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Steve Robinson

A Conversation with a Snake

Posted from: Iquitos Airport
Well, we've finished film two and so we're officially a third of the way through the series. It's been bloody tough but also pretty fantastic. We've seen and filmed some amazing things, made some incredible friends and passed through some of the most spectacular landscapes on Earth.

Looking out over the confluence of the Maranon and Ucayli
Looking out over the confluence of the Maranon and Ucayli
Bruce has had a memorable night on ayahuasca, not quite what he was expecting.

I’ve done my stint and I’m on my way home to Wales. Willow and I said an emotional farewell to Bruce, Matt and Pete tonight in Iquitos as a massive lightning storm crashed and flashed overhead. I will miss this team, and all the people who have been part of this epic journey so far. They have been great company and have become close friends. We are lucky people to do this. They have met Marco, the fixer for the next leg of the journey into Brazil, and will catch a fast boat to Tabatinga at 6am tomorrow.

Willlow and I are heading back to Lima. I’m going to have a couple of days surfing some of Northern Peru’s long and perfect point breaks before going home to start cutting the first two episodes. Willow, who has been a tower of industrious strength for months on end, will stay to do some translations then hopefully have a long and well-deserved break. She’s been in Peru for months now and knows almost everyone in the country. She is officially the world’s leading expert in Peruvian film crew logistics and the Upper Amazon’s Most Frequent Flyer. I wonder if she will ever leave.

The last few days have been quite intense. We have been out at an ayahuasca retreat a couple of hours into the jungle outside Iquitos. It’s run by a wonderful young guy called Percy, a spiritual healer whose intimate knowledge of traditional medicine was passed to him by his grandfather. He’d been a boatman who’d travelled the length of the Amazon for years, learning traditional plant medicine from the tribes he met.

The team at the end of film two
(From L to R) Bruce, Pete, Steve, Willow, Percy and Matt

The retreat was a collection of simple raised wooden huts built around a small river in the forest. It was very peaceful and calm (although it did have the most persistent, aggressive and numerous mosquitoes of the trip so far).

There were a number of other people in residence when we arrived - some gringos, some Peruvian - all looking for some sort of answer or guidance from this powerful sacred vine. They all looked pretty tired and thin, like they’d been through some hard times together. One girl, who looked exhausted with black bags under her eyes, had been there for weeks and was planning on staying for months. Matt Norman, our cameraman, was hoping they might all come to life on ayahuasca and start doing the zombie dance from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. Unfortunately, they didn’t, which I think is a pity. This series might benefit from a song and dance routine or two.

Bruce was so excited he was bouncing around the place like some sort of jungle Tigger. He loves this sort of stuff and had read every book available on Ayahuasca. This was a big deal for him.

On the way to the river to bathe, Bruce saw and filmed a large venomous pit viper - a Fer de Lance. They are one of the most poisonous and aggressive snakes in the Amazon and Bruce said he would normally kill them on sight – they are territorial and very dangerous. But snakes and serpent symbols are also very important in ayahuasca visions, so we couldn’t help but see it as some sort of omen.

Bruce in the Amazon
Bruce washes in the river before the ceremony

The ceremony started in the early evening with Percy washing Bruce and the others in the river, then pouring scented water over them to cleanse them. Then he blew tobacco smoke over their heads - tobacco is a powerful spiritual plant out here - then sprinkling flower petals over them.

Everyone gathered in the circular central hut to wait for Percy to arrive. Matt filmed with a small light as Percy took his place at his small altar, crowded with bottles of herbal infusions, hand-rolled cigarettes and a big plastic bottle of syrupy black ayahuasca.

He inhaled deeply on his home-made cigarettes and carefully blew the smoke into the neck of each bottle in turn. Then, one by one, he called up his subjects and poured them a wooden cup full of viscous ayahuasca. They drank it down in one, then went back to their mattresses to rinse their mouths and spit.

We filmed for a short while, (Matt humming the opening bars of Thriller, just in case) but as the ceremony is meant to take place in complete darkness, our light was ruining the ambience and we didn’t want to freak anyone out. We left Bruce with Willow and a small infra-red video camera each to capture Bruce’s journey and returned to our mosquito nets and Therma-rests.

I’ll let Bruce tell you exactly what happened next, but I will say that it involved a conversation with a snake and some powerful soul-searching.

So, that’s it for me. I’ve spent nearly nine weeks in Peru and had a complete ball - it’s been great fun, totally exhausting, profoundly moving, utterly frustrating and quite scary almost every day. And we’ve still got four films to go. Good luck everyone and thanks for the trip of a lifetime.


  • 1.
  • At 12:29 PM on 10 Mar 2008,
  • Rob Davies wrote:

go on Bruce!!! love the shows (: there a great insight to the indginous tribes and it shows what a canged world we now live in ,these tribes need rights,i think its really sad the way we have evovled
reaking havok on mother nature itself ....enyway enough of me babbeling..i enjoy the show very much keep up the good work......ppeeaaccee


  • 2.
  • At 08:26 PM on 02 Apr 2008,
  • Tony Giles wrote:

Constant reference to ayahuasca as a "vine" are somewhat misleading. The principal drug contributing to the ayahuasca experience is dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which is mostly derived - in the Amazon, anyway - from the plant psychotria viridis. DMT is not active when taken orally, since it is broken down by the enzyme monoamine oxidase. The vine banisteriopsis caapi contains the alkaloids harmine and harmaline, both monoamine oxidase inhibitors. These disable the enzyme, thereby enabling the DMT to be metabolised in the brain, where it works its "magic".

Tony, Bruce talks further about ayahuasca and DMT in his blog Mother Ayahuasca versus Bruce Parry

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