We got up and around at 8am, making sure our things were ready to go. The family cooked us eggs and fried platano verde, and then we got ready to leave. The grandmother, although she seemed very tough, was incredibly sweet this morning. She said that if we ever return, to come back to her house and stay with her. Unfortunately, we didn’t see our little friend this morning to say goodbye. Gisela was in the bathroom brushing her teeth when the daughter walked in and said, in Spanish, “There’s your bus.” She pointed down to the end of the street, and I saw the bus approaching the stop. I asked her what to do, and she said “Run.” So, I grabbed my backpack by its torn strap (luckily, it didn’t break) and took off, yelling “GRACIAS” over my shoulder as I went. I caught the bus and the driver agreed to wait just a minute for us, and we were on our way.
The bus took us back to the bus terminal in Esmeraldas (the main city in the province of Esmereldas), and we caught a bus to Santo Domingo (again, the main city in the province of Santo Domingo) right away. When we arrived at that bus terminal, we waited to hear from the office at school to verify our arrival time, and then tried to find the next bus. This bus didn’t leave from the terminal, so after asking several different people, we found the bus stop. It ended up being over half an hour late, but I got to be entertained by a young man, probably a little older than me, talking with and flirting with my professor the entire wait. He was quite surprised when he found out that I could understand what he was saying the whole time.
Once on the bus, a Tsa’Chila man told us where our stop was. We got off of the bus and knocked on someone’s door, since we had no idea where to go from there. They pointed us down a path, and after what seemed like quite a bit of walking, we found our place! We met the woman who the school had been in contact with and she showed us around.
Side note: While Quechua is a very common native language, the people here speak a different native language, as shown on this sign. Many also speak Spanish, if not exclusively Spanish.
About where we’re staying: technically it is on land that is a part of the community, but we aren’t living with a family or anything. As I learned the next day, the land belongs to Sr. Alfonso. It was his idea to start their foundation. The goal is to share their culture, encourage their youth to take pride and participate in their culture, and to document their history. There will be more on the foundation when I write about Sr. Alfonso’s demonstration for us. Anyway, we stayed on a plot of land with several buildings, all built by volunteers. The houses where members of the tribe live are scattered around close by. There’s a kitchen/dining room, a long bunkhouse, another building that’s half classroom/half bunks, a bungalow-style building, a shower house, a bathroom, and a building that I never went inside. We stayed in the long bunkhouse building that’s divided into three or four smaller rooms. They brought in a woman, Sra. Deborah, to cook for us and, honestly, to keep an eye on us while we were there (no falling in the river, getting stung by insects, etc).
We saw all of the buildings, including the showers with running water, the eco-bathroom, and then the river. I don’t know if it was the traveling, the heat, or just being away from Quito, but we were tired and napped again.
Dinner was at 7, but I hadn’t realized that it’d be so dark by that time. They have electricity for cooking and lights, but there aren’t outside lights or anything, so it was very dark. Sra. Deborah cooked us delicious chicken and rice, with lettuce salad, platano verde, and chamomile tea. She was very kind and friendly, willing to talk and share information with us. Gisela later pointed out her skirt, which was traditional for the Tsa’Chilas. The women traditionally wear knee-length skirts with a horizontal stripe pattern of different colors. They did not traditional wear shirts, but that has changed as you can imagine.
Before bed, Sr. Alfonso, who was going to facilitate our activities the next day, stopped by to say hello. He had his hair painted and wore the traditional clothing as well: a blue and white striped wrap-around skirt with sandals.
I think I could have slept forever. The temperature was perfect, we had mosquito netting, there was plenty of background noise from the bugs/animals/river, and it got so incredibly dark at night. The shower was actually very pleasant once the initial shock of the cold water wore off. They run the water downhill to the shower, rather than using electricity. Breakfast was delicious fried dough with cheese inside, and coffee (thank goodness).
Having class while away wasn’t my favorite part of the week, but today Gisela and I went over a lot of material that I needed help on: things that I never understood originally, things that I was confused on or doing incorrectly, etc. Watching the bats, lizards, chickens, and hummingbirds also provided plenty of momentary distractions. I was also delighted when a sweet little white dog came right on up to us. I hadn’t interacted with the dogs in Ecuador besides the one at the house, since it’s hard to know if they’re a pet, or a street dog that potentially has rabies. This sweet little dog was definitely a pet, and she came by several times throughout the day to check on us.
