One Last Story for a Technopelli's Last Hour in Tuncarta in 2009

NOTE: Haven't been writing much lately as the last week in Saraguro was a flurry of visits to women's cooperatives, and a lovely final Saturday trip to the community protected forest reserve of Huashapomba with Enith Paqui and her sons and sister and cousins. Here is my last entry from Saraguro--I may add one or two final entries as a follow-up, but this may be the final entry for my summer 2009 research trip. I know from a few comments and e-mails that at least Mitra, Mags, Linda, Jim, Brian B., Leah, Amanda, Baci, and Luke (and, though I never heard from you--as I talk to Mitra, I know others have been reading--Hela and others) have at least occasionally been reading these postings, and I want to thank you all for being my invisible but palpable audience--It has made me think more carefully and write more clearly to know that someone I know is reading what I put here. Immense gratitude to you all!

I have written a book proposal while in the field, and will be submitting it to presses during the fall--wish me luck! Here is one final story from Benigno from the very last minutes of my time in the field in Tuncarta this year. Enjoy!

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The Lake at Lluzhinplan

After we eat breakfast there is about an hour left before time to catch the bus in Saraguro. Benigno says, "Let's go see one more place. I have one more story for David's last hour in Tuncarta for now."

We walk up the road a ways, passing his neighbor, Angel, who is stretching a hose to begin flooding a pile of dirt he is going to make into adobe blocks. We shake hands and I say goodbye to Angel, who I've met before, but never really talked to much.

Behind the top of the hill, Benigno shows me a marshy spot where a small pond seethes with large tadpoles and near-frogs.


"This whole area used to be a lake," he says. "The grandfather of my grandmother knew the story of what happened here. It's not a tale, but a real story of something that happened.

"One night, late, a young boy, about 10 years old, was walking his family's sheep home on that path right there." He points to the stone line path that is still in place, though the road is only about 20 yards on the other side of it. "He was walking just at this place, when the sheep started bleating, and startled, and ran as fast as they could to get away from the lake. The lake was seething with waves, like on the ocean, and the waves came out of the lakebed and tried to grab the boy and pull him in. He ran, really scared to his house. 'Papi! The lake tried to grab me,' he said. His father knew then that there was a huaca (malevolent spirit) in that lake. The next day he brought an offering of cuye asado with salt and put it right there, over there on the hill for the huaca. But the huaca didn't like the offering, and the waves kept splashing and crashing on the hillside. The father went back to the house and got a whip. He came back and he lashed the waves with the whip, telling the huaca to leave. A great cloud lifted up out of the water and floated off down the hill, carrying most of the water and the huaca with it. Ever since, this hasn't really been a lake--just that small pond there, and a marsh filled with these reeds."


Here Benigno grabs a handful of the four foot long spikes of the water plants at the edge of the marsh.

"They're called lluzhinplan--that's what the lake was called, and now this place is still called lluzhinplan."

We look around, and I feel the way that this community swells with powers embedded in places. Benigno is a pragmatic, realistic man, with eyes and ears that hear and see multiple dimensions in the inhabited landscape around him--the stories tie him to the flow of times and places that are not only what lies in front of our eyes, but also extends into the past and future as well.

"This isn't something made up--a cuento," Benigno adds. "This is something that really happened."

"How long ago would this have been?" I ask. 

He thinks for a moment, calculating the years of his grandmother's grandfather's life. "About 200 years," he says.

We start back down the road--time to drive to town for the bus. While we walk, we talk about the next time I come to visit. Benigno has been collecting these stories for years--says he has enough of them to fill a fat book. 

"We'll work on that book next time," I say. "I have a good program on my computer we can use to lay it out and prepare it for printing. Maybe we can publish it in a bilingual edition, like the Neruda book we were reading the other night." 

Benigno thinks this is a fine idea, and, like me, I think he is looking forward to the opportunity to work together again the next time I put on my pack and set out on my travels.

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Several blog entries today.

