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My Ayahuasca Experience

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

My Ayahuasca Experience



What's a stronger word for, "intense"?

Whatever you come up with will probably not even come close to how all-consuming the Ayahuasca experience is. On Monday night as I was on my knees a half an hour after taking the disgusting "medicine", purging my guts out and begging for mercy in my native tongue, I actually thought I was going to die.

But I didn't! On the contrary, I am more alive than I have ever been! This experience is no joke, so be prepared to hear the tale... of my story as an Ayahuasca Ceremony Survivor!



AYAHUASCA - What is it?


It is a powerfully psychedelic South American brew made from DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) containing plants. Some call it a medicinal tea that helps cure diseases like cancer, or depression, while others see it as more of a way to access to another spiritual dimension. (More detailed information here)

This brew is (or should be) consumed in the presence of a shaman, due to several rituals that are performed before and after the intake. After having gone through it myself, I don't think anyone should ever take it unsupervised because it won't be safe! You need the shaman (and a staff of assistants and nurses) there to guide you, otherwise your experience might prove to be ineffective or even dangerous.


MY AYAHUASCA RETREAT


I signed up for a 3 Day/2 Night Aya retreat at a company called, Etnikas. (Read about how I ended up learning about Ayahuasca, and WHY I decided to do it here.) They were recommended by a friend, and they have raving reviews on Trip Advisor. Their retreat house is situated in a remote place about 45 minutes away from Cusco where I was staying because of a day trip I planned to Machu Picchu. It worked out pretty well, scheduling the retreat first, then booking Machu a couple days after.

A day before the retreat, all the participants were asked to report to the Etnikas office for a volcanic-water-cleanse. We were instructed to fast and not have any breakfast that morning for the cleanse to be - eh - smoother. So basically, we all had to down a few liters of effervescent volcano water, and wait for our bowels to move... And we had to keep drinking till our poop was clear! There had to be nothing left!

I gotta say, it was really a great way to bond with the other participants... running into each other on the way to the bathrooms, asking each other if our poops were clear... We were set to be friends for life!

DAY 1 

We all reported back to the Etnikas office the next morning, and we were asked to fast for the entire day. They brought us to their retreat house in Motnaña Alegre, and after a few awkward introductions to the staff and the shamans, we began our ceremonies.

They explained how things were going to work, what the schedule was going to be for the next 3 days, and gave us a tour of the place. It was beautiful... definitely conducive.


View from my meditation spot
Then they did this ritual... I think it was meant to invoke "Pachamama" or Mother Ayahuasca... They had a bunch of materials laid out, like feathers, stones, totems, all of which had a symbolic meaning. One is meant for protection, one for health, one for love, etc... The shaman blessed all of it, wrapped it in a black piece of paper - which was meant to trap all the negative energy, then blessed all of us one by one.







After that, they dismissed us, asking us to use the time to meditate and think about what we wanted to get out of Ayahuasca.

Now at this point, my head was already sort of throbbing from a migraine that sprouted from altitude sickness. I hadn't acclimatized to Cusco's altitude yet, and I wasn't doing very well. I wasn't allowed to take any meds because it would interfere with the effects of Ayahuasca, so all I could do was drink or chew coca leaves... And it wasn't working.

FIRST DRINK 

After what felt like an eternity of waiting, we were all finally ready to do the Ayahuasca ceremony at 8pm. The staff laid out 10 sleeping bags (one for each of us) with a corresponding bucket right next to it in a room that fit all of us snugly. We were asked to bring our own bottles of water, and 2 rolls of toilet paper.



Photo from Makeithappen.co.uk
We took our places in a room, slipping comfortably into the sleeping bags, sitting up. There were about 3 or 4 assistants (including a nurse) that were present, along with the shaman and - I think his wife. The ceremony started with a prayer to Pachamama, asking her to bless this ritual, proceeded by the shaman blessing all of us with tobacco (he blew it in our faces and bodies).

