Monday, March 26, 2012

The Post that is Not a Post

March 27, 2012

This is not a new post.  This is a just a quick notice to say that I changed the title of my last post dated March 23, 2012 to "Look Familiar?".  Same post - different title.
The original title (using a movie code rating) was bringing some...mmm....some unwanted traffic to this website, and causing problems with my google search engine access.
The original post had to be deleted (and unfortunately some funny reader comments along with it) and re-written into a new link.

Look Familiar?

March 23, 2012

(Parental warning: Some of the pictures included with this post may be considered graphic.
Just sayin').

First, a little history about Ecuador (and I am quoting from Discovery Channel’s “Insight Guides/Ecuador” book):

“The first human beings who came to Ecuador were hunters and gatherers. The approximate time of their arrival is still debated among scholars, but it is certain that human beings have been in the Andes for 15,000 years... (or longer)....”the crucial question in Ecuador itself surrounds the gradual all-important transformation from hunting and gathering way of life to what archeologists call the ‘formative lifestyle”.
“Most archeologists believe that this transformation in the Americas occurred over a 2000-3000 year period, beginning around 3000 BC in the most advanced areas. To the great surprise of many archeologists, the earliest pottery and other evidence of formative cultures in the whole of South America has been found on the coast of Ecuador, from a culture known as Valdivia. The Valdivian culture stretched along the Ecuador coast....”
The Valdivian culture had “highly developed pottery, agricultural cultivation, and social organization firmly under its belt...”
In other words, around where we now live, and our coastal area frequently offers up spectacular treasures from the past, some of which are pictured on this post (Todd took these photos awhile ago of a Ecuadorian friend’s private collection). When found, none of this pottery is permitted to leave the country (thankfully).
I recently had an interesting discussion with a couple of Ecuadorian expats/Ecuador-bound friends of mine, and with their permission, sharing some of their comments here.
Texan Leigh Anne Hudson and family bought property in Ballenita and are in the process of moving here. We spent a fun week with them about a year ago, had a ball together, and we’re looking forward to their arrival.
Bob Barber currently lives in Florida, but has spent a lot of time in Ecuador and is married to an Ecuadorian. Bob daily posts great photos and comments on his “labor of love” blog called “Ecuador Photos”. Check it out.

The conversation started out about individual and cultural differences regarding body “modesty” issues and Bob asked a good question:
How are Ecuadorians' ideas about modesty different from our own? I certainly haven't found Ecuadorians to be any less modest than Americans, quite the opposite in fact.”

To which Leigh-Anne and I had several responses/perspectives one of which was:
Regarding Ecuadorian modesty, yes, think they are more conservative, but not modest about breast feeding in public, nor do men hesitate to relieve themselves in public (though they thoughtfully turn away from anyone standing nearby” (at least in our coastal area).”

Then Bob made this astute and funny observation:

“I have noticed some of what you said. Obviously nobody likes the men peeing in public. I have seen some graffiti in Spanish which calls the men who do this some awful names. So it is not like everybody accepts it, and it isn't everybody who does it by any means. I have also noticed the breast-feeding in public. One of my pictures I published I had to edit because there was a woman breastfeeding her baby in it. She wasn't at all bothered--she was smiling and waving to the camera. I didn't notice her when I took the picture because the picture was of a busy scene and something else was the subject. The funny thing is, my wife, who is Ecuadorian, is a little bit ashamed that people breast feed in public. She is not at all for it, which surprises me. I guess within Ecuadorian society, like ours, there are people with all kinds of belief systems.
However, I do find Ecuadorian culture overall (with the two exceptions that you nailed and maybe a few more, I'm thinking of how the viudas dress on New Year's Eve) to be conservative, especially in the sierra, where I have spent most of my time.
In fact, when I first went to Ecuador in 1998 I lived with a host family, and the first day I came down the stairs in my bare feet to eat breakfast, and they were horrified. Not amused, or curious, but horrified. So I put my shoes on, and ever since then I've paid close attention to how Ecuadorians dress and act in public. Ecuadorian society is more homogeneous than U.S. society, and if you are different, there is less understanding of those differences, there are few questions of the, "Oh, is that how you do it where you are from?" type, and just judgment, even if it is silent-- they think you don't understand the way things are supposed to be. Yes, I feel free to be my own person, but I do try to fit within the norms more or less. People are so conservative in the sierra that I am reluctant even to dress in tee-shirts sometimes. All the men wear suits or business casual in certain areas of Quito, and you can get labeled for something as simple as wearing a tee-shirt or shorts. I realize it is different on the coast, due to the climate and the culture. You know, sometimes with these things it is like the fable of the blind men and the elephant. We all have different experiences, and we can only go by what we have seen ourselves.”

