By Brooke Gazer
Traditional medicine has been around for centuries, but in recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in this area. Tierra Ventura Ecoturismo is an ecotour company specializing in rural Oaxacan tours, including some that involve the use of curanderos.
Claudia Schurr and Yves Chavan have been involved with traditional healers over the past twenty years. After they organized a workshop through the University of New Mexico, one of the instructors brought a group of students down to Oaxaca. These students were interested in learning about alternative views of health. During that time, Tierra Ventura partnered with some NGOs who worked in remote parts of Oaxaca. Together they built an indigenous steam bath called a temazcal; they assisted in organizing workshops with traditional healers known as curanderos; and they helped the indigenous create an independent income through tourism. Although these NGOs no longer exist, the contacts and deep friendships with the healers opened many doors for Claudia and her group, which remain intact today.
Claudia says that traditional healing is a fascinating topic. “When I first started bringing friends or clients to a curandero, I thought you must be physically sick because I didn’t want to waste the curandero’s time. Eventually I learned that traditional healing is based more on your spiritual health. In prehispanic times, there was no illness – there were only misbalances, and it is balance that a traditional healer is responsible for.”
Claudia has learned that your balance is between the spirit and the body. “They believe a trauma, an accident, or a strong emotion, brings you out of balance and it is this misbalance that makes you physically sick, sometimes even years later. After your spirit gets sick, your body follows. Every emotion is linked to an organ; sadness stays in your lungs, anger in your liver, fear in your kidneys.”
Sometimes balance is restored though a “limpia”. This is a cleansing ritual where the healer uses herbs, cold water or mezcal, a chicken egg and fire or the smoke of copal to bring you back in balance. Temazcal, the indigenous steam bath, is another common form of cleansing. Each curandero has his or her own method. Some are guided by visions, others read your iris, some diagnose with the chicken egg, or they feel your pulse, they read the fire or smoke, the earth, the water, they work with ceremonies or rituals, with candles, healing with sacred plants, or through massages. There are a thousand ways to bring you back into balance.
Claudia goes on to explain that getting back into balance is only where your healing begins. “It’s a process . . . difficult, devastating, lonely . . . the healer only sustains you in your process. It involves far more than giving you an herbal tea or a tincture”.
I asked her if one might compare this process to modern-day psychotherapy and she agreed that, “Perhaps with some curanderos who work with your spirit, this may be like an old form of psychotherapy, but it is far more pragmatic.”
Claudia expressed some apprehension about commercializing the field of traditional medicine. “It’s a sensitive issue where I have to protect both sides; the client who looks for healing and also the healer. Most curanderos have had difficult lives and experiences, which made them what they are today. This is not a touristic experience and we don’t want it to become one. There may be some who are curious, just wanting to experience something different, but there are also people seriously seeking help. These are who we want to introduce to our curanderos”.
However, traditional medicine is only a very small part of what Tierra Ventura Ecoturismo offers. They specialize in ecotours throughout the state of Oaxaca. They organize hiking tours and visit very remote places in the state. They travel in a vehicle, so you don´t have to trek through the mountains unless you really want to. Claudia explains “We want to show the “real” Oaxaca to our clients: the villages, the celebrations, the traditions, the mountains, the coast, the history and all those elements which tourists are not usually able to experience”. Claudia emphasizes that although they go off the beaten track, her tours are not too rustic for the average traveler. “We work with community projects and all of the villages have very nice, comfortable cabins with private bathrooms, fireplaces etc.”
Brooke Gazer runs Agua Azul la Villa, an ocean-view B&B in Huatulco. www.bbaguaazul.com