Another Iquitos Evening

by Captain Bill

A guest post by Chris Kilham, Medicine Hunter

Chris Kilham brandishing a staff of tongkat ali root. (Photo taken from an article about Chris in Outside Magazine titled Naughty by Nature)

After four days of sourcing Sangre de grado in Puerto Maldonado, and my work there satisfactorily completed, I acted on default impulse and caught a LAN flight to Iquitos, Amazon river city of sweat and water, baking asphalt, blistering days and charming humid nights, Shipibo women hawking exquisite ayahuasca geometry textiles on the sidewalks, and that guy in the wheelchair who always begs at the same spot two blocks down from Plaza de Armas.

Fortune and repeat visits have conspired such that I have many acquaintances in Iquitos, and even a few actual friends. The day after my night time arrival, I made the rounds to Dawn on the Amazon for camu camu and good conversation with Bill Grimes and the drifters, ayahuasceros, writers, musicians, travelers and expats who gather there. Later In Witches Alley in the sweltering Belen Mercado I acquired some palo santo, mapacho, San Pedro and a few other items, and did my best to avoid the pools of body fluids, septic water, fish guts and excrescences that sit like Afghani land mines in the narrow and crowded walkways there.

My first day back in Iquitos felt comfortable the way an old friend’s house is welcoming, and I remarked to myself more than a few times during the humid hours how much I enjoy this relic of the rubber boom, whose modernity has attracted tens of thousands of extra inhabitants, caravans of eco tourists and argonautic explorers, and perhaps more Chinese motorcycles than any spot outside of Hangzhou. Caroming around the smoggy roadways eating grit in various motocaros, I took in the chipped paint, the scrawny dogs, the women in hopelessly tight jeans, the black-clad police, the street vendors selling everything from sunglasses to peeled oranges and empanadas, and it all made me smile, except perhaps for the respiratory challenge.

The next day at Ari’s over a tall acai I wound up locked deep in conversation about various nefarious conspiracies with Jim Sax, who is opening a Middle Eastern themed eatery, and with Bill Gleeson. Both paused from their tales of ominous FEMA camps and satellite spying on civilians to wax effusive about the ayahuasca ceremonies at Ron Wheelock’s place, and encouraged me to attend ceremony that evening. I had already met and spent some very enjoyable time with the area’s well known “gringo shaman,” and decided, after much promotion on their part, to catch the 49 bus to Ron’s and find out about his apparently majestic ceremonies for myself.

Around 5:00 p.m. as I left the Victoria Regia to meet up with Bill for the bus ride, I was dogged by a prickly nagging, a persistent cooing from deep in the mottled chambers of my psyche, encouraging me to go instead and with haste to Espiritu de Anaconda, where I have participated in ceremony many times with maestro shaman Guillermo Arevalo. The persistent call bewildered me somewhat. I had run into Guillermo earlier the day before, exactly by the same means, when a prickly nagging told me in the ways that prickly naggings do, to proceed at once to Plaza de Armas, where I would run into Guillermo. I had followed that quixotic instruction, encountered Guillermo exactly as was intimated, and found out that he would not be conducting ceremony the next night. Yet there it was, the prickly sense urging me to abandon my plan for Ron’s, and to head to kilometer 14 on the Nauta road, to Espiritu de Anaconda.

The moto ride was the usual travesty, and I was part passenger and part mot-pusher, as we struggled valiantly through deep sand on the way to Guillermo’s place. The moto driver demanded more money for having been dragged out into the Iquitos outback, but it all ended well, as we cruised into the sprawling compound that is Espiritu de Anaconda. On my prior visit five weeks before, I had found a mostly empty, sleepy retreat. his time, the place was hopping, filled to capacity with Americans, Europeans, and a group of Russians who would, as it turns out, provide some evening entertainment.

Stephane, one of Guillermo’s reliable and bilingual apprentices, helped me to get situated, and informed me that Guillermo was expecting me, and was doing a small special ceremony for just a few of us. See how those prickly naggings work?

After settling in to a small bungalow, I headed to the large ceremonial malocca to claim a spot and a comfortable mat or two, for the evening. A few of Guillermo’s apprentices arrived and settled in, and we waited for the man himself to show up. Fortune conspired to throw a spanner in the works, when five of the Russians arrived, and took up position as one unit. Feigning an inability to understand what they were kindly told, that the ceremony was just for a few others that evening, they obstinately set up camp and refused to budge. Okay, detente.

The three male and two female Russians were archetypal-fleshy, thickly muscled, and pale-skinned, with pink rubbery lips, their bodies arising from decades of potatoes, fatty meats, vodka and harsh cigarettes. They clung to each other as if sharing the same foxhole on the front lines. One actually looked like Leonid Brezhnev.

When Guillermo arrived, he greeted each person warmly with a smile, handshake, and kind words. Then he reclined on his mat, and the pouring began. Two of his assistants brought out the dark brown ayahuasca. One by one we walked up and specified how much we wished to drink, and were given that amount. When the Russians came up, they all asked for tall ones, as if to say hey, I didn’t come all the way from Novosibirsk to drink half a glass!

We sat in the dark for a while, until the ayahuasca kicked in, with it’s luminous geometry, it’s feelings of tremulous body shimmer, it’s mystic undulations. The Russians, gripped by large doses, began to have their own experiences, heaving their guts out in such operatic full throttle, it was as though their innards were being removed with rakes. I have heard many people vomit, some quite loudly. But neither Caruso nor Pavaroti could sing with volume comparable to the epic puking of the Russians. They were forces of nature, peristaltic superheroes crying out with their heads in plastic buckets, heaving with alarming, almost deafening force. And it did not stop. They vomited for hours.

The best, though, was yet to come. Amidst the solemnity of the ayahuasca ceremony, even as Guillermo sang beautiful and finely mysterious icaros to spur us to new mystic heights, one of the Russian men stripped to his underpants and began to wander the malocca, pausing to embrace two wooden statues as if they were fond lovers, and striking military poses in one spot after another. Tall, strong and defiant, he could not be stopped. He was the Charles Atlas of ayahuasca, a paragon of fierce and proud Russian power, strident in his poses, erect and mighty, lost in some parallel universe to which the rest of us did not have access. Guillermo and a couple of his apprentices attempted to steer the man back to his mat, but he would not go for it. And so for hours he shifted from one spot to another, even attempting at one point to lie down on a Frenchman who took it poorly.

You cannot ever say that an ayahuasca ceremony will go this way or that. The permutations of the human psyche, and the caprices of the spirits, often conspire to produce hilarity, strange behaviors, and even unexpected eructations, from violent farts to full-throated yells. It is impossible to predict what will happen out there in the dark. At about 2:00 a.m., after the icaros were but a memory, after the Russian barfings had quieted, after the standing man had retreated at last to his mat, I departed to my bungalow, where I caught a few hours of sleep. By half past six I was showering under a drizzle of cold water, and half an hour later I was walking the sandy route back to the Nauta road, to catch a moto, to go back into the city with a breeze in my face, as dawn rose in humid warmth and another Iquitos day began.
Chris Kilham

Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter and author. His web site is

Captain Bill Grimes is the publisher of this Captain’s Blog and president of the Amazon Explorers Club and is happy to have Chris Kilham for a friend. Thanks for contributing this enjoyable account of your recent visit to Iquitos. It caused me to laugh and smile. Laughing and smiling is as good for my health as a tablespoon of maca…

If you got a kick out of this article, be sure to check out Chris’s web site. He is the author of over a dozen books and has many fantastic photos from his travels as the Medicine Hunter.

{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Leo February 13, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Great post by Chris. He’s not only an interesting man, he is also a wonderful writer. See if you can get another post from him, Bill.

2 Gart van Gennip February 16, 2011 at 7:20 pm

Very nicely written article from an interesting guy. I certaionly hope to read more by Chris sometime soon.

Too bad, though, that Chris would even mention a fraud like Ron Wheelock. This man claims to be a shaman, but in reality is nothing but a greedy charlatan. He uses a woodchipper to produce large quantities of ayahuasca, which apparently he sells to buyers abroad, thus raping the local culture and the spiritual essence of ayahuasca. Apart from that, this fool organizes cock fights -which are illegal in his own country for very good reasons!- and breeds pitbull terriers (god only knows for what purpose). In my humble opinion, people like Ron should be tarred, feathered and run into the Amazon River.

3 Bernhard February 17, 2011 at 8:10 am

Thank you for the story Chris and Bill.
Reading about Iquitos and Espiritu the Anaconda, it makes me long to go back soon, one way or the other way.
If you don’t mind, I would like to tell you my/ our experience from last year, June/July, again Russians, again 2 women, 3 men. From the description of their physical appearance it must be different people though.
The first night after they arrived and had ayahuasca, one of the women started into softly moaning, as my mat was just next after the door and this went on for hours it was hard to concentrate on doing some work within myself, but after all, it was a truly most pleasant night. This was about the time I was thinking if some people come completely of their mind when having Aya.
The answer came in the following night. Round about one or two in the morning, the Shamans had for some reason already left, there was a guy very noisy on the other side of the malocca, went over to see if there was anybody in need. Saw one of the Russians (his friends where also gone already), looked as trying to leave the malocca, trying to get his head through the wooden boards in a rather violent manner. So I led him to the door, opening one of the door wings. Then he started. Being a rather skinny and tiny man, he grabbed the door wing and pulled it off its hinges, using just one hand, then throwing the door to the floor. That was just the beginning. When led outside, he stripped off all his clothes and started to kick his body onto the ground and wherever and whatever came into his path. When trying to prevent him from hurting himself he kicked with his feet very close to my face and I decided not to get hurt myself in this situation. So next he wandered around the place, shouting and hitting what ever was in his path.
He even fell into the rather tall cactuses around. This went on for about 20 minutes. The armed guard was just following him, watching, nothing else to be done. Then the guard light the torch, showed the man that he was naked, offering the trousers to him. Astonished, he took the trousers, put them on and went back inside the malocca, where he went to sleep after another 10 minutes or so. Next day, he, full of bruises all over his body, face and hands, but appeared quite sane, talking to his friends. A few days later, he was having Aya again but had no more such reactions as in that particular night.
So my conclusion out of this was, if I and we (as I thought was possibly necessary but not possible anyhow) had tried to hold him down for his own
safety and not let him roam freely, he never might have got of his then “twisted” mind any more.
Well hope it’s ok to share this experience.
To Bill: I the Categories section there is a link to charakters of Iquitos.
The then offered further links are not working, could you please have a look?
Peace to Iquitos.

4 Captain Bill February 17, 2011 at 10:44 am

Hi Leo, I agree it would be great to have another article from Chris. I think we are fortunate to have even one story from this busy man.