Yesterday Anita completed knitting her first sock! The women here knit a lot, but all of the people I´ve asked say they don´t knit socks. I had the pair Mitra made for me before I left with me, and Anita was determined to figure it out. I got a sock pattern from the INternet, but since it was in English ¨knitese¨language, and I don´t knit and my dictionary des not have translations for ¨knit 1, purl 2,¨Anita was mostly on her own. She figured out how to knit in the round on connected needles, how to make the cuff, how to turn the heel and how to finish the toes pretty much simply by looking at Mitra´s example.

The result is not perfect, but she learned the basic and will perfect it, and perhaps a new trend will have begun in craftwork here.

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Here´s the sock Mitra made, whcih served as a model.

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Here is the sock Anita made following the model (she wanted a shorter sock, without a long length up the calf. She is disatisfied with the color, and wants a more elastic yarn for the future, but she is a wizard with handcrafts and made this as a teaching model for herself.

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And finally, here is the maestra, wearing her first sock creation.

Democracy--Las Calcutas Style

Yesterday I went to the last meeting of the Calcutas that I will be in town for. Most of the women set up at two tables on Aleja's porch to finish working on their cloth paintings. Doña Rosa Ordoñez and Doña Marianita sat at the table inside and worked on necklaces.


After about an hour of painting and visiting, Anita asked if I had my computer to show the photos I've taken, and I set up inside for them to come and view the photos. We looked at the group portraits, individual portraits, painting class day, and all of the photos I have from Linda of the Santa Fe Market. They were interested to see the Market, including the clothing from all around the world, and the artwork, especially Maasai beadwork, and the other pieces that were beadwork. The woman who went to the market in 2006 (don't remember her name), is the daughter of Maria Carmela ("Carmen") Medina Minga).


After we watched the slideshows I asked if I could have a few minutes to talk with them about the idea of carrying their personal beadwork to try to sell in the States. I explained that I want to help the group, and their individual families, but want to do this in a way that is fair and equitable. After I explained my conditions (see earlier notes), Aleja elaborated a bit on each point to clarify for the women. Then I went outside to let them talk it over in privacy. After about 10 minutes, they came out and resumed their spots for painting. Anita explained that they had decided each woman will make two necklaces between now and Sunday, and so each would send two personal pieces made especially for the purpose of sending with me.

The process of democracy and equality seems deeply rooted in these women, and they made this decision using discussion, and I assume some form of consensus building. I really admire the way that every decision seems to be done in this manner--open, and with a real concern for fairness. I gave each woman a piece of stiff paper to attach to each piece with their name, and what they think is a fair price for the necklace. (I had bought the paper in Cuenca to make Spanish flashcards, but largely it has remained unused in my backpack.) This should make record keeping easier for me.


I explained that I am not going to go to markets or make extreme efforts to sell these pieces, but would rather sell them to interested students, friends and community members. I do think I will try to set up a few "necklace wear parties" to give a brief slideshow/talk about the women, and try to sell things in this manner--part of the process of telling these women's stories. I think I could make an interesting 15-20 minute talk to prime the interest of people in Duluth. Might also serve as the base of a talk to potential funders or donors for more expansive financing for the women's house in Tuncarta and/or the desired center for CEMIS.

Going for Cocos

As I was writing out fieldnotes Anita came and said we were going to go for cocos--small coconuts, about the size of a crab apple.


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We went down to the aguate field I have visited before, Benigno carrying a homemade ladder, two lengths of rope, and his machete--Anita carrying Aruni on her back and Sauri along, too. Later Prici and Misael joined us after helping a cousin carry some bottles down from the road to a house.


I took lots of pictures and videos while Benigno proceeded to make himself several ladder steps up the 45 foot trunk of the coco palm, using only rope and some lengths of wood he cut from a nearby tree. He slowly got himself high enough to chop at the racemes of cocos with the machete, and dropped seven of them--having Anita check whether each cluster was ripe by dropping a few cocos and having her crack them open with a rock.


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It took 1 hour and 20 minutes from the time we got to the trees and Benigno started looking for a suitable stout, straight branch to cut into 3 foot sections for "steps" on his makeshift ladder, to the time he was back on the ground having cut down 7 large bunches of cocos. Anita sent one bunch off with a kid who walked by on the trail and he took the bunch to his family. She also called Jonathan (Rosa Medina's son) over and sent a bunch with him. That left them with 5 bunches of cocos for the time it took to gather. Benigno said another crop will be ready in about 6 months. As soon as the first bunch was down, Anita, Misael, Sauri and Prici began breaking cocos open using a large rock as an anvil, and a smaller one as a hammer. The crab apple sized fruits split open to reveal a round, white chunk of coconut flesh about the size of a large shooter marble. We ate a bunch right there, me eating them plain, and the other passing around a chunk of panela (caked brown can sugar) to bite from and mix in their mouths with the cocos. Any time they found a piece of coconut that was split into two, rather a solid single globe, there was a cry of gemelos! (twins!), and the lore is that if you eat gemelos you will end up with twin children yourself. Misael, particularly, enjoyed shouting gemelos and laughing whenever he found one.


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Nearby were the remains of a former greenhouse that had collapsed--posts had rotted away. Benigno plans to build a new one there to grow babaco, and maybe some indigo in the future if I find and bring him seeds. Also nearby was a small piece of pasture, about 1 ½ acres where their sheep and cow (with young bull baby) were staked out. They rent that pasture for $100 every two years.


After Benigno finished with the cocos, he took me and Misael down the hill to see a white earth mine that he says is pretty old. He led us quite far down the hill to a steep bank that overlooks the place where the Rio Hierba Buena passes under and alongside the Panamerican Highway. Here there were several small mine site into the side of the hill. After getting past the overburden of soil (a foot or so of black dirt, the hill is composed of fine white rock that is very soft. Benigno says that in the past, people who were more wealthy and wanted to make a fine house would mine some of this rock, mix it with water and animal dung, and use it as a white plaster on the walls of their house. The practice was more common he said, in the post Inca period because the Incas used stone for building rather than adobe bricks. But as people shifted to adobe, which is mud colored, the high style became to use this plaster. Some people do currently use the white earth still, but not many because construction is increasingly done with bricks and cement blocks, which are usually just painted with commercial paint. The current owners of the site charge $2 for a large back, about the size of a 50 pound bag of rice.


Climbing back up we passed a spot where someone was working on making adobe blocks for a house. The person had made a mucky spot of mud by hoeing up a small retaining wall of earth, looked they had chopped up the earth with a shovel or pick, sprinkled straw and maybe some dung over the whole area, then flooded it with water. Nearby there were several hundred blocks laid out to dry. Benigno says you build a form out of wood with open top and bottom, fill it with the mixture, then step on it to pack it together firmly and add more mixture. Then slip the form off and let the block dry--it becomes very hard he says, and will act as the basic material for the house, including providing load bearing support for upper floors and roofs.

Several Entries Today & Comments Open

Quick Note: I´ve mader several entries today (it´s market day and I´ve been in town all afternoon). The camera card reader is working again, so there are pictures, and a reminder, too, that comments now work, so respond to the entries if you feel so inclined.

I've been asked by a couple of different members of the Calcutas cooperative if I will bring their personal beadwork to the U.S. to try to sell for them. This has caused me some discomfort, trying to figure out how to help these women, while being fair and open to all of them. After thinking this through, I've decided I will offer to carry work from any of them who want to send it. So anybody who might be reading this, please be advised I will have beautiful beadwork for sale when I return to the States, and all of the money I collect will be passed directly back to the women who made the pieces.


On Tuesday at the meeting I will explain to all of the Calcutas that I am willing to take necklaces for them to try to sell in the States, but only with these conditions understood:


1)      First, they need to understand that I am not a businessman, but a professor. I only sell the things that I carry as an adjunct to my work as a professor--that is, I talk about the cooperatives to my classes, to community groups, etc. If, after these talks, people want to buy a necklace, that is when I sell them. I do not go to markets, or go to lengthy measures to market this work, and will not do so now. If the things sell, it is because of the good will and interest of the people I speak to about Las Calcutas and the artesania work here.

2)      Since I met these women through the Calcutas, and I think the Calcutas' work is important, any earnings the women make from pieces that I sell will have to be partially shared with the Calcutas. 10% of any cash I receive for the private work the women send with me must be paid into the Calcuta's common fund.

3)      They must only give me quality work, made with quality materials--no beads that will lose their color or obviously shoddy work will be accepted--I will reserve the right to say I won't take pieces that I think are inferior or not likely to sell.

4)      They must understand that I may not be back for up to three years, and they may have to wait that long before I would bring any earnings back to them.

5)      Any pieces that do not sell by then, would be returned to them--I will not pay myself for the pieces that do not sell.


I suspect these five conditions will deter many, if not most, of the women from sending anything with me. Anita affirmed that it would be a good idea to present this opportunity to all the women openly and equally in order to assure good relations next time I visit--to avoid jealousies if some find out that I did this for only certain individuals in the group.




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While I worked on the porch on the necklace I have been working on for the past week, Benigno finished up his work installing the water in the new kitchen, and now it is complete. Anita moved the propane tank to the new stove, and shifted the plates and pans and vegetables and such in the afternoon, and she and Prici made supper in the new kitchen. We ate there and offered a round of applause to el maestro for his work. Took a picture of all of use (without Misael) eating the first meal in the kitchen. Misael wasn't around all day because he was at a minga helping Eloy and Laura shift all the concrete blocks stacked on the roadside up the hill about 100 yards where they are building their new house. It took all day, and Misael came back about 8:30 exhausted and grouchy--he had obviously worked very hard all day, and he hadn't been around for either lunch or supper, so not sure what he ate at the minga, usually seems to be mote and chicken caldo. He cried and grouched for about half an hour before being sent to brush his teeth and go to bed.




Late in the afternoon a young guy from Tambopamba stopped by to get some help from Benigno on repairing a pair of pants. Benigno greeted him very warmly and took him inside the sitting room where they visited while Benigno worked at the sewing machine to fix the pants. I noticed the young guy (later found out he's 21), spoke quietly and with a queer timbre to his voice. He seemed a little frail, too. Later, over dinner, we got talking and somehow I got on the topic of Doug and his death from cancer. Anita explained that the guy who had visited earlier, ?NAME?, also has cancer, and has had 2 of 5 chemotherapy treatments so far. His hair has fallen out--a symbolically significant thing when long hair is considered a distinctive marker of Saraguro ethnic identity. His cancer started in the bronchial area, but has spread to the esophagus and lungs. I explained that Doug died of esophageal cancer, and that the prognosis for this guy was probably not good. Suggested he should seek out a shaman, as modern medicine really doesn't have a lot it can do to cure this particular problem. I said, "I bet he has trouble eating, doesn't he?" and they said yes, that he hardly could eat anything. I said that people diagnosed with this rarely live more than a year, and reiterated that maybe a Shuar shaman or someone like this might be consulted.




A brief bit about my "focus group" interview with the CEMIS cooperative on Friday. CEMIS is the cooperative that Linda Belote and Anne Severine successfully sponsored for this year's Folk Market in Santa Fe.


We met in the small room that serves as a meeting room and store to sell their work. The room is on Calle Loja, and is the front part of one of the members' house--she rents it to the group. There were about 15 women in the room and we sat on benches around the perimeter, with a round table spread with collares at the center. Zoila introduced me to the group, and directed my attention especially to Balbina (did not get the rest of her name), who, with her husband was one of the founders of CEMIS, in the early 1980s. Balbina was the person who was to give me the history of the group, and I briefly misunderstood and thought we were supposed to arrange a meeting for another time to do this. But she clarified and said she would rather do it with her compañeras present. So I started by asking a question, saying I'd like to understand the history of the group. Balbina said, "Do you want to do this by asking questions? Or can I just talk?" "I don't need to ask; I don't need to talk," I said. "You go ahead if you know what you want to say."


So Balbina launched into what was more or less a prepared oratory. She started with an invocation and welcome in Kichwa, which I, of course, could not understand. Then she switched to Spanish to formally welcome me, and to give a fairly lengthy thanks to Linda and Anne and the Folk Market for their assistance and the success of the group's visit this year to the market. She expressed hope for future collaboration and then gave the details of the history of the group, which I will need some help translating, as she spoke pretty fast. They started in the 1980s and have been a functional cooperative for almost 30 years.


One distinctive aspect of this group is that it is composed of women from several different communities--Ilincho, Lagunas, Kiskinchir, Ñamarin and others. They meet in the center of town, and their dream, like that of the Calcutas, is to build a casa propia to house their work, and to serve as a community center for various programs and support of women and their children. Their success in Santa Fe ($15,000 in 8 days!) has whetted their appetite, and they really want to bust into other markets in the US and other countries as a way to raise funds for their project. They have apparently been selling in the various cities of Ecuador for some time, but competition is stiff. They estimate that they need perhaps $110,000-115,000 to buy a lot and build a women's building in the Saraguro center--things are more expensive there than in the campo, where the Calcutas, for example, think they might be able to build their center for about $40,000-$50,000. This is the cash amount each group thinks they need, with the intention that they would be able to generate in kind matches of about the same amount through mingas (group labor days), and donations of wood and other resources owned by various members.


At several points during the hour-long group interview the women talked to one another quickly in Kichwa, and though I didn't understand a word of it, it was pretty awesome to hear Kichwa being used as a living, vibrant language. All I usually hear are word definitions and occasional place names. The women laughed a lot and it was exhilarating (and mentally exhausting!) to keep up with the thoughts and questions of a room full of smart, savvy, organized women.


They've invited me back to their next meeting (next Friday) when they plan to ask me some more questions about possibilities for markets in the US, and when they plan to feed me--wanted to know if I am a vegetarian or have particular local foods I won't eat--I suspect there may be a cuy meal in the offing.

Calcutas Painting Class

Saraguro Calcutas Painting Class Last Day014.JPGFor three days this week (Tues./Weds./Thurs.) over half of the Calcutas (I counted 12 women) and many of their kids have had a day-long course in fabric painting. Offered as part of some missionary activity of the out of Loja, for only $100 the women were given instruction in the method of transferring patterns from paper to cloth using carbon paper and tracing, and they learned how to use acrylic paints to put color on the cloth. The patterns were brought by the teachers of the course, and largely consisted of line drawings of flowers, fruit arrangements, and for the kids, "Strawberry Patch" type "cute" little girls and boys with baggy pants, hats, etc. The point was to learn the technique, not necessarily to express their own visions of art or life. Most of the women chose to work on tablecloths with fruit patterns. Enith Paqui took to the technique quite quickly, and where the other women worked hard to finish one, or perhaps two pieces, she completed several, including matching wall paintings of a Starwberry Patch boy for her two sons, two flower wall hangings--one on which she plans to calligraphy a poem, and a larger table cloth. She worked quickly and well, and her pieces, though based on stock drawings, show promise in their technique. She asked if there were classes for this kind of thing in the States and I said I thought there were. She said she wants to check into taking some classes there when she goes back at the end of this month.

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At the end of the third day, the two male ministers came to have a closing ceremony and to pick up the two female teachers. First the women of the Calcutas who wanted to speak gave their thanks to the teachers and the ministry for their assistance. "Mary," the group's president was not there, so Anita, as past president, spoke and thanked them for coming, and for teaching the women a new skill. She said they hope to continue to learn, and any future help would be much appreciated. Aleja and Enith both spoke along the same lines. I got my camera on, on video, for the end of Aleja's speech, for Enith's, for Mami Petrona's and for a second piece by Anita.


The older of the two men then spoke, too, saying things such as, "What you really accomplished these three days was not these individual works, but the work of community making." Also said that they hope to continue the relationship, that this workshop, the work of their hands, was really just a seed, a beginning. He offered a prayer, and at the end they gave the women a set of books that I think are somewhat proselytizing, but also offer some practical wisdom. In a place where people do not have a lot of access to or money for books, but where they see the value of them and avidly look over books they receive (evidenced by the enthusiasm everyone has shown for the collection of Apache tales and legends and the Atlas of the Earth that I brought), the symbolic value of giving free books to everyone certainly resonates.


Two things I found ironic or disconcerting about the closing of the workshop:


First, I thought it was ironic that the minister chose to preach about the need to make community, and how they had started to do so here during the workshop. The women of this community and this organization have been working in some form collectively for their entire lives. They already know more about community making than could fill a dozen books--whether we're talking about family based collective effort or community-wide mingas, or the informal social support network that includes people with a milk cow sending milk daily to relatives with babies and no cow, these women already know what functional community means. To have a man from the city come to them with his words of wisdom on this topic seems pretty patronizing to me as an observer.


The second disconcerting thing was more personal. I had only been around the margins of the workshop--popping in at the end of the first day, when I helped Anita (at her request) finish tracing her first pattern onto a cloth, and visiting briefly with some of the other women. I came back from Saraguro and an interview with Zoila Chalan (see below) for the last hour of the final day, and helped a bit with hanging finished pieces on the walls for a final display and some photos. Took photos for Enith with her camera, as she asked, and took photos of a couple of the women with their completed pieces so I could bring them prints later (as they requested). Then I took video footage for them of the closing ceremony--this was the extent of my involvement with the class. So I was a bit startled and disconcerted when both Enith and the minister verbally thanked me for my assistance. I guess the presence of an outsider, and an U.S. outsider at that, made them feel compelled to acknowledge me, but really, I had nothing to do with any of the substance of what these women were doing. Made me uncomfortable to be singled out like that for no other reason than I occupy the structural position of someone from a distant, "elite" society. But, this is inevitably part of my presence here.


Next week the Calcutas will resume their regular Tuesday afternoon meeting and collective artesania work session.


Strange Dreams and ¨Mysterious¨ Cave

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Woke at dawn from a strange, fairly intense dream. I had returned to the States from my fieldwork, but instead of returning to my current family, found myself with my childhood extended family on my mom's side at a party--various cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. I was interacting with folks, talking, telling a bit about my trip, when suddenly, I found I couldn't understand the English they were speaking. It sounded all garbled and nonesensish--I imagine the way English must sound to Anita and Benigno and the others here when it is spoken fast between two native speakers. I kept sating, "No entiendo," and at first the people at the party laughed and thought I was joking around, but eventually they began to grow annoyed. Then malevolently angry, faces becoming grotesque and scary--distorted as in fun house mirrors. Woke up short of breath and afraid.


Perhaps some of that dream had to do with a brief haunting image I got yesterday during the jaunt that coopted my interview with Rosa Medina (more about that jaunt below). We visited a small cave by the river, where a black pool of water is separated from the main flow of the river. After our trek was over for the morning we stopped in at Jose's sister's house because he wanted me to try some wajango, a slightly fermented beverage made inside the penco (agave) plant. While we were there, he prompted his sister to tell me what she had seen inside the cave long ago. She said she had seen a dark male figure with two faces rising out of the water up to his chest. She ran from the place and her friends, who had not gone into the cave with her, ran away, too. Jose said he, too, has seen strange things in there, but he did not go into specifics--when we were at the cave he several times called it misterioso.


About the adventure that led us to the cave. When I got to Rosa Medina's house, her husband, Jose Fernando, was there, along with their three kids. First they took Misael and I upstair to the topmost room of the house where they have a small recording studio set up for Jonathan, their oldest son. He is a singer and plays guitar. The room is a 10X10 cubicle with a computer, a small mixing board, a microphone on a stand and a guitar leaning in the corner. They wanted to show us a video of Jonathan when he sang a ballad at the event help in honor of President Rafael Correa's visit to Saraguro last March. The video was likely done by a local production company, as the sound and video quality was good, and the whole piece was introduced and narrated by a Saraguro man in traditional dress. Correa spoke to the crowd a little in Kichwa at first, and wore a poncho he had been given--this brought a lot of applause. There were a couple of singers-- Jonathan sang solo with the live band playing with him, and he was very good--impassioned and strong-voiced, and conscious of the need to "put the song over" to the crowd. After each verse the crowd gave him a round of enthusiastic applause.


Then Jose wanted to know if I had seen the Tuncarta community cemetery, which I hadn't, and he explained that he also has a seed field of a plant growing next the cemetery, a plant that he hopes to develop into a commercial crop.


So, we were down the stairs and out the door, all of us--Jose, me, Misael, Rosa, Jonathan (11), and his two younger sisters (perhaps 8 and 4)--for what turned into a two our adventure to the cemetery and field and to a lovely spot down on the river that Jose and Rosa only recently purchased (about 1 month ago), and which he has visions of turning into a tourist destination. More about that below.


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The field turned out to be about 100 yards X 150 yards and was on a slope high above the river. The plant, called achira, is a perhaps 1-meter tall flowering plant, a species related to slightly taller such flowers that people use for ornamental plantings. The red rooted and white rooted varieties that Jose is cultivating to generate future planting stock are both used for food. The white variety, especially, is used to make a fine white flour called chuño, which is used in fine pastries and such. It is this product that Jose hopes to open the door to a commercial market, and hence economic opportunities. The plant is propagated like bananas from cuttings, and he hopes to turn most of his cultivable land into a plantation of such plants. Jose said he doesn't think it is native to Ecuador. Perhaps it is Japanese taro used to make taro root starch? The leaves are about 20-inches long, and 10-inches wide at the center, tapering at the tip and bottom. Strong central rib, with many parallel veins radiating from the rib. Stalk is thick and fleshy, and leads down to the rounded top of a starchy root with either a white sheath over it or a red one. The plants were just beginning to send of flower stalk, perhaps 1 meter high with several orange flowers separately erupting from the tip.

We climbed down the fairly steep ravine to the river--any possible pride I might have had for my dexterity was tempered by the fact that Rosa did the same in long skirts and dress shoes, and her children all went along, too, including the 4-year old, who only occasionally needed to be carried by her brother or helped past a steep eroded spot. Along the way we saw a planting of sango(?)--a large leafed plant (leaves look like giant elephant ears), which grew on the steep slope where the temperature was very warm from solar heat, and at a spot where a spring was bubbling through the scree to provide constant water at the roots. There are two varieties, again a white and a red, and the fleshy trunk is eaten with crumbled cheese--Rosa said it's really good.


Jonathan by the River.JPG

We climbed down to a really beautiful spot on the river, just below a series of dramatic rapids and falls. I climbed onto a rock in the middle of the river with Jose and Misael and Jonathan, and then Jose wanted me to stay there while he worked his way upstream and onto some larger rock outcrops in the midst of the stream. He wanted photos of himself on each rock. So he scrambled around and up and I took photos at several points for him. He was dressed in slick, black dress shoes and black dress pants, a white dress shirt and a black jacket, but this did not slow him, and he climbed places I would not try with my stable hiking boots and camping pants.


All the time we were there, Jose talked animatedly about his plan to make this spot over into a tourist destination. He led me down into the cave, really a sort of tunnel that opens on one end upstream in such a manner that at high water river current washes into the opening and drops about 20 feet into a sandy-bottomed hole with a rock roof overhead. A dark pool, about 20 feet wide and stretching back under a large boulder into darkness is also fed steadily by an underground stream that tumbles out of the earth over a few stones into the pool. Jose says he has caught several large trout from this pool, and speculates they get washed in at high water, and since there is no clear opening for the fish to get back to main current, they get stuck in there and grow fairly large. I imagine the population of that little spot would be rapidly depleted by serious fishing.


Jose wants to get the commercial crop of achira going in order to generate capital to develop this spot for tourism. He wants to build a small rustic hostal on piece of fairly level land he has on the lip of the river canyon, then build a comfortable path with handrails down to the spot on the river by the cave. There he would build a small cabaña, perhaps a footbridge over the river, and some ladders. Tourists could fish, swim, rock climb, etc. In addition, Jose could act as guide to look at wildflowers, trees, etc. He also would like to guide folks up to the paramo (the beginning of the route to the Oriente is not far from here), to show them places such as Condorcillo and Tres Lagunas--highland lakes also stocked with trout.


Landscape View.JPG

He wanted to know if I thought this was a good place for this, and if I thought this was a good idea. He is clearly excited about his recent ownership of what is, indeed, a special place. I said that I thought it would be attractive to tourists if they developed a 3-4 day tourist package that included one day for knocking around at this spot by the river, a day hiking into the paramo for sightseeing and fishing, and a day for cultural tourism in Tuncarta itself, perhaps to see some significant spots, and participate in a cultural event such as a meal/fiesta with folkloric dancing and music and chicha sampling and such. He got excited by this idea--said there is a 100-year-old house that would be a site worth seeing, and might also work as a location for an event.  I said I thought this would be great, and the women who make artesanias could demonstrate and sell their work, too. He was clearly thinking about his own interest, but also had a strong sense that this kind of development could be beneficial to the entire community.


Rosa Beading by the River.JPG

On the way back up the hill we stopped and tried the wajongo at his sisters. It was not strongly fermented and tasted rather like the kombuchu tea made by fermenting sugar with a Japanese fungus--a little carbonated, tart and sweetish at the same time, and clearly a "living" food. I liked it.


By the time we'd drunk the wajongo, it was already a few minutes past noon, when I had my next interview scheduled, so we had to cut the visit short without having sat down for the interview with Rosa. So, I've arranged to return on Wednesday morning, both for the interview and to put the pictures I took into their computer.

Advice for a Techno-pelli

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Techno-pelli's Shadow.JPG Have been thinking about some of the lessons I´m learning here about doing fieldwork, living life, etc. Here is Techno-pelli´s shadow on the path down from Namarin to Tuncarta. The stuff I´m putting here is a list of things I need to remember, and maybe it´s partially a poem, and possibly it might be useful to other techno-pellis out there.

NOTE ALSO: The comments function should be working now, so if you would like to add your own advice for a techno-pelli, please feel free to do so. Thanks to one of the readers of htis blog (you know who you are) for reminding me to be thoughtful and ethical about what I post here, You´ll see a couple of the things on the list relate directly to your comments.

Advice for a Techno-pelli


Check all the pockets.


Not everybody likes your music,

or your visit to this place.

You're welcome in many places in the community--

But not here!

Or not now!


Tractor time costs more--

you can wait--

watch, maybe you'll learn something,

and pitch in if they'll let you.


Sometimes there are only three stones

firm in the muddy path--step carefully.


People will ask for your help--

give as much as you can--

don't promise to change lives--

know your true worth and limits as a traveler.


Sometimes your technology won't work.

Sometimes your technology won't be appreciated.

Sometimes your technology will be useful to people you visit.

Be aware of when each of these appear true.

Act accordingly.


Most of the places you walk in your adventures

are walked daily by four-year-olds.


Sweet treats in your pockets

are always welcome.


Kids can be helpful guides, but remember,

they don't know all the houses.

(they do know the location of all bad dogs.)


Dogs, horses, sheep and some people

don't really much like strangers.


For dogs, a stone in your hand (even bluffed)

can be useful.


Bring everything inside you,

not just your brain--

and use it all, every day.

You're first human,

traveler second.


Women standing at the top of the cliff path,

            having their morning chat while hand-spinning wool,

                        do not want you to take their pictures. Don´t ask.


Young men of the community might keep their distance--

            they have their reasons.


Old men will ask you questions you can't answer

about why your country is wealthier than theirs.

Old women who have never worn shoes

will probably not talk to you--

there's a good chance they do not speak

the same language as others in the community.


People will tell you a certain old woman

is more than 100-years-old--

this may or may not be true.


Morning yoga is a good way to keep mental balance while journeying.

Good idea to keep it up back home.


Folks back home want a polished and edited

version of your story.


The stories need to be (mostly) true,

and carefully told--

honor the trust of those you visit.


Wash your shoes before you go home.

Comments Now Enabled!

The good news is that with the help of ¨Shane¨ from UThink support services, the comments on the blog should now be enabled. I simply had the spam filter set too high to accept comments.

So, please feel free to comment on any of the posts that have interested you so far, and on future posts.

The bad news is that in an effort to clear space on my laptop for more photos and recordings, I accidentally deleted the driver fro my SD car reader, and am now not able to move photos from my camera to my laptop (and thence to my USB flashdrive, which I use to bring photos to the Internet place in Saraguro to post to this blog). So, I have tried downloading a driver that I think will get the thing working again, but if it doesn´t work, this blog is going to be a lot less visually interesting for the remainder of my trip, which ends on August 23.

So, comment away, and I hope to get photos up and working again soon--what would a techno-pelli be if he/she didn´t have to contend with technical difficulties caused by the technology (and dumb decisions to delete made too late in the evening!)?

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