Since December 2012, I’ve been running transformational tours and retreats in Peru. Here is the story of how all that came to happen.
I could name many things that have had powerful life-changing effects on my life, but if I had to narrow it down to two things that stand out more than anything else, I would have to say that it was my first trip to Peru at the age of 22 in 1998, and then my first ayahuasca retreat 5 years later in 2003. Here is a short story of how those things came to be and how they ultimately led to me creating Peru Odyssey.
My spiritual awakening began at the age of 19. I credit two books to igniting my awakening process which is still ongoing (it never really ends does it?). Those books are Carlos Castaneda’s “The Teachings of Don Juan” and “The Celestine Prophecy” by James Redfield.
Even before I read those books I had always had a fascination with the unknown. As a young kid, I was always enthralled by tales of the supernatural. As a teenager, I became heavily interested in the subject of Aliens, UFO’s and government coverups. Around the age of 18, I read Graham Hancock’s “Fingerprints of the Gods” which essentially rewrote the history of human civilization and presented strong evidence that there was an ancient advanced civilisation that has been wiped from our memory. The origin of the myths of Atlantis perhaps. It seems that we are a species with amnesia. What else have we forgotten?
But it was Casaneda’s books and The Celestine Prophesy that shoved me headfirst down the rabbit hole of spiritual growth and understanding.
Get me to Peru!
It was reading The Celestine Prophecy, a fictional story set in Peru, that first put Peru in my consciousness but I can’t say that it gave me a desire to go there at the time. That happened about 3 years later when I was 22. It was then that I saw my first photograph of Machu Picchu and as soon as I lay eyes on it I was completely awestruck and I felt a deep stirring inside. A forgotten memory of a past life perhaps? I wasn’t sure, but I knew immediately that I had to go there!!
After seeing the Machu Picchu photo, I started researching more about Peru and I found out that Machu Picchu was far from the only ancient sacred site in Peru. Everything I read about Peru made me want to go there even more, and I knew that something was calling me to Peru and I felt an urgency to get there soon as possible.
I had very little travel experience at the time and the thought of travelling there all alone felt too daunting, so I started searching for some kind of organized tour. Back in 1998, the World Wide Web was still relatively new. Google hadn’t even been invented at that point although there were a few search engines such as Yahoo and Alta Vista; however, most companies still didn’t have their own websites yet.
At first, all I could find were tour packages offered by a few adventure tour companies such as GAP Adventures (now called G Adventures). I instinctively knew that this wasn’t what I was searching for and that I needed something of a spiritual nature, but I didn’t even know if there was such thing as a spiritual tour. I almost gave up looking, but then out of nowhere, in the deep depths of some search engine listings I came across a really crappy looking homemade website on a free hosting account (Geocities, I think).
The author of the page was advertising what he called The Power Places of Peru Tour. He described how all the ancient sacred sites in Peru were located at powerful energy centers and that by meditating at these places you could feel the energy for yourself. He was offering a 17-day tour to guide people to what he believed were the most important sacred power places of Peru. As soon as I read it, I knew that this was exactly what I was looking for!
The man called himself Chamba. I think he was around 60 years old and lived somewhere in California. I would later find out that he had been part of the Haight-Ashbury hippie scene in the late sixties and then spent much of his life travelling the world. He had spent several years living in Nepal meditating in Himalayan monasteries. Anyway, as soon as I saw his website I sent him an email asking when his next tour was happening and said that I really wanted to take part. He soon responded and said that he was planning a trip for October the same year and that I was more than welcome to join him – which was music to my ears.
I had to send him an international money order for a couple of thousand dollars (I forget the exact cost) which I knew I had no way of getting back if he turned out to be a con-man, but I trusted my instinct that everything would be fine. Then, after many months of waiting impatiently, I finally boarded my first flight to Peru to meet with Chamba and take part in his Power Places of Peru tour.
Arriving in a Strange Land
I flew to Peru from England via Schipol Airport in Amsterdam with KLM Airlines.
I arrived at Lima airport around 8 o’clock in the evening, but there was one problem. Chamba wasn’t due to arrive there until about 6am the next morning. I had no idea what I was going to for the night. There was no Trip Advisor or Booking.com back then and no way of arranging hotels online. I thought I would probably sleep in a corner of the airport somewhere, but that idea didn’t really appeal to me.
As soon as I exited the baggage hall I was confronted by a chaotic scene of Peruvians all shouting at me and vying for my attention. They seemed to be offering taxis and hotels for the night. One lady got my attention and asked me if I wanted a bed for the night. That appealed to me far more than sleeping on the airport floor so I said sure, having no idea where it would be or what kind of adventure it would take me on.
