A Magical Thai Tattoo

A girl friend and I are walking around a suburban looking neighborhood in Chiang Mai, where our tuk-tuk driver dropped us off about thirty minutes prior. We have been wandering around lost, up and down each street, unable to find anything that looks like it could be the place where we are trying to go. Disappointed, we begin to mentally give up and start wondering how we are ever going to find a tuk-tuk to drive us back to our hotel.

If you haven’t noticed yet, most of my travel stories seem to involve a similar version of this situation. Wandering around lost in a foreign country. Walking in circles. Finally thinking I am on the right track, only to pass the same building for the four hundredth time. A sense of defeat filling my soul as I sit down on the curb and pout about it for a moment. Then out of no where, like clockwork, a random stranger boy usually appears and whispers, “Psst. Follow me.” Which at that point, I gladly do, because what other choice do I have. I mean I guess I do have other, safer choices, but the whole, “Am I going to get robbed/kidnapped or not” adrenaline rush seems to make the experience more exciting. Kidding. But really. I actually do usually decide to follow this stranger boy because at least there is a chance he will lead me to my destination. And I obviously cannot find it on my own.


So a few months prior to getting lost here in Chaing Mai, a friend and I had decided to take a trip to Thailand together. It was the first time either of us had been to Asia so we wanted to do something special to commemorate this milestone in our lives. After some researching, we found an article about traditional “magical Thai tattoos”. What better way to remember our first trip to Asia than to have it branded on us forever?

This magical tattoo is more formally known as a Sak Yant and involves the tattooing of sacred geometrical designs and ancient text on the skin by Buddhist monks or other holy men. A sharpened needle is screwed into the end of a bamboo stick, dipped into ink, and then basically hammered into your skin. These tattoos represent customized magical and spiritual reminders and have become known in the Thai culture as a way to provide both protection and good luck to those who wear them.

It takes years of training to become a Sak Yant practitioner (often known as an “Ajarn”, or learned master) and an in depth study of the magical arts is required before you can begin tattooing. Throughout their lives, these masters must practice meditation techniques to help them harness the magic that is used in this sacred blessing, enabling them to transfer it to those they are tattooing. The years of study involved allow the Sak Yant master to customize each design and sacred blessing specifically for each individual.


So yesterday we contacted an Ajarn and told him we would be coming to see him. We had both selected to receive the most common design, the Hah Taew, which is a five row yantra (basically lines of text that can be chanted during worship or meditation). I decided to get mine in one long line down my spine and she went with the more common five line sequence on her shoulder blade. This design is said to encompass every aspect of one’s life. Each of the five lines representing a different area, protecting from unwanted spirits, bad fortune, and black magic, while bringing good fortune and success.

The Ajarn agreed to these designs for each of us, confirmed we could come in the following day, and sent us his address. Which catches you up to why we are lost in this random neighborhood. So here we are. Right then, as if on cue, we hear a stranger boy’s voice whisper from the abyss. “Psst. Follow me.”

Startled, we look up and see a man peaking his head around from the side of a house. Where did he even come from? And how did he know where we were going? Regardless, we head in his direction and he points to a house a few down from where he is standing. “There.” We look at each other. Sure, okay, why not.

We walk around to the back of what looks to be a one bedroom house and open the sliding glass door in front of us. We step into a large open room with dozens of beautiful Buddha statues on the far end. Inside sit about seven people. In front of them is the Ajarn master with a man in front of him, sitting with his legs crossed. The man is facing us, so we can’t see the tattoo being done on him but his overall demeanor is pretty calm. So calm, it is as if he barely notices the long, sharpened bamboo needle being repeatedly jabbed into his back.


We take a seat amongst the others and watch. When the tattoo is finished, the Ajarn master turns the guy around and starts chanting, performing some sort of blessing on him. We can now see this guy’s back and what is strange is that there is no tattoo at all. Just a bunch of red dots where the needle punctured his skin. We are a little concerned but then realize he had been using clear ink. I remember reading that these tattoos are received by many locals for the sole purpose of their meaning. I think this is pretty sweet because it shows how much they believe in their magical powers and aren’t just getting it because the ink looks cool.

The man stands up, pins some bills on the donation tree, and walks out of the house. The Ajarn master then looks over at me, directly into my eyes, and nods for me to come forward. Welp, I guess I am next.


