About Lainie Liberti
Lainie Liberti is a recovering branding expert, who’s career once focused on creating campaigns for green - eco business, non-profits and conscious business. Dazzling clients with her high-energy designs for over 18 years, Lainie lent her artistic talents to businesses that matter. But that was then.
In 2008, after the economy took a turn, Lainie decided to be the change (instead of a victim) and began the process of “lifestyle redesign,” a joint decision between both her and her 11-year-old son, Miro. They sold or gave away all of of their possessions in 2009 and began a life of travel, service, and exploration. Lainie and her son Miro began their open-ended adventure backpacking through Central and South America. They are slow traveling around the globe allowing inspiration to be their compass. The pair is most interested in exploring different cultures, contributing by serving, and connecting with humanity as ‘global citizens.’
Today Lainie considers herself a digital nomad who is living a location independent life. She and her son write and podcast their experiences from the road at Raising Miro on the Road of Life.
Latest Posts by Lainie Liberti
While a cemetery visit may appear to be a surprising “tourist” suggestion, we found the site fascinating, full of history, tradition and a great understanding of the Bolivian culture. Our visit to the cemetery was accidental as we stumbled upon the site without prior knowledge.
One afternoon, Miro and I set out to explore the sprawling city of La Paz from above, riding the modern teleferico transportation system, built with precision by a Swiss company. Miro and I both were engaged in the the incredible birds-eye view of the grand city, peeking into the neighborhoods below. We sat speechless most of the time, drinking in the sites below, rooftop laundry lines, unfinished brick homes, dogs and children playing on the surrounding streets. We noticed the imaginary lines dividing the neighborhoods by class, illustrated by collections of structures and their state of completion.
Miro and I rode the yellow and green lines, and the last line we set out to explore was the red line. As we approached the “cementerio” station, we saw below us the enormous sprawling grounds filled with rows and rows of concrete tombs.
“Wow, look at that!” I said pointing below us.
Miro replied, “let’s go!”
We exited the teleferica and crossed the street to the main cemetery entrance.
This is no ordinary cemetery, and we’ve stumbled across dozens on our travels from Mexico to Peru. But the sheer size of the grounds of La Paz’s cemetery is incomprehensible.
The following information we found based on our research after the fact, but like all normal worldschooling adventures, we were inspired to learn more, research and really go deeper.
The cemetery had been a burial place for at least a hundred years in the city of La Paz. It was thought to have been built sometime around the turn of the century. The Bolivian government took control of the informal grounds in the 1930s or 40s as a public facility. The purpose was to provide a decent burial ground for the poor who did not have the land or resources to bury their loved ones.
The cemetery is located within the heart of city center, covering an area of about 3km. There are no ground burials or grave sites with the exception of two that we saw, who belonged to a famous Bolivian writer and a famous Bolivian musician.
Instead of grave sites, all bodies are stored in concrete structures with about 6 tombs stacked high and about 30 across. There are endless rows of the buildings as far as the eye can see. The unique design of the cemetery makes it look like a 3-acre apartment complex.
For the dead.
According to my research, initially the grounds seemed sufficient to contain the number of tombs for La Paz’s population. But after several decades it became over populated. To ensure that there was enough space, the administration decided that the deceased remains from the grand tombs would be stored for 10 years. After which, the remains would be removed from their resting place and cremated. Then their ashes would need to be collected by the family and transferred to another building containing smaller compartments with glass door tombs.
(Unfortunately I did not find information answering this question “what happens to the ashes of the deceased if the family does not claim them?”)
Taxes. As above, so below.
As Miro and I strolled through the grounds, we noticed receipts of rental agreements on the face of the tombs. Some indicated the rent was overdue, others indicated the debt was canceled. And as the lower income families worry about their livelihoods, they must too worry about the monthly rent for their deceased loved ones… After all, the final resting place is not actually final, in La Paz. On a normal day visitors will find a few people coming to the cemetery to bring flowers, updating the offerings and taking care of the space of their loved ones. There is a deep tradition within the Andean culture to care of the soul of the passed on family member and most grave fronts within the cemetery display this dedication.
According to research, the most interesting time to visit the La Paz Cemetery is in November when they celebrate the day of the dead. The Bolivians have a strong belief in the power of the dead and on 2nd November they have an entire celebration dedicated to the dead. The colorful ceremony takes place at the La Paz Cemetery where locals carry actual human skulls, either of a loved one or for a favorite dead person but the majority do not even know the owner of the skull, it was just passed on to them.