The staff knew about my headache so the shaman skipped my tobacco blessing - which I appreciated. Otherwise I would have used the bucket next to me prematurely.

And then the drink.

God... how do I describe the drink? It's a mix of three things... Ayahuasca, water, and something else that I can't remember. The liquid is brown with little bits and pieces of floating bark... and it is, without a doubt, the nastiest thing I've ever tasted in my life. For realz. It's gross.


Photo from Etnikas.com

We were all given a full cup each, and we had to down the entire thing... as in chug it! Uuullkkk! Thinking about it now makes me gag.
After drinking, they turned the lights out and we all waited in silence... waiting for the medicine to take effect. How do you know it's taking effect? Ha. That's the worst part.


PURGING


You purge. You purge like you've never purged before. You purge like you're vomiting your soul out. You throw up, and you feel like you just want to die for it it to end. It's awful. Really, completely, horrible. Even the sound that comes out of you is otherworldly. Purging in that room sounded like there was an exorcism happening.

About a half an hour after the drink, one by one we started reaching for our buckets and we puked. We were instructed to get down on all fours for us to purge easier. And once we started going, an assistant or a nurse rushed to aid to hold our hair back, stroke our back, stroke our stomach, give us our toilet paper, and give us water afterwards. I gotta say, they were an integral part of the process. It's like you *need* their assistance, love, and support to be able to get through it. And they give it to you completely. I wouldn't have survived without them.

After we were done, the assistants asked us to lie down and wait. Usually the hallucinations start happening after the purge, and this is when the shaman starts chanting as well.

I waited.

Nothing.

One of the assistants came to me and asked - "Do you have any visions?" and I said no. He asked if I still had a headache, and I said yes. He thought for a second, and finally said - "I think you should take another drink."

"Noooooooo!!" I begged... Not another one of that nasty concoction! "Just half a cup", he offered.
I really had no choice. If it was necessary, then so be it. A few minutes later he came back with another cup half full, and I downed it without breathing or blinking. The sooner I got it over with, the better. I crawled back into my sleeping bag and waited for the purge to come.

It came, I puked my guts out, and laid back down.

Again... Nothing.

"Do you have any visions?" He asked me again.

"No," I sighed.

A few minutes later, the shaman himself came to sit beside me to perform some ritual. He was chanting a few things, blessing me with this nice smelly oil that had 32 different types of plants, and blowing tobacco over my head. I think he was trying to cure my headache... which I have to admit, sort of helped.

But alas, no visions came to me that night. And so I retired to my bed and slept.


This is sort of what it looked like when the Shaman was blowing smoke on my head.
Photo from ayahuascashamanism.wordpress.com


DAY 2

I was feeling a little left out when the group started talking about their "beautiful" and "intense" experiences. They all spoke of symbolic visions, colors, patterns, animals, love, etc... and the shaman was interpreting it all for them.
The shaman said that my headache really got in the way of the medicine working properly on me - and I get it. I was in too much pain to be in a psychedelic state probably. He did assure me that "tonight is your night" though, so I wasn't worried at all. 

After getting our blood pressures checked by the nurse, we spent the entire day in "Noble Silence", keeping to ourselves most of the time, finding a spot in the retreat house to meditate... 

At 8pm, we all assembled into our little sleeping bags once again with our trusty buckets and water and toilet paper in tow. I was asked to stay right next to the shaman this time - I suppose so they could make sure I had instant access to him if the drink didn't work.


SPIKING MY DRINK

Now, because I was right next to the shaman, I could see everything they were doing. And while they were preparing the drinks for us, I saw the shaman squirt some black liquid into one of the cups. Best way I could describe this black liquid is that it looked like black, thick paint. The assistant then used a tiny tong to mix it... and she was mixing it vigorously.
Just as I had suspected, they handed that cup to me. I was just given an Ayahuasca power boost, spiked with Ayahuasca concentrate! These guys were serious business! I gotta hand it to them, making sure I had my visions that night, and doing everything in their power to make it happen!


