Kyle Nolan spent the summer of 2011 talking up a documentary called ‘Stepping Into the Fire,’ about the mind-expanding potential of ayahuasca. The film tells the story of a hard-driving derivatives trader and ex-Marine named Roberto Velez, who, in his words, turned his back on the “greed, power, and vice” of Wall Street after taking ayahuasca with a Peruvian shaman. The film is a slick promotion for the hallucinogenic tea that’s widely embraced as a spirit cure, and for the Shimbre Shamanic Center, the ayahuasca lodge Velez built for his guru, a potbellied medicine man called Master Mancoluto. The film’s message is that we Westerners have lost our way and that the ayahuasca brew (which is illegal in the United States because it contains the psychedelic compound DMT) can set us straight.
Last August, 18-year-old Nolan left his California home and boarded a plane to the Amazon for a 10-day, $1,200 stay at Shimbre in Peru’s Amazon basin with Mancoluto – who is pitched in Shimbre’s promotional materials as a man to help ayahuasca recruits “open their minds to deeper realities, develop their intuitive capabilities, and unlock untapped potential.” But when Nolan – who was neither “flaky” nor “unreliable,” says his father, Sean – didn’t show up on his return flight home, his mother, Ingeborg Oswald, and his triplet sister, Marion, went to Peru to find him. Initially, Mancoluto, whose real name is José Pineda Vargas, told them Kyle had packed his bags and walked off without a word. The shaman even joined Oswald on television pleading for help in finding her son, but the police in Peru remained suspicious. Under pressure, Mancoluto admitted that Nolan had died after an ayahuasca session and that his body had been buried at the edge of the property. The official cause of death has not yet been determined.