Have you ever been in a situation, looked around, and thought “How the hell did I end up here?” In most cases, I’d just call myself an uber, do the ‘ole Irish goodbye, and head home.
In this specific scenario, I found myself in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle, howler monkeys swinging above my head, and a bonfire in the shape of a bird stretched out in front of me surrounded by a hundred dancing strangers while six-foot-tall speakers play music so loud my bones feel as if they are vibrating inside my skin.
At the risk of sounding dramatic, the last 48 hours of our Costa Rica trip may have been the strangest experience I have had in my 25 years of being alive.
The Weeks Beforehand
There are a few things you need to know in order to really understand all that this story entails. Most of this information involves what happens when you grind up different kinds of cacti and eat it.
This lil cactus’ dust packs quite the existential-crisis-punch. It has been used for many years as a ceremonial medicine within various cultures. It essentially forces you to confront and acknowledge your trauma, and most people come out of the experience having some sort of enlightenment. Think “tough love”.
This creme de la cactus is the gentler version of Ayahuasca, and is more focused on self-love and acceptance. Think “You’re doing amazing, sweetie. Keep up the good work.”
Another cactus extraction.
Now that you all think I have quit my day job to eat cacti- let’s get back to the story.
The Last Night
If you need background on the first 10 days of Costa Rica, let me redirect you to the first part of this tale.
In addition to the juice cleansing, no eating, and living in the middle of the jungle for 10 days, the bulk of my hesitation about this trip came from what was called “Rock Night”.
Rock Night was a night where the whole community and all of its visitors come together and celebrate with ceremonial medicine, dancing, and huge bonfire by the river for 14 hours.
Yes, you read that correctly.
The ceremony lasted for 14 hours and the one rule they have is that you remain in the designated area of the ceremony. This meant no Irish goodbyes.
Both of my sisters, Lindsay and Lacey, had participated in Ayahuasca and San Pedro ceremonies before and felt that I could really benefit from the experience. I wasn’t a fan of the idea at first, but my curiosity was undeniable. I did some more research, asked them questions about their own experiences, and I became more open minded.
The ceremonies that involve substances like Ayahuasca and San Pedro are different from your “Hey man, I found a guy that can hook us up with some ‘stuff’ for the concert this weekend!”. These ceremonies and substances, when used for their original intention, have been celebrated for thousands of years for religious or spiritual purposes. It is a tradition that is deeply woven into the fabric of so many cultures.
From the description of Rock Night, it looked a little different than what my sisters had experienced when they visited last time but similar enough for them to label it as the best night of the trip before the trip even began. Even before we knew what medicine we were going to be taking, my sisters did a very good job of preparing me for whatever the experience may bring.
Or so we thought…
The Week of The Ceremony
Once we got to the community, one of the first questions people would ask upon introducing themselves would always be “Are you staying for Rock Night?!”. It was clearly a highlight of everyone’s visit. We were told how the founder of the community (who we met on the bird watching tour in part 1) is coincidentally also a world-renowned DJ and was going to be performing for the entire 14 hours of the ceremony.
My sisters and I would join 150 of our closest friendly strangers in the jungle, and under the supervision of a shaman and their helpers, we would be given medicine that would allow us to tap into past trauma, enlighten us, and bring us a new perspective on life as we knew it.
Was I nervous? A little. Did I feel prepared? Absolutely.
My sisters were able to run through every possible scenario with me going off of their past experiences in ceremonies like these. They covered all of the bases from what to do if I was feeling sick, to where to meet if we got separated. If that hadn’t made me feel prepared, the community offered multiple informational meetings for all who would be attending the ceremony. I felt more than reassured that this was going to be a safe experience. Possibly scary, weird, and definitely unfamiliar–but safe.
Any concerns that I might have had were addressed so all that was left to do was wait until it started.
The majority of the trip, we were convinced that the medicine for Rock Night was going to be San Pedro. On the day of the ceremony, we found out that it was actually Peyote– a medicine that neither of my sisters have experienced before, but we were told it’s very similar to San Pedro.
As we were getting ready, Lindsay handed me a rock and said nothing. Once I stared at her long enough holding the rock, she realized she had to explain that it was tourmaline and it’s used for protection.
We piled into the back of a pick-up truck and continued down the bumpy mountain road. Once dropped off, we had to follow a path of candles in paper bags. We checked in and then we headed towards the bonfire to stake out our spot.
As we’re marching down the path, one of the bags catches on fire, but we managed to put it out before the dry leaves around it went up in flames.
...Warning sign #1
We arrived at a clearing in the jungle around a huge bonfire. We found a nice spot to spread out, meditate, relax, and focus on our intentions. Among the trees, there were speakers that were at least six feet tall. The founder of the community sat at a table with DJ equipment. It wasn’t until we got settled that I realized that the tourmaline that Lindsay let me borrow for protection had fallen out of my purse (aka my shirt).
…Warning sign #2
The excitement was contagious and the sense of community was so inspiring. People who we haven’t even talked to yet were coming over to each person wishing them a happy experience. The smell of sage flowed through the air as people cleansed the space around the bonfire. If there was ever an experience that could represent “good vibes” this was it.
It was finally time. Everyone gathered around the bonfire and watched as the shamans blessed the medicine and gave thanks. At that moment we were all present, and grateful to be a part of this experience.
Lines formed as the shamans started to give out the peyote. When it was our turn, we each cupped our hands and received about a tablespoon of what honestly looked like sawdust, and it tasted about as good as sawdust probably tasted. One by one we each took the dust and threw it in our mouths and chased it with water. My heart was racing. Would I feel it right away? What if this was a mistake? What if I’m in over my head?