This celebration involved dressing up the skull in headgear, decorating them with flowers and making offering to them. It is a time to worship the dead and ask for protection and favor. This celebration has its roots in the indigenous population, but it has been embraced even by the Catholics. On the day of the dead, you may find a few skulls carried into the nearby local church for the cemetery.
Towards the night, you may witness a real party being thrown at the cemetery as some people like to carry on the celebration in a more modern fashion.
Visiting the Cemetery
As we mentioned, to get there, take the teleferico red line and get off at the cemetery station. I have read, there are also walking tours throughout La Paz where you can see a number of landmarks including churches, Plaza Murillo (with the backwards clock Miro writes about in this post) museums and of course, the cemetery.
Some facts about the cemetery include:
- The locals believe there is supernatural power that guards the burial ground
- It is the biggest cemetery in Bolivia
- Deceased people are buried in storied walls over 4 stories tall
- It is mainly the poor who bury their loved ones at La Paz Cemetery
- The skull of Captain Victor is one of the most popular skulls at the November 2nd celebration of the skulls
- After 10 years of normal burial, the dead are cremated
- It is common to find foods and popular drinks like coke and Pepsi left behind as an offering to the dead
- Many native visitors to the cemetery pray to their dead for guidance and protection
Finally, I leave you with a short poem Miro wrote inspired by our visit:
a chapter for the mourning,
book’s final pages.
An extension of
sagacity from beyond
the earthen decay.
After a ton of research on Guayaquil, Ecuador, a city only 3 hours from our current home in Montanita, we ventured out to explore the city.
Considered the commercial heartbeat of Ecuador, Guayaquil has nothing but become a city which sprawls with an abundance of life and a mind of the contemporary. High-rises have rose from the ground up to enable a genuine city feel, yet maintaining it’s roots by the presence of it’s riverfront in town square that ultimately showcases what the city is all about. Visiting Guayaquil, Ecuador should be a highlight on anybody who ventures in search of Ecuador’s diverse heritage.
Looking for things to do in Guayaquil is a simple matter to partake in because the city is full of various, interesting neighborhoods and villages that beckon the imagination. The world of the old meets head-on with the new identity of the world as we know it today. See for yourself what there is to do in a city so rich in heritage:
Parque Histórico Guayaquil
The zoo shakes hands with the purest of urban architecture art at the Parque Histórico Guayaquil. The zoo, is separated into three various sections, for birds, reptiles and animals. This isn’t an ordinary zoo though, because it focuses on the local heritage and especially the buildings, which are focused on an urban style, detailed brilliantly by the incredible local artist. Rural customs are a focus, along with agriculture and some spectacular arts and crafts.
An urban-renewal project that is so extensive it reaches into the futuristic, it sports open-air restaurants, gardens, playgrounds, huge Rió Guayas with ponds, a pretty spectacular Imax theater and a shopping gallery which has everything from clothes to little trinket shops and everything inbetween. The spot where it sits has great views of the northern end, that has a colonial district which looks as if you are staring down at a different time. Fun outing for the whole family.
Botanical Garden of Guayaquil
The botanical gardens located as part of the waterfront walk (The Malecon) is well cared for and attracts many visitors, locals and tourists alike. Apart, from the various plants, it has many species of animals and birds, which are native to Ecuador. The gardens are well kept, many of which may be viewed from a raised walkway. The orchid gardens are of particular interest, but unfortunately during our visit, there were not many in bloom (but I managed to photograph one that was). Well worth a visit, if you are in that part of Guayaquil.
(Also known as park of the Iguanas) A piece of land which is has one of the largest collections of Iguanas in the entire world and not to mention is surprisingly entertaining , is Parque Bolivar. These reptiles are phenomenally interesting and and have an amazing variety of species that are taken from the island of the Galapagos. Circling the entire complex, there are beautiful gardens which have some of the finest varieties.
So many iguanas, so little time.
Museo Municipal de Guayaquil
This modern museum is located near the end of the Malecon and has a wonderful collection of both modern art and historical artifacts. The collections are curated beautifully and museum is modern and clean. Highly recommended on your trip through Guayaquil.
Numa Pompilio Llona
A legend of a poet, Guayaquileño (1832–1907), is the basis for a historic street which was named in his honor. What it opens up is an area that boasts plaques within the walls of famous, historic enriched homes which had been the residences of former presidents. It is here where you begin to get a great sense of how vital the city is to them in the way that they view their culture and heritage. A great area to visit for soaking in the ultimate vibe of Guayaquil.
