The Ayni Journey
The Ayni Way was launched in the fall of 2017. Prior to this I was making Ayahuasca pendants on my balcony with a few friends, and sending them to vendors in the US. Our idea was to generate funds for the reforestation of plant medicines while sustaining a modest life in Ecuador. After a trip to the coast at the beginning of 2017 to visit our Palo Santo maestro, Dante, I was inspired to create a Palo Santo and Ayahuasca pendant gift box. These boxes didn’t end up hitting the aesthetic spot initially, so they needed some kind of facelift. Later that year I invited my neighbour Nate to come and have a look. Nate has a talent for design and experienced in creating identities for brands... ideas were immediately exchanged and our project was born.
Blood, sweat and tears went into updating these sets, it was a community effort. For those of you who don’t know, this project began in a small, but lets say fruity, town in the Ecuadorian Andes called Vilcabamba. This place attracts a full spectrum of folks, and also a lot of talent in the creative field. The glue that keeps this community together is the willingness to help one another especially when it comes to getting projects off the ground.
Contributors who helped develop our box sets included - Fox, a retired Hollywood set designer, and Dennis who made the boxes; the natural fiber inserts were made by Daniel, a local artisan who makes paper out of sustainable plant material (watch his interview below); Alex and his wife Luz who spent a solid two months making the Aya pendants; Sylwi and Gabriel with the photography and filming; Susan who helped with our copy; and Nate who designed the print, website etc, and together with his wife Dova let us convert his downstairs into a mini factory that employed the local kids (all of working age ;)) to put the sets together. The result of all this was a box set that we were all proud of. They looked amazing. Handmade with love. Now that we had a finished product it was time to launch the website, but it wasn’t as simple as that.
In October 2017, we decided that our initial name ‘Aya Life’ didn’t reflect our true identity, so a decision was made to halt the launch until that was figured out. Within a month we came up with ‘The Ayni Way’, but we were now up against it to get our box to market in time for the holidays. In fact, the launch didn’t happen until 3 weeks before Christmas. We managed to sell a handful in this time but not enough for our morale to get the boost needed. The lead up to all this was also a bit of a whirlwind. Setting up a company in a not so straightforward country tested our patience, wallets, and sanity.
So, our timing was a little off. We were sitting on a bunch of gift sets and something was needed to get us off the ground. The idea was to hit the road in search of other products we could offer outside of holiday season - on a non existent budget. We had spent almost everything on getting to launch. I had enough to get on a bus, pay for a few weeks in a hostel and buy a handful of products that I could send back to Vilcabamba or the coast where I often visited to check in on our Palo Santo family.
Tena was the first place I arrived to. It’s a hustle and bustle market town situated in the Amazonian province of Napo. This location was chosen because of a local Ayahuasca shaman who we were developing a relationship with for a potential collaboration to build a reforestation project. From here I was introduced to local farmers who worked with medicines and plants that were native to the region - this was our start.
The hustle for survival started. Going around markets and farms looking for natural products we could buy and sell. As a result packages were being sent and our mission in the Amazon was slowly becoming a reality. Guayusa tea was the main interest. My first encounter with this powerful brew was like tasting liquid gold. It has a quality that can’t be compared to any other energizing brew. The only issue was, and still is, is that not many people know about it - if they did it they would be drinking it daily. I’ll do a separate post dedicated to Guayusa.
Napo is the epicentre of, not only Guayusa, but the highest quality Arriba Nacional cacao. I quickly got to know the area really well. The next 8-10 months was a Cacao and Guayusa education. Not only on the plants themselves, but the stories of farming communities and associations. During this time buyers started getting in touch from US and Europe enquiring about these products. This was great although I had no idea of the obstacles needed to deal with shipping wholesale quantities from Ecuador. As an example, I had around 100kg of mixed products to send (I think it was Guayusa, Cacao, Ayahuasca vine and dragon blood). One of the farmers seemed to think all that was needed to export was a document that could be obtained in the neighbouring town. To get this document it was essential to have the products with me. Thinking it would take a few hours we didn’t get back until a week later in the same clothes, after being passed around offices across the country while sleeping on busses, with no document to show for it at the end. All this while carrying 100kg on public transport - luckily there were two of us helping each other out (we were both working on a similar thing). In any case, after a few of these essential learning experiences a new direction for Ayni started to take shape.
I was extremely lucky to be in one of the best places on earth for my introduction into Cacao and other plant medicines. The farmers we connected with take pride in their ancestral heritage and use traditional farming methods to get the most out of their practice - they don’t aim for mass yield, but for quality and ethics. You truly get an appreciation for where your food and medicine comes from when you witness how this is done.
We continue to expand our network of associations and cooperatives who dedicate their lives to doing things in the right way. Our main aim is to give them a platform to share their traditions and products with you. The concept of The Ayni Way is far more than just selling the highest quality products, it’s also about giving back to causes that directly impact the farming communities we work with. The stories, passions, generosity and way of life of those we met during this adventure were our prime motivators to make things work. Feel free to go to our Causes page to see how we support these people.
It’s been a long road for us to get to this point. I hope this gives you a snapshot of our beginnings.