I walk over and show him the photo I had sent the day before of the placement I want (down my spine) and in a nervous small voice, ask if he could please use a new needle (I had heard that they don’t always change the needle and wanted to be somewhat safe). He looks at me blankly so I attempt to say this in a few different ways to try to get him to understand my English. He finally seems to understand as he nods and reaches for a new needle. I let out a sign of relief but this feeling quickly fades as I watch him pour more ink into a bowl he has obviously already used for someone else before me. Before I can object, he dips my needle in the bowl and is ready to begin. Hmmm. At least the needle is new. (Don’t worry, I have been tested for HIV and everything else since and luckily am okay.)

He motions for me to sit facing away from him, with my legs crossed, and to lean forward, so that my back is curved, vulnerable and exposed for him to jab the needle directly into my spine. I am nervous but that quickly dissipates as I remember how calm the other guy’s face had looked when we walked in. This thought quickly reassures me that this can’t hurt all that much. Right? 


Ummm, not at all. The first time the needle hits my spine, it immediately sends an excruciating sharp pain down through my body that is unlike anything I have ever experienced in my entire life. Did I just yell out loud? What the fuck was I thinking? Why would I ever choose my spine for this kind of tattoo? It hadn’t even crossed my mind that this would physically hurt me. Can I ask him to stop? What if I get paralyzed from the needle going too far into my spine? It sure feels like he is pounding it in pretty dang hard. Why so hard, dude?

The room around me is calm and quiet with excited people happily anticipating their turn. While this scene of serenity is taking place around me, screams are filling my head so loudly that I wonder if anyone in the room can hear them. A needle is being hammered into my back. Over and over and over. I began to pray to the Universe asking for help in getting through this. Pulling my palms together as I pray. Chanting anything and everything I can think of to possibly take this pain away from me. I close my eyes and squeeze a pillow that is on the floor in front of me. Clenching so tight that my knuckles turn white. I have to remind myself to breathe.

I need to open my eyes so that I don’t get lost in this pain. I manage to slowly lift my head up a few inches and look at my friend who is sitting happily with the others in front of me. She looks directly at me smiling, giving me the thumbs up sign as if she is excited for my current situation. I wonder if she can see the look of terror on my face. I don’t want to scare her since she hasn’t gone yet, so let out the best half smile I can and drop my head back down to look at the floor. The smile immediately leaving my face as I close my eyes again and feel my jaw clenching tight. Finally, after what I guess to be about fifteen minutes, he taps me in the back signifying that he is finished. Thank you, thank you.


Wow, okay. That wasn’t so bad. I mean I survived, right? I stand up and return to my seat on the floor with the others, and let out an audible sigh of relief. My friend is excited for her turn and as she stands up, asks me how it was. Hmmm, it is nothing you can’t handle for fifteen minutes. She looks confused and says fifteen minutes? Your tattoo took over an hour. What. I guess I blacked out from the pain. Maybe the Universe really is listening.

When my friend is finished receiving hers, we both take a photo with the Ajarn master and open the sliding door to leave. A random guy is standing there, apparently waiting for us on his scooter. Feeling all protected and shit with our new tattoos, we jump right on, not thinking twice about where he came from or how he knows where we want to go.

He drives us a few miles to the main road, stops, and motions for us to get off the bike. We start walking down the road, not knowing where we are headed, but also not caring in the slightest. The sun is shining down and now that the experience is over, we feel a new sense of confidence having just survived. Our tattoos also look pretty darn cool.


No longer in the midst of the pain, I realize at that moment that the whole experience wasn’t actually horrible at all. It was mentally empowering. And actually incredibly spiritual. I feel like I have grown closer with myself because I went through it and survived. If I could get through that, I am pretty sure I can endure and overcome anything that is thrown my way.

I think this can be applied to many situations. We can be in the middle of something that brings us great pain. Whether it be heartbreak or anything else that creates some sort of turmoil in our lives. During it, we become focused on and even obsessed with the pain we are feeling and maybe even angry at what we think is causing it. I certainly wasn’t happy with the Ajarn master as he was stabbing the needle into my back. Even though I willingly chose to be there. I didn’t think I would make it through. But now here I am walking in the sunlight. With the pain only a memory in the past.

This experience taught me so much about the power of the mind. And how important it is to remember that nothing you are going through will last forever, unless you choose to stay stuck there. Being branded on my body, this tattoo not only protects me in life and as I travel, but also serves as a reminder that I can make it through anything, no matter how painful. What a powerful way to remember my first trip abroad and to take with me for the rest of my journey in life.