Barrio Las Peñas
Right where Santa Ana hill meets Guayas river, and above the Malecon, the oldest neighborhood of the city is located. It has a single lonely street with interesting houses at both sides and currently is going through a process of restoration. The street is lined with cafes and art galleries, one of Guayaquil’s treasures. An interesting point of history, it is said that Che Guevara stayed in this neighborhood on his famous journey through South America
Che was here? If course we had to stop in for a drink…
Fort Santa Ana
At the top of Las Penas is the Fort. This was an ideal spot for the lookouts and defense positions in the 19th and 20th centuries. Now there is a light house behind where the cannons are positioned. It looks good at night but they say it is of no navigational value.
Mall Del Sol
Although we passed on this excursion, it was certainly a great option. It is widely known as being one of the largest malls in South America and by a simple glance you can see why. The Mal Del Sol is chalk-loaded with everything a standard mall anywhere else would employ but there is a natural, community feel that is typically exempt from the bulk of malls across the entire world. The mall is extremely easy to access, due to the fact that it is literally directly across from the airport.
Guayaquil, Ecuador is a city that has a lot of history to offer and certainly worth a day visit. There are over a dozen museums to choose from, most of which offer free admission. Guayaquil offers old world rustic charm and modern shopping. If you ever want to get the taste of large South American city, do consider including a day trip into Guayaquil.
I love archaeology so when we had the opportunity to visit Ingapirca, the largest know Inca ruins in Ecuador, we did.
Ingapirca are the largest known Inca ruins in Ecuador. The word Ingapirca actually means “The wall of the Inca” and here you will find some of the best examples on Inca masonry. The Incas were not in fact the first to occupy the area. Originally it was occupied by the local people known as the Canari who called the area the Hatun Canar. While the exact purpose of the Ingapirca is not known, it did serve as a fortress as well as an important place to store goods for troops who were marching into Northern Ecuador.
Important Structures In The Ingapirca
The most important building in the Ingapirca is the Temple of the Sun. This is an elliptical shaped building which has been built around a massive rock. The Temple of the Sun uses traditional Inca building techniques not making use of mortar in most of the construction. This was achieved by ensuring that stones of the building were very careful cut so as to fit perfectly together.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Temple of The Sun is that during solstices at a specific time of the day, sunlight would fall directly into the chamber at the height of the temple, through the middle of the doorway. While this chamber no longer exists if you visit the site on June 21st you will be able to see the Sun project light on specific symbols within the structure.
Near to the Temple of the Sun are the Aposentos. The Aposentos are rooms that were used by the high priests. Like the Temple of the Sun these rooms are notable for their tightly fitted masonry. The majority of the the remains from this sites can be found at the southern end of the site. This is where most people enter when they visit the Ingapirca. This area is known as Pilaloma which actually means small hill. This is actually the highest elevated place on the site and is believed by historians to be of particular importance. Interestingly the bodies of eleven women were found buried in this area.
Religious Festivals At Ingapirca
Numerous important religious celebration took place at Ingapirca. During these celebrations huge amounts of a local fermented drink would be consumed. The Inca’s favored the elevated location as it brought them closer to the Sun and the Moon which they worshipped. The volatility of the climate in the area, which can be significant, was not felt to be a distraction from the fact that the area was favored by their Gods.
The History Of The Inca Empire In Ecuador
The Inca empire is mostly well for its presence in Peru, however in 1463 the Inca empire began the push into Ecuador. In the Andean Highlands there were numerous civil wars between the Inca’s and local tribes already in the area. The Inca conquest of Ecuador was led by the ninth Inca, a famous warrior named Pachcuti Inca Yupanqui. It was not until 1500 that Pachacuti’s grandson Huayna Cuapac was able to finally defeat the local tribes and make what would become modern day Ecuador part of the Inca Empire. Despite the conquest by the Inca’s many elements of life in the Ecuador remained the same. Most people in the area retained their traditional religious beliefs. However, in other ways the area was significantly transformed. Inca cultural norms had a massive impact on everything from the way society was organized through to agricultural practices.
During the period when the Inca’s were expanding Southern Ecuador the started to encounter fierce resistance. In particular the Canari Hatun Canar tribe proved to be particularly difficult to defeat. As a way to seek a political solution, rather than a military one, the Inca Tupac Yupanqui decided to marry a Canari Princess. As part of this process of placating the local peoples, he built up the Canari city of Guapondelig. This would become later day Cuenca.