Wow Gart, I don’t know what to say…Having Ron “tarred and feathered and run into the Amazon River” sounds a little too extreme…:-)

Hello Bernard, Thanks for taking the time to tell your story. I enjoyed reading it. I checked the link, Characters of Iquitos, in the column to the right of the text, under categories. All of those links are live now. We are changing the design of the Captain’s Blog. If you find any other links not working properly, please let me know.

5 Andy Metcalfe February 17, 2011 at 11:07 am

Gart, you should get your facts straight and learn to know what you’re talking about before you accuse people of being a fraud. Just because you disagree with some of the things a person is involved in does not make someone a fraud.

I’m guessing you don’t know Ron at all. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him and doing a ceremony with him and I can say from my experience the guy knows what he’s doing. Ron spent many years apprenticing under some of the most respected Shaman in Iquitos. He has as much right to call himself an ayahuasca shaman as any other shaman you might know about. Perhaps you think gringos can’t be shamans, but that’s only your own prejudices and faulty thinking coming out.

The other issues you mention are true and controversial, but are not reasons to accuse someone of being a fraud. Ron does make ayahuasca to send to people around the world (and he has recently started using a wood chipper to make the job a little easier), and I can understand why not everyone agrees with that. It’s certainly a slightly controversial subject, but just because you don’t agree with it, doesn’t make it right or wrong. You know what they say about opinions being like assholes!

Cockfighting is an issue I personally don’t agree with either. However the fact that it’s illegal in the states does not mean a thing. Ayahuasca is also illegal in the states, as is pretty much everything worth doing these days. Cockfighting is legal in Peru, and as a Peruvian resident, Ron is fully within his rights to take part.

But what the hell has cockfighting got to do with ayahuasca shamanism? Absolutely nothing. So what’s your point exactly?

I’m also not aware that he breeds Pitbulls. I didn’t see any evidence of that when I was on his property. I didn’t even see one Pitbull. But if he does, so what? Pitbulls are fine dogs if they’re looked after and cared for property. You ask for what purpose? Well why don’t you go and ask the guy instead of just talking shit about him?

Each to their own I say. It’s wrong to make jundgements about people in the way you have, just because you don’t personally agree with some of the things they do.

Have you personally spent anytime and got to know Ron at all? I’m guessing you haven’t. My experience of him is that he’s an incredibly knowledgeable, humble and all round nice guy.

To anyone reading this who is interesting in drinking ayahuasca in Iquitos, I would say ignore Gart, and definitely consider drinking with Ron. I’ve only drank with him once, but I highly recommend the guy. He makes some of the strongest ayahuasca in Iquitos and you’ll be in safe hands.

6 Gart van Gennip February 17, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Hi Andy,

If only making a great brew of ayahuasca would make a great shaman. Obviously it doesn’t. Anyone being involved in the torture and exploitation of animals for profit or entertainment (or both) has no business calling himself a shaman. And in Peru it may be legal, but it is still unethical and immoral.
Call it ‘just an opinion’ if you must, but yes, I do judge people among other things by the way they treat animals. And so-called ‘sports’ like cockfighting are among the lowest forms of human behavior I can think of. So Ron is such a nice guy, is he? Not in my book.
What I get from your comments is that you disagree with his organizing cockfights, but that drinking his brew is more important to you than standing up against this barbaric conduct. Fine, that’s your choice, you live with it.
But cockfighting is not the only reason why I am not a fan of Ron’s. As you know very well, ayahuasca is considered a sacred teacher plant. It is part of a very old tradition and culture. It has huge spiritual significance to many people, locals as well as visitors. The way Ron Wheelock produces ayahuasca and sells it at great monetary benefit is nothing less than an insult to this cultural and spiritual significance. It is void of even a shred of cultural and spiritual sensitivity.
I don’t get how anyone who takes ayahusaca seriously can even consider supporting this guy with their money, let alone recommend him to others. To me, it is shocking and offensive.
If you really want to have a true ayahuasca experience, there are countless of alternatives; ayahuasqueros, healers, who offer an authentic, traditional ceremony, maybe even at a better rate as well. But if it is just the power of the brew that matters to you, then why don’t you admit that you just want to get high, and that the rest of it is a load of bullshit.
People who just go to Ron Wheelock remind me of the tourists in Amsterdam, who buy the posters at the souvenirshop in the Van Gogh Museum, but don’t actually go to see the original works. They show a profound lack of taste and -dare I say it- respect.
I can’t stop Ron Wheelock or anyone else from doing what they do, but maybe I can make some people question his motives and his ethics, and ask themselves what it is that people like him actually contribute to Iquitos, to this country, to the planet and to your spiritual wellbeing.

PS: please don’t tell me I don’t know what I am talking about. It is such a non-argument in any debate. See you at Bill’s!

7 Andy Metcalfe February 18, 2011 at 9:20 am

Actually Gart, you don’t really know what you’re talking about, because you don’t have a personal relationship with Ayahuasca. You’ve tried it about once or twice right?

I’m guessing you’ve never actually asked the spirit of ayahuasca what she thinks about being sent to people all over the world. Do you know that she considers it an insult to be sent all over the world? Maybe you should ask her about that sometime before you come here spouting off opinions. Who are you speaking for? Are you speakng for yourself or Ayahuasca? I think you’re speaking only for yourself.

Just because Ayahuasca comes from the Amazon, does not mean this is the only place in the world where ceremonies should be held. Perhaps South America should keep coffee, chocolate and tobacco to itself as well?

Most people can’t afford to travel to the Amazon to drink Ayahuasca here. With flights and everything else it costs a lot of money to come here. Do you want to deny people a profound spiritual and transformation experience because they lack the money to travel? How’s about that for being elitist?

The benefits of ayahuasca are profound, and I genuinely believe she’s having a positive affect on the consciousness of mankind right now at a time when it’s most needed. My experience of Ayahuasca is that she’s absolutely fine with world travel, in fact she loves it! It’s her will to get out of the jungle and into the greater world.

So until you develop your own personal relationship with ayahuasca, and she tells you she’s offended by what Ron’s doing, who are you to pass judgement?

As an Ayahuasca shaman, Ron will have a very deep and personal relationship with the spirit of Ayahuasca, and I seriously doubt he would do anything to disrespect her or piss her off. Have you thought about that? I doubt it….

8 Gart van Gennip February 18, 2011 at 10:30 am

Hi Andy!

There, you did it again, you said I don’t know what I am talking about. Fine, let’s just call that your opinion, then. But let’s get one thing straight; it isn’t necessary to be an ayahuasca expert to be able to form a well-informed opinion about its spiritual and cultural significance.

It’s a pity you would focus on just one issue, and conveniently ignore the rest of my arguments, namely the exploitation, torture and killing of animals this ‘shaman’ practices (and how that disqualifies him as a shaman), as well as the way he produces his brew and then sends it (illegally under another name I might add, ) to people in the rest of the world, which cannot be said for coffee or chocolate. Come on, Andy, how can you even compare those to ayahuasca?!

By the way, considering the possible health consequences of using ayahuasca by those who don’t know what they are doing, I also think it is simply irresponsible for Ron Wheelock to send ayahuasca to people elsewhere. I am sure he knows that using ayahuasca without the supervision and guidance of an experienced shaman is a bad idea. Even here in Iquitos, accidents happen. Does Ron know to whom he sends the ayahuasca and how it is used and by whom? Does he care? My guess is that the answer to both questions is ‘no’.

I may not be an expert, Andy, but I like to think that a true shaman lives a holistic, spiritual lifestyle, has respect for Mother Nature and doesn’t care too much about money. I haven’t seen or heard any evidence that these things apply to Ron.

Regarding your belief that you are talking to a sentient being, a living spirit with whom you can have a relationship, I can only say that you are entitled to your beliefs. Scientists will tell you that ayahuasca contains a hallucinogenic compound called DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) which causes people to have visions and hallucinations.

Your last question is interesting: who am I to pass judgment? Who is anyone to pass judgement, Andy? We all pass judgment, all the time. Only Jesus didn’t pass judgment, but I think he was probably the last one to pull that off. I pass judgment. So sue me.

9 Andy Metcalfe February 18, 2011 at 11:30 am

If you’re determined to bring science into this discussion then basically you’re making your original arguments completely void and meaningless. If you believe that ayahuasca is just about visions and hallucinations caused by a psychoactive compound then you’re denying the spiritual reality of the experience. So why are you defending it as a sacred spiritual practice? And you accuse me of just ‘wanting to get high’!

For me, it’s all about the spiritual. Taking ayahuasca is my equivalent of going to church. And I don’t think it’s right that this experience should be denied to people who can’t afford to come to the Amazon, which is why I don’t have a problem with ayahuasca travelling, and as I’ve said, I know from experience that she doesn’t have a problem with it either.

It’s not my opinion or belief that plants are sentient beings, it’s my knowledge based on my own experiences over many years. I prefer to leave beliefs to Christians and other religious folk. I learn by actual experience.

As for cockfighting? Well I’m not going to defend it, but I really don’t know much about it, and nor does it interest me. But wise men can often find beauty in ugliness. Perhaps there’s a side to cockfighting that neither of us know about or have considered. Perhaps Ron sees something sacred about it. Rather than ‘tar, feather and run him into the Amazon River’ perhaps you should talk to him about it first and get a better perspective. Maybe you’ll learn something you didn’t know or understand. I’ve sent this page to Ron so I’m hoping he might chime in and shed some light on why he loves cockfighting so much. For now I’m just going to stay open minded about it.

Are you a vegetarian Gart? Many people think that slaughtering animals for food is also wrong and barbaric. Perhaps they’re right. Or perhaps it’s just all a matter of perspective? If you eat meat do you think it’s good and fine that a once living animal was slaughtered so that it could end up on your plate. Could you slaughter the animals yourself if you had to?

I will agree that if Ron sends ayahuasca to anyone who orders without doing any kind of check, then I find that to be a bit irresponsible and I wouldn’t personally agree with that. He should only send it to people he knows are capable of handling it, or capable of holding ceremonies. I don’t know whether he does that, and neither do you. Perhaps that’s another thing you should ask him before making up your mind and casting him into the flames.

And as for what he does with all the money he makes, maybe you should ask him about that also. Maybe he’s doing a lot of good things with the money and putting it back into the local Iquitos economy. I don’t know whether he is, or whether he’s just hoarding it all for himself. But it’s definitely something you should ask before making assumptions, accusations and judgements.

I know none of us here are perfect, but personally I would expect a little better from you Gart. As an openly gay person I’m sure you must know what it’s like to be judged or even attacked by people who hardly know you. Isn’t that exactly what you’re doing with Ron here?

10 Gart van Gennip February 18, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Hi Andy!

Just because I don’t believe that ayahuasca is anything other than a psychedelic, chemically induced hallucination doesn’t mean that my arguments are void at all. I can still respect other people’s beliefs, as well as the cultural significance of the ceremony and the experience. And that is what this whole argument comes down to: respect.
Respect for the culture, respect for other people’s spiritual beliefs, and respect for flora and fauna. And Ron shows none of the above.