Fuck Goals, Focus on Feelings


My favorite kind of days are the ones that start out like any other. You wake up. Get out of bed. Drink some coffee. Eat breakfast. Maybe go for a walk or a stroll along the beach. Then out of nowhere, a random person crosses your path. Smiles and says hello. Starts talking to you. The next thing you know, you are sitting on the beach, watching the sun come up, sharing a bottle of Konyagi with a bunch of Tanzanian prostitutes. Or sitting in the middle of the jungle under a banyan tree, smoking a bowl with an Indian baba and a ripped, shirtless Russian dude.

The type of experiences that leave you looking around and wondering, how did I even end up here? If you would have asked me this morning what I was going to do that day, I never would have even come close to guessing this.

Some of the best experiences in life are often not the ones you plan for, but instead, the ones you just find yourself ending up in. They are things that you could not plan for even if you wanted to. Because you weren’t even aware that they were a possibility. When you are open to anything and not set on a particular destination, you can end up anywhere. This is the main reason that I love traveling. You never know where the day will take you.

This is not only possible when traveling. I am learning to approach life in the same way, no matter where I am. Instead of having fixed plans of what I need to do and things I need to accomplish, I am trying to focus on flowing with life and going in whatever direction it may take me.


Many of us become incredibly focused on setting specific goals and have a clear picture in our heads of where we want to be in life. Then we focus all of our energy and daily plans towards doing things to get there. We even make daily checklists of what we need to accomplish that day to stay on track.

There is nothing wrong with working hard to get where we want to be. This may even be beneficial for short term projects at work. But I honestly believe that setting specific goals when it comes to planning the direction of our lives, limits us. It hinders our open mindedness and flexibility. We often become too focused on staying on track to achieve something that we lose sight of other opportunities that are presented to us along the way. Or even worse, something outside of our control prevents us from reaching one of our goals and we are left heartbroken.


I am sure you have been asked the question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Let’s say you are asked that right now. Before answering, you might take into consideration where you are in your life currently. What you feel is missing. What you hope to accomplish. You might even think about what the person asking you would be satisfied to hear.

Looking back, if I had been asked this question at various points in throughout my life, I would have had completely different answers.

Fifteen years ago, I had never even stepped foot outside of North America. I was in a serious relationship. I worked for a newspaper’s non-profit program. At that time, if asked this question, my answer would have been something like. In five years, I will be living in Missouri. Married. With one kid. Using my degree, with a career in marketing. Because that is both the direction I was headed, and what I thought would be satisfying to me in the future.

Flash forward five years later. Am I where I said I would be? Not at all. I am a promotional model. Traveling around the United States. Working events for hundreds of companies. I am in a brand new relationship. Definitely not married. And not even close to having kids. If I had been asked this question again, then, I would have answered something like. In five years, I will be starting my own promotional staffing agency. Living in St. Louis. Marrying this guy I had just moved in with. (Thank the Universe that didn’t happen, no offense.)

Five years go by. How close did I come to achieving my dream five year plan? Not even. I am living in Los Angeles. Less than a mile from the beach. Working at a tech startup on data analysis projects. Traveling overseas in my free time. With a group of amazing friends who I didn’t even know five years prior. I must say that this ended up being way more exciting than what I had envisioned for myself.


You get the point. So much can change in five years. Had I stuck to my five year plan at any of those points in my life, my life now would be incredibly different. Not bad. Just different. But also not as incredible.

So fifteen years ago, when working at the newspaper, why didn’t I answer the question with, “Jobless. Traveling the world. Experiencing life to the fullest that I am able. Completing a ten day silent meditation. Doing ayahuasca in the middle of the Amazon. Or sitting on the beach in Zanzibar sharing a bottle of liquor with five Tanzanian strippers. (Had to throw that in there again because life is so crazy, right.)

I think because I didn’t even know these things were possible for me. I was just a girl living in the small town of Columbia, Missouri. If I had stayed stuck on my original plan of being married with kids with a 9 to 5 job in Missouri, I definitely wouldn’t be the same person I am today. There is nothing wrong with the life I had envisioned for myself back then. I probably would be incredibly happy had I ended up there. It just wasn’t the direction life took me.

Sometimes when we don’t end up where we thought we would, we think we have failed. We have regret and feel bad about ourselves for not accomplishing exactly what we said we would. I strongly believe there is a balance between knowing what you want, working hard to get there, and being okay with ending up somewhere else.