How To Get To Ingapirca From Cuenca
If you wish to travel to Ingapirca on your own the easiest way to do so is to take a bus from the main bus terminal in Cuenca. The Cooperativa Canar runs buses to the site departing at 9am and 1pm. The two hour ride from Cuenca to Ingapirca costs $3 one way. Buses from Ingapirca leave at 1pm and 4pm. On the weekends there is only a single bus which departs Cuenca at 9am and returns back at 1pm. Alternatively you can arrange for a full day guided trip to the site. This can be worthwhile as all of the signs in Ingapirca are in Spanish. The cost of transportation and a guided tour will typically be between $30 to $40.
The water drops glistened like a peeled grape in the early morning Guatemala sun. My cheeks were starting to warm but I could still see my breath. I watched light transform the fountain into a stage where dancing water droplets bounced up, then dove down onto the surrounding concrete creating a impressive misty haze.
Lost in the splendor, I found myself transported to a faraway place from my childhood. Then suddenly I realized I was in a far-away place in the present, with my 10 year old son Miro. Our lives were no longer a day dream, they had shifted into a life of perpetual travel.
On this crisp September morning, Miro and I became united with the rhythm of Parque Central the main hub of Antigua for locals and travelers alike. Antigua was to become our new base for the next eight months, and this particular morning was among one of our first mornings there. After three months of non-stop travel, Miro and I decided to slow down and make the energetic Colonial town nestled between three volcanoes, our new temporary home.
Just months before, neither Miro nor I spoke a word of Spanish. But that morning in Antigua, I realized Miro had a much better grasp on the new language than I did. As I reflected, I noticed that not only were our learning styles vastly different from one another, we both had completely different aptitudes for learning a new language. At the time, I was 42 years old and Miro was just 10 and neither of us had ever learned a second language.
Just a month prior, Miro and I studied Spanish for two weeks in Nicaragua. We paid upfront for ten private classes reserving one teacher for the duration. My son and I sat in our classes for five hours a day over the two week period. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it didn’t turn out to be the best approach for neither of us. My initial thought was it might be fun to learn with my son so we could practice together and hopefully converse after two weeks of classes.
But that is not what happened.
During the first week of Spanish classes, our teacher Maria approached class by introducing vocabulary, speaking phrases and having us repeat words back to her. Unfortunately, that approach didn’t work for either of us.
Miro absorbed the lessons but was easily bored. After the first week, Maria shifted approaches with him and began playing board games with Miro giving all instructions in Spanish. My clever 10 year-old son was up to the challenge and gleefully engaged in every move and learned Spanish quickly.
But for me, things couldn’t be more difficult. I was a complete failure in class and in fact it took me almost a complete year of full immersion to simply recall the phonetic rules. In my two weeks of classes, I had no ability to retain, remember or even process new sounds or words. As quickly as Maria gave me a word, it would seem to slip out of my memory like water escaping through my fingers.
Language classes didn’t work for me, but a 10 year old Miro absorbed quickly through playing as if his mind were a sponge.
That first morning Antigua came alive, colors became more vivid as the sun grew larger in the sky. I watched pigeons gather around the fountain, crowds of indigenous women merge and tourists pull out their maps. Miro and I knew we belonged there but we felt the barrier of language alienating us from integrating within the natural movement.
I sighed, pulled out my journal and started to write about the beautiful things I was observing that morning. Miro was hungrily reading a book on our shared kindle, accustomed to devouring a new book every few days.
“What are you writing, my love?” An ancient voice, belonging to an old man in a blue sweater vest and a gray newsboy hat inquired. He had just silently sat down next to me. His heavily accented English told me he was local, but his words were very precise.
I looked over at him and said, “I’m writing my reflections about this beautiful park and how excited I am being here in Antigua.”
The man smiled and nodded. And I continued “however, I realize I’m sad I am that I cannot communicate with that woman over there.” I pointed to the plump dark skinned woman in the colorful embroidered skirt and pale blue cotton lace shirt . She had an angelic baby blissfully sleeping on her back, secured by similar cloth to her skirt. “I wish I could speak Spanish, I wish I could speak to everyone in this park,” I replied.
“You may not have the language my dear, but you can share a million words with your smile,” the old man said.
His words held deep meaning for me. Later, I reflected that being able to speak in the native language is an important aspect in creating a meaningful cultural experience, but for now, my smile and non-verbal communication was the most valuable tool I had. Communicating relies on many things other than words. I realized body language, tone and volume, extrapolation and smiles were equally important. These were my early tools, my non-verbal modes of communication which helped me communicate with natives and have a more immersive experience with a limited vocabulary.