Some kind of spiritual side to cockfighting? Get real, Andy, I really think you are clutching at straws. It just makes me wonder what your stake is in all this, and why you are defending Ron and his despicable conduct so vigorously. Your last post is full of a lot of maybes, a lot of wishful thinking. To mention just one of them: maybe Ron does a lot of good with his money. Well, so do the drug barons in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. You really want to call that a justification for his activities?

And yes, Andy, apart from an openly gay atheist, I am also a vegetarian. I haven’t eaten any meat or fish since 1984 and I am a strong believer in animal rights. If people don’t stand up to defend animals against other people, then who will? I am surprised you don’t, Andy, and that cockfighting basically leaves you cold, especially since you seem to be so much into the spiritual side of life. Again, it makes me wonder how you can defend a guy like Ron and actually recommend him to others, since there are so many good alternatives.

By the way, I also don’t smoke. I am grateful to have been able to quit more than 20 years ago. It always surprises me how many of the ayahuasca crowd at the Boulevard are so much into spiritual healing, but don’t seem to have a problem pumping countless toxic chemicals into their bodies on a daily basis. It sure seems hypocritical to me.

But that last part is another discussion for another day. I will leave it at this, thanks for debating me and getting facts, figures, opinions and assumptions out on the table. If Ron wants to respond, I’ll be very happy to hear what he has to say, especially any justification for his cock fights and for the way he runs your teacher plant through the wood chipper.

11 Andy Metcalfe February 18, 2011 at 7:03 pm

All I can be bothered to add is that I have absolutely nothing to gain by promoting Ron, in fact I’m not really promoting him. I work with another shaman, Don Lucho, who I always take people to visit if they are interested in drinking Ayahuasca with me.

I just take issue when I see people like you talking shit about people they haven’t even bothered to get to know or even ask them a few basic questions.

Clearly you’re not interested in giving people a fair trial. Let’s tar, feather and run them into the Amazon NOW, and hey, maybe we’ll ask a few questions later. That’s not a very conscious stance if you ask me.

Unlike you, I’ve met Ron and spent a bit of time actually talking with the guy, and he came across as a thoroughly decent person. I’m not under any illusion he’s perfect (who is?), but he seemed like an honest, humble and trustworthy person to me and I have absolutely no doubt at all that he has nothing but total respect for the traditions he’s immersed himself in the last 10 or 15 years.

I hope he responds and puts you straight on a few things.

12 Caleb Whitaker February 19, 2011 at 6:35 pm

well this thread seems to be heating up nicely.

Gart, goodness, you really came out with both barrels blazing. Your take on Ron seems a bit harsh to me. I can’t argue with the bit about cockfighting, the pit bull breeding it not something I’m aware of so I can’t say if that is true or not. But having done a dozen or so ceremonies with Ron over the years, both in Iquitos and in the States, I can say with certainty that ‘fraud’ is far too strong a word. A fraud is someone who lies about their intentions, someone who willfully deceives, and Ron is not that kind of guy. His work with ayahuasca, and the style of his ceremonies, may not run to everyone’s taste . . . but it is genuine and from the heart.

My impression is that Ron knows everyone that he sells the medicine to, he doesn’t sell it arbitrarily, but we would have to check with him to be sure. Is it irresponsible to sell the medicine for profit? Perhaps. Is it irresponsible for people to use it without proper guidance or the presence of a shaman? Definitely. The fact that Ron sells his aya abroad, where it might be used irresponsibly, may be morally wrong. A moral question like that is in the eye of the beholder. But I don’t see it as exploitation. I think his intentions are to share the medicine with the world, not to make a quick buck.

The reason he makes good money doing it, by the way, is because he makes a kick-ass brew. That’s why some local curanderos buy it from him as well, to use in their own ceremonies. The way I see it, because of Ron, lots of people get to experience the magic of ayahuasca (hopefully under proper supervision) without having to travel all the way to the Amazon. Perhaps one man’s exploitation is another man’s cultural exchange.

But your post seemed to come from a place of anger based on his character, and if that anger comes from a dislike of animal cruelty, I’ve got no argument there. So Andy, I have to disagree with you that cockfighting has nothing to do with shamanism. In fact, it speaks volumes about the character of a person, and Gart is right to question him along those lines. I’ve often chuckled at the notion of Ron as a trailer park shaman, out there in the jungle cooking up the aya, and going to cockfights on the weekends. It certainly seems to be a huge contradiction, and Ron would probably acknowledge that people see that. But I guess, in a funny way, it’s also part of his charm. Did you know, in his younger days, Ron used to work in a slaughterhouse? He was the killer, he used a pneumatic hammer and he clocked those cows right on the head with it. Charming, right?

I remember one time we were doing a ceremony under a big tent in the woods, and Ron was singing powerful icaros. His voice seemed to fade a bit into the distance, and I opened my eyes and saw that he was squatting outside, taking a shit. But he never stopped singing. I don’t think anyone else even noticed he was gone. I mentioned this to our host after the ceremony, and he replied, “that’s nothing, I’ve seen him drum and purge at the same time.”

Another time, Slocum was doing a ceremony one on one with Ron, and Ron heard voices coming down the road. It was near Christmas, and there were a lot of thieves about. So Ron fired a pistol in the air, a couple of warning shots, but without warning Slocum, whose ceremony was totally shattered as a result. That, my friends, is a trailer park shamanism at its finest.

Ron does have a dark side. But ayahuasca does too. I’ve seen Ron utterly drop the ball as the shaman leading a ceremony, and I’ve also seen him guide newcomers through life-changing experiences with the medicine with great skill and sensitivity. His icaros have moved me to tears on occasion. I’ve heard him call down the angels with profound compassion and reverence, and I’ve seen him flirt with darker, more aggressive spirits too. Sometimes in ceremony he’s like the kid who pokes the hornet’s nest just to see what happens, then runs away surprised when angry hornets come flying out. But that doesn’t make him a brujo, or a bad guy. He’s not a saint either, but then I’ve never met anyone in Iquitos who is.

And to me that’s one of the really compelling questions that more people in the aya community here should be asking: why are so many shamans not saints in real life, just because they work with plant medicines professionally? If they talk the talk so well, why don’t they walk the walk, all the time? Are we holding them to too high a standard, mistaking the messenger for the message? The fact is, people are complicated, and sometimes contradictory, and even the most powerful healer is going to have some very human flaws and moments of weakness. Ron’s colorful past, and the life he has made here, illustrates that beautifully.

I know you’re probably not going to be convinced by any of this, Gart, so let’s agree to disagree. If you want to tar and feather someone, let’s start with pedophiles and then go after corrupt politicians. There are plenty of both in Iquitos. As for Ron, the guy certainly has his flaws. But he is buena gente in my book.

13 Christopher Moore February 21, 2011 at 7:46 pm

I don’t like to get involved in these battles but out of respect for Ron and a loose association with Gart (unfortunately), I’m compelled.

First off, be aware that Gart has a conflict of interest here, he is the producer of and also arranges supposed authentic ayahuasca services for people (link to his stuff here so that would make Ron a competitor of Gart.

Second, in discussion with Gart he would not engage in conversation or even attempt to gain an understanding of cockfighting–which I personally don’t condone but do believe that to have an informed opinion one should know a bit about–I’ve made a video on this that Gart would not view (available here

By Garts own claims and his production of he is a bono fide journalist but, by not wanting to meet Ron and do some journalistic fact finding himself (he seems to hold faith in rumor and enjoy the false realities of half-truths and outright lies), I offered the introduction to meet Ron and to look into the realities surrounding cockfighting, he holds no journalistic standards and brings his whole operation’s credibility into question.

Furthermore, in relation to cockfights, I do know of other non-gringo shamans that fight cocks. It is in no way in conflict with one being a healer. And, moreover, anyone familiar with Amazonian shamanic traditions knows that on the path to becoming a shaman, one embarks on various plant diets in which the SPIRIT of the plant comes to the individual and instructs them on how to utilize that plant. With that in mind–the idea of an actual spirit of a plant communicating with an individual–it should not be alarming that a shaman could engage in cockfights; there being no hierarchical differentiation amongst various life forms be that plant or animal: we all harm plants by virtue of walking around and anyone who uses motor vehicles is responsible for killing an untold number of fuzzy and feathered creatures each year. So, Gart I expect to see you walking very very carefully everywhere you go and not utilizing any form of non-bipedal transportation.

Moreover, now aware that plants have spirits too–a culturally and spiritually sensitive individual like Gart–might need to go beyond being a vegetarian and stick to water.

Back to the cultural aspect, since Gart is our cultural arbiter, sport in many cultures is an organizing aspect deeply rooted in the identity of that culture, cockfighting if one investigates serves a vital function in the social context of Peru. (for info though on Balinese cockfights is relevant to the S. American context see

Having spent much time with Ron, he is known not only in Iquitos but in Lima and cities beyond for his roosters. In my mind, to fully adapt to any culture, one needs a bridge.

Ron is a rare example of an individual, even without his deep shamanic knowledge of the Amazonian plant world, who has fully integrated into the local culture. Running around Iquitos with him, he has respect in the community because of his roosters. People are always asking him, including police and well-known local businessmen, when he will be fighting his roosters again. They also ask him, and this is local Peruvians, I might add, when his next ceremonies are.

As far as Ron as a shaman, that goes without saying. Ron learned first from Don Agustin then for many years he worked with Don Jose Coral Mori, the teacher of Pablo Amaringo and Eduardo Luna, the authors of “Ayahuasca Visions”. On top of this, Ron took care of Don Jose Coral Mori during the final years of his life and Ron lives on the former property of Don Jose Coral Mori, Ron’s ceremonies taking place in Don Jose Coral Mori’s former home. Ron does not only have foreign visitors at his ceremonies but citizen of Peru, which attest to the respect he has amongst the locals.

Beyond this, having done much research on Ron, interviewing various native shamans, including Don Agustin, Ron is held in high regard among the community of native healers in Iquitos and beyond. He is in many books by experts on the subject and Gart clearly not being familiar with the community of experts leaves Gart, in my mind, unqualified to pass judgment or guide anyone to and authentic shamanic experience.

Ron is as humble as they come and does not seek promotion. Any websites or promotion of him has been the work of people who have been touched, changed or healed through Ron’s work. There are various articles, documentaries and the archives of the Alan Shoemaker’s ayahuasca conference where Ron has been featured. One can come to know this unique, eccentric and authentic individual via these resources or best of all meeting Ron firsthand and spending some time getting to know him, something Gart by his own word has made no effort to do.

An interview I’d recommended about Ron and Shamanism is available from the archives here additionally the documentary referenced in the comment above by Sheila is a fair view into Ron’s world.

