela, that specializes in ayahuasca tourism. Here he talks about the spiritual tourist boom, his founding of Soga del Alma, an ayahuasca church, and the global ayahuasca community.


Alexis is a curly, blond haired 22-year-old from the USA. Intelligent, curious, bilngual – a cultural creative. In traditional circles he would have been into coding and computer hacking. Now he’s in Iquitos, backpacking around on a spiritual path, drinking ayahuasca with the shamans and asking critical questions to deepen his own understanding.

brian_sanfran-copy BRIAN
Brian is a Western anthropology student and a resident of the Shipibo village of San Francisco, outside Pucallpa. San Francisco is perhaps the most densely populated shamanic center in Peru, with approximately one curandero for every 100 locals, many on the same suburban block as each other. Brian’s been staying in San Francisco for over three years, originally drinking ayahuasca and participating as an apprentice or ‘alumno’, and then focusing on environmental awareness and schemes to help the villagers become more sustainable.

javier_tbn JAVIER
Javier is a Western ayahuasquero who studied the plant medicine with Don Francisco at the Sachamama Enthnobotanical Gardens retreat outside Iquitos, and who now runs his own center in Pisac. A Spanish-speaking native of Switzerland, he’s a global traveler who migrates around the world’s festival circuit, spreading the knowledge and practice of plant medicines. Here he talks about the intensive dieting process, feeding the spirit body and understanding the language of the plants.

joel_elsa JOEL HARRIS and ELSA
Joel Harris is an American artist and ayahuasquero in his late 20s. He settled in San Francisco a few months back and is building a lodge there for shamanistic purposes for people from all over the world to come and learn the indigenous knowledge. His neighbors in San Francisco are the Shipiba ‘manta’ women who make ayahuasca patterned blankets and cloths to sell to Western tourists. Here he talks briefly with one, Elsa Raimonda Merlinda, who comes and goes through the interview as we discuss ayahuasca and the origins of their art.

pedro PEDRO
Pedro is a thirtysomething ayahuasquero from Sweden who has been dieting and studying at the Sachamama Ethnobotanical Garden retreat outside Iquitos for some years. He started as a regular drinker of the brew and as he has learned more he had progressed into an apprentice role, singing icaros and blowing mapacho smoke on those needing healing during ceremony. His dietary practices have led him to strong relationships with the plant doctors and with the spirits themselves, which he talks about here at length, as well as the challenges of integrating the indigenous knowledge with his Western life.

rachel_tbs RACHEL
Rachel is currently an apprentice to Don Francisco, the maestro curandero who founded and runs the Sachamama Ethnobotanical Gardens retreat outside Iquitos. She has been drinking and dieting with ayahuasca for a number of years, and learning icaros which she sings so well in ceremony. Here she talks about being a woman, and a Western woman in the male-dominated Peruvian culture, as well as the challenges of being a curandera in that world.

rolando_tbs ROLANDO
Rolando is a 40ish manager from Boulder who works with an American Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that provides medical supplies to indigenous communities along the Amazon in Peru. This interview was conducted the morning after Rolando’s second ayahuasca ceremony. At the first ceremony he had a lot of emotional connections, but didn’t have visions or a deep connection to ayahuasca. Here he describes his first deep, cathartic and very overwhelming ayahuasca journey.

Wind_spirit_students WIND SPIRIT CENTER
The Wind Spirit Center for Healing is a school unlike any other and it’s premise is simple: to teach Westerners the healing arts and nature magic of indigenous Peruvian curanderos, or as the West calls them – shamans. Here we chat with the program Director, Carlos Tanner, and the Class of 2006 explain what drew them to shamanism, what they’ve learned and the mysteries of ayahuasca.