Next thing I know I’m being bundled into a taxi right outside the airport and off we went. The journey seemed to take forever as the taxi snaked its way through the streets of Lima which was unlike any city I had ever visited at the time. Peru was much more of a 3rd world developing country back then than it is today and the whole city appeared very rundown and poor.
The hotel must have been at least 30 or 40 minutes away from the airport and I started to feel a bit scared because I had no idea where I was going or if I would successfully get back to the airport early the next morning to meet Chamba at 6am. The taxi driver told me he would come back at 5am to pick me up, but I was terrified he would forget or change his plans.
I don’t think I slept a minute that night, due to a combination of jetlag, excitement and fear of not getting back to the aiport to meet Chamba in time because we had an early flight to Cusco to catch. But I was at least grateful for a comfy bed and a private room.
I’m glad to say that the taxi did arrive back at 5am in the morning and I got to the airport where I met Chamba who didn’t run off with my money!
Transformed by Travel
I’m not going to give you the full account of the tour. All I will say here is that the tour was everything I hoped it would be and far more besides. It was my first experience of what I now call transformational travel. Every single day I had amazing new experiences, saw something different, or had new realisations about myself and my place in the world.
That trip changed me in a lot of ways, deeply inspired me, gave me more confidence in myself and I completely fell in love with Peru. I knew without any doubt I would eventually be back to visit these mystical lands.
One of the most important things I learned on that trip was to trust my intuition. My intuition told me to go to Peru and I did. It told me to send several thousands dollars to some weird guy over the internet who could easily have stolen it. But I knew it was the right thing to do. Since that trip I’ve relied heavily on my intuition and so far it’s never let me down.
That trip also taught me the importance of personal freedom. I knew after that trip that I could never work in office for the rest of my life. I had to be free and adventuruous. It was that trip that planted the seed for wanting to become self employed which finally happened about 4 years later.
Finally, although I wouldn’t realise it until many years later, it also planted the seed for wanting to take people on similar life-changing adventures and give people the same kind of transformational experience that I had!
The Medicine Calls
I had my first psychedelic experience with magic mushrooms at the age of 21 long before my trip to Peru. I won’t recount that experience here except to say that it was so incredibly powerful and overwhelming and more than I was ready for at that time that it made me fear psychedelics and I was uncertain I would ever do them again.
However, through my constant reading, I kept coming across references to Ayahuasa and it felt like I was being called by this powerful medicine. Just like I knew I had to go to Peru, I knew that I had to experience Ayahuasca for myself and eventually an opportunity presented itself.
My first experience with Ayahuasca happened in November 2002. It was not in the jungle or in some far off foreign land, but somewhere a little closer to home, in the city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. I was invited by a friend of a friend to participate in a ceremony that he helped to organise. The lady running the ceremony was not a shaman, but she was from Brazil.
That first ceremony was not life-changing. I remember having some interesting visions but it also brought back many of the fears I had from my first mushroom journey, and although it wasn’t a bad or terrifying experience, I have to say that I was really glad when it was all over!
Again, I wasn’t sure if I ever wanted to have any more psychedelic experiences after that, but less than two weeks after I got back home from Amsterdam I received an email that would again change the course of my life. It came from Stuart Wilde, my favourite author and spiritual teacher at that time (it was sent to his mailing list, not just to me). He wrote that his good friend Ralph Miller was about to start organising Ayahuasca retreats in Brazil the following year and that he recommended everyone take part and he linked to Ralph’s website which was called Heart of the Initiate.
I really resonated with everything Ralph said on his website and the location of the retreat looked absolutely stunning. It wasn’t in the Amazon, but on a beachfront eco-resort in the region of Bahia. It looked like a tropical paradise.
5 months later I was flying back to South America but this time to the continent’s largest country, Brazil.
The Retreat of Love
This was my first spiritual retreat of any nature. As soon as I arrived I knew I was meant to be there. There were about 20 guests in total and I was the youngest at 27 years old. Most of the group were also fans of Stuart Wilde and had already spent many years doing self work. Never had I been part of a large group where everyone was on a very similar wavelength and I was loving every minute, but the ayahuasca was making me nervous. I decided that if I didn’t enjoy my experiences in Brazil then this would be the last time I ever used any kind of psychedelic substances.
We had our first Ayahuasca ceremony on the second night of the retreat. It was a very difficult experience and I didn’t enjoy it all, but it was the first time I really felt the medicine was communicating with me. It showed me a lot about myself, and mostly unpleasant stuff. Stuff I had to work on in order to become a better and more loving person.