As far as Ron shipping Ayahuasca throughout the world, I believe that is misguided and not a fully elaborated idea that Gart’s mind latched onto from a conversation he had with myself.

Ron makes ayahuasca for others, namely many of the ayahuasca centers operating in the Iquitos area. He has also–legally–shipped ayahuasca to the states for neurological research at a university in the United States. Any other shipment abroad, which would be miniscule at the most, would be to people he knows who know what they are doing but more often it is people bringing it back themselves who have participated in shamanic studies in Peru.

And Gart, any ideas you have of Ron getting rich off of “cultural raping” is unfounded; he gets by like most people in Iquitos and is by no way wealthy–furthermore, he charges the minimum for ceremonies and I have seen him do them for free–and for years he charged nothing and at the behest of Alan Shoemaker and others, he started charging. So, again, you’re accusations have no basis in fact.

And as far as bringing Ron to task about using a wood chipper in the preparation of ayahuasca, Ron got the idea from the Santo Daime church, an indigenous ayahuasca using religion founded in Brazil that often utilizes a wood chipper to prepare its ayahuasca.

Ron does not only work with ayahuasca, this is only one part of his practice and service as a healer. He is adept and has a deep knowledge of many amazonian curative plants.

[by way of full disclosure, I’m working on a documentary about Ron and attempting to find sponsors–money–for some,a jaguar and a puma that are living in unfortunate conditions I became aware of the animals via Gart but choose to get funds and them in proper conditions without any associations with Gart, I can’t work with arrogance]

Also, Gart, where are you going to get those feather’s and what community are you going to pollute sourcing the tar you need to have your way with Ron.

A bit on cockfighting and culture from

“What sets the cockfight apart from the ordinary course of life, lifts it from the realm of everyday practical affairs, and surrounds it with an aura of enlarged importance is not, as functionalist sociology would have it, that it reinforces status discriminations (such reinforcement is hardly necessary in a society where every act proclaims them), but that it provides a metasocial commentary upon the whole matter of assorting human beings into fixed hierarchical ranks and then organizing the major part of collective existence around that assortment. Its function, if you want to call it that, is interpretive: it is a Balinese reading of Balinese experience; a story they tell themselves about themselves.

“What the cockfight says it says in a vocabulary of sentiment-the thrill of risk, the despair of loss, the pleasure of triumph. Yet what it says is not merely that risk is exciting, loss depressing, or triumph gratifying, banal tautologies of affect, but that it is of these emotions, thus exampled, that society is built and individuals put together. Attending cockfights and participating in them is, for the Balinese, a kind of sentimental education. What he learns there is what his culture’s ethos and his private sensibility (or, anyway, certain aspects of them) look like when spelled out externally in a collective text; that the two are near enough alike to be articulated in the symbolics of a single such text; and-the disquieting part-that the text in which this revelation is accomplished consists of a chicken hacking another mindlessly to bits.

“Every people, the proverb has it, loves its own form of violence, The cockfight is the Balinese reflection on theirs: on its look, its uses, its force, its fascination. Drawing on almost every level of Balinese experience, it brings together themes-animal savagery, male narcissism, opponent gambling, status rivalry, mass
excitement, blood sacrifice-whose main connection is their involvement with rage and the fear of rage, and, binding them into a set of rules which at once contains them and allows them play, builds a symbolic structure in which, over and over again, the reality of their inner affiliation can be intelligibly felt. If, to quote Northrop Frye again, we go to see Macbeth to learn what a man feels like after he has gained a kingdom and lost his soul, Balinese go to cockfights to find out what a man, usually composed, aloof, almost obsessively self- absorbed, a kind of moral autocosm, feels like when, attacked, tormented, challenged, insulted, and driven in result to the extremes of fury, he has totally triumphed or been brought totally low.”

14 Gart van Gennip February 22, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Hi Chris!

Thank you for chiming in and disclosing that you yourself have quite a big conflict of interest. It’s funny that you should think that, or my efforts to help people find the path to a decent, affordable shaman, had anything to do with my original post. It ain’t so, but of course I have no way to prove that. So be it.

Yes, I did refuse to look at your video, because I have no interest in watching animals fight and suffer. Animals, by the way, that are locked up together in a confined space, and that are fitted with razor-sharp blades so they can slash each other to pieces.

You see Chris, I could go along quite a bit with all the cultural and spiritual bullshit, if it weren’t for that. People can have fun racing anything from horses, to dogs, to snails (which I am not a big fan of either) or they can get off at watching two consenting adults getting into a ring and beating the crap out of each other. To me, that’s disgusting and I have no wish to watch it. I could even understand, but not condone, people wanting to watch two cocks fighting, until one prevails. But adding these sharp blades has no function other than to satisfy the bloodlust of the spectators. Now, if these animals had a choice, that would be another thing. But they don’t.

What I also got from the conversations with you, Chris, is that your infatuation with Ron had a lot to do with the strength of his brew. This is an issue that keeps coming up with many people who have drunk Ron’s ayahuasca, and to me it reeks of hypocricy.

A lot of this discussion here is about spirituality and culture. It is about seeking truth, guidance, healing, and beautiful stuff like that. Nothing wrong with that, but what has the strength of the brew got to do with anything? If it matters, it undermines your assumption that ayahuasca is actually a sentient being with whom you can communicate, while it strengthens my belief that ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic drug that messes with your mind.

Ayahuasca is becoming increasingly popular. Even in the last two years, I have noticed that it has become one of the main topics of conversation for visitors. There’s even a term for it: ayahuasca tourism. This type of tourism not only has an impact on the economy, but also directly on the culture. And if the potency of the brew becomes a factor of competition between various shamans, or an issue of interest for tourists, then that is an attack on that culture, wouldn’t you say?

Iquitos is clearly at a crossroads in the development of tourism. Yes, we need more tourists, because tourism can help boost the economy and help preserve the environment at the same time. Do we need more ayahuasca tourism? In my opinion, no. Ayahuasca tourism attracts the wrong crowd, corrupts the local culture and will eventually destroy it.

At this moment, it looks like Iquitos will become the Las Vegas of Ayahuasca. That is not something I am looking forward to. I think you should realize that people like Ron and you are helping to make that happen.

By the way, thanks for pointing out that the Santo Daime Church also uses a woodchipper. It’s just another alarm bell regarding this cult, which I think people should steer clear of. The way some people talk about ayahuasca already has an air of an emerging religion about it, and in my opinion, nothing good will come of it.

One last PS: My efforts to help find a good home for Otto and Kimba have nothing to do with my ego or alleged arrogance either. If you can find the funds to help those animals without my involvement, by all means, please do.

Kind regards, and looking forward to seeing you again sometime in Iquitos.

15 Gart van Gennip February 22, 2011 at 1:34 pm

I would like to add that I read the report on the interview with Ron to which Christ posted a link. In it, Ron is quoted as saying; “It is medicine– we don’t like to refer to it as a drug”.

Well, what a surprise! But, reading on, I came across this claim: “Wheelock said a woman was cured of ovarian cancer, after he and a spirit entered her body to conduct a healing.”

Now, that is just dangerous. We have no way of checking this story, while you can bet your bottom dollar that this is a fabrication. A lie.

I once read a post on a website by a woman, who claimed she was cured from cancer by a shaman. But when reading her account more closely, it turned out she was in a relationship with this shaman, and that it was HE who had diagnosed her in the first place!

Friends, you can believe anything you want, but beware of the things you want to believe, because they will seriously cloud your judgement. Everybody is out to find answers and truth. That’s only natural. But the age old story is that there are many shrewd con artists out there who can make you believe and sell you anything.

16 Victoria Alexander February 22, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Cock fighting is a cultural tradition in Peru. It is legal in Peru.

Be forewarned Chris and Gart, Ron has many champions. You have chosen the wrong battlefield.

So many people pressure Don Ron Wheelock to sell medicine and then charge hundreds of dollars for a ceremony in the U.S. None of this money goes to Ron. People demand it from him. They are making a huge profit from ceremonies, not Ron.

I have been to several retreats in Peru and Ecuador – Ron is not a “land baron” like other gringos profiting from ayahuasca tourism in Iquitos. He does not charge the prices other shamans charge and Chris and Gart know this.

Ron is a humble, generous man.

Ron charges very little for the medicine and if he were to stop selling it, many people would have to get jobs and stop giving themselves the title of shaman.

What is eating you?

17 Gart van Gennip February 22, 2011 at 5:15 pm

I gues what I am most surprised at is not that there are people standing up for Ron Wheelock, but that there are several people here indifferent to, or actually defending the tradition of cockfighting. Especially “It is legal in Peru” gets up my nose (since you asked what’s eating me, Victoria).

Oh, so it’s legal. Does that make it alright? Bull fights are also legal. So why are so many people opposed to them and why has the government of Catalunya banned them? I hate bull fighting, but I can see it is actually more of an artform than cock fighting.

Besides, where does this tradition come from? I can’t be sure, but my guess is that the Spanish introduced it to Peru. A lot of good they did for the national culture!

Anyway, so there are people in Iquitos who aren’t opposed to cock fighting. My bad for expecting the spiritual crowd here to have somewhat higher standards than the rest of the world.

18 Andy Metcalfe February 22, 2011 at 9:55 pm

What would be really nice Gart, is if you can swallow your pride for a minute, admit you were wrong, and apologise for calling Ron a ‘greedy charlatan’.

You certainly don’t have to approve of his cockfighting interests, or the fact he sells ayahuasca to people he knows and trusts, but that is a completely separate issue to whether he’s a charlatan or not.

Because it is absolutely clear from all the comments here that Ron is no such thing. As Chris said, Ron is very well respected around Iquitos, by locals, gringos and other ayahuasca shaman alike. In fact, I’ve never met anyone who actually knows Ron to ever say a bad word about him.

So are you going to keep on digging a hole for yourself here (must be getting pretty deep now) and make yourself look like an even bigger idiot with each new post, or perhaps you could do the decent thing and apologise like a man? 😉

19 Andy Metcalfe February 22, 2011 at 11:39 pm

PS. I can’t be the only person laughing at the sheer hypocrisy of someone who criticises ayahuasca tourism, while, erm, offering ayahuasca tourism on their own website.

Get off your high horse Gart, and walk your talk. In your own words you said “Do we need more ayahuasca tourism? In my opinion, no. Ayahuasca tourism attracts the wrong crowd, corrupts the local culture and will eventually destroy it.”

If you really believe that, then I expect you to remove all mention from your website that you can arrange ayahuasca ceremonies for tourists.

I will also add, that you’re completey wrong about the crowd that ayahuasca attracts. I don’t think I’ve ever met a person in Iquitos that has arrived specifically to try Ayahuasca, who didn’t seem like a decent, honest, caring person. I’m sure there are a few bad apples, there always are. But I would say 95% of people coming here for ayahuasca are of high moral standards who mean well.