Photo from taboojive.com

I chugged it down, and it was even NASTIER! It had more bark in it! It felt like I was swallowing pieces of a bloody tree! YUCK! YUCK! GROSS! ULK!

Purging was even worse! It was harder to throw it up because of the little solid pieces... and it was so horrible. Soooo awful... it's the stuff of nightmares! Really!

But soon after I laid back down, I started to feel something really odd. My heart was beating really fast, and the room was spinning.

The assistant came to my side and whispered, "Do you have any visions?"

Finally... I said - "Yes".


PSYCHEDELIC HALLUCINATIONS

The first hour or so was the worst. My heart felt like it was going to beat itself out and explode out of my chest. I could see colors, prisms, shapes, all pulsating to the beat of the shaman's chants (or maybe to the beat of my heart, I can't tell). I could see a very clear image of a bird... At first, I thought it was a peacock. But a few days later, after having seen so many of the Cusco merchandise in the markets, I recognized the bird from my vision --- and it was actually a condor. The Andean/Incan symbol for the upper world in the sky.


This is an image I found online that BEST resembles what I saw while hallucinating. Almost
Exactly what I was seeing. Imagine that, but moving and pulsating. Now do you get why I thought
the bird was a peacock?
This is Ayahuasca Visions by Skyer on Deviantart.com

I can't explain how I felt properly through words, but I'll try...  

It's like the drink wants you to let yourself go and surrender to the power of Ayahuasca, but instinct tells you to fight it... So I fought as hell to keep my sanity for as long as I could... I kept pulling myself back to reality. I was making weird noises so I could feel my throat vibrate... I was touching my face to make sure it was still there... But the drink was so strong... Maybe too strong... and I was freaking scared. The most frightened I've ever felt in my life... I FEARED for my life. I thought I was going to die...This is what I mean by needing a stronger word for "intense". Everything was pulsating. The condor was showing me things... things that were both beautiful and overwhelming at the same time. It wanted me to let go so it could show me more... I wouldn't. I kept holding on... I held on until I couldn't anymore... Then finally, I purged again. Much worse than the first time.

I was convulsing a little bit, after it was over. I couldn't stop shaking.  I remember being on my knees, saying, "Tama na... Please, ayoko na... Ayoko na..." which is me, begging Pachamama to stop, in Tagalog. The assistant asked me to lay down... she tucked me in... and I remember holding on to her hand as long as I could...
Until finally, I let go. I let go of her hand, of my resistance... I let go of everything. I surrendered.

Then that's when the real visions started.


PACHAMAMA AND I

I don't want to go into full detail about what I saw - because some of it is extremely personal... But let's just say that I was shown a possibility of an interesting and different future, if I let go of certain fears I have (or had).
Most of what the other participants saw were very symbolic. Some saw themselves pregnant and giving birth to themselves... Some saw wolves... Some saw themselves melting into the ground and being reborn... Two people had visions of making love to Pachamama herself (one of which was in the form of a snake... but let's not get into that)

My visions weren't symbolic at all! Mine were VERY literal. Clear. Like I was seeing a movie of myself being shown to me through a projector. I had asked for a little clarity and guidance... And she showed me what life could be like if I took another leap of faith and acted on courage.


I remember resisting. I asked her to show me different scenarios... What if I didn't want to do it? What if I was too scared? She obliged... and showed me what I had expected... That things weren't ever going to change, and will remain exactly the same. Then she showed me the first movie again... kept playing it over and over until I couldn't watch it anymore.

I remember telling her I was tired... and that I missed my mother. After that, I got overwhelmed with an intense feeling of love... I felt a motherly presence wrap her arms around me, cradling me like a baby... This motherly feeling was something that most of the other participants experienced as well... Love. Just pure love... and it felt really good. She showed me that love was all around me... and reminded me that everything that happens in my life are dependent on the choices that I make. She said all I had to do was choose love over fear, and everything will fall into place. She showed me through images, and I understood.

