By: Jessica Devnani
The place was called Amazonas Base Pirata. To me, it was kind of like The Beach, except without any of the drama, and a happier ending.
Put simply, Base Pirata is a community of travelers who live in the middle of the jungle. I first heard about it through a fellow traveler while in Iquitos, Peru. He had asked me what brought me to Iquitos, and I told him, “the jungle and ayahuasca.” He went on about a place that he knew of, completely off the beaten track. He said this was no fancy, expensive tourist retreat. You had to get there on your own and bring everything you would need to survive.
He told me it was paradise.
In Iquitos, ayahuasca is the talk of the town. Tourists and backpackers flock to this city, the gateway to the Amazon, where ayahuasca comes from. It seems as if everyone is looking for a genuine shamanic experience. But as we all know, for tourists, genuine experiences are not always easy to come by. As Leonardi DiCaprio’s character on The Beach once said, “I just feel like everyone tries to do something different, but you always wind up doing the same damn thing.”
I suppose this thought is what attracted me to Base Pirata.
Base Pirata is only accessible via a grueling 15 km trek through the jungle. The hike can take anywhere from 5-10 hours, depending on your fitness level. It took a friend and me almost 9. The trek was one of the most physically demanding things I have ever done in my life. We passed through remote villages, muddy fields that would suction your boots off with every step, and got lost in thick, deep jungle by nightfall, a part that had me genuinely scared for our lives. But eventually, we made it.
The community is truly isolated from the rest of the world. No power, no running water, and no roads in. It is simply a group of people living off the land. It is a place where your days are governed by the sun and not by time.
What makes this community so unique is that many who pass through are also seeking spiritual enlightenment through ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is a medicine that has been used by the Amazonian people for thousands of years. It is brewed by combining the ayahuasca vine with other plants, all of which are found naturally in the Amazon rainforest.
Unfortunately, many in the western world consider ayahuasca a drug rather than a medicine. This is because ayahuasca contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a naturally-occurring chemical that has psychedelic properties. Ayahuasca presents the user with powerful hallucinations, which many have described as life changing.
I had the opportunity to stay at Base Pirata for one week in May 2015. At the time, Base Pirata was in its very early stages; just a couple of shelters on a clearing in the jungle. We slept inside mosquito nets and on hammocks in a hut.
Base Pirata’s founder, Viktor, has a grand vision for the place. He hopes it will eventually become fully self-sustaining and that it will even include an ayahuasca retreat centre. But for now, the community’s Shaman, Don Joel, holds ceremonies for the volunteers on a donation basis.
Those living here are expected to contribute 3 hours of volunteer work per day. The volunteering was very simple. I chose to weave roofing out of palm leaf for the temple that was being built. It was also quite rewarding to know that I was contributing to something that would hopefully be there for years and years to come.
Meals were cooked communally over the campfire every day. At the time, workers brought food in, although Viktor is hoping that, eventually, all food will be grown and harvested on-site. We ate mostly non-perishables: oats for breakfast, rice or pasta and lentils for lunch and dinner, with whatever make-do fruit/vegetable dish, if available.
Two options were constant: the ayahuasca diet and non-ayahuasca diet. Many believe ayahuasca works best when your body is void of sugars, salts, and spices (basically anything flavorful). I could not wait to get off the diet, as by the end of the week, I was so tired of eating such bland food (although, kudos to those that did most of the cooking for us with such limited ingredients to work with!).
My experience at Base Pirata was inspiring and eye opening, to say the least. I learned a lot from drinking ayahuasca. The natural and isolated setting of Base Pirata allowed me to reflect on what it had shown me.
Yet, I also learned just as much by hearing and sharing experiences, visions, and thoughts, with others while there, as well as reading the available literature that past travelers had left behind.
During my time, there were roughly 10 of us living at Base Pirata. Although we had come from all around the world and from all different walks of life, it seemed as if whatever your reason for being there, it was the right reason. Some chose to participate in the ayahuasca ceremonies and others not; this was irrelevant. Some were even seeking help from Don Joel regarding his knowledge of plant medicines for other conditions in their lives. Base Pirata attracts a certain kind of person, a certain kind of traveler, and I think that is the reason that everyone I met there was good company.
Base Pirata is a place to disconnect and to go back to basics. It allows one to remember how we as humans once used to live, dependent on Pachamama (Mother Earth) rather than technology. The freshwater that we drink comes from a river, the sun keeps us warm, burning wood allows us to cook… these are the necessities of life.
I personally could not live in a place like this long-term, as my passions in life, photography and videography, are so interwoven with technology. However, living here for a short amount of time did make me realize my connection to the earth. What I saw in my ayahuasca trips, combined with the way of life at Base Pirata, were a great reminder of this.
Base Pirata’s motto is “Otro mondo es posible,” which translates to, “Another world is possible.” I now know that another world is indeed possible. Whether you are yearning to live an alternative lifestyle, to get more in touch with nature, seek enlightenment through ayahuasca, or you want to find your own piece of paradise; in Base Pirata you can make it happen.