Perhaps Bill could add a comment here. Owning a cafe with an Ayahuasca menu, I’m sure Bill meets a lot of people that come to Iquitos to try Ayahuasca. What do you think Bill? Are they the wrong crowd for Iquitos do you think? Or is Gart talking from where the sun don’t shine?

20 Andy Metcalfe February 23, 2011 at 12:22 am

PPS On the subject of Ayahuasca tourism, I would recommend people read the following article for a more balanced perspective, that ties in entirely with my own experiences.

Will the Real Ayahuasca Tourists Please Stand Up?

“…In my opinion, if somebody is using Ayahuasca to heal and to grow, in order to bring more love to our planet, then, to me, it is “beneficial” and “medicinal.” To me the important thing to remember is that good intentions usually dwarf small details and denominational quarrels. So on one level, my answer to the tourist question is simple: I haven’t ever met an Ayahuasca tourist. I’ve met a lot of people with good intentions. I choose to see things that way…”

“….We should stay balanced by remembering that ceremony and tradition are not always restrictive and elitist, while sanctity and healing are not always ceremonial or traditional. It’s important that we learn to see the good intentions in each other, always.

On the road of life, isn’t everybody a tourist anyway?”

21 Gart van Gennip February 23, 2011 at 6:27 am

Hi Andy!

Wow, you sure spend a lot of time online, honoring me with a list of comments about my comments. As a writer, journalist and columnist, it is always nice to hit a nerve, and I certainly seem to have hit a raw one with you.

First off; while I am not too proud to apologize when I make a mistake, so far, I haven’t seen anything that warrants an apology to anyone. There’s a handful of people here who keep saying Ron Wheelock is a nice guy and a decent shaman, but they refuse to address the issues I put on the table.
Well, Chris posted some links here, but considering the sources he refers to, I can hardly say they help his case. Besides that, he’s been pestering Jeanny with some emails and incoherent rants laced with name calling on her Facebook page about this, so why should I take him seriously?

Then the issue of ayahuasca tourism. You have completely misunderstood my point, and I blame myself for not making it clear enough. So for that I apologize 🙂

When I talk about ayahuasca tourism, I mean people who come to Iquitos with the main purpose to try ayahuasca as a drug, as a means to get high, as nothing but the next kick. Those people often mistakenly believe that ayahuasca is some kind of party drug, and as you must know, unfortunate incidents have already happened when people have combined ayahuasca with alcohol or other drugs. In Pucallpa, some fool even organized an ayahuasca rave.

You are right, Andy, at the moment, most people seeking ayahuasca are, as you say, “decent, honest, caring” people. I totally agree, and there is nothing wrong with these people coming to Iquitos to experience ayahuasca. The more, the merrier.

But I said “at the moment”. But there is a trend developing that I think will become more clear in the future. A trend that will turn Iquitos into a drug tourism destination.

One of the websites Chris referred to calls Iquitos “the ayahuasca capital” of the world. Various international media of relevance (not the websites Chris referred to) like Time Magazine and the Washington Post have published articles about ayahuasca, mentioning Iquitos, but NOT mentioning some of the risks and dangers of abuse, nor the cultural and spiritual significance of ayahuasca. THAT, in my opinion, will get the attention of the wrong crowd; people who are merely interested in getting high.

The reason why I have included information about ayahuasca on, is to educate and to help people find a genuine, affordable ayahuasca experience. I regularly receive emails from people who want to use ayahuasca, but who are nervous about it, because they don’t know who to trust, where to go and how much to pay. And they have good reason.

Mind you, I do NOT organize ayahuasca sessions myself, nor do I make any money off of it. I simply refer people to some reliable, honest shamans, whom I know are trustworthy and who perform a genuine ceremony.

I have to leave it at this, but I will say one more thing. Recently, after a few unfortunate incidents, in which people got robbed, raped, abused, cheated, went into a coma and even died, I have issued a proposal for an organization to deal with ayahuasca tourism (the good and the bad kind) in Iquitos. I sent it to Alan Shoemaker and some other people, but so far nothing has come of it. Maybe this is a good time to put it back onto the table.

22 Andy Metcalfe February 23, 2011 at 9:48 am

Gart said: “There’s a handful of people here who keep saying Ron Wheelock is a nice guy and a decent shaman, but they refuse to address the issues I put on the table.”

Yeah, but the fact that Ron is involved in Cockfighting or selling Ayahuasca does not make him a charlatan or a fraud, and that’s what I think you should apologise for.

I think Caleb summed it up best with

“I can say with certainty that ‘fraud’ is far too strong a word. A fraud is someone who lies about their intentions, someone who willfully deceives, and Ron is not that kind of guy. His work with ayahuasca, and the style of his ceremonies, may not run to everyone’s taste . . . but it is genuine and from the heart.”

Perhaps you have a different definition of charlatan to everyone else. Perhaps to you a charlatan is just someone who does things you don’t agree with.

So, I think it’s a shame you don’t have the decency to apologise for calling Ron a charlatan. But ultimately that says far more about you then it ever will about Ron, particularly since you don’t even know the guy.

On the subject of Ayahuasca tourism, I actually disagree with a lot of what you say, but ultimately time will show who is correct.

First of all I really don’t think that Iquitos will ever become a mecca for drug tourism ie. people just wanting to get high. None of the articles I’ve read about ayahuasca, in both the mainstream or alternative press ever speak about ayahuasca as a way to get high. The majority of the articles have actually been quite positive and respectful of it (mentioning the healing and transformational effects), even if they haven’t really covered the spiritual or cultural significance of it.

I think anyone who is going to spend a significant amount of money to come and try a ‘drug’ is going to do a little bit of research first. And they’re quickly going to find out that ayahuasca usually makes you puke and shit half the night. That’s hardly sounds like a fun, getting high type of experience to me. What do you think?

Secondly, even if it does start to attract a lot of people looking for a new drug experience, I think it’s wrong to say those people are going to be bad for Iquitos.

I have a lot of experience being around people who use drugs recreationally. The vast majority of my friends (all around the world) are either people who have experimented with drugs in the past, or they still use them occasionally even today. And I have to say that from my personal experience, people who use drugs in a non-abusive way – and I’m not talking about heroin addicts or crackheads here, but people who enjoy certain types of drugs, such as ecstasy, marijuana or various psychedelics, often in a social setting like a rave or a party – well those kinds of people, more often than not, are extremely cool, fun, interesting and usually very respectful individuals. I would personally welcome the majority of them to Iquitos. Far better they come than the paedophiles.

So sure, it’s certainly possible more of these people might start arriving in Iquitos, not understanding much about Ayahuasca and its traditions, but I think with a little education, and actual experience of taking it, many of these people will come to respect what Ayahuasca is. They may even have their lives completely transformed by it. Tell me how that could be a bad thing?

23 Andy Metcalfe February 23, 2011 at 10:26 am

oh, and lastly (for now 😉

I think it’s also hypocritical that you speak so much about respecting cultural traditions, yet you will only respect certain cultural traditions that don’t offend you.

Cockfighting is a cultural tradition here in Peru and much of South America. Now of course, as you rightly pointed out, just because something is legal, or a tradition, doesn’t make it right.

I freely admit that I pick and choose the traditions I’m going to respect. Personally I don’t have much respect for the cockfighting tradition either, but I’m not going to judge people who do.

Just last week I was arguing with my sister over Skype about royalty. Personally I find the concept of royalty to be abhorrent and I have no respect for it at all. My sister was arguing that I should respect it because it’s a great British tradition. Well screw that, I don’t care how many hundreds of even thousands of years old a tradition it is, if I don’t agree with it, I’m not going to personally respect it.

So Gart, I think you either need to agree that either everyone should respect all cultural traditions, or else you agree that it’s ok for people to pick and choose which traditions they have respect for.

And so if some people don’t want to respect the spiritual or cultural tradition of ayahuasca, then why the hell do you seem to be so upset about that? You don’t even believe in the spiritual nature of the experience.

It seems like you have double-standards here Gart. For someone who doesn’t believe in God, you sure seem to enjoy acting like one.

“This is the law according to Gart – and if you don’t agree with it then you will be judged as a bad person, a charlatan, and you’re not welcome in Iquitos” 😉

24 Gart van Gennip February 23, 2011 at 11:14 am

Hi Andy!

Boy, we both spend way too much time online. Maybe that’s why you were seeing double last night 🙂

About an apology to Ron; just because you say so doesn’t mean he deserves one. In other words, I am not convinced that he is not a frud and a charlatan. But I’ll tell you what; if you send me his address and phone number, I will go visit him and confront him personally with my concerns. Because I’d be very interested in hearing his own take on my question: Is shamanism compatible with the abuse, torture and killing of animals for entertainment and profit? Is the mass production and export of ayahuasca in conflict with its cultural and spiritual values? Can he, and did he cure a woman of ovarian cancer during one ayahuasca ceremony?

I will be happy to write a blog post for Bill’s blog about it later.

Regarding ayahuasca tourism: I thank you for the link you posted. Interesting reading. But I should point out that some of the article and definitely some of the comments to it appear to underscore my concerns.

By the way, just as some food for thought, I have my own ayahuasca story to tell.
My first experience was with a shaman in Tamshiyacu. I was in a small group of three people, all of us were first timers. We spent the day with the shaman and followed the entire preparation of the brew we were to drink that night. The ceremony was beautiful and authentic and culturally speaking very interesting. The experience itself was also interesting, but not very pleasant.
Anyway, the next morning, the shaman spoke about some of his own visions the previous night and we shared ours as well. While they were interesting, we couldn’t make heads or tails of them, other than being a random slideshow of images, thoughts and impressions.
Now, when we asked the shaman what his (and our) visions meant, he said; “Nothing. They don’t mean anything, they are just an added bonus, for entertainment!”
You can imagine my surprise! The following week, when I sent a young American visitor to him, he told him the same thing, at which point the visitor cancelled his participation. The shaman did not tell him what he wanted to hear.
When Dennis McKenna was in town last year, I decided to ask him what he thought about this incident. You probably know Dennis McKenna as an authority on ayahuasca, and as someone who’s opinions and judgement really matter. I explained to him what had happened, and asked him if this meant that ‘my’ shaman was a bad shaman. “No”, replied Dennis McKenna; “If anything, he was a very honest shaman!”

That’s my story, I am curious to find out what you think of it.

By the way, I do realize that ayahuasca transforms the lives of many people in a positive way and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I am sure you realize that I am a skeptic, a non-believer, but that doesn’t mean I am not open-minded. Whatever ayahuasca is, its effects are undeniable and its cultural and spiritual value is enormous. And I believe that is something to cherish and defend.