Pretty sure most cultures
can relate to this

It is true that attitudes and dress are much more casual along the beach areas, and it is true that, at times, some folks from Quito and Cuenca consider coastal residents (I suppose us included) as uncouth, uncultured hicks. “Los Monos” is not an uncommon term to be applied to those who live along the shoreline.
And we are more casual here. The usual dress code in Montanita is a bathing suit, as pictured above, and hardly anyone is trying to make a fashion statement unless they look that good in a thong.
And same as Bob, I have refrained from taking photos of nursing women, (although I did briefly consider lurking around the north bound bus stop in Montanita to get a few snaps of men urinating in public for this post, but my better judgment decided against that idea)...Hell, you guys have it so easy!
At any rate, I don’t think the Valdivian culture had many hang ups about body modesty or functions if their talented pottery is any indication.

Monday, March 12, 2012


March 11, 2011

Several of us headed to Montanita to do some grocery shopping this morning.  While there, I spied this contraption for the first time. I must not be very observant, because Todd and the other guys I was with told me this octo-tandem bike on steroids has been around for awhile.
At first I thought a driver drove around town with bar patrons in tow because of the steering wheel in front – but no…everyone peddles as they troll the village.
I’m definitely checking this out, and even though the drinks are over-priced, still thinkin’ I gotta do this one.

Our days are finally beginning to return to a more reasonable and tranquillo pace after the predictable December to February onslaught of vacationing visitors to our local beaches.

We are getting more settled into our new Olon long-term rental house (while we build on our nearby lot), and getting quite comfortable here. True, I get a little tingle in my hand every time I turn the faucet on in one of our suicide showers, and yes it took us a couple of weeks to get our new closet (a shower rod) to quit falling down, but all in all we’re getting pretty cozy in our new home (especially after we find some living room furniture).

How the neatly hanging clothes
should look (see back corner of room)

How they usually looked

What we did to fix it

We love our new neighborhood; it’s very much an Ecuadorian local neighborhood, and everyone’s been friendly and welcoming to us. Another great thing is the opportunity to speak and hear español, because most of our vecinos don’t speak English.

One of our favorite places to hang now is Johanita’s tienda, at first because it was conveniently close, but more so now because we enjoy the Ecuadorian camaraderie there. Always there is laughter and caring and everyone is welcome. There is a lot of joking, a lot of verbal and rapid “leg pulling”, inside jokes, trading of the latest news…Bring your Spanish, or your desire to learn it; lose any preconceived notions, and any arrogant attitudes, and you’ll fit right in.

Lamps via chicken bus
Because our new 2 bd/2ba rental house didn’t come with appliances or furniture, or a drawer or closet in sight (with the exception of a bunk bed in the room we are now using for an office), I’ve been scurrying around the coast from here to Libertad/Salinas/Guayaquil on buses for the last several weeks in search of a few things we’ve needed (lamps, furniture, hardware, etc).  There’s been a few glitches during the transition to the new house, but usually nothing that can’t be solved with a can of bug spray, a broom and a mop (a few leaks, at first. We have had a LOT of rain here, though not as dramatic as some of our bordering provinces).

