In a town called Agato…

Update number two for you lucky people with access to hot water. We said goodbye to Quito last Friday and travelled up north to Otavalo. For the last week we’ve been staying with the indigenous people of the Agato community. A few of the families have taken us into their homes so we really get to experience what life is like for them. As you might have guessed from my opening sentence for some of us that means no hot water.

The lack of physical heat, however, is more than made up for by the warmth of our host families. They’ve taken care of us from day one, cooking us meals, giving us blankets and making us special medicinal tea to help settle our stomachs (or in my case throat when I came down with a cold- isn’t Ecuador supposed to be hot?). They are also wonderfully patient with our slowly improving Spanish. The Agato community technically speak two languages, Spanish and their native tongue, Kichwa (pronounced ki-chu-ah) so we’re also picking up a few words of that as well. My favourite phrase, (other wise known as the only phrase I can remember) is Alli Tuta – good night.

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On our first day here Charlotte (our team leader) took us to the market in Otavalo. Many of the local communities, Agato included, have stalls there where they sell hand crafted items. Lilly and Marnie’s host mother makes these beautiful dream catchers which I think she’s going to teach us how to make this week. We’ve already had a go at making necklaces and visited a local musician.

The Otavalo market was like nothing I’ve seen before. At one point a girl walked by dragging a cardboard box full of live guinea pigs behind her followed by a woman carrying a chicken under her arm. We all had fun haggling with the stall holders (some more successfully than others) and got some cool souvenirs to take home. I bought some T-shirts and a stone tortuga (tortoise) who later lost his head.

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We spent the week helping out around the community during the morning and having Spanish lessons in the afternoon. The Agato community have this amazing thing called Minga. Basically what happens is when one family needs something done the whole community comes together to help them do it. So when the family I’m staying with needed to plow the fields instead of it taking one person a week, we all got it done in a single morning.

I think my favourite project of the week was building a playground for the local preschool. We put in a swing set and built a tunnel out of old tyres. Then we got very colourful painting the tunnel like the rainbow. I’m still finding flecks of blue paint on my skin.

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We just got back from our weekend trip to the hot springs in Chachimbiro where we relaxed in the naturally heated pools and dined out at a local restaurant. Although I use the word restaurant hesitantly. Our Spanish may be improving but last night made sure to keep us humble. I think the dinner is best summed up by Lilly’s words “I think ordering could have gone better”. Considering we had no idea what food we were eating, three people ordered pastries instead of a meal (unintentionally) and my dinner never turned up, I’d say “ordering could have gone better” is the understatement of the century. I’m pleased to report lunch today was far more successful and we are now safely back in Agato where our wonderful host families cook us all sorts of local dishes. Soup with popcorn being my favourite so far! Although I did try guinea pig…

We’ve one more week to go here in Agato, more foods to try, places to see, things to learn and people to meet.

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