“It’s time to start the ceremony,” says our guide. She’s soft-spoken, patient and beautiful. Six of us initiates are gathered in our usual hang-out spot—the glassed-in terrace that opens up to lush green rolling hills with Pacific coastline far below. This is where we gather to read, smoke and chat. Except this morning, we have been instructed to start drinking lots of water. I just want black coffee.
Purging frog poison at this hour is a questionable undertaking. There’s no breakfast allowed since we’ll be throwing up liters of green bilge water soon. We’ve also heard rumors about frog face. Not exactly sure what it is, but it doesn’t sound good. I’m reluctant.
Why am I doing this? I’ve just been through a week of transformative plant medicine with Ayahuasca. With it comes lots of purging. I’m wondering if it’s necessary to take frog poison too?
“Okay everyone, take a seat on the floor or use a blanket to sit on comfortably. Grab a bucket and hold it like this with your arms wrapped around it, close to the ribcage keeping the elbows up. When you need to purge down nod your head down, don’t lean over if you can help it,” our guide instructs. She sits down to organize her tools and items. A knife, lighter and thin incense sticks. There’s one unfamiliar item, a long thin piece of wood that looks like an old-fashioned throat depressor. On it are waxy-looking droplets of white primordial goo. A secreted poison from the Phyllomedusa Bicolor Giant Monkey Frog, native to the Amazon.
I take a seat next to the side table with a plant, a candle and a painted toy frog. I pick it up and turn it over. Bright green little thing. I’m struck by how similar our hands are with the humanoid fingers of the tree frog. I raise him up high to show the group. That’s when Junior walks into the circle. He’s wearing a lime green tank shirt. “Oh yeah, you are for sure going to get Frog Face,” I say and we all laugh. The 24-year old who’s traveled here from Houston with his mother, flashes his huge Hollywood smile. He’s the kind of guy who lights up a room when he walks in, pure wit and charm—even kittens with attention deficit disorders stop what they’re doing to adore him. The little grey kitty at our retreat has this thing where he climbs up and nestles into his neck and starts licking his face. That’s Junior’s effect.
I look at my friend. She is brave. No one else would have come with me to Costa Rica to spend the month getting to know the grand design of the universe. We start to giggle to mask our fear. Everyone else around the circle is slightly nervous and somber. We stand up and excuse ourselves, walking away, trying to contain our socially unacceptable outburst. We both need a moment alone in the bathroom.
Okay, I can do this, I whisper in my mind, cheerleading myself back along the tiled walkway toward the ceremony circle. A brilliant green lizard darts across the path and disappears under a bush of Birds of Paradise. It’s just the sign I need before getting burnt five times with the live end of an incense stick.
Butterflies are flitting along an invisible wave of tropical scents. This place is filled with primordial birdcalling and buzzing. Saw a pair of toucans in the jungle treeline this morning.
The guide lights the incense stick, blows on it until it glows and proceeds to burn 6 holes at the top of Junior’s left shoulder, each one below the next, vertically. She then moves counter-clockwise around the group. My friend and I are last to get the Kambo secretion patted into each burn hole with her knife tip.
Kambo or Sapo is jungle medicine. It purges the body of impurities. It strengthens the immune system, a recalibration and cellular reboot of sorts. Amazonian hunters use it to heighten the senses: vision, hearing, intuition. It helps them know where to hunt. It rids the system of emotional and physical blockages. Afterwards, you feel clean, light, pure, more awake and clear-headed.
Right now, that’s not how the group is feeling. A intense and overpowering heat is surging through my veins and limbs, my heart is racing. I’m feeling overheated and very nauseous. Junior is the first to gag. His face is swelling up. Strangely, he’s pale white and not fiery red like Cowboy to my left. I am trying not to laugh hysterically as Frog Face starts to take hold of Junior. His lips are enormous taking up half his face. He barfs again. Then his mother loses control and lets go. A torrent of frog green liquid erupts from somewhere deep inside her. Cowboy is gagging. Junior is full-blown frog man. His face is a parody of itself, his lips could be the mould for a blow-up doll mouth. He looks like Jim Carey with elephantitis of the face. It’s hilarious. And he’s miserable. He’s had the most difficulty with Ayahuasca and has decided not to participate in the last ceremony. So, the irony of his misery is too delicious not to savor in my own personal Schadenfreude.
My moment of release never comes at the circle, nor for my friend. We are saved from the ravaging intestinal purge. However, it comes for us in another form later in the privacy of our own bathroom—yet manageable.
Do we feel different? Yes, we all agree there’s a new lightness of being. We feel clean. Our perceptions are clearer. Any blockages in our human vehicle seem miraculously gone. We feel good and proud of our accomplishment and union with the amphibian world.
I love the burn marks. It looks like an Alien stamp, but it happened right here on this alien planet called Earth. An eternal reminder of healing through nature for which I am forever grateful.