I almost didn’t take part in the second ceremony. I felt I had a lot to process from the first night and to tell the truth I was pretty scared of getting my ass kicked again. However, one of the facilitators successfully persuaded me and I reluctantly joined the group for round 2! But I’m so glad I did because it was my most important and profound Ayahuasca ceremony to this day.
I remember the first cup didn’t have much effect. Then about an hour after we drank the facilitators asked if anyone wanted a second cup. I thought I’m here now so I might as well, and drank a second cup of the extremely foul tasting brew.
It’s difficult to describe what happened next but I felt like my whole being changed vibration and merged with the God Force. I felt an indescribable amount of love and bliss pour through every molecule of my being. It was almost more bliss than I could handle!
In his book Infinite Self, Stuart Wilde described a similar thing. He wrote:
“When I first saw the celestial light of those worlds, I was overwhelmed. I have never seen so much beauty, so much reconciliation, so much love, all at once. All the inconsistencies of my life were healed in an instant, bathed in the celestial light of God….
…I’ll never forget the day I had my first experience up the other end of the near-death tube, where I actually perceived the God Force. This isn’t thinking about the God Force, or a faint feeling—this is actually seeing it. The enormity of that energy is indescribable. It’s exquisite beyond words. The love and compassion—there is no way to quantify and comprehend that amount of love. But what that experience did for me was to instantly throw out about 75 percent of the stuff that I believed. At the time I had my first experience of the Light, I’d been working on myself for many years, so I had already liberated my psychology and philosophy a tremendous amount. Yet standing in the light of the God Force, I felt embarrassed—a lot of my philosophy was pathetic compared to a view of the real thing.”
For years I’d been reading spiritual books and I felt like I understood a lot, but it was ultimately all intellectual concepts in my mind. That ayahuasca experience made it all real for me. No longer was my spiritual understanding intellectual concepts and ideas, but something I had actually experienced and knew beyond any doubt to be true. That undoubtedly was one of the most important and life changing experiences I’ve ever had.
Needless to say I was now a convert to Ayahuasca . I felt high on life for many months after that retreat, maybe even years. Over the next 5 years I returned to Brazil twice and also took part in several ceremonies in europe.
A Cold Winter in Canada
In October 2008, I decided to move to Nova Scotia, Canada. I was a freelance web designer back then and it was work that I could do from anywhere with an internet connection and I was feeling a strong desire to leave the UK and experience more of the world. I had two good friends in Canada and they invited me to stay with them and my intuition was strongly telling me to do it, so I booked a one way ticket to Halifax, Nova Scotia where I was given an automatic six month visa on arrival.
Despite the fact that I arrived as winter was just about to start, I loved living in Canada. I made many new friends and I was really enjoying my time there, so much in fact that I wanted to spend a lot more time there.
After five months had passed, I knew that if I wanted to stay longer than 6 months I would have to apply to extend my visa. After living through a cold Canadian winter (and Jesus was it cold!!) I really wanted to experience the summer and so staying in Canada was the only thing on my mind at the time. So I sent a visa extension application form to Canadian Immigration
An Expected Call
Then, on Friday 3rd April, 2009, a few days after I had posted my visa application, I went to bed. I know it was a Friday because I remember it was the night before the Halifax farmers market that I went to every Saturday to help my friends with their stall selling homemade raw chocolate products. As I was lying there waiting to fall asleep a voice came into my head and it told me to move to Peru!!
It’s hard to explain what the voice actually was. It wasn’t like it was somebody else’s voice but neither was it the same voice that’s always there in my head running commentary on just about everything!
But whatever it was, it seemed very insistent on telling me I had to move to Peru!
It had been eleven years since my first trip to Peru and although I occasionally dreamt of going back, it was the furthest thing on my mind while in Canada.
The voice didn’t just talk to me that first night. It stayed with me and was pretty incessant. ‘Move to Peru’, ‘Move to Peru’ ‘Move to Peru’ it kept on going for days in a row. After a few days of that I knew that I could not ignore it and that this was something I had to do as crazy as it sounded!
A One-Way Ticket to Peru
A week later, I bought a one-way ticket to fly out of Canada on the 27th April which turned out to be the exact day that my 6-month visa expired (and although I did receive an extension to my Canadian visa, it didn’t arrive until after I had left the country).
I was 22 when I first travelled to Peru and I arrived back there 11 years later when I was 33 years old. All powerful numbers according to numerology and it seems significant somehow.