As the air grew warmer, I loosened the scarf around my neck. I sat up on the stone bench listening to the old man’s stories and watched as Antigua came alive around us. His colorful stories were laced with history, culture and personal triumphs. Then, the old man, turned, looked at me an asked me to repeat after him, “muchas gracias”.
I repeated those words. I knew instinctively those words meant “thank you very much”. Was he thanking me or giving me a Spanish lesson?
“Muchas gracias” I said again. The old man smiled. My smile widened. We had connected, I had learned.
Next, the old man said “buenos tardes”. I understood as Miro glanced up from his reading, then went back to his book. He too, had a smile on his face.
“Buenos tardes,” I said back to him. I was speaking basic Spanish with him. My pace was slow, but in this moment, I was engaged. The old man was deliberate with what he was doing and I was happy to allow him to guide the experience. The last words the old man said to me before he stood up to continue his morning was, “Mucho gusto Lainie and always remember to smile.”
For many months, the old man’s words prompted many reflections in me. I examined how different the learning styles were between Miro and myself in the case of language. Even though we both had the desire to know the information, learn Spanish, we both absorbed new information differently. I looked at my reaction to forced learning from a teacher who’s intentions were good, but who’s patience with me was limited. My own inability to absorb the new information straight away by being “taught” directly created an extra layer of resistance within me, which certainly did not support further learning.
On the other hand, Miro’s experience was very different as was his aptitude for learning. In Antigua, Miro had met a group of local Spanish speaking boys in our neighborhood he created friendships with. He continued to play which encouraged his learning. And within the first eight months without any further Spanish classes, Miro became a fluent Spanish speaker. There were no grammar lessons. There were no long hours of instruction. There was no struggle. The approach that worked best for Miro was immersion and play, and without effort, natural learning happened.
Five years later, I can finally pronounce words correctly and speak Spanish at a basic level. I have not taken additional classes either. The first challenge I had to overcome with the idea that Miro and I should learn the same.
Once I realized I could only learn how I could learn, and could only achieve what I could achieve and that my individual learning did not need be compared to any one else’s, I experienced a sense of freedom. My personal learning process required much more immersion time than Miro’s. That makes me uniquely me. But effort, immersion, creativity and patience is required when learning a new language as well as honoring everyone’s own unique learning style.
Travel was the opportunity we needed to step out of our linguistic comfort zones. Learning happens and most of all, learning is an individual process that happens naturally. This is our worldschooling education.
Photo credit: howto.wired.com.
The geographical set up of Ecuador is blessed with a variety of natural ingredients. The large coastal region of Ecuador makes seafood plenty. There are much kind of traditional Andean crops like potatoes and grains like quinoa and corn that are cultivated in the mountainous strip that is in the middle of Ecuador. The region is tropical thus produces a number of exotic fruits. The Ecuadorian diet is made of staples like yuca, potatoes, beans, rice, seafood, chicken, plantains, pork and beef. Aji is a chili pepper hot sauce found in Ecuador. My favorite 8 Traditional Dishes of Ecuador are as follows:
Ecuadorian Shrimp Ceviche
Mmmmmmm…. This is the most common Ecuadorian dish and a favorite to all. The dish is made the following methods: combine peeled onion with mix with lime juice then add salt and put aside, combine 4 cups of water, reserved onion slice, 2 teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper all in a medium saucepan then boil. You can add shrimp and blanch for one to two minutes or till lightly pink, you can remove the shrimp then drain then add tomato mixture, shrimp, onion and lime juice mix well and cover before you cool and finally you can add cilantro and oil then mix to combine. After the exercise you can serve the dish with popcorn, plantain chips, and roasted corn kernels.
Biche de Pescado – Ecuadorian Fish Stew
Biche de pescado is a fantastic Andrew stew, chock full of traditional local ingredients such as coconut, corn, plantain, yuca and peanuts. It is simple to make, even though it has a complex taste that boasts both sweet and exotic. Sweet plantains and peanut broth are perfectly complemented with the local fish flavor. Most stores that sell Latin products have frozen yuca (tolled and stringy fibers removed). But if you don’t mind doing the work, the homemade version is that much more satisfying.