I felt the medicine start waning off... I was slowly becoming more and more lucid... And I said to her, "Please... don't go... Don't leave me yet..." And then I saw - what was probably the only symbolic thing in my visions - a bright stone in my hands... Like a big shining egg... Glowing... And I held it close, until it went into my body. Before it engulfed me with light, she said, "I'm with you. I'm a part of you. I'm always here."

And that was it.


DAY 3


I couldn't sleep. I woke up still feeling a little trippy. Still a little dazed, but definitely lucid. We all gathered once again to talk about the visions so the shaman could translate the stuff we couldn't understand. Like I said, mine hardly needed any translating because it was crystal clear. I did share that I got what I needed from it, but that I was a little scared to do what Pachamama asked me to do. The shaman just said that I was strong... And that the visions I saw were coming from me... from my soul... He said whatever it is that she wants me to do, he urges me to follow it.




We did another ritual similar to the one we did on the first day. This time, we focused more on gratitude. We thanked Pachamama for the visions, and for the journey we went through with her... We were blessed by the shamans, and we burned all the materials used for the ritual - offering them all up to Pachamama.
Then - we group hugged. :)






AFTERMATH

We were asked to keep the diet for 7 more days after the retreat... no meat, no alcohol or coffee or chocolate, make love instead of just having sex... (?!?) etc... The group sort of got hit with a little separation anxiety in Cusco after the retreat because we couldn't seem to let each other go just yet. We kept meeting up for lunch and dinner in the days after, just so we could keep talking about what happened. It's almost like we went through a war together, that we needed each other to sort of keep ourselves sane. I guess there's a certain comfort that you get from people whom you know went through the exact same thing you did, and we tried to hold on to that as long as we could. I mean, I know I did.


New friends for life!

In general, I'm glad I did it... BUT I would NOT recommend it. Not to everyone. It's true what they say... That to do Ayahuasca, one has to be ready. Some even say that you don't find Ayahuasca - It finds you... Which is sort of true in my case.

It's definitely not for the faint of heart... And as I've said - the process in which you have to go through to get your big "eureka" moment is HORRIBLE. The end result is positive though, so I don't regret any of it. I think I was guided here, and I *was* ready for it... I'm in a good place in my life right now, and because of Ayahuasca, I think my life might make an interesting turn pretty soon. :)


IF YOU WANT TO DO IT

Just make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. Focus on your intentions - and be absolutely positive they're coming from the right place... Meaning - that you're not just looking to get high from DMT. And please... PLEASE make sure that you do it in a safe and reputable location. Do your research first. Wherever you do it, whether it be in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador or Peru, make sure you don't just find a random shaman on the side of the road, offering the drink for 50 bucks a pop. Someone just died doing that recently - and you don't want this experience to be fatal for you too. Find a good place, check out their reviews online... get recommendations from people. If you have to pay a little more - then so be it. As long as you're safe, that's all that matters.
When you take Ayahuasca... all I can say is, the more you resist to its power, the more painful it will be... So just let go. The sooner you do it, the better it will be. :)

If you guys have any questions about it, or want to share your experience - please shoot me a comment below! I'd love to hear from you.

If you are thinking about doing this -- Best of luck, my friend! May the force of Pachamama be with you!



Thursday, April 17, 2014

Out Of LLI And Onto Ayahuasca


I Hate Goodbye's...

On Tuesday, I wrapped up my month long stint at The Light and Leadership Initiative in Huaycan. I had a really busy last few days of working there because we had a Martial Arts and Ballet Workshop for the children on Saturday and Sunday, and I was asked to take the lead on the Martial Arts training by teaching the kids Boxing and Muay Thai.

