It’s hard to describe my experience in words, but hopefully what I write will help in your decision-making. After feeling ‘stuck’ at a certain point in my life, I decided it was time to give myself an opportunity to ‘reset’.
After doing an exhaustive search on the internet, I found the ECA’s website to be the most authentic, well-worded, and non-commercial. I was impressed by the fact that they give 25% of their income back to the indigenous elders, and to protect/restore the Amazon. They also require you to communicate with them via Skype for a two-way interview, and to fill out a health intake form. During the Skype interview with Hans, I strongly felt that I was meeting someone who was grounded, sincere, caring, and professional. There was no hard-sell tactic; quite the contrary. He was very honest about the therapeutic and non-recreational aspect of the retreat schedule.
Everyone’s experience with yage is different. Mine was difficult, but so is being me. While I didn’t love being under the influence as much as I wanted to (ask for a weaker brew if you’re highly sensitive), I was extremely moved by the care and attention that I, and all of us, were shown by Hans, Bobby, and Jesse. Whenever I was sick, or didn’t think I could go on, one of them was there with me, telling me that I was stronger than I realized. Before our first ceremony, I thought they had the coolest ‘job’ in the world. After one night of looking after us in the maloka, I now know how difficult and serious their work is.
Perhaps the best part of the experience for me was bonding with the rest of the group. I grew to love everyone in the group, and experienced deep connection, some of it with people I initially didn’t think I would want to hang out with for 10 days. We all arrived with whatever ‘armor’ we use to protect ourselves; 3 days into the retreat, most of that armor was gone, replaced by authenticity, kindness, vulnerability, and a camaraderie that only comes with sharing intense life-changing experiences.
I want to reiterate that Bobby, Hans, and Jesse are the real deal. They are faithful to the traditions and have the utmost integrity; single ladies can feel absolutely safe with these beautiful guys. They are also committed to living as sustainably as possible, and to giving back to the elders. Although originally from the U.S. and Australia, they speak perfect Spanish, have close Colombian friends, and have integrated into the culture. The shamen, Greison and Gonzalo, are also the real deal, and are very much an integral part of the ECA family, as is Eli, who tirelessly provided us with delicious and healthful food during our retreat.
If you want to swim with dolphins, sight-see, or go on long hikes, this is not your retreat. If you want an intense journey inward, and to experience profound, safe connection with others, with shamen and facilitators who have the integrity needed to do this work, this is the place. It can be a little chilly, so bring warmer clothes than you think you’ll need for a visit to Colombia.
I look forward to future retreats with these beautiful people.