Monday, May 21, 2018

Last Day in Ecuador!

This being the day we leave San Clemente, we had a wonderful breakfast with our respective indigenous families. My family had empanadas con plátanos and various fruit available to eat! It was very sad to say goodbye to this beautiful community and the amazing people we met there. We thanked them for having us and they bid us farewell!

At around 10:40am we arrived in a town called Otavalo, where there are 43,000 people who are mostly indigenous. Most things in this town are managed and owned by the indigenous rather than the mestizos. The weather was very rainy while we were there, and we noticed Otavaleños wear plastic bags over their hats when it rains, because they are so expensive. In other communities, people did not do the same thing.

While in Otavalo, we went to the Plaza de los Ponchos where there was a very large indigenous market going on. This was a poor decision, as I splurged on most things that were offered to me. It was perfect though, because everything was being sold there!

After Otavalo, we then arrived in a town called Peguche, known for its weaving. The women of this area have their hair in braids that are wrapped. We went to a beautiful shop that sold apparel, made of llama, alpaca, and sheep wool! It was exciting to feel all the different textures and even see how the weaving is done.

We then went to a restaurant called Palmeras de Quichinche around 1:15, which was delicious! And we even had the exciting opportunity to see a few llamas in the front, as well as a large vegetable garden and some cute pet guinea pigs in the back! The owner assured us they were kept as pets, not as future meals. 

Thinking lunch would be our last stop, we arrived at Cui Cocha (Guinea Pig Lake) which was absolutely stunning! It is well known for being a volcanic lake with a beautiful view. 

Lastly, we drove through a town called Cotacachi, which besides Cuenca, is another area where couples from North America and the UK like to retire. It was a very cute town with many shops that were inclusive to english speakers!

We arrived at the airport around 6:30, said our goodbyes to Gloria, our wonderful tour guide, and Gino, our amazing driver, both of whom we got to know over the past few days! Once we entered, we had some dinner and there were some flight troubles, but all in all everything is great, and this experience was life changing! 

San Clemente: Day 2

Today we took a hike and saw different kinds of flowers and plants. We learned about the different uses for the various plants such as for shampoo, reducing fever, reducing inflammation/pain, as an antiseptic, gastric issues and to reduce cramping. Like the plants, some fruits have benefits as well. For example there is a fruit similar to a transparent passion fruit that helps with stomach pain if you eat one. 

While hiking we saw Manuel’s garden of experimental plants and fruit trees. He is successfully growing peaches and apples, despite the fact that the climate in San Clemente has not been good for these fruits to grow. He says this is because of climate change. He also is growing sugar cane, which usually only grows on the coast where it is much warmer. We also came across a flower that can be used for perfume and a tree that you can make spoons with from the wood of the tree. We learned that an agave plant can be used to knit with, by using the tip and the string pulled from the plant. You can also use the tip as a pencil and write on the plant.
After he hike we came back to the house and learned about embroidery. Then embroidered our own designs onto napkins. Soon after we had a beautiful lunch outside. It was really good!

Then we went on a short walk and fed some llamas, rabbits and guinea pigs. We fed the llamas salt and the rabbits and guinea pigs plants. Later we sat by the fire and continued to embroider our napkins. Then we helped the family we are staying with prepare dinner and played monopoly with her son.

San Clemente Day 1

Today we left Cuenca and flew back to Quito. From there, we set off towards San Clemente, a north Andean traditional community. On the way, we made several stops. First, we stopped to look at the greenhouses containing roses belonging to many different countries including Holland, Peru, and Ecuador. Roses are one of Ecuador’s largest exports, so the greenhouses in this area are extensive. We then went to another equator monument. This one explained how the different lines on a sundial made by an indigenous group called the Quintucaranci worked. The Andes make Ecuador perfect for astronomical observations because the peaks lie perfectly at the March (middle) line of the sundial. 

We then moved on to the city of Callambe in the Imbabura province. In Ecuador, provinces are named by the largest mountain in the geographical area, in this case a mountain called Imbabura. Callambe is famous for a type of buttery, salty biscuit called bizcocho. They are served with cheese or with dulce de leche.