It was such a huge success, the kids were *so* into it... It broke my heart when they asked if we could do it every weekend. I wanted to say *YES* and stay there forever... but I couldn't.

 :( It was a great feeling though, knowing they appreciated the workshop, and that they had fun.




On Monday and Tuesday, I taught my classes for the last time... Gave my little kids some galletas and gaseosas as a little farewell present, and they, in turn, gave me the biggest hugs and kisses! I toootally got the better end of the deal. :)




As I said goodbye to my friends when I left, I couldn't help but cry my ugly cry. Karen was a little surprised... she said I've had to say goodbye SO many times on this trip already, I should have been so used to it... And she was right. I SHOULD be used to it, and I SHOULD be a little numb to it by now... But I couldn't help it. Volunteering with The Light and Leadership was the best job I ever had this year... I got to be a teacher again! And I made a difference to kids who needed the gifts I could share! I felt like I rediscovered my old passion for teaching, and realized that it is always something I would and could do, with or without a classroom. And so I cried because I was grateful for everything I experienced... and because I was going to miss them. All of them. :)


On my last night, we had a little pizza party at the rooftop
under the full moon :)

The encounter with Sophie in Greece, the girl who recommended LLI to me wasn't chance or coincidence. I honestly and truthfully believe that it was meant to happen... that it was all part of a bigger plan for me. I don't believe in coincidences anymore... not when things like this keep happening. :)

Speaking of... 

AYAHUASCA

Another BIG thing I'm about to do because of repeated "chance encounters" is the Ayahuasca Retreat.

I mentioned this briefly on my other post about a month ago. Just to give a brief review, here's what I wrote about it:


It's basically a psychedelic brew of the Amazon region, known for its hallucinogenic properties. People go on Ayahuasca Retreats (Shamanism) to drink the brew in the hopes of curing their drug addiction, alcoholism or depression. People like me who do not fall under any of those categories, go for a more Spiritual purpose. It has been said that when you take the Ayahuasca brew, you undergo some sort of mind-altering/spiritual experience. Some call it "seeing God", some encounter the divinity within themselves, and some say they just see things clearly... like everything just makes sense.




Ever since I got to South America, I kept randomly meeting people who bring it up in conversation. By the third time that it happened, I got *really* curious and did more research about it. I was intrigued, but I honestly didn't even consider doing it. The more people I spoke to however, the more I got convinced that it may be worth a shot since I was going to be in Peru anyway! Ayahuasca is most popular in a place called Iquitos near the Jungle here in Peru. 

CHALLENGES


I had a few concerns about it though. First of all - it's very expensive. There are a LOT of retreat centers and private Shamans that could perform the ritual for you, but I was told to be *very* careful because there have been horror stories about "private" shamans molesting their female clients while they were in the hallucinogenic state. They said the shaman will make all the difference in your experience... Well, I suppose the shaman, AND your attitude will make all the difference. I decided that because of those warnings, I was going to have to choose the location based on safety... and it had to be highly recommended by someone I know. 

It was really all down to the cost. 7 day retreats in Iquitos cost about 1000 USD, and I was already going to spend so much money flying to Iquitos, PLUS flying to Cusco for Machu Picchu too! I honestly didn't know if I was going to be able to afford it.




And then.... ENTER Daniella. An Italian Angel of Ayahuasca. I randomly met this girl at the rooftop of the hostel we were staying at in Lima while Karen and I were celebrating our birthdays. We were just chatting and having a drink, and she mentioned that she had just done the Ayahuasca retreat IN CUSCO a few weeks prior. She said she had such a positive experience, she felt completely safe, everyone was so nice and friendly, and the shaman was amazing... She *highly* recommended it.

Oh. My. God.

I took it as a sign. A 3 day Ayahuasca retreat in CUSCO... which meant I could do both Ayahuasca and Machu Picchu while I was there! Done and Done. 

WHY?


