Yupai Chani

“Did you see the little dead bodies?” That is what Lilly asked me Thursday night. Okay, relax, it’s not what you think. We had a farewell party before we left Agato and the families cooked us their local delicacy – guinea pigs. So, when Lilly inquired about the little dead bodies she was only referring to the trays of skinned guinea pigs. See? Not disturbing in the least.

The farewell party was a great end to our stay in Agato. Our host families looked after us so well, feeding us meals of sopa (soup not soap), a hundred different types of corn and the biggest breakfasts I’ve ever had. Even our Spanish teachers cooked us these delicious batter covered fried bananas. Come Thursday night it was our turn to share some American/English food with the community. So of course we cooked the iconically Italian pizza… I think it was probably one of the few times in history that pizza has been cooked in the same pizza oven as guinea pigs.

It just so happened that our final night in Agato coincided with the Fall Equinox which meant we got to take part in a traditional indigenous ceremony. The Equinox is a big deal to the Agato community as it is a time for them to give thanks to Mother Earth for all that she provides: water, food, sun, everything we need to live. As a large proportion of their food is home grown the need for good weather is vital to the community. The ceremony really was like the tribal culture you read about. We sat in a circle, with various idols placed in the centre interspersed with fruit and veg which was later to be shared amongst us. Everyone was in traditional dress (yes, even us!) and the man leading the ceremony began. There was talking, chanting, drumming, singing and music played on a pan flute. The leader of the community then lit some wood in a bowl before blowing out the flames and using a feather to waft the smoke over each person in turn. If I’m completely honest with you I still have no idea why we did this but everyone seemed to use the smoke to wash their faces and hair so I’m 90% sure it was some sort of cleansing ritual.

After the ceremony we headed inside to eat and we all got to try the ‘little dead bodies’ which had, thankfully, been cooked by this point. I got freaked out by the little bones but pretty much everyone else liked it. So to any guinea pig owners out there who are trying to decide on tonight’s dinner…

Everyone then moved on to pizza which went down a hoot and filled us all up for the entertainment part of the evening. Each of the families we stayed with helped us prepare a little something to share with the community. Fritz and Alex recited speeches in Kichwa (the Agato communities native language) which was impressive. It is possible it would have been more impressive if they had actually understood a word of what they were saying. Marnie and Lilly counted to ten in Kichwa whilst Kenny and I performed a song with our family – me stumbling on the pan flute and Kenny masterfully shaking some shells.

The women then performed a couple of traditional dances for us and we finished the evening off by saying thank you for the food and drink Agato style. Mere words were not to suffice as we all crowded round in a circle, the musicians in the middle, and danced and drank and danced and stomped and sang, the little Agato kids on the shoulders of the American boys.

We’re now back in Quito, (best to skim over that five hour journey as fast as possible) and heading off to the Tsachila Tribe on Monday. I’m sad to say I will no longer be blogging from Ecuador as I’m heading back to the UK with a significant limp in my step. No need to fret though as I’ve plenty of stuff to blog about from the last month.

I’ve had an incredible time here in Ecuador and I’ll miss the amazing people I’ve met. I wish the rest of my team the best of luck with the remainder of their travels. If you want to follow their progress then visit The Leap blog. We may not understand much Kichwa but there is one phrase that I hope to remember – Yupai Chani – which means not only thank you but thank you from the bottom of my heart. So to the people of Agato, to the families we stayed with that made us feel so very welcome, caring for us when we were ill, sharing with us their customs, their laughter and their lives and to all the friends I’ve made, Yupai Chani and farewell.

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