25 Andy Metcalfe February 23, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Well, here’s my take on your story.

In many ways I also agree with what the shaman said. Because the visions are often not the most important part of the Ayahuasca experience. It’s true that a lot of visions are just ‘interesting eye candy’ and anyone who attaches too much importance to only the visions are often missing the point of the experience.

Most people are not transformed or healed because of the visions they receive (although they certainly can be if the visions are particularly meaningful, which sometimes they are).

But the spirit of Ayahuasca works with people in many different ways. I would say that each person experiences her in a their own unique way, although there are certainly commonalities to be found.

The spirit of Ayahuasca is a healer and a teacher, and for those ready to truly listen to her, they will experience a whole lot more than mere visions or hallucinations. It’s really very difficult to describe in words how Ayahuasca can show you things, teach you things, and heal you. Being the great word smith that he is, perhaps Caleb can chime in again here and help me out.

Most of my own Ayahuasca experiences are actually not all that visual usually. Not everyone experiences visions all of the time. For me I usually feel like I’m downloading information from the universe. This information is almost always extremely relevant to my life and my personal and spiritual development.

I also want to add something about the strength of the brew which you said confirmed to you that Ayahuasca was nothing more than just a drug experience. I don’t see it that way at all and while writing an article recently I came up with my own analogy that explains what is happening, which goes something like this…

Sure, when someone takes Ayahuasca there are a lot of complex chemical interactions taking place. These include chemical interactions in the stomach that allow the DMT to pass through into the brain, and then there are the DMT and harmaline reactions in the brain which no doubt help create the experience. However, these chemical reactions are not the experience itself, they just help enable the experience.

You could say that it’s a bit like the components of your computer all work together to enable you to experience the internet. However, your computer is not the internet – it just enables you to experience it. Likewise, the chemicals of ayahuasca allow you to enter and experience the greater spiritual realities of the universe (the universal internet perhaps!).

And just like having a more powerful computer (and a faster internet connection) can make the experience of using it so much better usually, likewise, a powerful Ayahuasca experience is quite often more preferable, or beneficial, to a gentle experience (unless it’s your very first time perhaps).

Hope that makes sense.

As they say, the proof is in the pudding, and the fact that you’ve had just one Ayahuasca experience and didn’t find it particularly meaningful shouldn’t prove anything. Ayahuasca doesn’t always reveal herself to people straight away. I’ve little doubt that had you kept on working with Ayahuasca for quite awhile, you would have very different opinions about what it is, and you would understand for yourself that the Ayahuasca experience is undeniably far more than just chemicals interacting with the brain.

You can contact Ron through his website at:

26 Gart van Gennip February 23, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Yes, some of that does make sense, Andy. Thanks for the link, I just sent a mail to Ron. I will let you know what comes of it.

By the way, about your comment; “For someone who doesn’t believe in God, you sure seem to enjoy acting like one.” Well, what can I say?! I guess I just do what comes naturally :-))

27 Captain Bill February 23, 2011 at 5:54 pm

I should have a disclaimer clarifying the opinions expressed by the guest posts and comments on the Captain’s Blog do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policy of Bill Grimes and Dawn on the Amazon…but I do stand firmly behind my own articles and comments, so here goes.

I’ve been surprised by the controversy stirred up by Chris Kilham’s interesting article, Another Iquitos Evening. This reminds me of some other conversations we’ve been involved in. Starts on one subject, then goes sideways. I bet the author would be as surprised as me the direction this discussion has gone.

I know Gart’s primary objective is to shine a spot-light on animal rights. He has his work cut out for him. Animals in Loreto have about the same rights as pedestrians on the streets of Iquitos. While we are on that subject, check out our new controversy on the Captain’s Blog, Cockfighting At The Colisio, Iquitos Peru.

I know Andy’s primary objective is to shine the spot-light on ayahuasca, defending Ron Wheelock is secondary. I don’t think Ron needs defending or an apology. The funny way life works, all this attention is good for his business. He should thank Gart for “coming out with both barrels blazing”.

I believe a gringo can apprentice under a master shaman for a long time and call himself a shaman, like going to medical school to become a doctor. When that happens certain cultural traditions are bound to be broken. I don’t see anything wrong with Ron increasing his efficiency by using a wood chipper. I hope he has also thought of planting more Ayahuasca vines. I hear shamans have to walk farther to find the vine and carry it back. It seems impossible now, but remember Rosewood was exploited until it became rare. So I think Ron and all shaman should plant ayahuasca for future generations.

I remember not long ago most of the Iquitos ayahuasca tourism consisted of hippie back packers showing up on Friday, drinking ayahuasca on Saturday and leaving on Sunday. That wasn’t good for the cultural traditions, or the economy of Iquitos. These days, most of the ayahuasca tourists I meet arrive in Iquitos a few days before their ceremony and stay a few days after. They are generally respectful of the tradition, and feel good about themselves after the ceremony. They stay at hotels, eat at restaurants, ride motocarros, go on day trips, go home and tell their friends about the incredible experience they shared and are good for the economy of Iquitos.

I’ve never been to a cockfight and never taken ayahuasca. I’m probably the only tour operator in Iquitos that has never made a dollar from ayahuasca tourism. Someone is sure to think or say, that’s not true, they eat at the Dawn on the Amazon Café. Yeah, Yeah, you know what I mean. If you want to go to a cockfight or take ayahuasca, that’s fine with me. Live and let live…

28 Rogel February 25, 2011 at 11:52 am

As someone who does NOT live in Iquitos and has never taken any form of drug with the intention of expanding the spirit while narrowing the arteries. I’m extremely surprised at the passion displayed in the defense of what to me comes across as a [perhaps out of the ordinary] drug and the producer thereof.

@ Andy: being Ron’s press liaison must pay a good deal of money seeing the time and vehemence you put into defending his person and business. But as you are well within your right all I can say is more power to you!

@ Gart: I’m 100% in agreement with you that practices like cockfighting and/ or the indiscriminate destruction of the very sensitive ecology of the Amazon rainforest are highly deplorable. Saying that it’s legal or that others do it as well does NOT make the act okay.
So of all those claiming that cockfights are legal in Peru I’d like to ask to rethink their point of view. As Gart put it so well, the mere fact that something is legal and part of a tradition does NOT automatically mean that it is morally correct/ right.

29 Andy Metcalfe February 27, 2011 at 9:31 am

Here’s an interesting bit of information that I just found out from a friend. Apparently both of Ron’s shamanic teachers were involved with cockfighting, and not only that, but apparently it’s definitely not uncommon for curanderos to be involved with cockfighting in Iquitos.

Now of course that does not make cockfighting a good thing, and I’m certainly not defending the practice. However, Gart asked how a shaman, who should respect life could be involved with such a practice.

Well, I don’t know the answer to that, and I would also be interested in learning the answer. But it seems like many shamans don’t have any trouble reconciling cockfighting with their healing practices.

30 lisa April 10, 2011 at 3:26 am

A week ago was my first time in Iquitos, my first time with Ayahuasca. I came for healing by the ancient wisdom I could only read about in NYC, I had been referred to Ron, by someone from your world in Iquitos.

I was humbled by Ron and his surroundings. Had he been all hippy-dippy guru like, I would have gone running. The peace and adventure his place offered was both spritual, warm, and fun, the plants themselves embracing. To a person like me, the authenticity, and the company, not just the Ayahuasca, were part of the experience. A simple, down-to-earth, no-fuss arrangement, with unbelievably soothing rainfall and a couple of beautiful ceremonies left my over-wracked brain calm and completely content for once in a very very long time. Nobody perfect or pretentious, but everybody loved. Felt like healing to me. (says the newyorker)

Back in the City, cold and grey, spring holding back its arrival, I came across Bill Grimes’ blog, attracted by his stunning photos, as I had taken none. Browsing around and enjoying some of the articles, laughing as I read ‘Another Night in Iquitos’ , the comments about Ron nearly smacked me in the face. I could not stop reading and am compelled to add that aside from the fact that everyone is entitled to an opinion, it’s just that, an opinion. The slander, however, especially to an outsider, seems like a vendetta, diminishing the validity of the arguments, hot topics in your fair city. In my humble ‘opinion’.

Although I have no comment on whether one should cockfight, bullfight, or box, seems a topic onto itself . . . a very male topic . . . in the heat of the jungle. Pun intended!

Oh, and those two marshmellows, . . . you sure those are pitt bulls 😉 See for yourself, it will be well worth your two soles of a bus ride.

31 Captain Bill April 10, 2011 at 9:11 am

Hi Lisa, Thanks for your nice comment. You are much appreciated here “in the heat of the jungle.”

32 Mike Collis April 11, 2011 at 9:56 am

Hello Lisa,
What a wonderful comment , informative for sure, but reading it was an absolute pleasure. You must be a professional.

Please, Lisa write some more.

33 Gart van Gennip April 12, 2011 at 10:26 am

Hi Lisa!

I am glad to read you had such a positive experience with Ron. I really am. I just don’t get how you can be all about healing yourself, about peace, adventure, warmth, humility, enjoying the soothing rainfall and the beautiful ceremonies, but not have any comment where the abuse, exploitation, torture and killing of animals for sheer entertainment is concerned.
Please explain to me how that is possible. How can one person be all about spirituality and healing and at the same time not care about the torture of innocent animals?
I’d be interested to hear how you view animals. Aren’t they part of nature? Don’t they too have spirits, personalities, rights even? Are they just objects for us to use and abuse as we see fit?
Despite all the debate here, I still haven’t gotten the answer to my question: how can anyone who engages in despicable exploitation of animals for fun and monetary gain be a good shaman? I am already far beyond Ron Wheelock as a person or a shaman, and I don’t mean my question as an accusation. I just want to know the answer.

34 Andy Metcalfe April 12, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Gart, there probably isn’t an answer that would satisfy you. We don’t live in a black and white world, just one with varying shades of grey. Nobody is a saint and nobody is saying Ron is a saint.

I don’t know the reason why many shamans including Ron take part in cock fighting. But what I do know is that it’s very important to remember that shamans are not spiritual gurus, even though they often work with the spiritual realms. They are more like doctors or surgeons than spiritual teachers, they just work on different levels. They are healers, not holy men, and it’s important we remember that.

If you had a brilliant doctor, but then found out he was into cock fighting would you stop seeing him? Maybe you would, but that still wouldn’t change the fact he’s a brilliant doctor.

35 Andy Metcalfe April 12, 2011 at 12:25 pm

I would encourage you to read the following interview where I think Steve Beyer makes a very important point.

Steve: There is a tendency — and I talk about this especially in relationship to María Sabina — to romanticize and to spiritualize shamans generally, and shamans in the Upper Amazon in particular. I think that does them a disservice. It takes away the depth of their humanity.