File Cabinet in corner,
behind desk.
Plastic dresser via chicken bus.
We don’t have a car. We don’t really need it. You would be surprised how much one can single-handedly haul on a chicken bus (see the pics adjacent or below to see some of things I’ve lugged on those recently).  I am tickled that we are getting more organized and "nested"  (the file cabinet was truly a several-city scavenger hunt, and am thankful to my Guayaquil friend Dana for pointing me in the direction of, apparently, the only file cabinet available that didn’t require an airline flight to fetch).
I was able to locate it after a hard day’s trek into Guayaquil to shop, while waiting for my brother Jack’s incoming late night arrival.
Sure it was the floor model (no discounts here for that, though I tried). “The only one left”… (I really didn’t doubt that by this point). It is scratched, and  the keys to lock it don’t work at all, and its non-adustable pentaflex folder rods only fit legal-sized ones, which was another misson. But I got on my knees and hugged it and said “yes!”

Yep, chicken bus, and that
thing is heavy!
The great thing about riding the local Ruta buses as regularly as I do, most of the drivers, and “driver-helper-guys” know me by now, and know if I show up at the mini-bus terminal in Libertad, I am returning to Olon. 
Something about all the jiggly, back and forth swaying of the chicken buses, the drivers’ attitude of “take a running start before you hit those coastal town speed bumps”; the jolting stops and starts – for some perverse reason – relaxes me and I have developed a proclivity to either go sound asleep or become absorbed in a book.

Refer to “The Scream” for further emphasis on this point.

While returning home late one afternoon with one of my newly purchased plastic dressers safely stored in the bin below (5PM is about the latest you want to catch a local Ruta bus at the Libertad mini-terminal for the return trip back to Montanita/Olon), I became so engrossed with my book that I sailed right past my usual Olon drop off after dark.

For those who don't know
what a "suicide shower
looks like.
The familiar and friendly “driver-helper-person” thoughtfully came over to interrupt my read, and helpfully point out I had just missed my stop (AFTER Olon was nothing but a vision in the review mirror) because he noticed my plastic dresser in the bus bin when he dropped most everyone else there.  Fortunately, the bus line ends in La Entrada, about 15 minutes north of us, where my driver was turning around for the final return trip home for the night anyway (my luck that he lives in Olon and not further north).
One of my friends wise-cracked that I should just pin a note to my shirt when I go on these chicken bus expeditions that says “if found, please call husband Todd at such and such number”.

Daisy likes her new home (and the fact that we let her inside here at night when it’s raining), but pretty much hangs out most of the time in the old ‘hood, which is fine, because we are over in Jardines much of the time too.
Our friends, Doug and Pam’s son Scott recently arrived to stay for awhile, bringing with him a couple of great chocolate labs (older “Denali” and rambunctious young “Yost”), both males.

Yost and Daisy
Yost and Daisy did not hit it off at first, but now they are the best of buddies, along with Denali. These three really have a ball romping on the beach together, and Scott’s dogs have been able to coax Daisy further out in the water than she’s been before.
During Carnavale, when there were so many, many out-of-towners here, and fireworks (which terrify Daisy) we felt she would be safer and enjoy the time better if she spent a couple of nights up at Scott’s hillside place hanging out with “the boys” and glad that Scott agreed.

Slumber Party, doggy style
Photo courtesy of  Scott
Photo by Scott
According to Scott, the kids had a great 3-day doggy slumber party, and Daisy came home looking happy and relaxed.

Photo by Jack
February 2012

Friday, March 2, 2012

I See What?

March 1, 2012

The Eagle and the Condor

In 2006, while living in Palm Springs (and Ecuador was not even a blimp on the radar then), I read an article in the March 2006 issue of “National Geographic ADVENTURE” written by Kira Salak about her experience during a shamanic healing ritual involving ayahuasca on a trip to Peru (“To Hell and Back”).  I was utterly fascinated when I read the piece and sorta mentally put that on my “bucket list of things to do”, but it seemed unlikely, because South America had yet to beckon me.