Upon arriving at the San Clemente community, we were greeted by Manuel and his big black dog, Oso. We sat down for a traditional lunch where Manuel discussed his family and how his parents had lived in the huasipungos that we read about in Jorge Icaza’s novel, Huasipungo. He mentioned that life for the indigenous was far worse than what Icaza portrayed in his novel. Manuel then took us outside and showed us their calendar and what it meant. There are 13 months in their calendar, and everything about it revolves around Pachamama. The Andean people are very connected to nature and look at life as being spiral shaped as opposed to linear. To them, there are three things that describe life: heaven, earth, and the spirits. They also rely heavily on dreams to direct them in life. For example, dreams that involve dirty water warn them of danger that is to come in their futures. People will actually alter their planned courses of actions if they have dreams that compel them to do so. They also believe in the moon as a source of guidance. Their harvest schedule depends on the phase of the moon. When the moon is a waxing crescent, they harvest crops that grow out of the ground, upward. When the moon is a waning crescent, they harvest crops that grow in the ground, downward. This shows how deeply connected to nature this group is. 

After the rain calmed down, we met the family we were staying with; a mother named Zoilita and her son Santiago and grandson Derek. We helped her make dinner by peeling beans, making llapingachos (potato tortillas), and setting the table. While working Zoilita helped us practice our Spanish through friendly conversation. We ate then helped the family clean up the kitchen before going to bed. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Cuenca: Day 2

We started today with breakfast at the hotel, after which we joined our tour guide and headed out toward the “Turi Viewpoint” where we were able to look out over Cuenca. On the trip there we learned about the Ecuadorian economic crisis that led to the dollarization of the country’s currency, which was previously the sucre. We took the Pan-American Highway through the city of San Francisco and learned about the San Francisco church and the Virgen de la Nube. We were also able to see examples of “immigrant architecture;” homes that were built by Ecuadoreans who had emigrated to Spain, for example, and later returned with savings from their work abroad. They modeled their houses after their favorite kind of architecture found wherever they had spent time outside of Ecuador. 

We visited the “Biblian” church, which we learned took over a generation to build. The church also has a crypt beneath it; those who are buried beneath the church are said to be able to pass quickly to heaven. We drove for a while after that into the Andes and visited the Cañari market where we were able to see various grains, foods, and local clothing for sale. We were able to try some local Ecuadorian bananas as well. The vendors at the market had traveled to be there, and had been working there since one o’clock in the morning. 

We also drove a little further to the “Ingapirca Archaeological Complex” and were able to learn about the ruins, rituals, and history of the area. The site was a mix of both Cañari and Incan architecture, with the Inca’s arriving much later than the first documented signs of the Cañari people (several hundred years before the birth of Christ). We also learned that the Cañari were buried in the fetal position, as they saw death as a means of returning to Pacha Mama. We had lunch at a nearby restaurant then drove back to Cuenca where we departed from our tour guide and walked around the city for a bit and stopped at an artisan marketplace. We then had dinner at the hotel and went to bed for an early departure in the morning. 

Cuenca: Day 1

Today we had a late start in Cuenca! Our plane was delayed by about an hour and a half, so we arrived at 11:30am. We were picked up at the airport by our guide, Luis. This late arrival made our day longer than was expected, but we were still able to fit almost everything in! 

We began our day at the Homero Ortega Hat Factory, where we were able to learn everything about how the Panama hat became wrongly named, how it is made and when exactly it came to be. 

As we toured the old city of Cuenca, Luis showed us the difference between the republican architecture and the colonial architecture. Colonial buildings have only one floor, while republican architecture has a couple of floors, as well as a balcony. 

Cuenca has been labeled the Terra-cotta city, because they are well known for their brick building and their various textile art work. In 1999 Cuenca was named a World Heritage Site. 

As our group strolled through the city, we noticed the various groups of natives and Luis pointed out that the old generation natives wear the Panama hat still to this day, but the new generation does not wear the hat. However they do wear their hair a certain way depending on the community in which they reside. 

