"Every planet has its own weird customs. About a year before we met, I spent six weeks on a moon where the principal form of recreation was juggling geese. My hand to God. Baby geese - goslings! They were juggled."

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Inti Raymi in Ibarra

This weekend I was invited by a school teacher in Pucara to join her and her family at their house in Ibarra to see the city's version of Inti Raymi.  I jumped at the opportunity, but the day  I was to leave for Otavalo, I woke up with gripe (a cold).  No matter - I couldn't let that stop me.  Inti Raymi is the indigenous peoples' celebration of the summer solstice and seems to be celebrated much more intensely up in the northern parts of Ecuador than in Chimborazo.  Some communities (like in Cotacachi) have a reputation for fights breaking out.  In fact, people look forward to these fights to beat the shit out of each other.  They bring whips and backpacks full of stones and the police can't really do anything to stop them.  However, I was told over and over again the festivals in Otavalo and Ibarra are much tamer.

When I arrived Friday afternoon, I met the family and went for a drive to a lake called Yahuarcocha, which means 'lake of blood.'  A legend says that in the 15th century, invading Incas battled with the indigenous people of this area.  The Incas won, and set to work killing all males over 12 years of age - about 30,000 people.  They apparently did the killing atop this rock you can see when you drive all the way around the lake.  The Incas then threw the bodies into the lake which, little by little, turned the lake red.

The innocent-looking rock upon which apparently thousands of people lost their lives.

The next day, my gracious host had to race to Quito and back so almost needless to say, she didn't make it back to Ibarra until around 8 p.m.  So I just hung around her house making use of the constant internet access.  Around 7:30 p.m. I joined the rest of her family at the grandmother's house where they dressed me in a skirt which only a small group of local indigenous people wear.  The skirt was a lime green color and the top shirt was way way too big, so I felt a bit funny and wished I knew to bring my other clothes from Chimborazo.

We took a taxi somewhere - I have no idea where - and waited outside in a crowd for a while.  Again, no idea why.  Then a blue city bus came and whisked us a group of us costumed dancers away somewhere else that I don't know.  But this is where it all started.  The folk band struck up (they were very ridiculously good) and led us into the courtyard of a random house with some San Juan tunes.  Several circles around them were formed and we began dancing more or less in line.  Every so often a cup of trago (alcohol) or cup of less-than-appetizing chicha (fermented drink) would appear in your hand to down.

I love this picture.  None of my pics turned out particularly clear but this one was actually colorful and alive.

Someone blew a horn, and then we were all pouring back out to the street.  We did this throughout the night - dance and march around in the street, then end up in someone's courtyard dancing in circles in a tiny space.  
It was exhausting.  We got back around 2 a.m. after dancing constantly for five hours.  And now my cold is way worse, I have a headache, and any minute now I'm heading back to site.

Dancing in a parade with 'chivos' (the men in fur chaps with colorful, creepy headdress) leading the way.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The makers of panela: How to transform sugar cane into sugar

Yesterday another group from Siempre Verde passed through Pucara visiting a 'molienda,' or panela-making facility, and the community tree nursery.  When they left, the panela makers insisted I stay with them until the end - and it was just noon.  They began work at 3 a.m., helping themselves to doses of the Mexicano, a drink of trago (alcohol) with cane juice.  They figured they would be done by around 6 p.m.  The process is so incredible, so magical (am I being too cheesy?), that I did indeed stay to see all their 'paradas' through.  And I decided to show it all here and take you from live sugar cane stalks to juice to pure delicious sugar.

So the magic starts here:

Cutting the sugar cane for two whole days prior to the molienda
Next they pass each cleaned stalk through a gas-powered press, and the juice is caught and moves down a tube to a holding tank.

This is the cane juice extracted from the stalk and passed through a few filters where it begins warming in the tank below.

There are five tanks in this molienda.  The first tank (closest) holds one 'parada' (or batch) of sugar, the next two tanks hold the next parada, and the last two tanks hold the last parada, or the one most ready to be poured and set.

While the cane juice is cooking, it requires constant attention.  Sometimes the 'melero' (the person working the sugar) needs to use giant ladles made from dried gourds to pass the liquid from one of the two parada tanks to the other, then back again.

Soon foam forms on the surface of the paradas and the meleros here insist on skimming it off because it improves the taste of the sugar.  They also call it 'otavalillu' and say it's a delicacy, so when they skim off a wooden bowlful, they try to drink it instead of toss it out.

Except it is very, very sweet.  It has a unique flavor from cane juice and from panela, and it's only one of many different products they can create - not just sugar.

This guy is called the 'hornero,' or the guy who stokes the fire below the tanks.  One of the many beauties of this operation is that the squeezed and dried cane stalks are used to fuel the oven.

One of the meleros offers otavalillu to the Siempre Verde students.  The meleros are VERY proud of their work and they should be.  They love sharing every bit about the process with the community and visitors.

Next, a scoop of boiling-hot caramel-like sugar is poured into a wooden basin (called the caballo, or horse) and an artisan begins working a bit of it with a wood spatula.  At first he pushes the spatula around rapidly, then begins twirling the sugar until it turns from dark brown to light brown incorporating air bubbles.

Then in one fraction of a second, the sugar is twisted into a pillar right when it sets.  Sugar left on the spatula is pulled off, rolled to a ball, and stuck on top.

It's called 'santo,' or saint, because it ends up looking like a figurine.  And it is delicious, by far a favorite of everyone of any sugar product because of its light, airy texture.  It just melts in your mouth.

Now the parada in the last tank is released into a wood tank to cool and be worked over for maybe 10 or so minutes with a giant wooden paddle.  Kids love to dip spatulas in this and stick the boiling goo in water to cool, thus making caramel.