I am all about vision boards and acting in alignment to manifest what I want in life. Which in another language, may translate to “setting goals and working towards them.” But I think the key difference is that when manifesting something, you envision the end result you want and focus on feeling how you would feel as if you already had it. You don’t plan step by step what you will do to reach that destination. You simply trust and allow the Universe to guide you there. I think it is time we use this approach when planning the path of our lives as well.

Think about where you see yourself in five years. That is where you want to be now, but as you grow and embrace the path of your life, you really could end up somewhere completely different. And that is okay. Life can take you anywhere. So instead, I want to propose a different question. How do you want to feel in five years? In what ways do you want to grow as a person? Who do you want to become? Now instead of deciding exactly what path to take, open yourself up to all of the experiences that can possibly take you there.

As much as this cheesy saying makes me cringe. Don’t worry about the destination, embrace the journey. And hopefully, in five years, you will too look at where you are now, and smile. Because not sticking to the plan can lead you to a better place that you never even imagined.

Should I Namaste or Should I Namastgo

Blog post written by: Casey Ruth

November 1, 2019


Traveling is one thing in life that you can spend money on and be richer for it. It’s an investment in self improvement and gives you an education that can not be provided in any academic institution. You are different. The place you call home is foreign upon your return by its unfamiliarity, except it’s exactly the same as the day you left it and it is you that has changed.

Those familiar to you have become strangers and the strangers you met have become a part of you. You can relate to them. You see the world through the same eyes, even though you come from opposite sides of it.

You begin to feel uncomfortable in your own habitat; a fish that’s allergic to water and you begin to wonder if returning was the right decision. “Home” no longer has a sense of belonging to you and you feel more lost there than you did on your own in any Asian city for the first time. It seems gray and unattractive and it’s not because you have grown accustomed to oceans that resemble Powerade, or that you are ungrateful, but that you are used to a new way of life.

You are used to the fast traffic of Vietnam or the hustle and bustle of another buzzing capital, but at the same time, the fast paced lifestyle is no longer appealing. You can win the rat race, but at the end of the day, you’d still be a rat and you much prefer to end the day with a pink sunset and cotton candy clouds as opposed to a full bank account and an empty heart.

You realize that you are homesick for a place that doesn’t exist.


Leaving your home town is a life changing decision and traveling solo makes you realize just how capable and responsible you are not only for your sleeping, eating and travel arrangements, but for well being and your own happiness. It is a dangerous tautology to appreciate your own solitude, as there is no longer an urge to seek validation nor fill a void.

This provides invincibility, as you do not NEED anyone and no longer spend your time searching for a significant other. You are already complete. Why would you be impressed by a guy who is going to offer you the world when you’ve already seen it all? Love is complex. It will take something more breathtaking than a waterfall to willingly sacrifice your independence when you have fallen in love with life.

If someone enters your life that makes you consider staying in one place, this could be your biggest adventure yet. 

The cliche of girls “finding themselves” whilst globetrotting is not quite a cliche at all, it’s an ideology, it’s a pilgrimage. And it’s not that we’re running away from something, it’s about what we’re running towards. Something incredible, something unfathomable, and we know it even when others can not see it, let alone comprehend it.

We feel it vibrating beneath our tanned skin and sun soaked bones. That’s why we take these risks and leave behind our lives in the knowledge that something amazing could happen if we just say yes.

Home is not a building, it is a feeling. It is not a place, to some it may be a person. To find it, you need to ask yourself, does he smell like home or is it time to hit the road? Are you going to Namaste or are you going to Namastgo?



Casey currently lives in Newcastle and spends most of her time traveling, likely to somewhere with white sandy beaches, a homemade bottle of rice wine, and crystal clear ocean water.

I met Casey while I was on the beach by myself on a small deserted island in Malaysia. She walked right up to me, sat down, and we ended up spending the next three weeks traveling across the magnificent island of Borneo together. She has a pure, loving heart and an inspiring, positive energy. The best thing about Casey is that when you are with her, you will often end up somewhere you never even imagined was possible.


Why I Am Not Going To Write About My Ayahuasca Experience

As I write this, I am sitting in the middle of the Amazon jungle in Ecuador on the fourth day of my five day ayahuasca retreat. I have done ayahuasca the last two nights but this is a new experience for me. Before coming here, I didn’t really know what to expect. I don’t remember the first time I heard about ayahuasca, but I know it has been on my radar for at least a few years. For those of you who aren’t exactly sure what it is, here is a brief overview.

