Jan 21

Beauty, Terror, Vomit: the Yage Experience, Pasto, and Paul Giles

Note: This post delves into the world of the ancient indigenous customs surrounding the consumption of the psychedelic drug/medicine known as yage. I don’t want to sound too preachy, but, as you will read, my experience with it made me realise that it’s no game, but actually a pretty serious undertaking. I’d urge anyone considering taking part in such a ceremony to make sure they go with someone who’s done it before, and to do it in a safe environment, supervised by people who know what they’re doing. It’s really not something to be taken lightly.

Well, after failing to get this whole yage thing done due to aguardiente roulette, mountains of trout, and other hurdles, I thought (slightly relieved, if the truth be known), “oh well, that’s it; we tried our best, but didn’t get the chance.” Then the pagans and I went to the Green Lagoon.

The spectacular Green Lagoon

A bit more than an hour out of Pasto, the surrounds of Laguna Verde, Laguna Negra, and the Sulphur Volcano are beautiful, other-worldly, and smell like somebody’s been eating too many curried eggs (if that’s something possible). The pagans spent what seemed like an age smoking cigars, pouring precious chapil into the lagoon, and chanting – things, I’m told, that let them commune with the spirit of the spectacular volcano. This gave me time to  dip my toes in a natural spa, have a bit of a snooze, and also talk to a gent called Manilito. He would end up being our link to a different kind of otherworld; that of yage.

Manilito would lead us to this quaint-looking structure.

Once we got inside the maloka, a smart-looking guy talked a lot about something important, brandishing a book on yage, and completely perplexing me. I nodded sagely along with everyone else, and after a while, lined up at what looked like a cross between an altar and a bar to have my first shot.

There’s that smart guy, saying something serious. I hope it’s not that important…

Mmmmm… it looks and tastes a little like Jagermeister. Anyone got some Red Bull?

After the shot, we were told to sit down and be quiet, just like at kindergarden Quiet Time. I loved Quiet Time, so I assumed my poncho, and waited.

Nothing. This is a jip. Thirty thousand for half a shot of Jager that doesn’t do anything? I think I’ll have a nap.

The pagans go out for a quick vom-vom. Dani doesn’t quite make it, and a bit of technicolour yawn gets on the maloka’s floor. I’m not going to vomit.

Ohh…sparkly things on my eyelids. Kind of nice. Maybe I’ll go outside and sit by the campfire. Ooops – who put that step there?

The taita, some kind of indigenous bartender adorned in jeans and a lot of pieces of flair, asks me if I want another one. Sure! Line ’em up, please, Sir!

No, I’m OK; I thought I’d just have a quick little collapse on the floor.

Not going to vomit.

Better get to the bathroom.

No vomit, but plenty coming out the other end. Nice.

Hmmm…if I close my eyes, and raise my chin to the sky, I think I might be able to fly out my eyeballs.

Maybe something is happening.

A third shot? Really?? Sure! This is great!!


What am I; some kind of hippy?

Everything starts coming together. I realise that the guy in the poncho shaking a little egg maraca is doing it because it’s the right thing to do. Guitars and mouth-organs start playing, the taita is revealed as a man of wisdom and kindness, and everybody is doing what they’re supposed to do. I sit back and take it all in, become a part of it.

OK, one more yage, and that’s it.

I can connect any memory I’ve ever had with any other one; connect that with what’s happening right now; and be completely inside that experience. Thought, dream, memory, and reality fuse into one, and I can do all this in the snap of a finger. I relive every beautiful moment in my life, and create infinite new ones. Everything is suffused with an aura somewhere between William Blake’s world of Innocence and the benevolent spirits of Ghibli Studio’s universe. It all makes sense; every movement and action fits together, guided by the taita and his brethren.

Is what I’m experiencing real, or some other reality?

I can’t get out of it.


A little scary. I think I need to chill out a bit.

That’s the seventh time that guy’s shaken my hand and greeted me with the exact same words. I’m not going to look to my left any more, because he’ll be there to do it again.

There he is. I’m good, thanks.

That was a lie.

Is the taita  really spitting some smelly gunk on my head, or is that experience just in my head?

He’s doing it again.

I’m never going to get out of this.


“Paul, you need to come back. Everybody else has finished.”

Easier said than done, Daniela Apparition.

It was at about this point that I realised it was nothing like Jager.

And so on. For a few eternities.

Looking back on it all now, I’m so glad that I went and did it with this particular taita and his people. If he hadn’t broken the yage’s magic by – among other things – spitting gunk on my head a reported four times, I don’t think I’d be writing this today. I wouldn’t have had the beautiful experience of slowly breaking through to the real dawn, walking down a country road, and catching a chicken bus back into a bustling city. I’d be lost in an infinite regress of different realities no longer beautiful, but repetitive and scary. Like being forced to watch endless replays of Home and Away. Nobody wants that, apart from maybe my mum.

From my point of view now; yage, its taitas and malokas demand nothing but the utmost respect. Even though the last bit was terrifying; everything else was beautiful and inspirational. I’d do it again; but if I did, I’d make sure I didn’t eat that day, didn’t engage in other inappropriate activities the night before, and I wouldn’t treat it like Jager. Maybe I should’ve rethought the third yage once I collapsed after the second. The fourth definitely needed further contemplation. Something to keep in mind, seeing that I’ve still got one…

Paul G.

7 thoughts on “Beauty, Terror, Vomit: the Yage Experience, Pasto, and Paul Giles

  1. Viviana on

    cordialmente invitados a Cogua, Zipaquira y nemocon… esteremos en festividades culturales LO MAXIMO!!! danza, teatro, feria, comidas, pintura… 😉

  2. Paul Giles on

    Hi, Tom,
    Thanks for your interest, and for the question. I think the best opportunities to join such a ceremony are offered in malokas on certain fincas (hobby farms) just outside of the city. There was one I know about that happened last week, not that that’s helping you much. I can help, though, by hooking you up with my man Manolito – a very knowledgable young fella who would probably help you to find a fitting place here. Drop me a line at pgiles@seecolombia.travel, and I’ll see if I can’t help you get in touch with him. Good luck, enjoy, and be careful!

  3. Tom on

    Hi Paul, I recently moved to Bogota to teach English for the next year. To get right to the point, I’m really interested in finding a yage ceremony close by and after some research I came across your posting (great post by the way). Can you give me any advice or point me in the direction of a place where I might be able to find a yage ceremony? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!


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