Cuenca, being the 3rd most populated city in Ecuador, was crowded, especially in the area of the market. Native people come all the way from the highlands to Cuenca, to sell their food. It was very interesting to see all the different types of food that was being offered; we were able to try a red banana, and they were absolutely delicious. 

The main highway that we drove on later in the day is the Pan-American Highway, which is the longest highway in the world; it runs from south of Chile to the north of Alaska. 

Around 3:30, we ate lunch at a restaurant called Mikuna. Very delicious food! 

Lastly, we arrived in Chordeleg, in an area also known as the Jewelry District, though there were other crafts sold there as well! It was very exciting to practice our Spanish on the local artisans! 

This was a fully packed day, but I think I can speak for all of us when I say, we definitely fell in love with Cuenca! 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Siona Lodge: Day 3

Today we took a 5 min boat ride to a hiking destination where we hiked for 3 hours through the rainforest looking for animals. We Found a lot of ant species like bullet ants, leaf cutter ants, army ants, and crazy ants. We also saw 2 kinds frogs, one poisonous one not, and some spiders and birds. While hiking we also saw different types trees and learned about their uses. For example they can be used for medicinal reasons, weapons for blow darts, and trees whose sap is used to make latex. We hiked through muddy areas and through some water, and stood where the equator was at 0000 on the GPS. Later in the day went on a boat ride to find animals and we saw birds and a dolphin. After that we went to the lagoon and swam for a bit. The water was really deep and you could not see what was under you, but the water was amazing. Back at the Siona lodge we watched videos about the river being dried out and how the crew and tourists have to get around in the dry season. We also watched a video about all different types of snakes that can be found in Ecuador.
The next morning we got up early and went bird watching, we found a few birds, and a sloth. When we got back to the lodge there was a cayman near docks that just sat there watching. The cayman did this vibrating shaking thing that shook the water and he made a sound at the end. They do this for communication purposes to either warn us or to call to caymans. It was very interesting to see and the crew hadn't ever captured it on camera before. 

Siona Lodge: Day 2

Today we left Siona Lodge by boat and headed to the indigenous Siona community. On the way there, Luis spotted two juvenile river dolphins. They had not yet turned the pinkish color that these animals are generally known for because they were not yet establishing their own territories. Despite the pouring rain, the ride was nothing short of spectacular. 

Upon arriving at the Siona community, we sat under a large thatched roof building with a large traditional stove on one end. The indigenous woman named Gladys who would be our teacher for the day was preparing a fire over the stove. We went around the room and introduced ourselves using her native language, vocioca. 

“Hello, my name is Bridget. I am from the United States.”
“Vicious, jeë mami Bridget. Jeë kato los Estados Unidos.” 

We then walked outside to Gladys’s garden and harvested yuca with her to make bread. The part of the yuca tree that is eaten is the root system, and it is a starch similar to potatoes. The yuca was peeled to reveal a white colored flesh, washed, then grated using metal graters in a large wooden boat. The grated yuca was then strained using a strainer made from palm branches woven tightly together to remove 80% of the water. Gladys spread the flour evenly on a hot wooden stone over the fire and cooked the bread. It tasted very similar to the Triscuits we eat in the United States. The bread was served with a salad and a chili sauce, a typical Siona meal. 

After lunch we went for a walk into the forest where Luis showed us the largest species of tree in the forest; the bamba. It is also known as the telephone of the forest because its large root system is very acoustic when struck with a hard object. We made our way to the shaman, or medicine man, of the community. His name was Rafael, and he was dressed in his traditional garb of a green tunic, a woven headdress with macaw feathers, and many necklaces around his neck, one of which had two jaguar teeth on it. Rafael treats the people of his community using plants and herbs that grow in the forest around him. He told us that it took him 12 years to become shaman, and that he now has 8 students he is teaching. We went outside and he showed us how he accurately shoots the poison dart gun that he made himself that is used for hunting. 
That night we went out for a night boat ride and saw three different types of boas, and two caymans. One was a small baby yellow bellied cayman, and the other was a larger black cayman.