Ayahuasca – meaning ‘spirit vine’ in Native South American Quechua languages – is a foul-tasting hallucinogenic brew that has been used for centuries by rain forest shamans as a religious sacrament. The infusion facilitates mystical visions and revelations, and is said to have healing properties.”

Mystical revelations? Healing? Ummm yes, please. So I started to read more about it. If you Google ‘ayahuasca experience’ you will find countless stories from others who have taken this plant medicine and what their experience was like. While their stories were all unique regarding the realizations they had about their lives, they all had similar aspects to them. Throwing up violently for the first hour, followed by a feeling of bliss.

Also having intense visions during their trip while receiving clear messages about their life path. Life changing revelations where you clearly understand your purpose. What you are supposed to do in life. What you could be doing better. That make you realize what is really important. Be more patient with your family. Appreciate your girlfriend more. Follow your dreams in search of a new career. 


While the later sounds soothing for the soul, the former parts of this experience honestly scared the shit out of me. I have taken LSD, MDMA, shrooms in the past but have never really had any intense hallucinations. I also dislike throwing up more than almost anything in the world. Even so much that I almost didn’t come on this retreat. I certainly do not want to throw up ‘violently’ for an hour even if it is followed by a feeling of intense love.

Because of the getting sick part, I initially decided it wasn’t for me. I have been there after a night of drinking. Laying in bed when your head starts spinning. All of the sudden getting incredibly hot. Breathing deeply in and out of your mouth, trying to talk yourself into not purging. That feeling of nausea is not one I want to willingly put myself through. 

But then one day after booking my trip to Ecuador, I said to myself, “Fuck it.” I am all about putting myself through new experiences. Especially ones that scare me. If others can handle it, so can I. So after spending quite some time researching places to do it, I finally decided on one. I signed up and paid my deposit before I could talk myself out of it.


Feather Crown Ayahuasca retreat center

When picking a place there were a few major things on my mind. I didn’t want to have a touristy experience, I wanted something as authentic as possible. With a shaman. In the middle of the jungle. If I was going to get sick, I at least wanted to be throwing up out of control while surrounded by beautiful nature.

I also wanted to make sure the place I went had a good reputation. There are stories of shamans taking advantage of women under the influence. Stories of people getting hurt because they weren’t properly supervised. For that reason, it was important for me to find a place whose main motivation was helping people. Not making money. And the size of the group was important to me. If something went wrong, I wanted to make sure someone noticed right away.

This is how I found Feather Crown


Fast forward a few months later. It is the night before my retreat and I am sitting in bed reading a few last stories. I read one about a guy who took too much. He is laying there and all of the sudden has the feeling like, “Get me the fuck out of here.” He gets up and runs out of the temple and through the jungle by himself. Freaking out about feeling like he is stuck in a concentration camp. He finally comes back to the camp, rips off all of his clothes and jumps in the shower. After the staff talking him down, he finally returns to the group.

Okay, I am scared. I don’t want to freak out and end up getting eaten by an anaconda or something. I also search for “ayahuasca deaths” and see that there have been a few. But the more I read, I realize this was not from the ayahuasca itself but from lack of care during the experience. People mixing other substances or freaking out and hurting another participant. 

I also start to wonder what kind of realizations I will have. Will I wake up to realize I have been sabotaging all of my relationships? What will Mother Ayahuasca tell me about my life? I am happy but I do want answers. What is next for me? Will I ever meet someone I want to be in a relationship with? Where should I live when I am done traveling? What should I do to make money? These are most of the unanswered questions I have going through my head at this point in my life.


This is Don Carlos, the incredibly sweet shaman who led our ayahuasca experience.

I get to the retreat. The one I signed up for consists of two consecutive nights taking ayahuasca. The first night has come and I am extremely nervous. I really do not feel like throwing up for the next hour. But my name is called. I walk up to the shaman and down about 3/4 of a shot glass of ayahuasca. No turning back now. I return to my mattress on the floor and sit there in the dark and just wait. Wait for the feeling of sickness to overcome my body so that I can throw up for the next hour and get to the good part.

But it never happens. Well believe me, I do get sick. But not like they said I would in the stories I read. I was told it would come right away so I was sitting there waiting for it. Expecting it. And therefore, sort of resisting it instead of just letting it happen. I did end up getting sick, a lot. And often. But it didn’t happen in the first hour at all. Instead, I got sick near the end of my trip. I think I was holding back, actively trying to relax and not get sick. It was all I could think about for that first hour.

