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Expat Living: The Ayahuasca Craze Hits Costa Rica

Ayahuasca – This hallucinogenic brew, made from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, has become the rage over the past decade. Devoted users call it transformative and life-changing. One survey found that 80% of people who used the drug reported significant improvements in their mental health symptoms. Devotees report less depression and higher quality of life. Other findings show that users of ayahuasca reported elimination of anxious and addictive symptoms.

How popular has this mind and soul expanding drug become? I just googled ‘ayahuasca’ and ‘Costa Rica’, and found a Top 10 list of the best places in Costa Rica to partake in the ayahuasca experience. There are so many options to immerse oneself in the ‘tripping balls’ scene in Costa Rica, that someone is rating them!

Celebrities like the actor Terence Howard and the NFL star Aaron Rodgers have offered endorsements. Anywhere you may be in Costa Rica, there is probably an ayahuasca retreat within a couple hours drive. Although it is only recently in vogue, it has been around for hundreds of years. In the 16th century, uptight Christian missionaries from Spain first encountered Indigenous people in the western Amazonian basin of South America using ayahuasca.

Their earliest reports described it–predictably–as “the work of the devil”. In the mid-20th century, beat writers William S Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg published a book called The Yage Letters, detailing their travels in South America in search of the ayahuasca trip. Yage (pronounced yah-hey) is another term for the potent vine. A couple well-meaning friends have encouraged me to try it.

All of my adult life, I have been open to mind expanding substances. When I was younger I occasionally used LSD, mescaline, peyote and mushrooms. I still enjoy smoking ganja. For now, I have decided that at my advanced age, I don’t need it. (How old am I? Old enough to ride the interurban buses for free). And I have what I consider good reasons to skip it. When your natural, soul-shaking, mind expanding product has been commodified to the point that somebody is making top 10 lists of the best places to experience it, my inner skeptic flies to the surface.

And many of these retreats charge into the thousands of dollars. Sorry, but some of my best mind and soul enhancing experiences were free of charge. When seeking out new roads, I prefer the solo path. I don’t want a guide or a shaman along for my ride. A shaman is said to function as an intermediary between the physical and spiritual world. I would want to do a background check. How does one become a shaman? Is there a test? A renewable permit?

Finally, the age and pharmacological experience factor. The intensity of the trip–which I already experienced in my younger days with other drugs– does not seem rewarding at my age. The recovery period would be long and hard. I prefer now to rely on my own collective cumulative experience. My brain has been temporarily reprogrammed via substances enough times.

I don’t think a major psychic blow out would change anything for me internally. More power to all of those who have reached a higher state with this. As for me, I don’t believe ayahuasca would take me anywhere I haven’t already been.

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