Why am I doing this? I'm not sure. Maybe because I can? Maybe because I feel like I've been guided to do it? Because... why not?
I am at a really good place in my life right now, but nobody's perfect. I could do with a little clarity... a little more courage in certain aspects of my life. As I am ending this year of travel, maybe this will help me figure out my next move... Maybe provide some inspiration? Or a different perspective on things?

I don't really know what to expect from all this. The people I've spoken to, said that they felt pure love.. they felt connected to their god... some said they felt the energy and love of their departed loved ones, some "saw" things in their life that they needed to fix...

It all sounds like such a positive experience to me... and if I go into it with an open mind and an open heart, I'm sure I will have a similar experience too. (I hope) The way I see it, I have nothing to lose. I mean who wouldn't want to feel and experience "pure love"? To feel connected to the divine... to Mother Earth?
Worst case scenario, I come out of it exactly the same - and that ain't bad! 
To me, it seems like a perfect way to close out my year... to prepare me for the next adventure. 



So wish me luck, friends! The retreat is on Sunday for 3 days 2 nights at this place called ETNIKAS. I won't be bringing my laptop with me, so my next post - which will be all about the experience, will be on Sunday instead of the usual Thursdays. Send me a good thought when you get the chance, and I'll talk to you guys soon --- Hopefully with a new and improved zest and outlook on life!

Hasta luego!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Life As A Volunteer In Peru


I've been working as a teacher here in Huaycan, Peru, for the organization, Light and Leadership Initiative, for almost a month now. For those of you who are curious, this post will be a sneak peek into the life of a volunteer.

HOW IT WORKS

LLI is a non profit organization situated in Huaycan, Peru, that focuses on improving the availability and quality of education of the women and children in that area. They hire interns and volunteers all year round to help with their projects for the community -- mostly education related, and volunteers are usually hired as teachers for their English, Art, Chess and PE classes.



As volunteers, we were required to pay a very minimal amount to cover food and lodging. We all basically stay in one house, dormitory style, with a cook that prepares amazing Peruvian food for lunch and dinner. Currently, there are 11 of us who live together.

MY SCHEDULE


I teach English to kids who are anywhere from 6 to 13 years old, and adults who are in their 20's. We work from Friday to Tuesday, with Wednesdays and Thursdays off. Our classrooms are located in different "Zones" in the Ate-Vitarte District of Lima. For most of them, you have to take a 20 to 25 minute combi (what they call a very overcrowded van) ride to get to. These areas are quite undeveloped and poor that they remind me of the Favelas in Brazil, or the squatters areas in Manila.

Click the photo for a larger image. Those colorful houses in the mountains? That's where a few
of them live

On some days, I have English classes in an area called, Zone Z, a place about 25 minutes away by combi. I start my commute at around 2:20 to get there by 3, and I teach 3 back to back classes with another volunteer. Our day ends at 6pm.
On busier days, I start at 10 am for PE, then 11am for English, 2pm for Art, 3:30pm for Art, and 6pm for Adult English.
Some days, I have to hike up a mini-mountain and ascend stairs with about a million steps at 9:30 am to tutor a 10 year old boy. (He is my favorite student though, so the pain is worth it. )
Basically, everyday is different. I like the diversity. :)

The combi ride usually sucks the life out of you, so it's not my favorite part of heading up to Zone Z... but what makes it *so* worth it are the sunsets that greet me on my way back. Look at this... I literally see this every single time I go home from Zone Z. Not bad... not bad at all :)

The beautiful sunsets I see as I go home...