To quote Wikipedia:
 "Ayahuasca" or "ayawaska" is Quechua for , "spirit vine" or "vine of the souls"; aya means "spirit" while huasca or waska means "vine".  
 (I think it is a combination of two different plants that grow naturally in the jungle here, and usually drank as a tea).  
"Ayahuasca is used largely as a religious sacrament. Users of ayahuasca in non-traditional contexts often align themselves with the philosophies and cosmologies associated with ayahuasca shamanism, as practiced among indigenous peoples.”
To further quote Wikipedia:
“While non-native users know of the spiritual applications of ayahuasca, a less well-known traditional usage focuses on the medicinal properties of ayahuasca. When used for its medicinal purposes ayahuasca affects the human consciousness for less than six hours beginning half an hour after consumption, and peaking after two hours. The remedy also has cardiovascular effects, moderately increasing both heart rate and diastolic blood pressure. The psychedelic effects of ayahuasca include visual and auditory stimulation, the mixing of sensory modalities, and psychological introspection that may lead to great elation, fear, or illumination. Its purgative properties are important (known as la purga or "the purge"). The intense vomiting and occasional diarrhea it induces can clear the body of worms and other tropical parasites

I was recently honored to be invited to a shamanic healing ritual, held last Saturday night beginning at 10PM, and lasting all night and well into Sunday morning. Our British friend Melanie (who’s been in South America/Ecuador for a long time, speaks Spanish fluently, committed and well on the path towards her “Vision Quest”, and who has become a very special friend to Todd & me), has been encouraging us to attend one of the seemingly “spur of the moment” scheduled ceremonies, but the time never seemed right, or I was just too scared to say “yes” until now.

Ayahuasca has been used here in Ecuador for centuries for spiritual and medicinal reasons, and I’ve either read, been told first hand, or witnessed personally the beneficial effects on those who respect the ritual.
I’ve also met folks that should probably lay off the ayahuasca for awhile.

But make no mistake; this journey is not for the faint-hearted, nor those who view it as a recreational opportunity. Lady Ayahuasca should be never treated with anything other than the utmost respect.
It is an awesome experience, but also very, very uncomfortable at times. There is a good reason that it’s sometimes called the “Warriors’ Path” or the “Path of the Warriors”. I think the three most important attitudes to bring – should you agree to this mission are:
  • A desire and willingness to be healed – AND HAVE A GOAL IN MIND when you do it.
  • A sense that “you are ready”.
  • Open-mindedness.
Oh, and don’t mind getting really, really dirty. And it’s a good idea to cleanse before-hand by avoiding spicy or salty food, fats, caffeine, acidic products and alcohol a few days before and after. And drink lots and lots of water, because once the ceremony starts it is forbidden until offered at the appropriate time(s), as well as tobacco, unless that is used for ceremonial purposes.

When Melanie and I arrived a little after 10PM, the ceremonial accouterments and the all important center fire configuration was being prepared in the lodge. It was an unusually large crowd for this ceremony, which normally would have been held outside, but it was raining, and it was somewhat cramped inside the rustic/native lodge that was used instead. I suppose around 35 people were in attendance, not counting the children or the shamans and “shaman helpers” (for lack of better word). Locally, we have a couple of well-respected shamans, Jorge and Jorgito (Jorge’s adult son, who is anything but little).

One of the reasons that this particular ceremony was packed was because we had the honor of a visiting Shuar shaman known as “Taita Segundo” presiding. I believe that he was introduced to me first as “Mario” before the ceremony began – a humble, kind-eyed, gentle man, with a powerful presence – and one who will always be “Taita” to me from now on. Taita has been training as a shaman since around the age of 8-yrs, in the Amazon and has a true gift (which isn’t necessarily passed on from father to son). Interestingly, Taita has no hands (which are both amputated at the wrists, and I’ve heard several stories as to why).

The whole ceremony was conducted in Spanish, and I suppose lots of Quechua (also spelled Quichua).
I think one of my first astonishments as we gathered in the lodge to begin the ceremony was the joviality of the people attending, as well as the number of children that were present. Almost everyone at this ceremony was indigenous Ecuadorian to some degree, and it truly seemed like a family affair, much celebrated and – I thought – similar to an estados unidos Thanksgiving gathering.

