Day 1: On the first day we went to the site of the pyramids of Cochasqui which were dedicated to the queen Quilago. For the most part they looked like grassy hills with some credible organization. In a few places the ancient formations that distinguished a masterpiece and natural coincidence had been preserved and restored.
During the second part of the first day we drove through Otavalo. I pointed out a bright, castle-like building on the hill and boy was I surprised when my joking supposition turn out to be true and we headed right up there to our hotel. That evening we met a shaman. He shared a lot of interesting thoughts with us that I would love to share in more detail if anyone is interested. One thing that stood out for me was that the Quichwa people believe that humans have four distinct bodies of equal importance: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. He also said that we are not more or less than nature because we are nature. After our gathering, someone asked him how Quichwa culture viewed homosexuality. Apparently they have a live-and-let-live sort of philosophy. The balance and division of male and female within each person is an integral part of their beliefs. That presentation was undoubtedly the most mentally and spiritually stimulating part of our trip for me.
• Day 2: The second day we stopped by a workshop for indigenous instruments. They made a pan flute right in front of us and then played some traditional music. We made a short stop in the world famous artesian market of Otavalo where I learned the art of bartering from our leader so I could buy blankets for the best possible price. After the market, we went to meet our families in San Clemente for the first time. I stayed with KC and Colleen in a mother-in-law room on a farm halfway up the volcano Imbabura overlooking the city of Ibarra. Our family started joking with us right from the start. The two younger sisters, Margarita, 14 (though she told us she was 22 when we first met) and Yarina, 10, took us to bring home the cows (Lucera, Blanca, and Estrella) from the pasture and then our father, Mauricio, showed us how to peel potatoes with a knife (new skill for me!) on our first night! Besides the cows they had a family of dogs, two alpacas, and chickens.
• Day 3: The main activity of our first full day on the farm was degraining dried corn. They have more types and colors of corn than I even thought was possible! All the bad kernals were saved in a separate bag for chicken food. The rest of our day consisted of napping in the sun on the front lawn, which I found to be a common activity for us. That evening, Mauricio and Juanita (our lovely host mother) taught us the numbers in Quichwa. We also found out that the Quichwa spoken in San Clemente is distinct from the Quichwa of Otavalo (half hour away) as well as the dialects up and down the Andes.
• Day 4: We met with the rest of the group and took a tour of the community medicinal garden led by the heads of our families. KC, Colleen and I took a long nap and awoke to a visiting gringo who had returned to visit the family a year after he had volunteered there. He only stayed one night , but he took Yarina to Ibarra to buy a cake for Juanita’s birthday. Meanwhile, we went down the hill with Margarita to her dance practice and watched her do some traditional ” jump, jump, one, two, three!”. She told us about her dreams of having a quincenera party and going to France on our way back. We celebrated Juanita’s birthday with the cake and a bottle of soda and then danced in the kitchen afterwards. That night, we started reading the copy of 100 Years of Solitudethat we found in our room, and read half of it over the 10 days we stayed there.
• Day 5: We walked over to the others’ house for our first minga. The idea of a minga is for multple families to get together to help each other with a big project. We made adobe bricks with earth, water, sun, our feet, and a mold. After working, we shared a delicious community lunch. One person ended up leaving because they weren’t able to adapt well enough to the comunity. We were all disappointed, but it was better that he left, instead of bringing the rest of us down. I took a hot shower after our work, which was marvelously unexpected. Hooray! At dinner, Mauricio asked us if we could stay forever. I didn’t know what to say, but he was so sincere that I made a promise to myself that I would come back to visit sometime before I leave. This also marked the first night that Juanita braided our hair with heart braids.
• Day 6: The next day I was sick. I stayed in bed with what felt like a fever, stomach ache, and headache. I know I was really dehydrated and I’m not sure what else. Juanita brought me avocado leaves to help my head. Fortunately, I felt mostly recovered by dinner and I was almost 100% the next day.
• Day 7: We cleared weeds with picks and hoes to double the size of the garden for our second minga. I got two prime blisters. Right when we thought we were going to leave, we ended up moving a rock out of the ground, the size of an alpaca! It was so big that I hardly thought we would be able to move it, but we worked together with all of the families and lifted it right out of the ground with lots of leverage and teamwork. That night I discovered the joy of peeling lima beans and the secret to making Juanita laugh.
• Day 8: We started off the morning with the sweetest pancakes I’ve ever had; we didn’t even need toppings. After that, we met up with the others to take a bus to another community by the river. We carried our own lunch and food that we gave as an offering to the river and Pacha Mama (mother Earth) after about an hour of walking by the river. On the way home we did a lot of walking, took a bus, and rode in the back of a truck. There was another braiding session after dinner and Yarina taught me how to do a “trenza de cuatro”, which is basically a fishtail braid.
• Day 9: Summer camp is way chill in San Clemente. I painted faces on homemade dolls and played soccer with the kids. I let one boy take pictures with my camera; a win-win situation. We all joined in the community lunch and then headed home to rest. I tried sugar cane for the first time; it was good, but too gritty for my taste. We played soccer again at the house: the only activity that we did with Nelson, Jessica’s (the 17 year-old sister) boyfriend and the baby daddy of our one month old niece, Amalie.
• Day 10: Another day with the kiddos. We helped make kites, which was surprisingly difficult so the one I helped with just spun in circles and skipped behind the girl. The community lunch was probably one of my favorites, with chicken, noodles, juice, and more. Back home we did some quality chatting, degrained some sara (Quichwa for corn), and saw the most of Jessica, the 17 year-old sister, at dinner of our whole stay.
• Day 10: The last minga was at our house in the hill. Despite the gnarly blisters I got, I thoroughly enjoyed the power of using picks to break up the hillside to prepare the foundation of a new guest house. That evening, we hosted the final community dinner and right before everyone arrived, Juanita brought out their traditional clothes for us to wear at the party. We fit a whopping 20 people in the modest kitchen of our family!
Day 11: We got up early, the last day so that we could go milk a cow during our visit to San Clemente. I scared that poor heifer two times because I guess I move too fast!