Via a Llayzhatan Bajo, Ecuador
Ayahuasca is always going to be a tremendous journey in and of itself, however I’d like to call attention to Gaia Sagrada for the amazing set and setting that brought out the best possible experience for me.
Firstly, it’s in the mountains. This means cool but comfortable overnight, and warm but not too hot during the day. No mosquitoes. Beautiful pine woods, ponds, streams, waterfalls and views. The buildings are lovely – comfortable and homely with a lot of very beautiful artwork, mostly done by retreat participants.
The staff and work exchangers are there for you when you need them, for practical things (laundry, directions, snacks) or for emotional support and help processing or talking through and understanding your experiences. A special shout-out here to Christine (shaman/owner/manager) who spent a number of hours comforting, supporting and checking in on me during a big purge!
Also worth mentioning are the centre’s ‘shaman’ dogs. They often join the ceremonies and know when something is up with someone, and lie down next to them or put a paw on them for reassurance. This happened to a number of our family (retreat participants) and added a great feeling of being looked after and loved.
The ceremonies are conducted in a very ceremonial fashion (sounds obvious, but I get the impression this is not always the case). The work that the shamans do is marvellous; watching them work with other people particularly during the San Pedro ceremonies is fascinating and insightful (let alone your own time on the mat!). The respect and gratitude that the shamans show for water, life, family, food, fire, earth, and the other basic things of life definitely constituted a large part of the healing process for our ‘family’ – a demonstration of how to live life that isn’t despondent, anxious and removed. The singing truly guides you deeper, particularly Huaira: her voice is amazing and it flows with the medicine in an indescribable manner.The shamans are accessible; they stay after ceremonies for a bit to talk to people about their experiences and to answer questions if you have any.
Some advice – stay for a few days before and after the retreat. You get to meet everyone else in dribs and drabs (great for remembering names), explore the environment, and have some extra processing time in a peaceful environment at the end. Cuenca (local city) is also worth a few days, as is a trip to Chordeleg if you have an interest in silver jewellery (it is absolutely beautiful!).