I was looking through the books in Amazon’s “Top Peru List” and I came across 'Five Weeks in the Amazon' from a professional skateboarder Sean Michael Hayes. Hayes no effort to disguise the fact that he was suicidal when he went to Peru to seek out a Shaman to guide him through a healing Ayahuasca ritual. Large sections of the book read as if they were taken directly from the pages of his journal, which lends a raw truth to the novel. If you’re curious about the Ayahuasca ritual, this is an interesting book…or if you just have sympathy for young people who are going through a tough time.
I enjoyed this book. I spent 10 years living in Lima, Peru and I can attest that this book represents a large part of the true Peru experience. Sean Michael Hayes is very brave in his honesty as he leads you through this story. Much of the book reads as if it were taken directly from his journal while on vacation in Peru, which lends a certain raw truth to the tale. However, using that material also means that the book doesn’t feel as “polished” as some of the other tales out there. Personally I liked the rawness. It reminded me of emails I’ve received from friends when they’re in the midst of some challenging, joyous, terrifying adventure. But it also means that the whole tale isn’t wrapped up neat and tight in a fancy little narrative bow. I think that’s part of why there’s such a diverse reaction to this book here on the Amazon reviews.
As some of the other reviewers said, yes, there is a fair amount of profanity (but not at all excessive I would say) and a fair amount of drug use (not Hunter S. Thompson proportions, but quite a bit). I always find it bizarre how self-righteous individuals will be so intolerant of a person who swears and indulges every now and then. Give me the person who swears, drinks, and smokes every day of the week over the “squeaky clean” one who chastises everyone. When the day comes to open everyone’s closet, the greatest horrors will be found in those of the later.
When I was the editor of LivingInPeru.com, I remember that we’d occasionally run an article on Ayahuasca and we’d instantly be overrun by comments of people claiming how “terrible” it was. The fact of the matter is that Ayahuasca is the traditional medicine of the people indigenous to the Amazon. Have a little respect. Also, I think it’s bizarre how Americans in particular can be completely accepting of people who treat depression by ingesting the toxic pharmaceuticals routinely prescribed in the US (some of which have been known to make people suicidal). The belief that the “bad” things pharmaceutical drugs do to you are “side effects” is one of the greatest cons the general public has ever fallen for. They’re “effects” people, there’s no distinction.
Hayes details a relatively short, but intense period in his life when he lived on a small commune in the outskirts of Iquitos and participated in regular Ayahuasca ceremonies. He’s not shy about mentioning that he was suicidal before the trip, and based on this work, the treatment seems to have helped.
I’ve been to the Amazon, and although I never participated in an Ayahuasca ceremony, I have found just being in that wonderful place does have a magnificent positive effect on your psyche and sense of well-being. Depression is a real thing, and telling people to “take a trip” is one of the few ways to divert a person from a path of self-harm. I applaud anyone who recognizes they have something not working in their life who then takes steps to change those things, even when the steps are reckless.
This is a nice book. Read it and think not so much of yourself, but think of the people in your life who might need to hear the words between these covers.