In 2004, I became very ill when my thyroid nearly shut down. I was sleeping 16-18 hours a day, couldn’t concentrate, kept dropping things, and weighed over 100 kg. I had to quit the doctoral research I was doing at the university and take sick leave. While I was recovering, I decided that what I needed was to go to South America to drink ayahuasca with a real maestro. At first, I planned to do this in Brazil, perhaps with Luis Eduardo Luna’s group in Florianopolis; but then I heard about the First International Ayahuasca Conference in Iquitos in 2005 and decided to do that instead.
The conference attendees all had the opportunity to drink with a variety of different curanderos, and they were all assembled in a room for us to meet. Juan was the only one not all dressed up in robes, feathers, and other elements of costume. With his baseball cap, t-shirt, and amused expression, he gave off an air of quiet competence – and he’s a specialist healer, which is what I was looking for. I later found that the down-to-earth appearance is matched by his attitude – he is incredibly well-grounded for such a powerful healer. He has a fine sense of humor and of the ridiculous, much needed in his line of work; and he is never afraid to get his hands dirty. Learning from him is not much like the standard European model class; rather, it’s an old-style apprenticeship. You learn by following him around, watching, and listening – and asking questions when there’s time. Much of what he teaches can’t really be put into words. It’s more like a direct transmission of knowledge and experience that goes straight into your body and soul.
I spent only a week in Iquitos on my first trip, attending 3 ceremonies. Their effects were so profound that I needed nearly a year to integrate them afterward. Then in 2006, I got an email saying that Juan was running a 6-week shamanic apprenticeship program. I applied immediately; I didn’t know if I wanted to study shamanism, but I certainly did want to attend more of Juan’s ceremonies. Over the course of the six weeks, I discovered that Juan’s version of Curanderismo really resonated with me. At the end of it, I thought I might come back someday for the full six-month apprenticeship program. I didn’t expect it to be anytime soon, but when I got back to the UK, the spirit told me in no uncertain terms that I was going back the next year – some eight months from when I’d returned!
So in 2007 I went back to Juan’s house, from April to October. During this time I lost 30 kg and started to feel fit and healthy for the first time since I could remember. I kept on holding ceremonies at home in the meanwhile. I went back to study more from Dec 2008 – Mar 2009, and will be returning soon from Oct 2009 – Mar 2010 for my fifth trip.
The more I know Juan, the more deeply I respect him. I am proud to call him my maestro – and my friend.