MY STUDENTS


... are the cutest. I am particularly fond of my youngest kids in Zone Z. These little chipmunks are in some of the poorest areas in Huaycan (and Huaycan is already pretty poor to begin with), and they come to my English class with so much enthusiasm twice a week after school. Yes, most of the time they are a pain in the butt because they are so naughty, they never sit still, they're always twittering up a storm in Spanish, and it's so difficult to get them all in order. But once I do get the ball rolling, they're so much fun to teach. They're so eager and so excited to learn... They LOVE singing along to my ukulele, and at the end of class, they give me a kiss before they leave. <3




I also really like teaching my adult class, because they *do* speak English. I feel like I can actually talk and get some sense into them... and that what I teach is being absorbed 100%. They mostly need help with grammar and vocabulary and they take everything in like a sponge. These guys go to class every week because they truly want to improve their English to go far in life. I'm more used to teaching adults because of my training background, so being in class with the 20 year old's feel more natural to me.

THE LANGUAGE BARRIER

... can be a little challenging, I have to be honest. They have an English Only Policy in class to get all the students used to hearing the language... but most of these kids don't even know basic English! Zero! So getting them to follow instructions could sometimes feel like pulling teeth... Especially with the younger ones.
My Spanish, however, has greatly improved since I got here. I *can* tell them to sit down, be quiet, listen, look at me, etc... And I can understand more than I can speak, so when they tell me something, I usually understand about 80% of what they say.
All in all though since what we teach is very basic, the classes go on pretty smoothly.


LIVING IN HUAYCAN

... can take a little getting used to. Huaycan is not the safest of all areas, especially for foreigners. It's a little easier for me to blend in because like I said before, I sort of look Peruvian. But for my fellow volunteers, well... that's another story all together. They stick out like a sore thumb! 3- 4 of the girls are around 6 feet tall, a couple are blonde, one's a red head, and quite a few of them have bright blue eyes... All of these traits aren't exactly what you can call "subtle" in Huaycan. They are pretty much like celebrities over here, so it's hard to go unnoticed when we go out as a pack. We avoid certain alleys after dark, and a few of us walk with pepper sprays.



After work, if we'd like to unwind, we either walk down Ave 15 de Mayo to grab a beer at the local "Juice Place", or take a 15 minute combi ride to a nearby town to eat at a proper restaurant, or hang at a karaoke joint. Life is really simple over here, that I wear flip flops wherever we go and people couldn't care less. (I love it!)


The locals (when you don't have to dodge them) are all really kind. The parents of the kids especially are really sweet... You can see that they really appreciate what the organization does for them and for their kids, and it feels good to know you're a part of a group that makes a difference in their lives.

Living at the volunteer house is great! Honestly, I have never encountered a group of people who are as fierce and as kind as the people in this house. These guys are so smart, so accomplished, and all super capable of ruling the world... and yet they are here, working their asses off for free, to help a small community in Peru live a better life. Everyday I am in awe of them... and everyday I am grateful to have met them. :)


LIGHT AND LEADERSHIP


I'm at the tail end of my trip, and I'm so happy I ended my first year of travel with a bang. A few months ago, while volunteering/working at a hostel in Greece, I met a guest, Sophie, who has traveled through South America, and volunteered with LLI. If I hadn't met her, I never would have found out about this place... Being here feels so right... like I was always meant to come here, meet these people, and help out... Almost like I was guided here by the Universe. I will forever be grateful for having experienced everything in this organization and the people involved in it. If you are ever on the look-out for a great and rewarding volunteer opportunity, do yourself a favor and fly your sweet butt to Peru. The Light and Leadership Initiative and the wonderful people of Huaycan will be waiting for you with open arms :)



** There are many ways to help the organization out! Please check out their website here to find out more, and you can take a look at their Amazon Wish List to see what you can purchase to make the kids happy! :)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

One Year After Eye Surgery




Today is the first year anniversary of me getting a new pair of eyes!!!

Well… Sort of!!!


A year ago, apart from quitting my job to travel, I made one of the best decisions of my life – getting my eyesight fixed via Laser Surgery at the AsianEye Institute!

 Read about my experience here.