I’d recommend using super ripe plantain and fresh coconut. The stew works well with many different kinds of local fish. If you are sensitive to heads floating in your soup, remove it from the broth first before mixing. But typically the broth is flavored by the whole fish, head, bones and tail and the Ecuadorians aren’t afraid of leaving remnants in the soup. But the flavor, absolutely divine!
Humitas Verdes – Fresh Corn Tamales with Cilantro
We’ve all had tamales before, the Ecuadorian version is truly a must-try-flavor! Humitas is a kind of tamal that is made with ground fresh corn apart from the usual dried corn meal known as masa harina. The ground fresh corn makes humitas taste sweet than the traditional tamales. The humitas are prepared from the large Kernel Andean corn known as choclo that are always found in frozen section of Latina food stores. Luckily here, we can buy directly from the fresh markets directly from the farmer. (Sorry, I know you are jealous.)
The humitas verdes trademark bright green color is given by cilantro. You can prepare humitas plain, a combination of cheese, olives, roast chicken, hard boiled eggs, roast pork. It is up to you to decide. We haven’t made them yet, but I just might roll up my sleeves and give it a shot. Here’s a fabulous post by Hungry Sophia on Ecuadorian tamales.
Ecuadorian Potato Cakes (Llapingachos)
They are also known as yah-peen-GAH-chos. These are Ecuadorian traditional dishes referred to as potato pancakes that are made from crushed potatoes seasoned with onions and sated with cheese. Um yum! Salsa de Mani is a creamy peanut sauce that is typically with Llapingachos and is served often alongside, avocado, a simple salad, chorizo sausage and fried egg for the meal to complete. They remind us a little of a cross between pupusa and latkes…
Fritada de chancho or Ecuadorian pork fritada
Fritada de chancho is a popular weekend dish here in Ecuador. The pork is cooked in a sweet mixture of orange juice and water, seasoned by onions, cumin garlic, salt & pepper until the liquid cooks down, browning the meat through the process. This is a typical plate from the highlands region of Ecuador and is traditionally found in restaurants and snack stalls throughout the weekend local Andean villages.
This tasty combination is a clear example of cultural mixture between the Spanish culinary tradition and local Ecuadorian traditions, as pork consumption did not occur in America until after the Spanish colonized over 500 years ago. This dish would not be the same without the readily available local ingredients: mote (range white corn), plantains, potatoes, pickled (marinated tomato and onion with lemon) and roasted corn.
Encebollados (literally, “onionateds”) are a wonderful local food, though not well known outside of Ecuador. This is a traditional Ecuadorian coastal dish that consists of seafood in a tangy, tomatoey soup with mashed yuca, onion and coriander.
Our friend’s father brought this to the beach with us one morning and I thought he was crazy, but after I tried it, I was hooked! This dish can be made with varying degrees of lemon juice according to taste, and served with toasted corn or fried slices of plantain called chifles. That morning I was informed, this was the special Ecuadorian coast remedy said to cure hangovers. Did I need it that particular morning on the beach? I’ll never tell.
Choclo con queso
Choclo con queso literally means corn with cheese. It’s simple but certainly an Ecuadorian staple. Cobs of Andean corn or choclo having large kernels and I think taste quite different compared to corn that is sold. It’s mellow in flavor, actually. Then, it’s generously slathered with a fresh soft cheese, similar in consistency to tofu.
The queso fresco is literally fresh cheese and always made locally in each town. Choclo con queso on the cobb can be found in any food stand from the coast to the midlands, to the mountains to the jungle. In restaurants, this dish is often served along side a meat dish, already removed from the cobb.
Yes, like just over the border to Peru, the guinea pig is still the most talked dishes about when discussing Ecuadorian tradition fares. We listed this on our post 8 Traditional Dishes of Peru but it just happens to be a favorite in this country as well. Cuy is served in most Andean towns and is primarily on special occasions. When we wrote the post about Peruvian food, we hadn’t actually tried cuy, but since then, we have!!!! And, guess, what??? It’s delicious!
Like Peru, Ecuadorian dishes vary according to its geography which has its own distinct flavor and flare. While traveling anywhere, we always urge you to try the local favorites sampling something new as a chance to embrace a new culture.
We recently relocated to Montañita, a quaint little beach town on Ecuador’s coast. Not far away, we were excited to discover a truly unique cultural and historical destination just an hour outside of Montañita.
Miro and I took a a day trip to Agua Blanca community found in the Machalilla Parish, which is part of the nature reserve. The Agua Blanca community is a vividly painted rural parish and fishing village in the beautiful Machalilla National Park.