As I was laying there, I was also actively waiting for revelations to come to me. For the ayahuasca to speak to me and show me the answers I needed. But they never came. I did see, hear, and feel many things (the ayahuasca was definitely working) but it wasn’t how others described it to be.

I woke up the next morning feeling slightly disappointed. I certainly tripped but why didn’t I have any clear answers? How come everyone else I read about did and I didn’t? I also didn’t get as sick as I had anticipated.

I walked around all day feeling like there were still bad feelings stuck inside of me. Not just the disappointment, but also a feeling of anxiety. Last night was rough, I had no realizations, and I have to do it again tonight. Ugh, not looking forward to it. Why put myself through the physical discomfort if there isn’t a tradeoff to receive clear insight?


A bottle of ayahuasca with other supplies used during the ceremony.

Before my second trip, I thought a lot about it and I really believe my expectations had kept me from just riding the wave and having my own experience. So I set an intention to just go with the flow and see what happens. To let the ayahuasca give me whatever it is I needed, without judgement.

And she sure did. I won’t go into what I experienced, but I will say that I didn’t have many thoughts that night at all. Only visions and feelings. No answers. But maybe I didn’t need them. Maybe I already knew the answers all along and the ayahuasca was just there to remove all of the internal obstacles I had blocking me from seeing them. Because deep down, don’t we all actually kind of know what is best for us?

A good friend once told me, “If you are asking the question, you already know the answer.” This is advice that I have always kept close to my heart. I believe this is absolutely true. While you may not know right away, you can discover the answer by removing the fear, the self doubt, the self sabotaging protective tendencies. Until you are back at the root. Your instinct. Our bodies and minds are constantly working to protect us. But I believe our souls always know the way.


I woke up this morning after my second ayahuasca trip and immediately smiled. I felt wonderful. Like I had let go of so many things I had been holding on to that may have been keeping me from embracing my path.

Sitting here thinking about it, I realize that even though my experience was nothing like any of those I had read about, it was exactly what I needed. It was a two night process of letting go of my demons. Clearing away the negative energy. Healing and falling in love with myself all over again. It made me face everything blocking me from what I already knew. The truth. It took me two days to let go. But I finally was able to. And it feels so great.


Looking back, if I could change one thing, it would be to not hold on so much to the stories of others. Instead, I would just sit back and believe that I would receive exactly what I needed. And I think this is good advice to follow for life in general. Comparing yourself to others always distracts you from your own journey.

When you take medicine, you don’t sit there and actively tell it where to go inside your body. You trust it to know where you are hurting and heal you. It is exactly the same with ayahuasca. After you take it, you just need to trust it and let it work its magic.

If you are planning on experiencing it for yourself, you can listen to the stories of others if you want to, but know that your experience will likely be unlike anything you have heard about. You might be sick the first hour or even the entire time. Or not at all. Although very unlikely. You may not leave with all of the answers you came there in search of or any at all. But you will leave with exactly what you needed. And the more you set your expectations aside the more you will realize and appreciate that you did.

If you are unsure if you should do ayahuasca, I highly recommend waiting until you feel like the time is right. This is a personal experience on your own personal journey. A highly personal one. It is not simply a drug trip.

With that being said, if you do want to know about my personal experience or have any general questions, I would be more than happy to answer them. 


So, was it what I expected? Definitely not at all. Am I glad I did it? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Yes, I am planning on it. Was it easy? God, NO. Was it enjoyable? Not until the end. But it is a process. What would I change or what would I do differently going in? I wouldn’t read any stories about others’ experiences. I would instead turn inward and focus on my own.

I do want to provide info for a great place to do it. If you feel Mother Ayahuasca calling to you. They are gentle and really care about your well being. They are there to give you answers, and assist in the process, but understand this is your journey and let you make your own decisions. After all, isn’t that the whole point of this experience?




Feather Crown Ayahuasca Ceremony Retreat

Santa Clara, Ecuador (outside of Tena)


Feather Crown offers 5 day, 8 day, and 12 day retreats starting around $500. Lodging, meals, plant baths, jungle walks, ayahuasca ceremonies, and a visit to a local village are included in the price.

Getting There: Quito is the best city to fly into and you can take a shuttle from there. Once your retreat is booked, they will assist you in providing options to get there.