These are the sugar molds.  Other operations focus on making grain sugar, which is a slightly different process.  The molds must be slightly damp so the sugar doesn't stick to them (so this guy is wiping them down with a cloth) but they can't be wet or the sugar won't set properly.

The melero then scoops up a gourdful of panela and pours it expertly into the molds as the Siempre Verde kids look on.

It gets tougher as the sugar cools.

When the sugar sets (about 15 minutes, but longer to be on the safe side), they're popped out and joined together into panela hamburgers.  Each hamburger is worth $4.  In each parada, they produce maybe 15 hamburgers.  And in one day, they made a whopping six paradas.  I'll leave the math to you.

What kids wouldn't love to visit a sugar-making factory?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

And we´re off...

Recycled art seems to have swept through Pucará faster than I ever would have imagined.  The first week I was in town, I showed my host family the crafts I´d made from trash (folded chip bags, crocheted plastic bags, paper, beads, etc.) and they told other people, and soon the teachers from the school saw the crafts, and soon everyone in the town wanted to know how to make them.

So now I´ll be in the school working with the older kids each Tuesday.  Today was our first day and I think they did well, except we ran into one problem - we ran out of trash!  I hope they continue to be excited about the idea and begin cleaning up the street and saving their own trash.  I worked with another community member´s group of kids last week and we did just that - collected a couple bags full of trash to wash and cut up.  Some teens came to this group and asked if we could have a workshop every day (every day!) to work on the trash projects.

Lately now I´m acting as the volunteer/Spanish school coordinator and kind of learning as I go.  The community has one student now who is only here for a few days, but the trick was finding activities for him to do in the afternoons.  Luckily another tourist group is coming through on Wednesday, so the family showing the group the panela-making process had to cut caña (sugar cane) today and yesterday for the demonstration.  The student helped them yesterday with cutting the caña and hopefully tomorrow will see how the caña juice is transformed into chemical-free granular sugar.

And finally... one of the teachers invited me to stay with her family in her house in Ibarra to see Inti Raymi (the indigenous festival of the solstice).  I missed it last year despite living in an indigenous community (they didn´t celebrate it).  Apparently the night before they dance all night in a circle and bathe in waterfalls.  Should be fun!

Siempre Verde high school group from Georgia and South Carolina (?) on a tour of a farm
Making panela (raw sugar) from caña (sugar cane) juice.  
Working in the vivero (tree nursery) during a minga.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

On being famous

¨Famous¨ may be the wrong word.  But after I agreed to act in a short comedy in front of the crowds of the festival of San Antonio de Pucará, there have been no shortage of comments from people I know and don´t know about how ¨I´m that girl in the play...¨ People joke and ask if I want to marry them too.  They call me the ´lungita.´ I guess you had to see it to understand...

The festival was last Saturday and included a soccer match (we lost), a voly tournament, various dances, and our little skit.  It was call the ´Divorcio de los indios´ which is in itself awkward because ´indio´ is often an offensive term...especially when used by someone who is not indigenous.  Like saying ´indian´ instead of ´native.´ But I played the role of María (I know, stunningly ironic) who, with her mother Francisca, is asking the local comesario (´cumisario´ is how I had to pronounce it) to divorce her abusive husband Manuel.  Pretty soon Manuel is flipping over the desk and the comesario is tossing a plastic chair aside, and María is hiding behind her mother.  The debate continues, when suddenly María changes her mind and Francisca demands Manuel be a better husband.  Kind of anticlimatic that in the end she takes him back.  But there were a lot of funny moments, and most of mine were when I forgot a line or completely mispronounced a word - like having to say ´Bunitu caballeritu.´ I totally stumbled on this word and pronounced it slowly into the microphone: ¨Boe-nee-too ca-bay-sher-ee-too,¨ and the crowd laughed so hard I could hear people in hysterics.

Oh yea, and I had to dress up as an indigenous woman.  I combined some of Chimborazo clothing with an Otavalo shirt... it looked confused, but fine in the end.

The community has meetings very frequently, for example, there´s a meeting today at 4 p.m. for the tourism council.  Quite a few tourism groups are coming through which the council organizes.

But before that I´m helping out a local woman with her group of kids - kind of like an extracurricular club.  The kids all saw what I´d made out of trash and wanted to make that their next project.  So hopefully today we´ll do some trash collection, wash it all off, and start making some pretty amazing things out of it all.  Apparently they´ll also be interviewing me for their program to be broadcast on Radio Intag.  Fun!

Finally, the school teachers were over for lunch one day and saw all my crafts too - and immediately began making their own chain links out of garbage I´d already cut up.  At the same time my host mom Alicia was continuing the cord on a bag I was knitting out of plastic bags.  It was quite a sight.  So the teachers decided they were going to collect their own trash this week and have me visit on Tuesday to help them teach the kids what to do. 

So I´m already busier in two weeks in Imbabura than I was in over a year in Chimborazo.  It´s exciting stuff. 

And so while I wait for pitifully slow internet to upload one of three videos I have ready, here are some pics!

View to Plaza Gutierrez
View from the Pucará gazebo
Soccer game

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The house tour

Well the long journey acoss the country with all my stuff and animals has come to an end.  Not one little thing went wrong and I arrived on Friday totally ready to begin my new life in Pucará.

The next day my thermometer read 76 degrees (!) and I decided to take some pictures to show you around my house.  Hopefully soon I´ll have a videocamera again to give a better feel of the place.

The front of my house from the road!
Back of the house
The backyard
The new laundromat

Looking down the road to the town center, school on the left

Looking up the road... end of the line!
New room!  Fresh-painted walls!
The other side of my room
Misi seems to be right at home.  Also trying to crochet a rug for my door, but my host Alicia decided we should make a circular rug.
And Moo seems to like her new home just fine, too