The village is the site of several not so well-preserved archaeological ruins from the Mantena culture of around 800 to 1532 A.C. It’s a functioning indigenous village that has colonial ties, and very interesting to see. Most tourist visit Aguas Blanca for its therapeutic mud and sulfur water pool, said to have many medicinal healing effects.
The History of the Agua Blanca Community
The location of the present-day Agua Blanca community is considered to be the ancient capital of the Manteno Lordship of Salangome. Here, more than 3,500 years ago, thousands of people lived in this area, mostly working on the sea-trade routs from Mexico to Peru. The site of the Agua Blanca community is considered to be the largest of the four Manteno Lordships that existed here. Manteno culture is the last pre-Columbian civilization in Ecuador.
Manteno settlements are known by their large stone foundations and typical pottery. At Agua Blanca, researchers have found U-shaped stone chairs that have humans and animals carved into the bases. Some researchers believe these figures represent shamanistic significance. Others hypothesize the chairs may have been used to distinguish positions of power. Also large intact pottery urns have been found containing the bones of the deceased community members that have been dressed in finery and jewels.
We took a bus to the Puerto Lopez from Montanita, about a 45 minute bus ride. Once we arrived in Pto. Lopez, we found a taxi who took directly to the village for $5.
The local archaeological sites and museum are a highlight to the visit. This day trip can be comfortably planned either from Guayaquil, as long as there is an early start. The Museo de Agua Blanca: Arqueologia is open from 9 am to 5 pm everyday.
Once we arrived at the parish, we toured the museum, containing artifacts from the immediate area, spanning thousands of years. Afterwards we were guided through the township sites, seeing the location the intact urns were uncovered after a heavy rainfall, ruins of temples, houses and squares, the farm land with indigenous plant, trees and flowers and finally the thermal water lagoons. The famous lagoon of sulfur water in the Valley of the Rio Buena Vista is generated from volcanoes, and is believed to have healing properties for the skin. The valley is a birdwatchers’ paradise, a place to spot motmots and horneros among others.
The hike through the township took us an hour and half, allowing us to get a glimpse into the daily lives of the locals. About 52 families live in the community today and many of them are tourist guides.
Our hike ended up at the thermal baths, where we were offered a message with palo santo oil (which is related to Frankincense), a cup of healing mud to rub over our skin and a dip into the natural mineral pools.
The community also has camping areas and cabins with single, double or triple rooms for visitors who want to stay overnight. There is no hot water there, but there are restaurants for meals and you can also choose to eat with a local family for a more intimate experience of the community.
Andean mysticism can be felt throughout every part of Cusco and the Sacred Valley, but most visitors seem to experience only a glimpse into this unseen world. Still, many are drawn to the area’s energy, intuitively knowing a deep connection to the universe, the planet, the mountains and nature lie somewhere below the surface. Many who wish to have an immersive experience, often just scratch the surface, encountering a tourist ready-made version of a thousand year old traditional ceremony. These types of ceremonies can be found at the tourist offices and remind me of the “luaus” I once saw in Hawaii, feeling as superficial as Disneyland, geared towards entertaining the eager consuming tourist.
Miro and I have been immersed in the Peruvian culture for several years now. Part of our desire for living here is the intention to dig deeper into the culture, understand the history and explore the traditions. We’ve explored much of the history though the archeology, and experienced the mysticism through he traditions.
Last year I explored one of the sacred pilgrimages by attending the Qoyllur Rit’i festival, high in the Andes. We made our way to the Sinakara Valley along with 10,000 other pilgrims to experience the sacred Snow Star Festival.
Cesar is from Cusco and for generations back, his family have been healers and mystics. When the Spanish Colonized the area, the Catholic church worked hard to integrate the cultures healers into a new linage of faith. Now, Cesar’s family bridges two worlds, the Catholicism of the Colonial settlers and the traditions of the people of the Andes.
Recently, we had several families visiting Cusco and so I arranged a family “Despacho” ceremony for us all to experience.
What is a Despacho Ceremony?
A despacho is a ceremony honoring Pachamama (mother earth), the sacred Apus (mountains) and the spirit in all of nature. The Andean people believe all are connected and as a way to show continuing appreciation and gratitude for the crops we eat, the water we drink and the land we live on they make an offering. The offering is a gift, charged with intention, love, reciprocity and reverence, unifying all living energy of the physical and unseen universe.
Despacho ceremonies are traced back to the Q’ero peoples of the Andes.
From the Q’ero web site:
Who are the Q’ero?