Howard: And their suffering, too. This is another important aspect of Singing to the Plants. You show that life in the Amazon is harsh, and in no way is it a soft and easy reality. The tragic death of doña María illustrates this. It is candid and direct, and no attempt has been to make the Amazon world romantic or “cosmic.” In my experience the shamans are not cosmic. They work to help everyday people in their suffering, their illnesses, and their protection. It is about the nitty-gritty of survival, and that’s one of the impressive aspects to your book.

Steve: Shamans are people who are engaged in dealing with envy, resentment, jealousy, disease, sickness, marital problems, business failures, interpersonal conflict. These are people whose job it is to deal with mess.

And they have their own sometimes messy lives. They have the dirty, difficult, and dangerous job of trying to make sick people better. And I think we do them a disservice when we spiritualize them, romanticize them, and try to turn them into some kind of religious icon. They deserve better than that.

I hope we can put this argument to rest now Gart. Shaman’s are just human beings. Deal with it! 😉

36 Gart van Gennip April 12, 2011 at 6:28 pm

I am really trying to get my head around it, Andy, but I still can’t. But I admit you make some good points that make me think.

Would I quit seeing a brilliant doctor if he were into cock fighting? Hell, I would quit seeing him if I found out he was a Republican, so what do you think? Of course I would! But you are right, he would still be a brilliant doctor.

However, regardless of whether it is romanticizing shamans or not, and admitting that even shamans are mere human beings, I still can’t put the two things together. Utter respect for nature’s powers and healing forces on the one hand, and utter lack of respect for nature on the other.
I mean, we are not talking about some human flaw like watching porn or being an incorrigable womanizer. And even disrespect for ayahuasca itself, considering that Ron, for example, puts her through the wood chipper. I just don’t see how that ads up. But, let’s put this debate to rest, indeed, for the third time now, right?! 🙂

37 lisa April 12, 2011 at 10:57 pm

GvG, So you want to be an animal activist. And the anger of it all fuels you. Bringing controversial topics to the surface in a forum of dialogue is a great venue for many voices to be heard – this is a good thing. Doesn’t have to be done in bad taste is the only point I am able to make on the subject. Humor and objectiveness are good devices and people are more apt to receive the information (not that all subjects are humorous). Take the constructive example of a world renowned researcher and journalist –

To bring the conversation back to Chris Kilham’s piece ‘Another Iquitos Evening’. I think he was making a point about the spirit world of Ayahuasca, and then that of the Shamans and how one cannot always ‘control’ others, or what happens. The calamity of the Russians was funny and an example of how their own ignorance and arrogance led them to an over-eventful evening (we had our own little calamity chez Ron, minus the Russians – ended the evening in laughter, while not erasing for one moment the profound spiritual value).

Ask me if I like FOX news; but it’s a vehicle for Chris Kilham’s very important work, spreading the word in this capitalist driven, westernized society. He’s trying to bridge the gap. So kudos to FOX for having such a tremendous person on board. This is where we are and we can only go forward, as humanity is evolutionary. The earth, the plants and the ancient ways are trying to wake us AND shake us up.

Ancient philosophers like Spinoza, painter’s like Michelangelo had to conform to those who commissioned their work, but got their work out in spite of disagreeing, eating some face (& dinner) along the way. Their work too was profound. Shamans are gifted with their artistry of medicinal plants, their instruments, including their voices and in ceremonies give an immense amount of energy. It is not wise for us to ask more than that of them.

We are who we are where we are. This does not mean we shouldn’t be loved, supported, and guided along the way in this complicated journey of life. Humanity demands balancing good and evil and all the other contradictions that are immanent: Lao-tzu shows this best in his writings. Should we doom ourselves because we’re filled with contradiction? Does our one side negate our ‘other’ side?

I don’t know Gart, spiritual leaders and healers are not saints. For example, on my plane ride into Iquitos I sat next to a priest, drinking his drinks, making great jokes, and I asked him how the priests of today in Peru marry the indigenous beliefs of the people with the catholic ones of the church. He said he doesn’t try to convince people either way but rather his mission is to help people to deal with their everyday difficulties. In fact he showed me his ID because he thought I didn’t really believe he was a priest, because in that moment, on his time, he was letting his hair down and being a regular guy.

Ron’s roosters are the most beautiful I’ve ever seen in my life. Proud, loved and well cared for, not one looked unhappy. On the property I felt safe because of them. After the second day, I noticed they remained quiet when I’d walk by, as if they’d already sized me up. Smart animals. But if your asking me, the bulls, the boxers and the roosters seem to have this in common, they want to fight.

So be an animal activist. It’s nobel. What the strongest voices of this exchange are saying, just keep it on the up and up. If you want to better understand mankind, read the Tao. We remain one of the great mysteries of life.

My last name is LaVigne, which means the vine, so I guess I’m a fur loving, leather wearing, meat eating, plant that somehow thrives in cement. I’m a bundle of contradictions and the funny thing is, I came to Iquitos to later read Cap’t Bob’s blog, to hear about Chris Kilham, whose all over NY stations, and here’s the kicker, whose home base is 25 min from where I grew up. . . And my new favorite phrase from Iquitos is one of Ron’s, “The time is short, but also a lot can be accomplished in a short amount of time.” Thanks for letting me chime in on the discussion.

38 tnesla June 30, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Many thanks to Captain Bill and Chris Kilham & cheers to Gart and Andy for their, well, at times heated yet very civil exchange of opinions: Not only the article but the debate in the comments section was very interesting and engaging to read.

Also interesting that Spinoza’s name came up in Lisa’s last comment above. For a while I had been reading and watching whatever material available on the subject of ayahuasca and dmt, and thinking how most people’s recollection of their experience with such sacred plants or with chemicals separately synthesized resonates a Spinozistic sense of immanence. An experience very difficult to fully express with our logical or linguistic capabilities since it is the separating, abstracting and categorizing powers of logic and language that our species is blessed and cursed with, at once. Nevertheless, like Ron says in one of the videos available on his web-site, I too think that entheogens, ethnobotanics, yoga and meditation varieties of Eastern cultures, Western metaphysics and current science & research all provide journeys and perspectives of their own, each of which can be studied to approach the similar, if not the same, kind of awareness and greater understanding of the self and universe.

Another note on Lisa’s mention of Spinoza- however trivial this might sound: I am not sure if the word-choice ‘ancient’ implies the everyday meaning of ‘just very old’ or refers to the historical period canonically acknowledged with reference to Greek and Roman times. Yet neither senses of the use of the word ‘ancient’ reflects the true time line that Spinoza belongs to. Spinoza (1632-1677) was a Rationalist philosopher of Baroque times. More importantly, I do not recall having read any information affirmative or even suggestive of commissions made for Spinoza’s works. If anything, Spinoza was excommunicated by the Jewish community and ridiculed by those very people with the financial/political power to commission works. Either that Lisa must have meant another philosopher yet typed Spinoza (slip of the hand or just mere confusion perhaps) or she must have misinterpreted that other historical figures were commissioned, in Spinoza’s life-time as well as after his death, to translate some of his letters or to build sculptures of him. Apologies for this rather off-topic side-note but being a doctorate candidate in the field of Western philosophy, I couldn’t help thinking we should get the facts straight about a philosopher often mis-presented and misunderstood–this matters especially when this philosopher represents a potentially valuable opportunity to further contemplate the meaning within ayahuasca experiences.

39 john Neff November 5, 2011 at 9:26 pm

hi I’m a strict vegan and believe animals have rights. However human beings are complex and do operate in the “gray areas” of existence, so I must contradict my vegan stance.

I would have to agree with Andy in his defense of the gringo shaman. I have done numerous ceremonies in the Santo Daime and with Peruvian Shipibo in Iquitos and although I’ve never met Ron I don’t see how cock fighting can detract from his power as a healer, or his humanity as a man. And the argument against using a wood chipper is just silly.

In fact, I would hope to work with Ron when I go to Iquitos again. I have had some great experiences in the Santo Daime with gringos heading the ceremonies.

Andy’s analogy of a brilliant doctor is right on. A man and his intention is very complex. Ron is a man who fights chickens (strange!) But what of it? We are all engaged in huge contradictions. Our existence itself is a vast contradiction, a paradox.

Gart, more power to you brother for caring for the animals, vegan Power! But you are coming from an evangelical point of view and cannot see the larger picture. You have a lot to learn from a person like Andy.

40 lisa November 6, 2011 at 2:50 pm

I’m glad I decided to check in on Captain Bill’s blog. Thank you tnelsa for the clarity on Spinoza, and my apology for being careless, in my haste, my mind raced and my fingers typed rapidly, Gart, having a gift of lighting such a fiery discourse.

I made a rather clumsy generalization, and flubbing it at that, that man, whatever their genius to their craft, sacrifice, in spite of the difficulties to stay true to the work. I suppose I connected Spinoza, Michelangelo, and Shaman whose works bring my mind to the cosmos, forgetting to strike the term ‘Ancient’ speeding through the centuries, I chose two of many that struck my mind at that moment. Although I had no longer remembered Spinoza’s specific personal dilemmas, even more nobel that he was excommunicated from the Jewish community, great courage must have been involved. So many forward thinkers have had to contend with strict religious doctrine, so powerful in many perspective time lines, to this day. (In a split moment, that night, I was thinking of Hegel, recalling a conversation in a class of how he was controlled by the dictates of The Church and perhaps had to tread lightly with his position of God if he wanted to publish).

My studies of philosophy would not qualify me even as a laymen . . . but Spinoza inspired me and captured my heart. I read sections of The Ethics four or even five times, attended lectures and barely gathered a notion of cause and effect, modes and attributes, active and passive emotions; animus corpus, a term that rolled off my tongue, the mind-body question, the nature of man, subjects that so intrigued me. Even if intellectually I struggled to grasp the complex discourse, intuitively I felt that I understood some of what he was saying. I could close my eyes and visualize a virtual cosmos behaving as he was explaining. I guess that helped me to make sense of it, like learning a language, not by memorizing, but by visualizing.

You have compelled me once again to revisit The Ethics, and especially since having had an ayahuasca experience.

Hmmm, after googling around a bit upon reading your entry, I had to laugh and share this quote for Gart, who would find a friend in Schopenhauer commenting on Spinoza.

1. ^ “His contempt for animals, who, as mere things for our use, are declared by him to be without rights,…is at the same time absurd and abominable.” The World as Will and Representation, Vol. 2, Chapter 50.

41 Zoe November 7, 2011 at 5:49 am

OK. So I haven’t met Ronny but I have to agree that cock-fighting and pitbull fighting (sounds like he’s participating in both) are not activities that match with a Shaman’s soul. For me, this would be a real concern. I’m sorry, Ronny, but I have to be honest with you about this one. If you are engaging in such behaviors, which are beneath you, then this extremely negative, violent, unfair (to the animals) behaviors will be present strongly in your spirit – including in ceremony. We are all of us humans with human frailities. But the role of a Shaman is special, and it requires special sacrifices. What you are doing is kin to Shamans who take advantage of people sexually in ceremony, using their position and the person’s vulnerablity in shameful ways. These types of choices are bad spirits you have picked up and should rid yourself of as quickly as possible. I’m someone who thinks Shaman, when they are lost, should go to other Shaman for healing. I hope you will.