Jorge gave a very impassioned yet calm “sermon?” to begin (and while I didn’t understand most of it, felt very soothed as he spoke, and grateful that Melanie and a couple of other ingles speakers were sitting near me to translate certain important points). Much of what he said was greeted with assenting grunts and versions of “amen’s”. While he was speaking he was smoking a special natural tobacco combination stogie (not likely to be marijuana). There is a special consideration regarding the plants used for ceremony. Special, naturally growing tobacco blends are used, since it is considered as sending “incense” to the heavens/spirit world, and may vary according to shaman/tribe/ceremony? At least to the best of my understanding at this point.

After he was done speaking, the “cigar” was passed around amongst the shamans (Jorgito, Taita and Carmen the “woman of incense” and they each expounded as they puffed). ”Ruvel" was minding to the center fire, which I have to think is an honor and a selfless sacrifice, since focusing on the fire is an important part of the ceremony for participants but requires constant vigilance from the tender of the fire. 

Virtually every ritual I’ve heard of involves tobacco shared with all (in one form or another) to begin the purging process and I was kinda dreading that. Fortunately, we only had to snort tobacco water, poured into the palms of our hands and then inhaled into each nostril, starting with the left nostril (representing the heart).  That wasn’t bad, and infinitely preferable to drinking a combination of chewed up tobacco mixed with spittle that I’ve heard used in other ceremonies.
Following that, a bag of tobacco was passed around and each of us in turn threw our pinch of tobacco onto the fire, appealing to our heads, our hearts and our spirit for healing, with a specific vision and reason for attending.

Then the liquid ayahuasca was passed around in what may be best described as a jigger, and a full one at that. It is understood that whatever you agree to ingest, you agree to drink the full contents before it is passed to the next person. All of us shared from the same glass/plate in whatever was passed around. Before the ayahuasca concoction is sent around the circle, each one of us was provided a barf bag. It takes around 30-40 minutes for the medicine to take effect. The only way to do it is to chug it; I didn’t think it was too bad tasting, and I have a very sensitive gag reflex.

The ceremonial stick and rattle were then passed. Those who knew sacred songs, (healing songs called “icaros” I think) sang them while holding the “stick” and rattle, and for those of us who didn’t, were asked to prounounce a blessing with them, and pass them to the next person) as a drum beat played by Jorgito kept constant accompaniment while waiting for the ayahuasca to kick in. It was a special time of sharing, and I did my best to keep my focus on the center fire.

About an hour into it, I was feeling pretty proud (okay, maybe a little too smug) that I wasn’t puking like most around me (including those who were well accustomed to the ritual, and not ashamed about “la purga” portion, however it manifests).
…Until I quite suddenly realized that my purge was going to involve coming out rather explosively from the other end.
There is no lady-like way to explain this next phase. Suffice to say that while I did manage to stumble to the nearby, rather basic bano…I didn’t quite make it all the way to the toilet, and managed to soil not only my undies and the pair of sweatpants I had pulled on underneath my long skirt – for modesty and warmth during the night- I also managed to crap some on the floor. This was probably the most singularly uncomfortable moment during the ritual, since I certainly didn’t want someone needing the bano after me to slip in it, so I spent what seemed to me to be a long, wobbly time trying to wipe up the floor with what was available, washed my only panties in the sink so I could keep on wearing those wet, rinsed off the sweat pants, and tossed them outside the lodge till it was all over.

I think I earnestly entered into this experience with some idea of what was to happen, and did my best not to have any pre-conceived expectations. But you know, I’ve talked to many credible people that take the ritual seriously, who have had a genuine spiritual awakening and/or awesome visions, and the opportunity to re-visit past life experiences as in a movie reel. In all honesty, I was hoping to taste some of that.

But did I see dead, ancient and wise Amazon warriors speaking to me?... No.
Did I have visions of flying like a condor over the jungle, or any other connection to my particular power spirit animal (“arútams”?)…No.
Did I get to revisit certain moments in my life worth reviewing?...No.
What I did see were trails of what appeared to be dental floss stuck to my hand as I was wiping up the bathroom floor.