High up in the Andean mountains of Peru lives a small community of farmers, weavers and medicine people known as the Q’ero. The Q’ero sought refuge in “villages in the clouds” following the invasion of Peru by the Spanish Conquistadors almost five hundred years ago and remain there to this day. They were “discovered” in 1949 by the anthropologist Oscar Nunez del Prado, who led the first expedition to the Q’ero villages in 1955.
The medicine people within the Q’ero nation are known as “paqos,” which means “priest or mystic” in Quechua, the language of the Inca. The Q’ero paqos are credited with preserving and maintaining the healing knowledge, ancient prophecies, beliefs and traditions of the Inca – and the knowledge of the civilisations which came before them – via their oral tradition. Over the years, they have selflessly shared their traditions and wisdom with seekers of knowledge from all corners of the world.
The Q’ero do not see themselves as separate beings with separate identities as we do in the West, instead they see themselves as one with each other, one with nature, and – as with most indigenous cultures – also one with God.
In fact, they are so ego-less and focused on the collective spirit that they do not have a word in their language meaning “I.” Their main philosophy is to practise “Ayni,” which means living in reciprocity, balance and harmony with the Earth, with nature and with each other. Ayni is the practice of giving before taking, of fairness. For example, when harvesting their corn crops – which they do together as a community – they search to find the two most perfect ears of corn. These are then buried ceremonially, as a thank you to “Pachamama,” Mother Earth, for their abundance and as a prayer for future abundance. Thus they gift the most prized ears of corn back to the Earth, as a thank you and in order to remain in balance and harmony with Pachamama.
You can read more about the Q’ero people or offer your support here .
Traditionally, the Q’ero Paqos perform an offering to Mother Earth known as Pachamama, and to the sacred Apus, the mountain spirits in a ceremonial display. Despachos are given as gifts from the heart; an action of honoring Mother Earth, the feminine spirits, and natural beings. In this way, the Q’ero Paqos people are able to connect with their ancestors; for abundance; for healing; for celebrations; for initiations and other uses among the villagers.
And this was the spirit in which our ceremony proceeded.
How Is A Despacho Ceremony Performed?
Prior to the ceremony, those participating are asked to prepare themselves. Although there are multiple ways to prepare, the purpose remains the same–to elevate one’s consciousness, and engage themselves to a higher state of presence. Some of the most effective ways to prepare for a despacho include meditation, relaxing music, prayer, walking through nature or cleansing with incense, tobacco or Palo Santo.
The environment for which a Despacho ceremony takes place can take a few minutes to set up. The basic idea is to set a tone of respect–a sacred circle involving all participants. In the mountains of Peru, the people sometimes use rattles, flutes, or drums during a ceremonial chant, a meditative rhythm. Despacho ceremonies are always performed outdoors, as it is an opportunity to commune with nature.The closer one can become to Mother Earth, the spiritual guides, and the sacred Apus, the more likely the spirits will become invoked and join their offering circle.
The ceremony finally begins when one person (typically the leader of the ceremony) lays out a generous sized, piece of paper. The offerings are systematically placed on the paper, usually involving chanting.
Our ceremony started with the traditional coca leaves. Cesar combined groups of three cocoa leaves, allowing each participant to channel their blessings into them, by holding them close to our hearts, then heads, then placing within the group.
Then over the course of the next hour Cesar combined the offerings using a variety of ingredients into the paper wrapping. We each took turns with the blessing, and often burning the traditional Palo Santo to signal the spirits of our intentions.
A variety of ingredients were placed into the paper envelope including paper, shells, coca leaves, flower petals, corn, candies and cookies, spices,cotton, animal fat, streamers and confetti. Some of the other items used were a wooden cross, a petrified condor and a llama fetus.
After the offering to mother earth was completed, Cesar gently placed the package into the fire. As the children of our shared mother, Pachamama, all participants joined hands and felt our blessings received.
There really is no ‘one’ way to invite the presence of all sacred aspects of the Pachamama, aloud or silently, together or by turn, but the people of the Andes have based their lives on the natural principles of expressed through the traditions of the Despacho ceremony.
Since ancient times, most indigenous cultures have a connection to the spirit world and have traditions to expressing gratitude to the Sun, the Earth, the Wind–for they recognize, without them, all life would all perish into nothingness.
Join us on a visual journey of “Despacho”, which is a ceremony that honored Pachamama (Mother Earth), the sacred Apus (mountains) and the spirit in all of nature.