Back in October 2017, Alfred and I went on the adventure of a lifetime in Ecuador during the Nomadic Boys gay Galapagos cruise which we’ll never forget. The major highlight of the trip was seeing all the incredible wildlife and geological features of the Galapagos Islands as we toured them aboard the 159-foot luxury yacht now known as WildAid’s Passion. However, after the tour we flew back to Quito and made our way to a town called Otavalo where we explored Ecuadorian culture, connected with nature, and took a bit of a break from all the intense adventure while we stayed at My SachaJi ecolodge.
Ecuadorian Culture in the Perfect Setting
My SachaJi means “My Beloved Mountain” and it is aptly named as it sits on Cusín Volcano, Ecuador’s oldest dormant volcano, surrounded by lush gardens and an organic orchard. The views from the ecolodge are second to none as I found inspiration sitting in the common gathering area of the lodge gazing out on Lago Cuicocha (Cuicocha Lake) and Cotacachi Volcano while rain clouds rolled in one evening. Nearby is the town of Otavalo where we explored traditional weaving, leather workshops, and an indigenous market selling artisanal products as well as cultural foods.
The ecolodge offers many different activities and services to increase relaxation, improve mental strength, and make us learn a little something about ourselves. In fact, My SachaJi states on their website it is their goal “to help guest gain a clearer sense of self and a more perceptive understanding of their life’s purpose.” Basically, guest should leave relaxed and perhaps gain new knowledge. Some of the activities they offer to assist guest with this endeavor are yoga, healing therapies, massages, meditation, tea ceremonies, and good old bonfire time. They also offer a number of experiences to connect guests with nature and the local Ecuadorian culture.
*Explore Cuenca for some authentic Ecuadorian culture in a small town atmosphere!
Andean & Ecuadorian Culture Experience
When I realized I could experience a traditional Andean cleansing, I quickly jumped on it. I absolutely adore cultural experiences like this and I do give credence to certain energy (or power or whatever) influencing our lives. Paramount to my decision, was that I would really experience an important part of indigenous Andean beliefs. For one brief moment I gained the ability to immerse myself in their culture and I certainly was not missing out on it. Luckily, I convinced Alfred (my husband) and my friend Sebastien (of the Nomadic Boys) to do the cleansing with me.
Late in the evening, we walked through the orchard to a spot framed by Cotacachi volcano and the lush foliage of the fruit trees to meet Mama Rosa, a traditional medicinal plant expert from the nearby village of Angla. Since I was the only native Spanish speaker in our small group, I interpreted everything Mama Rosa said all while the temperature dropped a bit and clouds rolled in overhead. She explained the circular pavilion where we stood was cleansed and blessed and asked us to remove our shoes before entering. Once we removed our shoes we stood in a line and she began the ritual.
The first thing she did was ask us if we were here for the cleansing and if we would open our hearts and minds to unblocking any negative energy. Each of us had to answer affirmatively. Then she poured a floral liquid into our hands and asked us to rub it across our bodies making sure to cover our arms, necks, and legs. Don’t worry…we kept our clothes on and rubbed it across our clothing. She then rubbed some onto our heads and cheeks. Next, the same thing happened again but this time with an herbal liquid. After she finished these steps she placed a bundle of herbs at our feet and used the herbs to gently whip our bodies vigorously, one-by-one, while saying a prayer in a mixture of Quechua and Spanish. She chanted so rapidly I couldn’t understand much of what she was saying. But as she chanted she swept the herbs down our bodies and forcefully slammed them into the ground while saying “Pachamama.”
At this point, she paused asking if we had any questions and explaining what just occurred. Mama Rose stated the herbs and flowers came from Mother Earth just as all things do. The flowers and herbs are good and help to wipe away negative energy back into the ground from whence it comes. She also explained it was especially important to make sure our right hands were taken care of because that is where negative energy enters the body. After this, she handed each of us a Palo Santo stick, a type of incense wood that grows in Ecuador. She lit all the herbs she’d used on fire and blew the smoke on us instructing us to use the smoke to bathe. Then she lit our sticks as we held them observing the smoke. Interestingly enough she realized we were all friends but knew that Alfred and I were more than just friends based on how the smoke from our burning sticks interacted. She also somehow knew that Alfred and Sebastien were having an ear problem (and I’m not really sure how she knew that). Of course, there were a few more things she said but I am keeping those to myself. Suffice it to say, it was a really mystical experience and I’m glad I did it.
Andean Culture at a Personal Level
After the ritual was complete, she offered us bracelets made from red seeds to go on our right arms and protect us from negative energy. Luckily, she was in a talkative mood and introduced us to her husband and two sons who were also present. Mama Rosa explained to us that not many Andean Healers are left and the younger generations typically have no interest in learning the traditional ways as they move to big cities such as Quito. Her sons were there to watch and learn which I thought was really cool. She also told us the knowledge of traditional cleansing and medicine was passed through generations of her family for as far back as anyone could remember. Not only did we have an Ecuadorian culture experience, we were part of an ancient tradition at that moment.
Why it Matters
Experiences like this help me feel more connected to the local culture. They afford me the opportunity to try to see things through a new lens and even temporarily walk in another person’s shoes…though I wholeheartedly admit that I can never claim to fully grasp any culture I encounter as I am not part of that culture. But I can try! When I travel, I want to experience the sights and sounds of a place. But I also want to understand the people who call these amazing places home. Cultural experiences often involve things that might make us feel a little uncomfortable but the discomfort is usually due to our stepping outside of the box. Once we get use to the feeling of no walls, then we realize our minds are opening and we become a little more ingrained with our global human culture.
Want to take a train across Ecuador, check out my adventures here!
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