At 6am, running on limited sleep after the first night attempting to sleep in the jungle heat, I found my way to the maloca for our next jungle medicine ceremony. Johnny and his helpers were running this ceremony as well. Kambo is frog venom extracted from the Giant Monkey Frog native to the Amazon jungle. During the daytime, this frog lives high in the trees. Johnny will traverse the jungle, listening for the distinct call of the frog. Once he hears it and keys its position to a specific tree, he will sit and wait for it until about 2-3am when it comes down the tree to where he can catch it. He must be careful handling it because its back secretes a thick, waxy poison—an adaptation to ward off all predators. Back at his village he will gently tie the frog’s arms and legs to stakes and then poke it with a stick to annoy it, inducing it to secrete it’s venom so that he may scrape the poison from its back. After a few hours of collecting the poison, the Kambo is left to dry on a flat piece of hardwood, he releases the frog back to the jungle.
After fasting for some 10-12 hours, Kambo is applied to a person’s skin after small burns are made with the tip of a glowing stick. After it is administered, Kambo triggers a strong physical purge where toxins are eliminated from deep in the internal organs of the body. A warm, flush feeling sweeps through the body, the heart beats fast, the throat and lymph nodes swell, and one generally feels nauseous and may vomit (mostly bile from the liver). Your face, particularly the eyebrows and lips, may swell, ‘taking on the features of the frog’ as the tribal people might say. This last for about 10 minutes, all the while being attended to by the shaman’s helpers who make sure you are doing ok. Then cold water is poured over your head and upper body to end the purgative effect and bring you back to normal.
Kambo produces a strong hormetic effect in the human body. In addition to its cleansing properties, it strengthens the immune system, stimulates the endocrine system, reduces inflammation, reduces pain, energizes the body, heightens senses, and produces an amazing feeling of clarity. It is often used by tribal people before hunting parties to increase strength, improve vision, and gives hunters a sixth-sense or a ‘magical’ ability to locate animals. We are using it for all these effects, as well as a preliminary purge to hopefully make the impending ayahuasca ceremonies easier.
Prior to receiving Kambo, you drink about a liter or so of a brew of fermented plantain. This is supposed to help with the fire, and flushing properties, of the Kambo. Drinking it was not the most pleasant thing in the world, but years of boozing had prepared me to chug just about anything with gusto. Strangely, it tasted like ham.
After being called up, Johnny asked me how much I would like to do. You can do one or two ‘points’ (or more if you are super experienced with the medicine), which are the burns to the skin, meaning you will have either one or two points of entry for the frog venom into the body. Then you can apply either a little or a lot of venom to each point. Having done Kambo before and knowing my system could tolerate the medicine (plus just being a general badass, of course), I asked for two points, ‘fuerte’.
The lymph nodes in my throat swelled up and felt lemon-sized. A strong warmth engulfed my body, while my nervous system kicked into high gear and I almost felt like I had the chills. My heart was thumping extremely hard, I could feel it pulsating in my head. I felt nauseous, and like vomit was about to come out at any moment. My eyes were swelling and felt watery. I closed my eyes and centered myself. I breathed in and out deeply, focusing my entire body on the breath. The helpers monitored and examined me, and asked if I was ok. ‘Estoy bien’ I replied several times. I kept focusing on my breath and the worst of it subsided. About ten minutes passed and the helpers asked if I was ready to come out of it. I nodded and they poured water on me. The cool of the river water washed over me and felt amazing. I was glad to be through the purgative effects and back to normal, although my face was still a bit frog-like (my lips in particular).
Afterwards, I felt great—energetic with a clear and focused mind. I felt a buzzing sensation throughout my body, particularly in my head, where I felt as though my senses were indeed heightened. Afterwards, everyone was famished and we happily made our way to mess hall for breakfast. Our first ayahuasca ceremony would be at 7:30pm later that night.