A Homestay in Lembeni

While in Tanzania, I decide to spend four nights with a family in a local village. I am already in Moshi and walk to the local bus station to catch a bus to Lembeni. The Moshi bus station is insane. Actually insane. There are dozens of men with boxes on their heads, shouting into the windows of the buses. In these boxes are snacks, drinks, cell phone accessories, and more. They are all fighting each other to make a sale to anyone on the bus. I see this and brace myself as I try to push my way through to talk to the bus driver. Umm excuse me, does this bus go to Lembeni? He looks at me with a confused face. Lembeni? Yes, Lembeni. Ummm, yes it does but why do you want to go there? I am staying with a family. He stares at me blankly but says okay and hands me a ticket.

I take a seat on the bus and about 4 hours later, the bus driver looks at me and yells, Lembeni! I make my way to the front of the crowded bus and step off alone. The bus, still full of people, pulls away into the distance. My guide is waiting for me there on the side of the road. He introduces himself and I follow him down the red clay road. The village is small but it is hard to tell how many people actually live here because there is only one road and it curves up ahead behind the houses.

We arrive to a large red gate and enter to meet my hosts, two sisters who live in the house together. I am greeted with a warm “Karibu!” (Which means welcome, and a word I will come to hear often over the next week.) Their house is one story with three bedrooms. Pretty spacious, I even get a bedroom all to myself. I drop off my things and the guide brings in an itinerary with a list of activities that we will be doing over the next few days. Plant trees in a local forest. Visit a Masaai village. Cook with my host family. Eat meals together.

Before my trip, every single person that heard I was coming to Tanzania warned me about the food. They told me. “There are not the most sanitary conditions. You will definitely get sick at some point, it is expected. When I went to Tanzania, I got really sick for a few days.” Even when I went to get my yellow fever shot, the doctor went over all of the other diseases I could get there and advised me to be careful about the food I eat while I am there. It can make me really sick. Well luckily I brought probiotics and anti-diarrhea medicine to pop before every meal. 


I am tired from the long trip and tell my host family that I am going to go to sleep for the night. The next morning, I wake up early and head to the bathroom to take a shower. I see a toilet, but no shower.

I walk in the living room. Good morning! Excuse me, where is the shower? Oh, I will prepare it for you! Would you like cold water or hot water? Wow they are really taking care of me here. Talk about hospitality. Cold water is fine. Whatever is easier. After about three minutes, she returns and leads me to the bathroom. There is one large bucket of water and a small bucket floating on top. Here you go. Okay, perfect. I quickly learn that they have no running water at all in this village. Before meals, we pass around a pitcher filled with water and one person holds the pitcher and pours out water over our hands while we wash them over a bucket.

It is the first time I have stayed somewhere without any running water. Which is actually a great experience. Each time I wash myself from that bucket, I think of the evolution of running water and wonder at what point showering became a luxury instead of a necessity. And how many times I have stood there in the shower at home, letting the hot water massage my back, not even appreciating the entire experience or that I am able to even do that at all. Anyways, more on that another day.


After breakfast, my guide picks me up and we spend the entire day planting trees together. He doesn’t say much, just watches me. In the car he asks, how old are you? I answer, thirty-five. Where is your husband? I tell him that I have been asking myself the same question! I laugh. He does not. Well do you at least have children? No. No, I do not. “Why not?” He asks. Hmmm many reasons. Well why didn’t you have children with any of your previous boyfriends? Oh wow. I guess because it just didn’t feel right. Well why don’t you go out and find someone to have children with? I mean, I am not in a rush to have children. I am fine, thanks.

But who will take care of you when you are old and can no longer take care of yourself? A question I will be asked multiple times every single day I am in Africa. So much that at the end of my trip, I left wondering, who WILL take care of me when I am older?

I respond, I don’t know. He turns to me and places his hand on my arm. Looks me in the eyes and says, what if I told you I will have children with you? Hmm well I would say that is inappropriate because you are married. I don’t know this man and the entire energy in the car has changed. I am alone. In a far away land with no cell service. A little scared of if he will try to take me up on his offer without my consent. I sit tense next to him the rest of the way home. Please just let me get back to the village and out of his car safely.


We pull up and I get out of the car, mumble goodbye, and walk into the house as quickly as possible. Welcome home! How was it? My anxiety still present but I tell them it was fine. She says, let’s go next door and meet the neighbors who are helping to prepare dinner. Okay. We walk through the gate to the house next to us. There is a woman sitting on the ground, husking corn. A pile of cow shit inches from where she is sitting. Two sickly looking cows, the size of dogs, lying on the ground next to her. Flies jumping from the cow shit to the corn and back again.