 After that, I was somewhat fearful. I crawled back into my spot, and I was either laid flat on my back or huddled in a fetal position with part of the blanket I brought (also being shared with those next to me) for the next couple of hours while dozing and enjoying a dreamless “sleep” (that I remember); a rejuvenating siesta.  I do remember clearly that at some point I was asked several times if I wanted to sit up and partake of the next round or two of other medicines sent around, which I declined because I was barely able to squeak out “No, I don’t think so; I’m doing just fine at the moment”, though I rather regret that decision now.

During that portion of the ceremony, Taita came around to each one of us (waving/fanning with a “wand” of corn husk leaves and other things to perform individually tailored, gifted healing rituals for each of us. I did manage sit up long enough to receive this. To some he said more or less “stick around tomorrow, you need lengthier and specific work done that can’t be incorporated/time enough or private enough during this rite”. Later, on Sunday morning after the ceremony was officially over, I observed Taita carry out some of those individual treatments and I am still trying to process the methods and healings I witnessed.

After a couple of hours, as the hallucinogenic properties of the natural medicines subsided, or were at least more endurable, all were invited to join in the next phase of the authentic sweat lodge portion of the ritual. I think most all except the sleeping children opted “in” on this, myself included, though I was dreading it. It started before sunrise and lasted into daybreak and was at least a couple of hours long. HOURS LONG.

It was almost more than I thought I could possibly tolerate (thankfully, I was told before-hand to bring a loose fitting sweat-lodge extra pair of clothes). It went on forever, and I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to bolt from that hot, stifling, claustrophobic, unfamiliar environment, if nothing else than to gasp a couple of deep breaths of fresh air on the real or pretext need for the bano (which some did). There is a certain male/female ritual for entering or leaving the tent, and specific rituals for how and when to present/use the heated rocks, the antlers used to position them, the sacred tobacco incense burned atop, the water added at the end to make it steamy right before the only open tent flap is shut (four times this process is repeated in recognition of the sacred elements of air, water, fire and earth)….Jorge was telling stories in Spanish/Quichua, sharing invaluable oral stories and traditions for some time, and while I didn’t understand most of it with my mind, his voice was hypnotically soothing, and I was drifting to the very comfortable in-between place of “not asleep/nor awake” and somehow understood his meaning and tales with my heart. There is much more I would like to add to this paragraph, but will leave it at this for now.

When we emerged from the sweat lodge, we rinsed off/cleaned up some in a not-fancy communal type showering area that did include a couple of curtained of stalls for the women to use before changing back into the clothes we wore, or whatever else we brought to wear that was clean or cleaner.

The final rite of the ceremony was a shared breakfast of corn, meat and fruit after a sweet, females only singing procession bringing in the food (which I felt honored to be asked to carry in the watermelon tray) and then an elaborate prayer, and the meal was shared amongst us on mutual platters, which we ate using our hands. It was very jolly and relaxing time with the kids awoken and frolicking around, and I feel like I’ve been adopted and welcomed into a new “family”.

I admit I was at first motivated by curiosity to attend this ritual. I also became moved to participate because I sensed within myself that it was the right time to “do it” and that I was personally ready to embrace the potential healing aspects of it, despite my considerable trepidation.

I heard from friends and family beforehand well-meant comments and (perhaps well-founded) concerns about this choice (i.e. “whatever you do, DON’T get in the sweat lodge; people die in those”, to one of my daughters firmly admonishing me NOT to eat any strange plants….to which I was wondering if drinking them might be okay instead).

Was it an awesome experience?  Yes.
Was it for the most part a miserably uncomfortable night? Yes.
Did I learn something from it? Yes, though I'm still trying to process and articulate my experience, except to say I’m most definitely impressed with a new sense of inner-calm, peace and serenity that I’ve felt since then.
Others have commented about a new “glow” to my demeanor, including some folks who are not/were not aware of what I participated in last Saturday night. It was a voyage into the unknown, and an opportunity to peel back some stubborn, spiritual outer “onion skin layers”, to use an un-original and cliché analogy.  
Is it a journey that I am willing to explore some more? Yes.  When the time is right.
But next time I’m going to bring a few extra panties and a towel.

*** All pictures included with this post were culled from the internet, and my thanks to these unknown photographers.