We have spent the last week nestled between two volcanoes, Imbabura and Cotacachi. We drove north from Quito to this highland zone, and the road traversed fields of greenhouses as far as the eye could see. Over the loudspeakers, Arden pointed out this flower production zone from the front of our bus (we love this microphone!) – a major source of the U.S.’s flower imports.

Our first landing in this area was Peguche and the Aya Huma hostel where our host, Tua Mari, welcomed us to stay in this community famed for the Peguche waterfall, the murals of Tenaz, and textile factories that produce the recognizable fabrics of the Otavalo Saturday markets. For our students, this was our first entrance into an indigenous Kichwa community. A morning PE class took us on a jog to the waterfall, and an afternoon History class took place at the Antigua Fabrica San Pedro – a historic hacienda – where our tour guide Renee introduced students to the historic oppression of indigenous workers in this community. This museum, llamado Museo Otovalango, is now owned by indigenous families and highlights elements of their culture including embroidery, weaving, and wedding celebrations.

Click image to enlarge.

On our second night there, we joined Tua and friends in a ceremonial Pachamanca celebration and dinner. Sourcing from the local area, they brought volcanic rock, rose petals, produce, and instruments to our dinner site and welcomed us into the minga, or community work. Students practiced their Spanish listening comprehension as our hosts explained the process, and then practiced their pitchfork wielding skills as we filled and created our underground oven!

After placing our cabbage, beets, pineapple, potatoes, carrots, corn and fava beans in the pit, we covered the top with mats formed by totoras that are sourced from the nearby Lago San Pablo, and reburied them in soil. While the food baked, we laid handfuls of roses down and received wishes for a beautiful journey ahead of us from our hosts.

When the sun went down, our celebration soon turned into a dance party. Tua led us in a traditional dance that circled the drum, and while the flutes and guitar set the melody, our students definitely brought the hops, leaps, twirls, and twists to the dance. This practice, as our hosts framed it, was a way for thanking their mother earth for the food provided. We finished the evening with full bellies and energy spent.

The next afternoon, we dove further into our language exposure and did a half-day Spanish immersion class with local teachers in Otavalo. Nuestras maestras Elisabeth and Patricia presented a lesson in the classroom where the group was challenged to commit to a full Spanish discussion. With these teachers, students were able to review conjugations, learn more about Ecuadorian customs for carnival, and write some creative horror stories about rabbits!

Then it was time to head out of the classroom and into the city! The students went to a local market where they learned how to name (and then try!) some of the huge array of Ecuadorian fruits (Claire and Maeve’s heaven). Elisabeth and Patricia challenged everyone to perform Spanish charades at a beautiful overlook of Otavalo, and the immersion ended with lots of laughter, new vocabulary, and increased commitment to trying new phrases in conversation.

At the end of this busy week, we began our homestay program with Tandana. On Friday we arrived in the Agualongo community, where TTS has been welcomed into Kichwa homes for many years and where our group has the chance to practice Spanish, learn local practices, and gain insight into the indigenous experience of families in this region. We started our week of learning with a community lunch and an afternoon of breadmaking!

Our host welcomed all 16 of us into her kitchen to mix together a massive batch of bread dough. Cambyr’s eyes were wide with joy at the abundance of her favorite snack, and Camden filled us in on some of the technicalities of baking as well as how to shape the perfect hot cross bun. We learned some traditional styles of braiding and forming the buns, and Katherine and Adelaide both showed us some impeccable skills as we made trays and trays of braided buns to take back to our homestay families.

As we wrap up our busy week with the Tandana Foundation, we are busy with mingas (service work with a community), oral history projects, poetry presentations and more!



P.S. If you haven’t seen it already, check out Tandana’s community photo album for this TTS’s visit in Agualongo! More photos to come there.