For lunch, we had vegetable soup, rice, fresh lettuce, and a very salty type of beef, with lemonade (my favorite) to drink. Before our activities, we walked by the river and saw fish, butterfly cocoons, all sorts of plants, and a bright green hummingbird! (Look very closely at the photo)
When we returned for the demonstration, Sr. Alfonso began with the history of the Tsa’Chilas that he knows. He said that there is very little written history, and much of what can be found on the internet is either incredibly general or incorrect. I’m just going to type what I have written down in my notebook from that day (a slightly clearer version):
“When the Spanish came to Latin America, they brought lots of sicknesses that killed many people because they didn’t have immunity. The group was a different tribe, Yumbo (I believe), and one of the shamans saw during a ritual that the men should paint their hair with achiote seeds to protect them from illnesses. Colorado : red à name “Los Colorados”. There isn’t specific info about the origin of this ethnic group.
Tsa’Chila – “gente verdadera” (true people)
He doesn’t know why they have this name, they didn’t choose it. He disagrees with it, as well, saying that we’re all humans, and that it doesn’t make sense to him. He also dislikes the exclusive nature of the name and claims that it may have contributed to the isolation of the tribe.
Before the Spaniards, the nuns arrived, and came with gifts (bread, salt, sugar). After the nuns, other groups came and this time is where the existing books are from.
All of the land that we’re staying on is Sr. Alfonso’s, the foundation was his idea. Modern problem: the youth aren’t interested in participating in and preserving the culture. All of the indigenous groups are having the same problem – Sr. Alfredo traveled and learned this. There are similar projects/foundations in other communities.
He spoke with the mayor, who said she’d help him with funding the project, if he’d help her with her campaign (gain support among the natives). The community took a vote and voted “no”, so he turned her down. The foundation works without any government/municipal aid.
When someone dies here, they bury the person near the house, the rest of the family moves and builds a new house elsewhere (need plenty of land, cultural understanding for this).
How they make their torches: They put tree sap onto boards, lay it to dry in the sun, peel it off and roll it into a cigar-shape, and this is what they burn.”
He also showed us how they paint their hair red with achiote seeds, and their skin with a different fruit. He also gave us cocoa seeds to eat. You cut open the fruits and suck on the seeds, which are covered in a white, slimy substance. They taste sweet, and you just spit them out when the flavor goes away. (I’ll explain in a later post how they actually make chocolate from the rest of it.) He also cut fresh oranges for us to squeeze and drink the juice from, which was delicious.
After our demonstration, we took advantage of the hammocks hanging around the foundation and then ate our dinner, again, prepared by the lovely Sra. Deborah. She made “tortillas” with cheese, tomato and onion salad, rice, and tea.
I seriously loved the cold showers while I was gone. Usually, my showers are just cool enough to avoid causing long-term damage to my skin, but no cooler. These cold showers have been so refreshing, though. Add to that, a lovely breakfast of mashed platano verde with scrambled eggs and coffee, and we were ready to catch our bus back to Quito. Our bus left at 1, so we went ahead with classes for the day. At this point, I was very burnt out on Spanish, so we struggled… We did do a nice review of yesterday’s activities, which helped fill in any gaps I had. To avoid needing the bathroom, we ate just a bit of soup with lemonade for lunch, said goodbye to Deborah, and headed to the bus stop.
We waited, and around 1, a bus went in the other direction from our bus terminal. We waited more, and just after 1:30 our bus came. It must have passed the first time at 1, but driven the length of the street before turning around. After that short bus ride, we
boarded our bus direct to Quito. The drive back was absolutely horrifying, even though I don’t have a fear of heights… I felt a bit sick, despite my motion sickness medicines, as we drove on the side of mountains for almost two hours. There were crosses along the side of the entire highway, signifying where people had died. I must admit, however, that the views were INCREDIBLE.
We made it back to Quitumbe terminal (the south terminal) by 5, which was much earlier than expected. I was back at the house by 6, ready for dinner and bedtime. We
had greenbean soup, sausages with boiled potatoes and onions, and juice, and then I went straight to bed.
Week 3 was such a neat experience, and it was well worth the money to experience the culture with a teacher to help explain and navigate.