(Market pic left to right: Gabrielle Muntean, Emily McCue)
By morning, we were back on the road and also back on the grid, for we were heading to Otavalo, or the market capital of Ecuador I guess you could say. If there was any time to collect souvenirs, it was at this moment right here. When we arrived to the market area, it was huge and filled with many different types of natives trying to sell their merchandise. The cool thing about the whole experience was that you were given the chance to even bargain the price that you felt was right for certain products. Something like this would never be done in America, it was like an auction but on an even grander scale. A fellow classmate and I got the chance to even meet fellow New Jerseyans and they supplied us with a cheat sheet that helped us bargain with the locals. It contained questions like “How much” and “What about the Friend discount.” It was a interesting experience to say the least.
At night, we remained on the grid and proceeded to a hotel known as the La Palmeras Inn where we finally got the chance to engage with the Ecuadorian ways of celebrating new years. Throughout the whole trip, we traveled with a companion known as Jorge. He was a dummy made out of paper mache and was suppose to be a doll of Ecuador’s Vice president (most of these dolls they burn for new years are politicians). Tonight was the night we were going to say goodbye to our friend. We had to make a two sided list: on the front featured things we wanted to leave behind in 2017 and the back featured things that we wanted to carry with us in 2018. After that, we had to stuff the papers into Jorge, lit him on fire and then jump over him 12 times. It was pure madness in the most exciting form you could possibly have. Following that, we lit up some fireworks and proceeded to tell traditional ghost stories that were said to be true in Ecuador. A very eventful/spooky/random/mesmerizing day it was.
Following this, the mystery continues, for we visited a local shaman the next day. This particular shaman was once the president of the association of healers. He had many different types of elements and artifacts on his desk that meant various things such as: Carnations (for good luck), Tobacco (to remove bad spirits and bad luck), and Sugar Cane (for spiritual support). He received his training from a tribe known as the Kofan in 1995 and it was mostly done in the jungle/forest so we knew for a fact that he was the real deal. When he does healing, he would normally use a ferment vine that is highly hallucinogenic known as Iowaska. When consumed at night, it allowed for the spirits of the jungle to visit him.
Today he was simply purifying one of us and Lauren, a fellow study abroad mate, volunteered as tribute. The process of purifying included two processes: 1st one involved riding all of the bad spirits from her aura. The blowing of fire, spitting out alcohol/cologne, beating of leafs and shaking of eggs were used to do this process. For the second portion of the ritual, it involved blessing the person, or providing them with the good luck. The rubbing of carnations onto Lauren’s face, after being spit on, was needed, along with more fire, spitting, shaking of eggs, and the beating of leaves. While it was a strange experience overall, I am really glad that we were given the chance to see a real shaman at work.
P.s. I was wearing blue underwear this night of the new years celebration. With in the new year, each color underwear has a different meaning. Blue is said to represent Tranquility and wealth, may my underwear guide me into the right direction this year.