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I took my time getting up and getting out of the house. I was in no hurry anyway, nowhere to be, nowhere really to go; I decided to just be present for the day. I exited the house and slowly closed the door behind me. When I turned down the path away from the house, German, the man behind some of my favorite ceremonies down here, was coming the opposite way.

In his eloquent yet fragmented English he asked me if I would be joining his upcoming outdoor ceremony. To which I replied, “Hellll yeah!” (May or may not have been the exact words) I had missed the previous outdoor venture with the group, and the thought of drinking ayahuasca outside, under the stars, wasn’t something I was not about to let slip by, especially since my time in Peru was steadily trickling away.

With a wide smile he asked me how I would feel about not only participating, but also sitting in, as a support role. He asked me if I would be interested in maintaining one of the five fires that were going to be playing a part in the ceremony.

I was a little taken back, I mean, maybe it’s not a big deal to anyone else, but I was honored that he would even ask me. Of course I agreed with an excited “yes”!

“Excellent” he said before taking a step backward to play the air guitar to a Lenny Kravitz song he was playfully singing in my direction (since he too, thinks I look like the man). He concluded with “Fire keeper!” and we had a laugh before continuing on.

When the day arrived, I stood ready, even if I was extremely tired from an inability to sleep the night before. The group slowly convened and laid our bags out in the grass until we got the signal that our transportation had arrived.

Three taxis awaited us as we headed toward the street. I loaded my things and jumped inside the only taxi that wasn’t filled to the brim. The leading taxi was signaling to go, it seemed like it was just the gypsy companion and I.

As excited as I was to be going I was really rather tired. And so was she. Due to that fact, most of our attention was focused on gazing at the landscape rather than conversing between ourselves; we shared a comfortable silence. Which in itself was a small victory when I think about it, considering about 2 ½ months ago when we found ourselves up on the mountain, seated at the top of the world, I wanted nothing more than to share such a thing with her, rather than being racked with a terrible feeling of uneasiness. Funny how quickly things change?

An hour later, and after picking up my favorite Frenchman along the way, we had arrived at our destination.

The location was absolutely stunning. We were to be seated on a vast terrace, at the base of one of the many hulking mountains out here.

It seemed the rest of the group knew what they were doing already, since they were busy dropping their things and dispersing around the landscape, gathering wood and coming back with huge stones (for leaning on, but I didn’t quite grasp the boulder carrying at first) Having never been here before, I took my time and surveyed the area. One large fire pit was the centerpiece for the circle of people that was steadily taking shape. Outside the circle and beyond the traveler’s unpacking, I’d find the smaller pits, one of which I was enlisted to care for throughout the evening, and that is where I took my place.

Settled in, I took to building the framework to house my fire. Logs, tinder, and leaves for fuel; I combed the area searching for it all, until I had a rather substantial looking pyramid waiting to be scorched.

I didn’t want it to burn too fast, but I also didn’t want it to take too long to start up once the sun went down. Would be rather embarrassing if of the five fires, mine was the one that didn’t go up! (But I also had a liter of gasoline on hand, so if a code red DID happen, that fire was going up whether it liked it or not!)The circle was complete, and the sun steadily disappeared behind the mountain before too long.

In the darkness we sat, until the ceremony started with a shower of embers from the large fire in the middle.

“You can light your fire now” whispered a voice from the blackness behind me before it disappeared to alert the other flame keepers.

Here goes!

I should have bought a lighter; the cool mountain breeze extinguished match after match. “Shi…”. Our host began to speak, as the Frenchman translated for the large portion of the crowd from France, and I continued to try and coax a flame from my seemingly weak matches.

With a strike of four at once, timed as the wind ebbed, I finally got the flames to catch…and catch it did. The eucalyptus leaves ignited with such haste, with such intensity, that the people sitting in front of me turned and shifted their position to avoid the heat that burst forth.

I sat back and looked at my flames, content and smiling wide. From my sitting position, I saw the glow of the other budding fires around the circle, the pillars of embers rising high into the blackness above. Within a few minutes, each of the four outer fires was ablaze and the ceremony had begun.

Our host paced around large fire in the center, speaking to the concentric circle of people about 30 strong.  His voice was lost to the enormity of the area, so I didn’t quite hear him at first, nor did I understand Spanish, but I knew something was up when the people seated in front of me turned their gaze backward at me.

“Stand up” someone whispered. “Oh! Oops” I said with a laugh.

There I stood, and as I did, I saw the other flame keepers getting up as well. Only five people were now standing amongst the large group and each one of us was illuminated by the flames at our sides.

Our host in the center, and behind him, a guru of a man with a head wrap I had met early. To my right, my lovely neighbor, and to my left, the gypsy companion stood stoically over her flame. “These are your Guardians of the Flame,” said the voice from the center of the ring to the crowd.

The shift of eyes from him to the 4 of us was rather apparent. I had to smile, with this task of responsibility, with this moment of service, to hold the space for the others and myself. If I had any lasting doubts, on whether I belonged in this tribe or not, they were, in that moment, burned away.

He clasped his hands and faced each one of us in gratitude before we took our seats and the ceremony was officially opened.

The night progressed in typical ceremony fashion, but being outside added such a new sense of depth that I absolutely loved. The grass, the stars, the mountains, everything played its part in making the night what it was. My exhaustion was quickly replaced with excitement as I watched the night sky, littered with shooting stars.

There was a moment when my fire started to wind down, so I headed out into the dark to find some tinder. I’d find what I needed up a small hill before too long, and made my way back toward my place…but had to pause before I took another step. Below me, burning brightly in the dark, were the five fires with spires of embers reaching to the sky and mixing amongst the stars. Hanging in the frigid air were the sounds of people singing, and the flutter of dark silhouettes dancing in celebration. “What an absolutely picturesque moment…”

(Attempted to get a picture of the five fires, but couldn’t capture the scene. Suppose it’ll have to stay in the brain box)

Toward the end of the ceremony, I found myself vising the other fires, stopping in for hugs and warmth. I would eventually settle in at the center ring, around the large fire, completely infatuated with the scene I was an active participant in.  Surrounded on either side by my new beautiful friends; the Frenchman, German, two lovely sisters, the flame keepers and numerous others. How great it was…

I wanted to light my fans and dance during the ceremony, but unfortunately there was an (understandable) issue with the fumes. Ahh it would have been so great!!

The night would end around 3:00am. I thought for sure we’d be staying the night, but “The taxi’s are here!” was a rather welcome announcement. My fire had coated me in warmth, but away from it, the terrace was freezing. I gathered my things and the group migrated toward the road. I took a quick backward glance at the land behind me before I left. The fires were smoldering now, the coals pulsing as the wind picked up, such a beautiful ceremony. Words do it little justice, but I know I came away from it, yet again, feeling a kaleidoscope of positive, full body, emotions.

I loaded my things into the back, and nodded off in the car with a smile on my face.

 – Play a support role in an ayahuasca ceremony

– Have an outdoor Ayahuasca Ceremony

– Hold space as a Flame Guardian