¡Buena’s Noches! This is Cara speaking, and today I had the honor of being the first student El Líder del Día (Leader of the Day). Today we visited Pucaratambo, an indigenous cultural center located approximately 10,000 feet above sea level in the Cacha area. There, we learned about indigenous history, food, clothing and customs and we were even fortunate enough to have taken part in a cleansing ceremony called La Limpia, in which all of our group’s negative energy was transferred into plants and then burned as part of the purification process. Before lunch, we learned about the flora and fauna and learned how cuy (guinea pig) are raised for consumption. For lunch, we held a shared communal meal called pambamesa. Traditionally, a pambamesa is done with a whole community or a large group of people gathered for work. Each person brings his or her own portion and then lays it out on the table during pambamesa so that everybody has the opportunity to share each other’s food. Our pambamesa was done with our group and the owners of Pucaratambo, and together we sat and shared our meal the top of a hill that overlooked all of Riobamba.

One idea that we were exposed to while learning about various aspects of the indigenous religion and belief systems was the concept of the human-nature relationship. As humans beings, we do not only cultivate and use the Earth and its resources for our own personal gains, but rather we ask permission to use the Earth, we thank it for what it has given us, and we protect it from harm. We take care of it as though it is another member of our community. Sharing the pambamesa, which was a vegetarian meal, with my friends and with the incredible view further fostered that sense of harmony, community and togetherness we were taught during our visit to Pucaratambo.

After lunch, we traveled back to Riobamba to take a walking tour in order to observe the beautiful architecture and historic landmarks within downtown Riobamba. We learned that Riobamba is a place of old and new, and a mix of traditional and modern values. An example of this was La Catedral located in La Plaza Maldonado. Although La Catedral is a Catholic church constructed out of stones from original (but destroyed) church, an indigenous symbol, a Chakana, is carved into a wall of the cathedral honoring a bishop who fought for indigenous rights and for the protection of indigenous culture in a previously Spanish-controlled nation. Another example of the old mixing with the new was when we visited El Colegio in La Plaza Sucre. El Colegio, now a local high school, was originally the location in which Ecuador’s Declaration of Independence was signed. As a group, we learned that Ecuador’s roots still play key roles in the modern Ecuador we observed today. We finished out the tour with a trip to a local ice cream shop, where all of the ice cream is handmade in bowls seated in ice and salt baths.

I was honored to be the first El Líder del Día but it was a bit uncomfortable at first. Although it was easy for me to get my friends to bed the night before and to wake them up in the morning, I was uncomfortable the first few times I had to command the group’s attention. Teaching eighteen of my peers how to play a large, silly group game was nerve-wracking, but watching them enjoy themselves and watching them get competitive made the initial discomfort more than worthwhile.

In a sense, I think what we learned in Pucaratambo and in Riobamba today coincided well with being El Líder. All three of these experiences fostered a sense of community. Sharing the pambamesa in Cacha, learning about the large indigenous presence in Riobamba and learning how to balance being both a leader and a friend helped the nineteen of us become more in tune with each other, our surroundings, and the world we live in.

¡Hasta Luego!

Shout Outs:

Ayanna: “Hi Mom and Dad! Don’t worry, I’m doing fine.”

Karen: “Hola, papi y mami. No se preocupen que estoy bien, ¡Saludos!

Sara: I just wanted to tell you guys that I’m fine and I love you guys!

Cara: Hi everyone! I’m doing great… It’s only been three days and I already have so many amazing photos to show you all. Lots of love! (Hug Gabe for me)