Too late now.
Everyone was supposed to stand around the fire for the first song. The leader of the community waited patiently while everyone was served before starting his set that he assured us was going to seamlessly guide us as we experience the medicine. He said there was a theme that he was hoping everyone could relate to.
The first song was actually a combination of The first song was actually a combination of songs, most of which I had never heard before. There was slam poetry, songs with all ranges of tempo, and recordings of famous spiritual leaders.
Then…Eminem? Not gonna lie, that one took me by surprise.
Once it was clear that we were allowed to, Lindsay, Lacey and I went back to our spot and waited for the medicine to do its thing.
10:30 PM-12:00 AM
I sat and I waited. At first, I tried to gently coax out the messages that I might receive. In my head, I just kept chanting “I am ready and open to receive whatever you have for me”. After listening to song after song for what had to have been more than an hour, it was clear that the theme was growing up/ parents. As a child of divorce, I thought to myself “Oh HELL yeah, come on medicine show me what ya got I know I am in for a wild ride”.
So this goes on for about an hour and a half, and the only thing I’m feeling is exhaustion.
I open my eyes and I see a small spot glowing green on the ground and I think “This is it. This is the medicine coming through just focus.” I focus all of my energy onto the wiggling glowing green spot, ready for true transcendence to kick in. That is until I hear: “Do you see that bug glowing?”
It’s Lindsay. From the looks of it, she is in the same boat I am in. We are both feeling absolutely NOTHING. Lacey comes back from wandering the woods and says she doesn’t feel anything either.
12:00 AM- 5:00 AM
Lacey spoke with some people and they advised that peyote is a medicine you have to “dance into effect”. With everyone around us moving and grooving we decided to give it a try.
All three of us joined the crowd around the bonfire and danced like no one was watching. Given the fact that we had been up since 5:30 AM that morning, we were just bopping to the beat. But even that was hard to do. I am all for switching up the tunes, but we were on a musical roller coaster with the setlist. We had Johnny Cash, more slam poetry, lots of Kings of Leon, some EDM music, and of course more Eminem.
We dance and we dance until I literally could not dance anymore. I headed back to our spot and tried to nap through the bass vibrating the jungle floor until it was time for our 2nd dose of peyote.
5:00 AM- 10:00 AM
We repeated the process over again but this time we told the shaman that we literally felt nothing. I could’ve taken the SATs and probably gotten a few more points on it than I did the first time around. He gave us an extra half scoop and told us to be careful and let us know if we needed anything. We threw back the nasty stuff and decided to dance it outright from the get-go. This was our second wind. I was done with the gentle coaxing, I was going to feel this medicine or I was going to look like an idiot trying to!
The Teletubbies theme song could have been blaring from those 6 ft speakers and you bet your bottom dollar that we would have still been frolicking around the fire, waving around our galaxy patterned scarves.
Don’t get me wrong–it was fun but, just like before, as time went on we still felt no transcendence, no new perspective, no reliving trauma, just…dancing to the umpteenth Eminem song surrounded by people who looked like they were flying through dimensions with Ms. Frizzle.
10:00 AM- 12:00 PM
We sat in hammocks, pretended to nap, waited for the 3rd dose only to have the same thing happen again even though we were offered San Pedro this time. I think my body had just had quite enough of my foolishness because I threw up after taking San Pedro. I’d like to say I was able to handle the last hours with poise but I would be lying. I lost my marbles. I was so exhausted and frustrated and disappointed and on top of it all I was mad at myself for feeling these things because I felt like I was disrespecting the ceremony. My psychotic break didn’t truly hit me until it was finally time to leave the site. 12:00 PM came and I had my bags packed ready to hightail it out of here but I was determined to put my negative energy aside for the last song which was ironically enough: “Torn” by Natalie Imbuglia because Nothing was fine, I was TORN.
We held hands and swayed to the music and I genuinely cheered as it came to an end, knowing one day I will learn from this somehow.
That was until the crowd started chanting for an encore.
12:00 PM – 2:00 PM
I tried to keep my composure but when an encore lasts TWO HOURS. I think I gained every right to lose it. I don’t know what came first the laughing or the crying but I was doing some combination of both. My only saving grace was the vegan raspberry chocolate ice cream balls. We were only allowed to have one. I’d say I may have had more than five.
I can say with complete honesty, I do not feel bad about it because I EARNED them.
When the God-forsaken music finally ended, I did an Irish goodbye as my life depended on it. Remember how we were driven there? Well, we walked up that same bumpy mountain road because I was not about to wait around for another minute. While I was at it, I probably should have kept an eye out for that tourmaline that bounced out of my bra on the way down here because LAWD could I have used some of its protection!
2:00 PM – 11:00 PM
We came back to our casita, packed our bags, and waited for what was going to be the longest taxi ride of our lives through the pitch-black countryside of Costa Rica with a driver who didn’t understand English. Once we got to the hotel, I fell asleep while the hotel manager was trying to fix our AC unit.
So it didn’t exactly go as I had hoped or planned, but overall it was a great trip. I met a lot of great people, drank the most delicious juices, and spent time with my sisters.
Once I got home to Baltimore, I showered for an hour using three different types of exfoliants and catapulted into my bugless bed as fast as humanly possible.
It was a fantastic trip, with an unexpected plot twist at the end, but as a wise poet once said:
“Snapped back to reality, whoops there goes gravity.”