SATURDAY- we left for saraguro (sara means corn and guro means gold in kichwa) at 715 am. it was about a 3 hour drive away from cuenca. we stayed in a really nice hostal called Achik Wasi which means Our Home in Kichwa. it was a lot colder than cuenca and you could definitely feel the altitude difference. from the hostal you could see the whole town of saraguro. it was really small, but really cute and so tranquil. i stayed in the Papaya Room with sam, jess, betsy, and noelle. it had 5 beds and 2 bathrooms which was really nice. the beds were really hard and so were the pillows, but sleeping in them was actually comfortable.
after we checked in we got to ride on the top of this trolley bus to a little pueblo called Guerrilla which was so much fun! i cant even describe in words how absolutely gorgeous the view was driving through the Andes mountains sitting on top of this bus. we had to duck to avoid tree branches and wires, but the ride was so awesome. we got off the bus at this cute little church and had our sack lunches outside. then we met Juana who would be our guide for the next 2 days and she was so nice. she was dressed in the typical saraguro ensemble: a white hat with black and white spots on the inside of the brim (black and white are really important to their culture and symbolize equality), a white blouse with a lot of colored necklaces, a black skirt, black shoes, and a black shawl that has a pin called a tipu holding both ends of the shawl together across their chest. the men wear black capris with a white shirt and a black shawl and the same hat or a plain black hat.
we saw a typical saraguro house after lunch that had a kitchen garden outside, and the actual kitchen was so tiny! the door was really small too because the people are really short here. i felt super tall! in the big room in the house there was a small bed for the whole family, corn hanging from the ceiling with this lampshade thing hanging above it on one side so if a mouse got in from the roof and tried to jump down it would slide off or get caught inside the lampshade thing. we also saw some really pretty leaf art and an oven for ceramics. so many of the houses here are desolated or left unfinished that most of the area is really quiet, but there are lots of animals:cows, pigs (black pigs too!), chickens, roosters, cats, and dogs everywhere. then we started walking toward the Incan trail we were going to hike, and i was walking and talking to two indigenas named maria and victor who were so nice! we passed big agave cactus plants that are used to make hurangua -a typical drink that if you drink 6 or 7 cups of it you will get drunk because agave is the base plant for tequila. we also passed people working in the fields and saw corn laying out to dry in a front yard. the daily life here is so different than life at home! we also learned that due to the mimsas that the incans did( switching cultures from place to place) the saraguro indigenas are actually originally from peru. we then hiked on an incan trail which was so cool and not too tough of a hike. after canyoning we can do anything haha. we ended up on top of a mountain in the center of a valley and it was so gorgeous! we all held hands and screamed at the top of our lungs to rid ourselves of negative energy which felt so good! we laid on top of the mountain for awhile and then headed back down which was super hard in one slippery rocky part, but Juana was a pro and walked down it like it was flat ground.
we walked back to a small house and this is where we tried the huarangua drink. juana had it in a big jug and then poured it into a smaller cup thing. when you poured it into the smaller cup it made a gurgling sound that sounded like a tiny bird which was interesting. we passed the cup around and before you drank from it you poured a little on the ground as an offering to pachamama (mother nature) and said Ishkandshkandy. the drink was really strong, but it had an interesting kind of good taste. after our drink we rode back, and this time i rode on the inside of the trolley. we stopped in town and boy were we a sight-12 gringas on this trolley thing! one truck drove by and a guy yelled hola guapas gringas! haha. we stopped for some esnacks (as diego, our guide, pronounces the word snacks haha) and realized after we bought it that eating ice cream in the cold was not such a smart idea haha. so we drove back to the hostal and had time for a glorious 2 hour nap!
after our nap we drove in the van to a weaving workshop. we watched how they work the hilador (a wooden weaving machine) with their feet which was so cool. then some indigenas from Las Lagunas, the pueblo we were currently in, cooked us dinner in a little log cabin. we had soup with peas and mote (a type of corn) and aji (a spicy sauce thats really good), chicken, broccoli, and carrots with a red juice that was hot. for dessert we had figs which were interesting and no one really liked them very much.
after dinner 4 men and a little boy performed for us, and their music was so cool! they used a conch shell, guitars, andean flutes, and other typical andean instruments. one of the men made such an interesting welcome speech about compartiendo culturas (sharing cultures), and i just loved how willing they were to share their culture with us and that he said even though we live in different cultures and completely different countries we are equal as human beings. their music started off really slow with the conch blowing and then got faster upon which we all danced in a circle. im really going to miss hearing andean music-its so beautiful and so awesome. then they wanted us to share music with them! the cross cultural connection that we formed through music despite not completely understanding each other´s languages was so amazing. so Emily played guitar and we sang I hope you dance with her. then we did improv and Emily was singing about her day in Saraguro which was so funny. then we thanked everyone and left to yet again get more esnacks. back at the room we ate chocolate, showered, and went to bed.
