A guest post by Gart van Gennip
As you may know, ayahuasca is rapidly becoming a major reason for people to visit Iquitos and the surrounding rainforest. Recent articles in the international press, specifically mentioning Iquitos as a destination, are fueling the interest in ayahuasca. An article in The Washington Post (which quotes our good friend Bill Grimes) was linked to hundreds of Facebook pages within a matter of hours.
While I think an increase in tourism should be encouraged, the increase in problems arising from ayahuasca tourism is not a good thing. Fortunately, the articles in the press have a positive tone and do not highlight the problematic side of ayahuasca tourism. Still, in order to get a handle on the situation, I think it is time that the Iquitos business community prepares for a possible surge in ayahuasca tourism.
• Last year, a young German girl was assaulted and raped by a ‘shaman’ and his partner.
• A few months ago, a man died after using ayahuasca
• Recently, Jacek Slawek, who organized ayahuasca ceremonies at his lodge, almost died during a ceremony. After being in a coma, he regained consciousness, but has lost his senses. It appears that he has suffered brain damage from lack of oxigen.
• Someone in Pucallpa recently organized an ayahuasca rave.
• More and more drug tourists who are ignorant about ayahuasca, and seem to believe it is some kind of party drug, use it in combination with other drugs or alcohol, which can lead to serious health problems and cause all kinds of social problems as well.
• Many visitors who are looking for a genuine and spiritual experience get taken advantage of, overcharged, robbed and left behind by local charlatans who are just out to easily make a lot of money at the expense of tourists.
• Iquitos is quickly gaining a reputation as a drug tourism destination and a party town, but also as a place that isn’t safe and where people are out to rob you.
• Iquitos is also quickly becoming a magnet for the wrong kind of crowd: from drug users to dealers, hustlers, con-artists and all kinds of criminals.
One of the main reasons why drug tourism can so easily get out of hand is that there is no regulation. There is no shaman certificate or diploma; there is no seal of approval from an independent consumer’s protection organization. There is no place where one can get reliable information and references. There is no blacklist of proven charlatans and con-artists, nor a white list of decent, honest, skillful shamans.
I regularly meet tourists who feel uncertain and confused about what to do and who to trust. Even (or maybe I should say especially) services offered through a variety of websites often prove to be unreliable or downright false.
Ayahuasca is legal and should remain that way. It is an important part of the local culture and traditions and to those who use it responsibly, it is an important spiritual tool. Drug tourism may lead to unwanted attention from the government as well as from other countries. That could lead to a ban on ayahuasca, which would have disastrous results on various levels.
In order to turn the tide on drug tourism in Iquitos, I propose that we start an organization. Its purpose should be:
• To inform and educate all visitors to Iquitos about ayahuasca.
• To warn all visitors about possible abuse, overcharging and false claims by those in Iquitos who are out to take advantage of visitors.
• To build a strong relationship with iPeru in order to accomplish the first two points.
• To build a network of reliable, reputable and experienced shamans and organizations, to whom we can refer visitors.
• To guide visitors who are interested in participating in ayahuasca ceremonies to reliable, reputable and experienced shamans and organizations..0+..
• To issue a list of requirements and guidelines to local shamans about the quality of their services.
• To issue a seal of approval to those genuine shamans who provide authentic ceremonies in a safe and comfortable environment at a reasonable price.
• To encourage local shamans to apply for our seal of approval, by proving that they meet the organization’s standards.
• To put together and publish a blacklist of known offenders.
• To open an ayahuasca center in Iquitos, where people can go for information, references, souvenirs and to share their experiences.
• To build a website for the ayahuasca center with the same purpose, as well as a publicity platform for the organization’s members (and sponsors!).
I would like to call a meeting with all local residents and business people who are interested in ayahuasca, particularly those who work directly with ayahuasca, or who work in the tourism industry. If you agree that the current trend must be reversed and that tourists should be better informed and guided on their path to an ayahuasca experience, then you should help found this organization, join it, and promote it to others.
Starting this organization and eventually opening an ayahuasca center in Iquitos will benefit all: tourists; local residents and businesses; shamans and organizations; and Iquitos in general.
The only ones it will not benefit are the crooks, the thieves, the charlatans, the rapists, the drug dealers and other criminals.
And if this organization is successful, other cities and even countries may follow suit.
I would appreciate it if you would send me your feedback. And please, forward this article to anyone in Iquitos who you think might be interested, or should know about it.
Thank you, and please don’t hesitate to send your questions, comments and suggestions to me. I am looking forward to meeting many of you in person soon.
Gart van Gennip
Gart van Gennip is obviously a thoughtful, intellegent, talanted man. If you agree, be sure to check out his other ideas by clicking the link to ikitos.com, or this link to his Welcome to Iquitos tourism page. Gart’s email is at the bottom of that page if you want to contact him.
Read more of Gart’s ideas by clicking the links below;
I wrote this review of Gart van Gennip’s unique web site back in December 2008. Since those times it has grown up into a force in our virtual Iquitos community.