Journals from Universidad de San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) Ecuador
The leader of the community we visited, with the hostel that we stayed at in the background.
Salasaca, or Salasaka as spelling it the indigenous language of Quichua, is a town made up of many small communities located about 2.5 hours south of Quito. They are known for their woven tapestries.
I had the chance to visit this community with my program (students from Oregon) for a weekend. Before we arrived in Salasaca, we stopped at a history museum and botanical garden called “Jardín Bótanico y Casa Museo Martínez Holguín,” which means Botanical Garden and House Museum of the Martinez Holguin family. We started out by wandering through the botanical gardens. They were filled with many native Ecuadorian plants. The flowers were so beautiful, and it was a breath of fresh air (literally and figuratively) to be surrounded by greenery and a variety of plants. After spending about a half hour in the gardens, we headed into the museum. We started our tour with a video explaining the history of the house, museum, gardens, and the family that owned the land. We then, with a guide, toured the house, looking at different rooms and artifacts. There were models of members of the family that were created specifically for the museum in order to help depict the people in their daily lives. Many photos and possessions of the family have been kept and well preserved, so we had the opportunity to really understand the time period, not only through what the guide was telling us, but also by looking at the relics. As we were leaving the museum to head back to the bus, we found some small coconuts on the ground. Our program director showed us how to crack them open. We had fun opening them, although there was not very much meat inside to eat.
Then we headed to the community in Salasaca. We had a little bit of time to relax when we got in, since we had a very early start, and many of us wanted a rest. After that, when it was starting to get dark, we took a walk in order to see a little bit of the community. We saw aloe vera plants that grow to be about six feet tall! Then when we were climbing up a little above the community, we had an incredible view of Ambato, which is the closest city.
When we returned, we got to see some of the items that are made in Salasaca, specifically woven tapestries. Also, one of the indigenous women helped us to dress up in the traditional indigenous clothing if we wanted. It was interesting to see how the women wear their skirts and shawls. The skirt is a large cloth that is folded and then tied with a belt. The most incredible part is that the women do it without help. I am not sure that I could even put it on with help! We also got to try to spin wool by hand into yarn. The women in the community are constantly working the wool into yarn, and make it look effortless. I tried it and ended up breaking the wool. Luckily the woman who was showing me how to make the thread was able to fix it. She told me that women are working the wool whenever they can, including when they are walking or waiting for the bus.
After a little bit of shopping and admiring, we headed in for a late dinner. Although dinner is not the main meal of the day in Ecuador, we were still fed very well. We had a delicious soup and an herbal tea. After dinner some of the members of the community played indigenous music.
When we woke up in the morning, we had a breakfast and quickly began our day. We started with a trip in bus up to a sacred spot. It has an incredible view, even when it is slightly cloudy. When it is clear, there are three volcanoes that are visible from that spot. Then, the leader of the community performed a cleaning ceremony for and on all of us. It was a fairly short ceremony, only lasting about fifteen minutes. At the end, he said that we all had bad energy, and that the ceremony would help us to carry and bring in good energy.
Then we walked down the hill back into the community. I was glad that we didn’t have to walk up to the mountain top! When we got back to the community, we saw how the dyes for the tapestries are made. All of the dyes, except for blue, are natural. The most interesting one to me was the red/purple. There are specific cactuses planted in a garden in order to attract a specific beetle. This beetle, when crushed, is purple. These bugs are collected, crushed, added to water, and then are ready to be used for dye. Then, members of the community demonstrated that when lemon is added (once it is crushed), it turns red! So, by planting cactuses and collecting this bug, they are able to make two different colors of dye. In order to dye the wool, the water with the dye is boiled and the garment is added. Once it reaches the desired color it is taken out, and then allowed to cool and dry. As long as the garment or tapestry is only washed in cold water, the color will not leave.
Next, we got to see how the tapestries are woven (and had the opportunity to try to weave). One of the men in the community showed us how to weave on the large machines, meant for two people. For the tapestries, they end up buying the yarn because since they are so large, no one would be able to afford a tapestry made out of the hand-spun wool. In addition, the community would not be able to produce nearly as many tapestries due to the lack of wool. I noticed that the man who was working on the tapestry did not have a design that he was following. He told me that they have memorized all of the designs that they do, so they do not need a drawing or anything in order to know how to make the pattern. Then, we got a chance to try. When he was showing us, he was working so quickly, but when we joined it, it took at least twice as long per row. I am glad that I tried it, though, because it gave me much more respect for the beautiful pieces that they create.
We then ate a typical lunch of that community, and then headed back to Quito. I feel lucky that I have had the opportunity to spend time in two very different indigenous communities in Ecuador and am looking forward to visiting again in the spring with the new group of students.