Voluntary work with a Shaman in the Otavalo areaTraditional "alternative" medecine has a long history in Ecuador, and is widespread thoughout the country, especially in rural areas.
This opportunity is open to all those interested in learning more about shamanic medicine, as practised by the indigenous people in and around Otavalo. The placement involves accompanying a registered and highly experienced shaman, Sr. Rafael Carrascal; and/or experienced shaman Juan Carlos (Yuru), who works in the village of Natabuela, not far from Atuntaqui.
Minimum length of placement: 1 week; visits and consultations also welcome.
Languages spoken: Quichua, Spanish
Location and other background information: Rafael, his wife Juana, and daughter Manahy, live in an attractive house in the indigenous village of Iluman, about 3 km north of Otavalo, and 2km from Cotacachi. Rafael is a registered Yachak (shaman), and respected indigenous community leader; Juana works in a hardware store; and Manahy is a physiotherapist.
Juan Carlos Donoso (Yuru), and wife Noimi live in an old-fashioned house with a beautiful garden in the village of Natabuela, about 5km south of the town of Ibarra. Juan Carlos has a facebook page that you can access by searching under his name and the words kawsay wasi.
Activities Rafael Carrascal: Rafael is basically a medical practitioner, and his business is healing people. Instead of using the medicines and techniques that we would be familiar with in western cultures, he specialises in the traditional healing methods of the indigenous people of Ecuador. He uses ancestral healing and cleansing ceremonies, which usually involve some pretty shrewd diagnosis through conversation, then the healing itself, which often involves chanting, plants, healing stones, cane alcohol, and temascal (steam baths). Such people are called Yachaks, although Rafael accepts that western people are more familiar with the related term Shaman. Here's a photo of Rafael cleansing our baby, Andy.
Other less frequent aspects of his profession that are likely to be encountered by volunteers are: visits to the sacred sites in this area, including Mojanda and Peguche; and the ayahuasca ceremony that uses hallucinogenic herbs as a way to obtain spiritual insight, and to develop forms of cognition than are perhaps not often encouraged or encountered in western culture and formal education. One of the things you'll notice about Rafael is that he is very straightforward and unpretentious about his work - he simply has had a gift for healing going back to boyhood (his father was a yachak healer), and does his work in a natural, straightforward and humorous way. Here he is with his family:
Many of Rafael's clients come from Intag, and Rafael has formed lasting friendships there, some of which go back to his childhood years. Aswell as these friendships (that include Patricia and her large family), Rafael values the healthy food that is produced in Intag, and makes regular visits to the area. He's a shrewd, gifted man also affectionate and conscientious - but he won't "pull his punches", and what you see with Rafael is indigenous healing and indigenous life as it is, without pretension or distortion in order to "prettify" to suit western tastes or perceptions of how indigenous people ought to live. Rafael is second from the right in the photo posted below.
Iluman, Rafael's village, is known for the production of local hand-made textiles, especially tapestries. A voluntary placement with Rafael and Juana usually includes at least one demonstration of this art.
Cost: $800 per month, including activities, meals, and accommodation at Rafael and Juana's comfortable home. Since Otavalo is a relatively expensive area, we ask that this money be paid weekly in cash, in advance, directly to Juana and Rafael. There are no other costs, and a cleansing is included in this price.
Shaman Juan Carlos (Yuru). Juan Carlos uses the ayahuasca ceremony, indigenous steam baths (temazcal), and herbal medicine as the focus of his work. He also considers that ancestral agro-ecological techniques are of great importance in the maintenance of good health, and he and his wife Noimi work in the school gardens of two local indigenous communities, teaching ancestral agricultural techniques to the children. Juan Carlos expounds his ideas with enthusiasm, and is a warm, affectionate person. Healthy traditional meals are served, and vegetarians are welcome. Some travelling may be involved, as his work involves teaching and healing all the way down the Andean part of Ecuador.
Juan Carlos lives in the village/small town of Natabuela. He charges $600 for a month long placement, $150 for a week, to include all meals, and accomodation in a spacious dormitory above the garden healing room. - this price usually excludes some treatments which volunteers may like to try, such as the ayahuasca ceremony, which uses a costly selection of hallucinogenic herbs as part of a serious, spiritually orientated healing procedure. You can see photos of Juan Carlos and his house on his facebook page, by searching under juan carlos donoso and kawsay wasi.
indigenous obstetrics and pre-natal care.
Juan Carlos is also a friend of Carmen, an indigenous "partera", or midwife, who is much in demand in and around the beautiful area of Alambuela (near the town of Cotacachi). Volunteers wishing to spend a day or more in company of this knowledgeable woman can do so using Juan Carlos as their introduction. We think that her skills are rare, since they combine standard midwifery training with indigenous skills. It is possible to accompany her at births, aswell as at consultations and training workshops.
Final note: Although Intag and the Otavalo area (including Iluman and Natabuela) are only some 70km (about 50 miles) apart, there is a large difference between the two areas culturally. Otavalo is part of mainstream Ecuador, and additionally is a famous centre of indigenous culture and industry; whereas Intag is a "mestizo" area (spanish blood), rural, and isolated for generations by its challenging topography. Both areas, in the opinion of the writer, are fascinating and rewarding destinations for the traveller.
Contact details: for those with a reasonable knowledge of Spanish (or Quichua!),Rafael and Juana's telephone number is (06) 2946648, mobile phone: 0969 673924. Juan Carlos (06) 2535162. Otherwise, please contact Ned and Patricia on (06) 3017543, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Note that we have no financial interest in promoting the work of Rafael and Juan Carlos - we think that they are great people, doing fascinating work, and our main motivation is the same as throughout this website: to help visitors to get the most out of their time in Ecuador.