My husband traveled to Costa Rica on December 31, 2015. I had, yet again, kicked him out for going on a bender and then throwing a glass at me one night. The following two weeks he stayed at a friend’s house while we discussed whether we could be together. I thought we couldn’t. He wanted to try to work on himself some more. So, he decided Costa Rica was the place to do that.

While he was there, he found a retreat center for Ayahuasca ceremonies and attended one. He Skyped me the next day and he was all but literally glowing. His eyes were bright and clear, his facial muscles were completely relaxed, and he looked genuinely happy and at peace. It was something I could hardly believe.

“You have to come and do this.”

And so, I did. I made arrangements in February to take a week off work. My brother and best friend were to split child care responsibilities. I would fly into San Jose and he would meet me at the airport. Then, we would go to the Ayahuasca retreat for 4 days. On Thursday, we would take a bus to Dominical, where he was living, and attend the Envision Festival until Sunday. Sunday we would bus back to San Jose and he would come back to the States with me to surprise the kids.

For a month before the ceremony, I tried to follow the dieta recommended by the retreat:

  • No fat
  • No sugar
  • No salt
  • No spices
  • No meat, except some fish
  • No alcohol
  • No drugs
  • No sex
  • And for two weeks prior, no antidepressants or MAOI

Cutting out alcohol, drugs, sex, and antidepressants was no problem since I didn’t use those anyway. Fat, sugar, salt, meat, and spices were a challenge. I basically ate salads, fruits, and rice and beans. This is important because of the nature of Ayahuasca. It’s a purgative, not unlike ipecac. It makes most people vomit. The idea behind the dieta is that you are purifying your body before hand so the ayahuasca doesn’t have so much physical purging to do and can tune into your spiritual purge.

I arrived in San Jose on Saturday afternoon. I was carrying so much luggage, including my husband’s military MOLLE pack, which is an extremely oversized backpack. I also had an army duffle bag and my duffle bag. At Envision, we were going to be camping so he had asked me to bring a lot of our camping gear from the US. I am sure customs loved me that day. Once I got all my stuff checked through I had to go the the currency exchange. I’d brought $2000.00 US to change over. I wasn’t really clear on why we needed that much cash, but that’s what he asked me to bring, so I brought it.

Once through with the exchange, I made my way outside to where taxis were picking people up. There were maybe 100 people hanging out under the awning to stay out of the hot midday sun. A half dozen taxi drivers came up to me and tried to take my bags to their cars. I’d practiced my Spanish, but it felt so clumsy to use I responded in English, “no, thank you, I’m waiting for someone.”

And finally, he showed up. Walking up to me, I noticed he was barefoot, in the middle of the city, no less. Other people noticed, too. His hair had gotten longer than I’d ever seen it, brushing his shoulders, with natural golden highlights from all the time he’d been in the sun. His beard was longer but neatly trimmed and he looked …. great. He looked healthy and whole and happy. I dropped the bags at my feet and he hugged and kissed me hard, neither of us concerned about anyone else in the world at that moment.

There was a car waiting to take us to the retreat in Cartago. The drive was a bit over an hour up into the mountains from San Jose. The thing that stood out to me most were the trees. There were so many trees I had never seen before and couldn’t begin to guess their names. They were covered in orange or pink or red flowers, big fat shiny leaves, or slender leaves like fingers. We drove past a small palm plantation, and through the town of Cartago itself, stopping at the soccer field to switch cars. I ran across the street to a bodega to buy sunglasses, having foolishly left mine in my car, parked now at the Myrtle Beach airport.

The second car and driver were from the retreat, and the car had 4 wheel drive to access the steep mountain road and the crumbing, rocky driveway of the retreat. The air was cooler here in the mountains, but the sun was still brilliantly bright and hot. I could feel my skin prickling from the sun through the car window and turned closer to my husband, who was chatting with the driver. They had met before, on his first trip to the retreat center.

Once we arrived, we were met by the “shaman”, a Quebecois Canadian, named Chuck. Chuck was slim, in that way vegans are slim, but looked strong and sinewy. I always wanted to use that word to describe someone, and it fit him more than anyone I’ve known. His shiny bald head and short goatee sprigged with grey made him seem a bit older than me, but not too much, that I could tell. He had a warm smile and greeted us both with hugs, calling my husband “Mateo”. I laughed and said “Mateo?” And he turned to me and said, “Sure, everyone calls me Mateo here. What do you want to be called? You can be anyone.” “Allison or Allie, I’m happy being either of those.”

The first night, only a few of us had arrived. Everyone else was due to arrive Sunday and Monday would be our first ceremony. Saturday evening, we sat in the open air kitchen, sipping herbal tea and talking. I mostly talked about the kids and my school. I owned a private Montessori school (which is another long story) and was still working in oil and gas, but didn’t mention this. I left it vague and said my primary job was owning the school but I also worked in real estate. The people here were on the extreme end of crunchy, and although seemingly non violent, I have seen some hippies get wound up when you mention pipelines. I didn’t mention them.

Darkness comes early at the equator, which surprised me a bit. I had imagined the days being long and hot but in Costa Rica daylight is generally from 5:30 am to 5:30 pm, every day, year round. In the mountains, and in the cloud forest here we were, it gets cold at night. The temperature dropped just after dark and I realize how ready for sleep I was despite the early hour.

Our room was in the main hacienda. Everything was very simply laid out. The rooms each had a bed, a small side table with lamp, and a chair. Our room had a double bed, with a sky blue and white striped comforter. It wasn’t like a resort or hotel bed, but like a guest bed at your aunt’s house, that has seen better years but it’s better than the floor. I noticed walking down the hall that all the beds had comforters that looked like they had been donated to goodwill and randomly picked. This was not matching with my idea of “retreat center” so far.

When we got in bed, my husband pulled me to him and we kissed and caressed one another. It had been months since we had touched and despite the turmoil we had when he left, my skin still tingled with electrictiy under his touch. He rolled on top of me and started pulling at my clothes, but my head and heart were sending alarm bells ringing. I put my hand on his chest to create some space and said, “I am not having sex with you tonight. We are still supposed to be on the dieta and this is part of it.” He grumbled. “You said to take this seriously so I am.” He got frustrated and rolled away, turning his back to me. Tears prickled in my eyes. Once again, I followed the rules and he got mad at me for it.