RECAP


I wasn’t a candidate for a Lasik surgery because of a few preexisting conditions I had on my eyes… And so Dr. Ang, my Eye Doctor at Asian Eye recommended that I do the Photorefractive Keratectomy (PRK) surgery instead. PRK just takes longer to heal, but will be better for me in the long run.

I did the surgery, I was in and out in under 7 minutes, and everything went off without a hitch. My recovery time was a little difficult… I was basically incapacitated for a week. I was in pain for the first 3 days or so, but nothing too intolerable.

I had several check-ups after the surgery… A day later, a week later, and a month later. Everything was just fine, and I was healing normally. I was a little concerned only because I had to leave for my round the world trip a day after my last appointment, and my vision wasn’t perfect yet. Technically, the full and complete recovery time for PRK patients is 6 months – meaning I won’t achieve my full and most optimal vision till then… But Dr. Ang assured me that I was going to be fine, so long as I followed instructions (i.e. No swimming or extreme sports before I am healed, and keep lubricating my eyes with the drops)

With Dr. Ang - Best Eye Doctor Ever!


6 MONTHS LATER

My eyes were healing so gradually throughout the 6 months that I hardly ever noticed that my eyes have gotten so clear! I remember I was in Wales, about 4 months after the surgery, and I was hanging out with my friends one night out in their back yard. It was a clear night and I looked up to admire the stars… There were so many stars out because there’s hardly any light pollution in the area I was in… And then suddenly it hit me… It was the first time I was seeing the stars clearly with my new eyes! I could see everything… EVERYTHING! I didn’t have any contacts on… And I wasn’t wearing my glasses!

I got VERY emotional all of a sudden… you would think I was seeing this...




Honestly… I saw things differently after that night – literally and figuratively. I started noticing how much brighter and beautiful everything is. It just got better and better after that, and even after the 6 month mark, I felt like my eyes were improving everyday.

A YEAR LATER

I think the best way to describe it is… that I feel like for the past 20 years or so, I’ve been living my life in Standard Definition… and after the surgery, my life is now in HD! And sometimes even 3D! It definitely came in handy when I came across beautiful sights like these on my travels...

Cinque Terre, Italy

Gisborne, New Zealand

Athens, Greece

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

If it weren't for my new eyes, I wouldn't have appreciated beauties like these the same...

One thing I have to say though is that my eyesight is not perfect. I don't think I have "perfect vision," but it's definitely the clearest I've ever had since before I started wearing glasses. My right eye is distinctly blunter than the left. It's considerably weaker... but the doctor said they purposely make one eye more dominant than the other... One of them is meant to be sharper, and in my case it's the left one. There are days though, especially when I’m tired when I’d find myself squinting because my eyes would get dry and blurry… and this usually happens at the end of the day, just before it gets dark. My right eye especially would feel really worn out. I don’t use my eye drops that often anymore, but I use them whenever they feel dry, and I usually feel better afterwards.

Having said that --- I still stand by what I said… that having the surgery was one of the best things I ever did for myself. You just don’t realize how much a hassle it is to wear glasses or contact lenses until you’re free of that burden. It has been a part of my daily routine for so many years, that it feels like a huge burden has been lifted when I didn’t have to carry my glasses, my contact lenses, spare lenses, and contact lens solution anywhere I went… Especially on a big trip like this!

My new eyes are a blessing… Everything is illuminated. Everything is beautiful! I still get a little teary-eyed every time I see a sky full of stars... I have Dr. Ang and Asian Eye Institute to thank for this. They made me feel so safe and comfortable. Their facilities are top notch, and they are all such professionals. I could not have asked for better people to take care of something so precious :)

If you or someone you know are struggling with poor eyesight, I wouldn’t wait to take care of it… because you really don’t know what you’re missing. Being able to see very clearly after more than a decade of being in the dark is almost miraculous to me… and if your eyes are as bad, or worse than mine, then do yourself a favor and give yourself the gift of sight. It will be the best investment you’ll ever make on yourself, I promise. :)