SUNDAY-today i woke up at 730 am and we headed down for breakfast in a pretty room with big windows. we had bread with a thin layer of cheese that wasnt too awful (my friends make fun of me for the strong aversion ive developed to the cheese here), peach juice, eggs, and manzanilla miel (honey apple) tea. it was really good!
after breakfast we got dropped off at the side of a road and hiked up a hill to a beautiful clearing where there was a group of indigenas ready to perform the ritual a la vida (ritual giving thanks to life). one man was blowing a conch while we filed in in line and 2 girls gave us white flowers which symbolized pureza (purity) and little green plants that had a strong scent and a small white shell. we stood in a circle around the Chakana (the Andean cross). the chakana was made of a bouquet of flowers in the center with 4 sticks in the ground around it and then 4 different colored cloths in a circle around the bouquet. blue for agua (water), green for tierra (earth), yellow for aire (air), and red for fuego(fire). the colors symbolized the 4 elements of the earth. two men were playing instruments ( a drum and an andean flute). the ritual a la vida began and it is a ceremony giving thanks for life and it is also an introspective cleansing ritual where you look inside yourself to reflect upon the things you are grateful for in this life. a woman then poured a vino de una planta (wine from a plant) into our shells and we went around saying ishkandshkandy and drank it. oo that stuff was real strong, but we had to be respectful and drink it. we then walked in a circle to the beat of the drum. whoever wanted to could say thanks for something. then they gave us seeds to symbolize a new beginning and the lit candle symbolized a new year. then a woman came around and created an energy by rubbing a rope on our necks which kind of hurt. energy is so important in these ceremonies and to the saraguro culture in general though. then the shaman put a medicinal liquid in his mouth and spit it to blow out the candle and the ceremony was over.
then individuals who wanted a cleansing of their negative energy in their body could have one. while the first people went we got more of that strong drink in our shells. then i volunteered to get a cleansing because this could be the only opportunity i have in my life to do something like this! i had to go behind a hill where the shaman and another woman were waiting. i then had to take off my sweater so i was in my bra and jeans. the woman rubbed the rope all over my body, but it didnt hurt this time. then the shaman put the medicinal liquid in his mouth and spit it out on my face and then on my back. then he had a steel machete and ran this down my right side with the smooth side of the blade and then my left side. Acero which is steel is really important to this cleansing and thats why they use the machete. he spit the cleansing liquid on my back and then i had to step over the machete on the ground and he would spit it on my stomach. then i had to lift up my right arm and then my left arm and he spit there, and then i lifted my hands out in front of me and he spit again. then the woman put a different strong smelling liquid on my hands and i had to rub my hands together and then inhale. then he spit once more and said i could jump or do whatever i wanted so i did a little jump, and he spit once more and it was over and the negative energy was removed from my body. we werent allowed to watch the other cleansings because they believe if you stand too close the negative energy will go into someone elses body. it was so interesting to participate in this part of their culture. and i know you are all thinking that having someone spit on your face would be gross, but it actually felt really cleansing! their culture is just so fascinating!
back at the hostel we packed up and i took a nap until sam and jess both tackled me and woke me up. haha. then we went into town and went shopping! i got a sweet rainbow beaded bracelet for 1 dollar and a beautiful beaded necklace that is typical of what women wear here for 2 bucks. the tipus that the women actually wear are worth anywhere from 500 to thousands of dollars bc they are pure silver! then we went to Juana´s restaurant-Banos del Inka and watched a woman preparing cuy (guinea pig)! then i ate cuy for the first time!! it tasted okay and kind of like chicken if you didnt think about what you were eating, but then i noticed the bones that looked like a rib cage and the hair on the skin and i couldnt eat any more of it. but we also had really good chicken, potatoes, bread, and cheecha which is a fermented drink made from corn. in the past this drink was fermented by the women chewing the corn and then spitting it and then people would drink it! the taste was a bit too strong again, but it was okay.
after lunch we drove home and i slept the whole way. back in cuenca we went to tutto freddo. dont judge me i have now tried 18 of the flavors in this ice cream shop haha. the rest of the night included: unpacking, drinking tea with my host dad and brother, and doing homework.
we have a museum visit planned for this afternoon and tonight is going to involve eating ramon and watching friends at sams house while we bake a cake for my host brother and his best friend diego because their birthdays are this week!
i cant believe there is only 2 more weeks left in this beautiful city, and the place i now call my second home! leaving is going to be so sad that we dont allow ourselves to think about it. i am excited to come home and see everyone though!! i hope all is well at home!
con amor siempre,