42 Chris Kilham November 7, 2011 at 10:04 am

Rumble In The Jungle
Is blog repartee’ a blood sport?

My wife Zoe and I were, as the shopworn saying goes, minding our own business, which in this case meant passing a rather listless train ride in an Amtrak car with too many people and too little oxygen, headed from New York to Massachusetts, where we live. The odd concrescence of circumstances is that we had just left Hamilton Souther, gringo shaman and founder of Blue Morpho Ayahuasca Retreat Center, and his wife Wendy, who were in Manhattan kicking off his latest venture, Modern Shamanism. But let’s not get distracted here. This is just the set-up.

Tired of reading a recent book authored by a friend, I switched on my iPhone to discover a message from the redoubtable Bill Grimes of Dawn On The Amazon repute, who passed along a ponderous string of blog comments ensuing from my article “Another Iquitos Evening.” In his email Bill asked me what I thought of the comments, and would I like to weigh in? Whoa, what a deep can of wriggling psychedelic worms! While I certainly cannot take any credit for the verbal mixed martial arts mortal combat that my simple little article catalyzed, I can throw my pen into the fray in any case.

Much as yoga and its parade of gurus spilled out of the Indian Himalaya and flowed down the Ganges and out into modern culture in all directions in the 1960’s and 70’s, so too South American Shamanism, with its rattles, ponderous mapacho tobacco and ayahuasca, is rocketing across continental borders at a rapid rate. In the midst of this exuberant bursting forth of jungle and mountain mysticism, the river city of Iquitos, for many good reasons, has become an epicenter of ayahuasca shamanism specifically, and home to dozens of shamans and would-be shamans, who ply their psychedelic wares to a hungry parade of seekers. This is a replay of pilgrimages to the ashrams and temples of India and Nepal, but with different methods and trappings.

In the chaotic and carnival-like mix of personalities who populate the shamanic scene in Iquitos, there are colorful characters, talented individuals, creeps, fakes, cheaters, healers, liars, superbly adept shamans, and a full panoply of individuals who in various ways are out to meet the needs of the thousands of travelers, who, like pilgrims to the Hajj, seek healing, exploration and spiritual revelation through the ceremonial use of ayahuasca, the famed and fabled psychoactive Amazonian brew, La Medicina.

My mention of gringo shaman Ron Wheelock precipitated a shit-rain of bellicose commentary. I found all the statements, opinions, positions and accusations highly amusing. To date, I have enjoyed exactly two conversations with Ron. One was outside of Ari’s, where, I assume, everybody who passes through Iquitos meets everybody else who passes through Iquitos sooner or later. The other was at Ron’s home, where I spent about two hours in his company. Virtually everybody I have met who has participated in one of Ron’s ceremonies has spoken very favorably about their experience with him. In my company, I found Ron open, thoughtful, humble and a total character.

Ron freely shared with me that he raised cocks for fighting, and I found that unfortunate, because the animals don’t have a choice, and the practice has always impressed me as inhumane. So let me be clear that I don’t condone cock-fighting, and am equally sorry to read the linguistic cock-fighting that ensued from my article. But this does not make Ron a bad ceremonial leader. If you are expecting Mahatma Gandhi, you are looking for love in all the wrong places. One could even argue that it is equally inconsistent to stridently defend animal welfare (laudable) and simultaneously express vigorous hostility toward another person. In fact, we are, as a species, walking contradictions, all of us. I fly all over the world to work on environmental sustainability. The irony is not lost on me. One of my favorite shamans is also a cattle rancher. PETA would want him behind bars. You get the problem.

As far as using a chipper to prepare ayahuasca, why not? It’s the way you approach the preparation that matters. Is your manner sacred or profane? Should I only walk to a ceremony? Or is it okay to take a smog-producing moto-taxi to get there? Aiyeeeee, the conundrums!!

With regard to the fretful skirmish over whether ayauhuasca is merely a DMT-laden brain drug working by purely chemical means, or a portal to the sacred that is spirit-guided, I would suggest that it depends largely on who you are. If you are adamant that the experience is purely chemical, then that is the experience you will have. If you enter into ceremony as a way of accessing the sacred, that is what will likely occur. Many people live their entire lives convinced that we are nothing more than clever meat bags. Many others experience human being as spirit in flesh. My question is, which life would you prefer?

Ayahuasca shamanism is on the loose, there is no doubt about it. Iquitos has indeed become the most popular destination for exploring ayahuasca shamanism, like it or not. On top of this, everybody has an opinion. One thing is certain- we all can play a role in shaping how this ride goes. If it were up to me, I would like to see the “shamans” who beat their wives and kids put out of business. Even more, I would like to see any known pedophiles hunted down and removed, one way or another, from the Iquitos landscape.

As a regular visitor to Iquitos, I enjoy the funky, friendly, hot, sticky, welcoming, and very diverse community on offer. Almost every time I go there, I take the opportunity to sit in ceremony with one shaman or another. My experiences thus far have all been good. I would be happy to sit and talk with any of you at Dawn On The Amazon, the next time I cruise through town.

Chris Kilham

43 Brian December 3, 2011 at 11:12 am

Gart, your comments here about Ron are so far beyond the pale that they defy belief … Anybody, and there are many here that know Ron, recognise your comments .. “Claims to be a Shaman .. A fraud… A greedy charlatan, and a fool” ….. are completely without foundation .. and indeed quite defamatory.
I must have met a hundred people (not a handful) including myself who have drank at Ron’s .. all of whom have been impressed with his humbleness and his dedication to La Medicina. He has trained for years with very able Shamans and is well qualified to lead ceremonies .. having said that he would be the first to admit that of course he does not know everything.
Not so long ago Ron was working with local Peruvians and performing ceremonies and and offer healing .. COMPLETELY FREE! …. He would never ask for money .. only suggest a donation to be left on hs mesa. A greedy charlatan indeed … You display your complete ignorance of this man in that one statement alone … which in itself deserves a complete and unreserved apology.
I have no respect at all for anyone posting such defamatory comments as yours without foundation.
Maybe a statement in which you would agree to revisit your opinions about “fraud and greedy charlatan” subject to further enquiry on your part would in some small way begin to right the wrong your words have inflicted upon this individual. It is not a “handful of people” who hold this opinion.

Chris .. I enjoyed your last post and look forward to bumping into you sometime .. 🙂 ..

Brian S.

44 Gart van Gennip December 3, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Brian, thank you for your comments, although there is hardly anything there that hadn’t been posted by many other people before you. That is why I haven’t been responding much anymore, I kind of put this whole debate to bed. But nobody understands responding in a fit of anger to an upsetting publication better than I do, so I do know where you are coming from.

Yes, I fly off the handle; yes, I use colorful language to express my strong opinions, and no, I do not shy away from stepping on a few toes when they need to be stepped on. So, sue me! Oh wait, that may already be in progress, if the grapevine is correct.

But, to calm the waters a bit, and hopefully to help stop the flow of hatemail, I will write here for everyone to read what happened since I suggested sending Ron down the river, disguised as a chicken (tar, feathers, I am sure you remember):

I apologized to Ron for writing my inflammatory comments during a friendly conversation we had during the recent shaman’s conference. I also found Ron to be a genuinely nice and decent guy; modest, friendly and sincere. I found I had been misinformed about some of the things I accused him of, particularly by an annoying young video-documentary maker who had interviewed and spent a lot of time with Ron, and who I thought at the time was a reliable source. Turns out he was a flake!

So, I was wrong to fly off the handle and I was wrong to write what I did about Ron.

HOWEVER: That doesn´t take away the fact that I am still left with some questions that haven’t been answered, neither by Ron, nor by any of his devotees. I have been having this conversation with many friends here, and so far, I am not satisfied. I guess there is no clear answer to the question: “Can someone who exploits, tortures, and kills animals for entertainment and monetary gain be a good shaman?” (I am NOT saying Ron does these things, so keep your shirt on!)

I am also still skeptical of all those who say Ron is a great shaman, because his brew is so strong. Is that what makes a great shaman? I don´t think so. In fact, during the shamanic conference, I felt that Ron, however likeable and impressive in some ways, made a poor impression as a shaman. Now, of course there is no certificate or diploma, and anyone can call himself a shaman, so who am I to judge, but that was my impression.

Maybe it is my own image of what and how a shaman should be that raises my standards, but so be it. In any case, as much as I actually like Ron as a person, in my humble opinion, a shaman he is not.

And this time I am REALLY done with this debate. Really. I promise. Maybe.

45 Rich November 14, 2012 at 5:48 am

I like Ron! Check out his new website, its still very rough at the moment as I sort it out. He let me stay with him and treat me for 9wks in exchange for me building him a online presence for his new center El Purguero.
Also Iquitos cock fighting only lasts 7mins and isnt to the death, so its not too bad, cocks like to fight, mother nature designed them to be this way, does that mean mother nature is evil? Perhaps TRUE spirituality is an acceptance of seeing the beauty in all creation…

46 M3stiza13 September 26, 2013 at 5:44 am

You gringos always have an opinion! As Peruvians, we know one basic thing, shamans are becoming extinct. There are very little shamans left in the jungle…the rest who call themselves shamans are actually healers, cleaners etc. A shaman is an elder, grandfather and Ron is neither. Gringos can not be shamans…it’s a passed down from generation to generation. Ron is a healer not a shaman. don Lucho is a healer not a shaman. Real shamans don’t even charge money…bc they are not in ayahuasca centers, they are living in small tribes. Please understand this, so you don’t fool yourself with charlatans.

47 Tammy Jensen July 10, 2014 at 11:55 pm

Ron charges $1200 …I wouldnt say thats “very little”
Just sayin

48 S May 28, 2016 at 10:25 am

hey–anyone have any recent experience with Ron Wheelock at el Purguero? M3stiza13–> i completely hear you. Preferably, I would like to work with a true shaman who has shamanism “in his blood”, passed down. My intention is to get out of a hellish life, find solace, truth and direction from ayahuasca. I am willing to do that work and I have been trying many other things for a very long time. I didn’t come across anything “more authentic” and for me, healing is an urgency.

Anyway, again, my question is if anyone has had an personal experiences with him lately? If so, how was it?

49 Captain Bill May 29, 2016 at 9:54 am

I like Ron. He is a nice guy. He does not fit the description you gave of a desirable characteristic of having shamanism “in his blood” passed down. Do you speak Spanish? If no, Ron would be easy for you to communicate with. Something to consider.

Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: