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.
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
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--
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.
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.
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