This story excerpt was translated from French. To read the original story in full, visit Courrier International. You may also view the original story on the Rainforest Journalism Fund website here. Our website is available in English, Spanish, bahasa Indonesia, French, and Portuguese.
Travel agencies are exploiting the ayahuasca thread, the psychedelic drink considered by the healers of the Peruvian Amazon as a traditional medicine.
"I am 250 years old," says Welmer Cárdenas Díaz. He is a writer who runs a makeshift stall of lives and magazines on a street in the center of Pucallpa, the capital of the Amazonian region of Ucayali, Peru. He protects himself as he can from the sun by a hat and black glasses. It is almost midday in this Saturday of September, the temperature turns around 36 °C, but one has rather the impression that it exceeds the 40 °C.
After a brief pause, Díaz says, "This is my cosmic age, not my physical one. "An old shaman told him this after a cerebration with ayahuasca, the psychedelic drink of the Amerindian peoples. Díaz is the author of El brujo Arimuya ["The Arimuya Wizard"], a collection of stories about the visionary world of the ancient curandei ros [healers] of the Amazon.
In Pucallpa, the mystical heart of the Amazon rainforest, the shamanic world of ayahuasca is not only found in the multiple centers that offer sessions with this beverage. It is rooted in the culture of the city, in the books, in the paintings, in the walls, in the handicrafts and in the history of each person - as shown by this writer who claims to be 250 years old.
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Amazonian shamanism, however, must face powerful forces to continue to exist: local prejudice, religious fanaticism, and psychedelic tourism.
We landed in Pucallpa at the beginning of September. By chance, the city had welcomed on that day a congress on tourism organized by Amazon World, a local travel agency, and which gathered professionals of the sector come from various regions of Peru.