Samá with Noya Rao, part 1: Welcome to the jungle

Stephen Reid
4 min readDec 23, 2017

I’ve just emerged from a 10 day Noya Rao samá (dieta) in the Amazon via Noya Nete, which was recommended to me by my friends India Banks and Caro Luna.

It was one of the most challenging, creative and ultimately rewarding 10 days of my life.

The dieta took place in a small Shipibo community on the banks of Amazon near Pucallpa.

View of the river from the entrance of the community
Some of the buildings on the land

The land is covered in huge mango trees. Mangos — ripe, plump, juicy — fell day and night, rattling through branches and smashing on the ground.

Smashed mangos

The mosquitos were absolutely swarming. I couldn’t stand outside for more than a few seconds without getting bitten.

The place itself was pretty noisy. Everything runs on petrol (no solar) so there was a near constant hum during daytime hours of motorboats and generators. Also, the community is bordered by several others, and the Shipibo love to party. Several nights we could hear electronic music playing until the early hours.

There were 4 participants — myself, Hannah, Katherine (all dieting Noya Rao) and Mirjam (dieting another plant, Chiric Sanango). Our facilitator and the organiser was Brian, a calm and genuine American chap in his late 30s, married to a Shipibo woman and one of the only bilingual English-Shipibo speakers in the world. Our shaman/maestra/healer was Manuela Mahua (who we called Yoshan, which means ‘grandmother’ in Shipibo). We did a ayahuasca ceremony every other day (5 ceremonies in total), so each day was either a ceremony day or a rest day.

We had lunch every day: a fish, a boiled plantain, an egg and a potato (no salt or seasoning). Some rest days we ate dinner (vegetable soup), some ceremony days we ate breakfast (boiled banana, sweet potato, an egg). I usually ate a mango at some point throughout the day too.

The dining room

On some days there would be a short activity: one day we did a vomitivo, another we had a bone massage, we also did a couple of flower baths. But aside from these activities and meals, we were alone in our rooms. That meant a LOT of time alone, and with the mosquitos being so bad, we were mostly on our beds under our mosquitos nets. We were advised not to read, so instead I did some breathwork, meditation, singing, sleeping, lots of leg lifts, and a ton of writing.

My room
The bed with mosquito net, where I spent most of my time!

The ceremonies took place at night time. We started by receiving an individual tobacco blessing from Manuela and most nights also drank a cup of Noya Rao. Brian would then offer us ayahuasca (measured with a 50ml shotglass). We decided how much we wanted to drink. Once everyone had drunk, the candle lighting the maloka (ceremony space) was blown out, and we sat in silent darkness.

When Manuela started to feel the effects of the medicine, she would start singing, usually a low whistle at first, building to full song (icaro). Following these opening icaros, Manuela would come to sit in front of each of us in turn to sing to us. Once she had sung to everyone individually, she would then sing to the group again for a while. She’d then give others the chance to sing, which would mark the end of the formal part of the ceremony.

Continue reading: Part 2: The first two ceremonies