When I arrived here in 2009, I didn’t know a single person in Peru, and all I knew was that I would start my new adventure in Cusco. I was still a freelance web designer so I knew that as long as I could find a few clients and I had an internet connection then I could always make a living for myself – and I did. But other than that, I had no plan and absolutely no clue what I would do when I arrived here, or even how long I would stay. But winging it has always been my style!
2 Years in the Jungle
After six incredible months of living in Cusco, I had a strong intuition that it was time to visit the jungle. At this point I had experienced ayahuasca many times, but never in the place where it comes from, which is of course the Amazon Rainforest. Iquitos felt like the place I needed to be so in October 2009 I travelled from Cusco to Iquitos via Pucallpa where I caught a river ferry that took 5 days to reach its destination of Iquitos.
I arrived in Iquitos with no plans and very little money, but I soon found nice accommodation that I didn’t have to pay for in exchange for making some websites for the owner.
I had many great adventures in the jungle and before I knew it, I’d been living there for 2 years!!
I could probably write an entire book about all my adventures in Peru over the last 10 years, but for the purpose of this article I just want to relate one more story.
December 21st 2012, and how Peru Odyssey was born
After two years of living in Iquitos I moved to the mountain city of Huaraz at the end of 2011. Here I was heavily involved in an ayahuasca retreat company that I had co-founded with my friends Alex and Zach, both of who I met while living in Iquitos. Alex owned a beautiful lodge called The Way Inn, high in the Andes mountains above the city of Huaraz and it was here that we decided to run our ayahuasca retreats. I was mostly responsible for the web design and marketing but I was also involved in the retreats sometimes.
One day, sometime in April 2012 I was sat alone deep in thought and for some reason I started thinking about the much popularised date of December 21st, 2012 that was fast approaching.
If you were part of the consciousness scene back then you’ll probably remember that virtually everyone was talking about it. It was supposedly the final date of the Mayan Calendar and there were all kinds of theories as to why that date was significant. Some people thought it would be the end of the world. Others were predicting some kind of ascension or worldwide consciousness shift.
I’ve always been a believer in the idea of a consciousness shift happening within humanity, although I didn’t believe it was something that would happen suddenly on a particular date. I honestly didn’t think anything significant would happen on December 21st, 2012; however, I thought it would be cool to travel somewhere significant to honor the date.
The most obvious choice was to travel to one of the Mayan ruins in Mexico, but I didn’t expect I would be able to afford it and I then had the idea that the best place in Peru would be to go to Machu Picchu, so I decided that’s where I would go in 8 months time, possibly with a few friends if anyone was interested.
A few hours after I had those thoughts I took part in an ayahuasca ceremony that was part of a retreat we were running in Huaraz.
During that ceremony something happened that I had never experienced before. Ayahuasca began giving me some clear instructions for something I was supposed to do.
The medicine told me that not only was it the right decision to go to Machu Picchu for December 21st 2012, but that I was to lead a group of people there. It told me I should organise a tour that would visit most of the sacred sites around Cusco and Lake Titicaca, take people into the jungle for some Ayahuasca ceremonies and then we should all finish at Machu Picchu on December 21st 2012.The medicine even planted ideas for what I was supposed to write on the website.
I finished the ceremony feeling incredibly excited. The idea sounded amazing to me and I felt like I couldn’t wait to wake up the next morning and start planning it.
However, the next morning I wasn’t quite so excited. I still loved the idea, but suddenly I was consumed by fear and doubt. I started thinking things like:
“Who the hell am I lead to be leading a spiritual tour? I’m not a guru or teacher, I’m a nobody!”
“I’ve never organised a tour before, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”
“What if it all goes wrong?”
“What if nobody is interested?”
Yadda yadda yadda…
I almost wrote the idea off as pure fantasy and something that was never going to happen.
Yet, something told me I shouldn’t back out of this quite so easily. So I decided to consult the cards.
At the retreat center there was a pack of Doreen Virtue Ascended Masters cards. Every card had a unique word or phrase on the card and I had found the messages quite helpful on a number of occasions.
So, I took the deck, gave the cards a really good shuffle and asked the question “Should I go ahead and organise this tour in December 2012?
I picked three random cards from the deck, and began to turn them over.
The first card simply said “YES”
The second card said “You Can Do It”
I can’t remember what was on the third card, but it didn’t matter. I had gotten the clearest possible message from the cards. “Yes” “You Can Do it”.
Honestly, if those two cards hadn’t come out, I seriously doubt I would be sat here writing the story of Peru Odyssey. I don’t think I would have gone ahead it with it, but with those two cards I knew then that there was no way I could back out, and that I just had to go ahead and do it. Messages from spirit don’t come any clearer than that!
So, I got to work….