I start to feel dizzy. Nice to meet you, I say. Then turn to ask my host, “Can we go for a walk?” Sure. We say goodbye and walk around to get some fresh air. My stomach hurts already just thinking about this dinner we are about to eat. No running water. Corn with cow shit all over it. We may even be eating these sick looking cows for dinner. We head back to the house just as her sister is finishing up cooking dinner. We sit down. 

She puts some corn on my plate along with some mystery meat. My plate is completely full. Overflowing. More food than I can possibly eat. And I can usually eat a lot. We sit there and I take a couple bites. I immediately feel sick. Most likely because of my anxiety and also knowing where this food came from. I don’t feel well, can I lay down for a moment? They look at me. You don’t feel well? We will take you to the hospital. No, no. I don’t need to go to the hospital, I just need to lay down. No, no if you can’t even eat, we will take you to the hospital. We will call your guide to come back and get you. No, please don’t.

There is a language barrier. They only speak a few words of English. I try to explain to them I don’t need to go to the hospital. Well, then eat. I don’t know much about African culture but I do know it is rude to not finish your food when eating as a guest in someone’s home. I am not sure what to do because I don’t want to go to the hospital, I don’t think I can eat this food, and I definitely do not want to spend time alone with my guide again.

They continue to sit there and stare at me, pleading that I need to go to the hospital. I try to explain to them that I am just tired but they don’t understand. They end up calling my guide to come back over and get me. He comes over and says he will take me to the hospital. I don’t need to go to the hospital. I am super frustrated at this point and his presence is not helping. I start to break down and cry. I feel overwhelmed. He asks, are you crying because you don’t have a boyfriend? No, I am crying because I can’t eat this food and I just want to lay down.

Eat your food and you will feel better. I can’t. Then you should go to the hospital. I eat a few more spoonfuls of food and tell them I am sorry but I am finished. I head to my room. As I close my eyes, I can’t help but be thankful I only have two more days left here.


The next morning, one of the women comes in and asks how I am doing. I tell her, thank you, I feel better. She comes up to me, looks me in the eyes, and tells me that she just wants me to feel happy. If I don’t want to eat something, that is okay. Just speak up and tell them. She smiles and hugs me. I can’t help but let out a big smile and feel so much better inside. Breakfast is ready, she says.

I walk out of my room and can tell they must have talked about the situation from the night before because they are extra sweet to me. We share breakfast with only a few words but many smiles. They tell me they are going to church and I say I would like to join. It is always interesting to see the traditions of different religions and cultures. It turns out it is a very special day at church. After an hour long ceremony, we parade around the village singing songs, stopping to light candles. It is really amazing to see how much everyone enjoys this. And I love even more how no one looks at me strange for joining them.

After church, we head to a nearby market and I stand there while my host talks and laughs with her friends. I always enjoy seeing how people live. It makes me really think about how this is what their everyday life is like. So different than mine. Yet the feelings are the same.

The rest of the day we spend at their home. People from the village stop by at various times throughout the day and sit down on the couch with us. All talking to each other and just smiling at me. She tells me they heard I was in town and wanted to come and meet me. Such a good feeling and I love seeing how much they welcome everyone who stops by their home, with a loud “Karibu,” offering them drinks and cookies.


The day has come for me to leave and I am genuinely sad. I feel like misunderstandings in the beginning somehow brought us closer. While this homestay was initially hard for me, it was good in that it really brought me out of my comfort zone. Once I became aware of the cultural differences, I was able to embrace them more fully. This is what traveling (and life in general) is all about. You go in thinking one thing and then if you have an open mind, you realize things were completely different than you expected. It is both eye opening and humbling.

Many people in this part of Africa, and in many other cultures as well, do have children so that they have someone to look after them when they are older. When my guide offered, I now honestly believe that he was genuinely trying to help me. I also realized that in a village as small as this, when someone gets sick, it can get pretty bad. My hosts were only trying to help me as well. And I think the warnings about food before the trip had tainted my perspective a bit. Because the food I did eat, was absolutely delicious. And I never actually did get sick while traveling in Tanzania. And as usual, I ate everything.

What I thought was a bad situation was really just love, all around me. I learned a lot about myself during those four days. While we didn’t actually do all that much, I experienced more than I ever imagined that I would. If you ever have the chance to spend time in someone else’s home in a different country, I highly recommend it. I am so thankful that these two women were willing to open up their home and share a part of their lives with me.

I still don’t want any older man that I don’t know, to get me pregnant, but now that I know more about the culture, I can strangely say that I really do appreciate the offer.