Within hours I designed an itinerary that lasted 3 weeks. I decided to call it ”The 2012 Awakening Tour”
Within a month I had everything organised and created a new website to promote the tour. Everything just flowed and seemed easy and my excitement was continually building. Holy shit! I was actually going to do this!
However, a slight problem materialised. September 2012 soon came around, it was about 3 months before the tour was about to start and I had nobody signed up.
I then started to feel a little anxious and disillusioned with the whole thing and it seemed like I would have to call the whole thing off. I needed at least 6 or 7 people on the trip just to breakeven with the expenses and I had absolutely nobody.
I told myself I would give it a couple more weeks and then I would cancel the trip if nobody registered. I felt almost certain I would have to cancel it.
And then just when I’d almost lost hope I had my first registration, and then another, and another and in the space of about 2 months I had around 8 registrations! Now I knew the trip was definitely going ahead, and then a few weeks before the trip started I got a few more. I think I had 11 people in total. What a relief!
The Most Stressful Experience of my Life
I’m glad to say the trip was overall a big success. But if I’m honest, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to. This was my first ever tour but I also brought along a few friends to help me what made the expenses a lot higher. I think I charged $4500 per person which is a lot of money and I knew I would have a lot of angry people if anything went seriously wrong. Having never organised a tour before I had the feeling I was winging it with a lot of people’s money and this caused me a huge amount of stress worrying about things that might go wrong.
The worry was ultimately unfounded and everything did go smoothly as it was planned. We finally arrived at Machu Picchu on the morning of December 21st 2012 and all I could feel was massive relief. My overriding thought was “I’m never going to do that again!”
It took me about a month to get over that tour and fully be able to relax again. But once I had some space and distance from it my thoughts slowly began to change. They went from “I’m never doing that again” to:
“Actually, it was pretty successful”
“Everyone had a really great time”
“I’m so glad I did it”
“I can do that again and next time it won’t be so stressful because I know it will work out”
“I’m definitely going to do it again!”
And I did, and a lot more besides….
In April 2013 I started organising my own ayahuasca retreats at Kapitari which became hugely successful. The retreats were always full.
In November 2013 I organised the first Peru Pilgrimage tour which was a much shorter but also successful 8 day tour that took people from Cusco, to the Sacred Valley and then to Machu Picchu.
In May 2014 I rechristened the 2012 Awakening Tour to Peru Odyssey which is a 3 week spiritual adventure and I’ve run it twice a year since then.
In April 2016, I opened my own Ayahuasca Retreat center called Gaia Tree.
10 Years in Peru!
In April of this year (2019) I celebrated my tenth anniversary in Peru.
My time here has been more amazing than I could ever have imagined and I have endless amounts of gratitude for the experiences I’ve had here! It’s honestly felt like I’ve been living my own version of “The Celestine Prophesy” since the day I arrived! Mind boggling synchronicities never surprise me here, in fact, I’m more surprised if they don’t happen!
Some other highlights include:
– Living in 4 different amazing places which are Cusco, Iquitos, Huaraz and then Urubamba in the Sacred Valley.
– Getting married and soon to be divorced (but still remaining friends).
– Becoming a father to the most incredible little human being you could possibly imagine. I never wanted or planned to have kids and kind of thought they were a nuisance to be honest, but little Jack, now 5 years old has changed my life in ways that I never thought possible.
– The people I’ve met here! I’ve met more amazing and beautiful people here than I can possibly ever remember and I’m grateful for each and every interaction I’ve had. Most of the people I’ve met have been travellers which means that some friendships have lasted only a few days, some a few weeks or months and then there are a few people I’m lucky to count as friends who I’ve known since the first 6 months I arrived here.
It’s been an amazing 10 years. I’ve no idea what the next 10 years will bring or where they will take me but I’ve no doubt I’ll be having many more adventures!
How might Peru Change your life?
My first trip to Peru 21 years ago changed my life completely and it’s the reason I’ve had so many amazing adventures throughout my life and why I ultimately came back to live here.
Since 2014, I’ve taken over 100 people on my Peru Odyssey trip and I’ve had countless people tell me that the trip changed their lives. Peru is a land of magic and mystery that almost always has transformative effects on those who visit.
I haven’t written this story to toot my own horn or make myself seem important. I simply wish to inspire other people to take the plunge and embark on their own amazing life changing adventures. Maybe, it’s not Peru that’s calling you, but India, or Africa or some other incredible location you often dream of visiting. Where ever it is, stop dreaming about it and just go!
I hope you’ve taken some inspiration from my story, and if it’s Peru that’s calling you then consider joining me on one of my next Peru Odyssey adventures.