Ecuador: Culture and Biodiversity

Latest update August 15, 2018 Started on July 17, 2018

I am travelling through Ecuador with a team of Fulbright teacher fellows to collect stories of culture and biodiversity in Ecuador. We will explore UNESCO heritage sites of Incan culture and contemporary sustainability initiatives in Quito; visit thriving craft communities in Otavalo; explore conservation research at the Tiputini Biodiversity Research station and the Darwin Center on Santa Cruz in the Galapagos islands; and visit Andean communities in Cuenca as well as coastal communities in Guayaquil and Puerto Lopez.

As a curriculum developer in visual arts, I will return to Baltimore and develop novel ways of sharing stories and initiative through digital storytelling, incorporating illustration, photography, animation, and more to create short video exemplars as well as lesson plan materials which I am happy to share with educators!

July 17, 2018
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Excerpts from talk by Rafael Cammino, 8/15/18, Quito, Ecuador.
Our closing dinner featured a surprise visist and performance by the Ballet Jacchigua. This living heritage dance company was founded in Quito, Ecuador by director, Rafael Cammino in 1988 after a longstanding partnership with Oswaldo Guayasamin. He declares the folkloric ballet: “90 dancers preserving culture, costumes, dances, country of religion, diversity, closer to the sun to the stars to the moon.” Cammino has been producing stunning dance as a way of preserving cultural heritage and tradition as well as sharing with the world. Born in a poor neighborhood to an illiterate mother and a father who was a farm worker, at 15 Camino moved to a city and learned to live in other ways. A sort of rainbow bridge from the diverse cultures of Ecuador to the nations of the world: “ I have 67 registered choreographies. We have traveled to 47 countries to promote Ecuadorian culture, performed for 3 popes, at the World Cup for 750,000 people. The opening dance is performed for our largest festival, Inti Raymi and the festival of St. John, and elements of the passillo dance were brought by the Spanish 500 yrs ago but our indigenous have danced for the sun and the moon because we are the center and the middle of the world. . . We are a pluricultural, multiethnic, multilingual country, and I am part of this mestizo heritage.” Each traditional nation has its own dances and songs which date back to times before the Incas. Through Jacchigua's dances, these traditions are preserved and valued, noted and shared, and recorded. Todo Bailen: dance is for everyone. Camino is focusing on outreach beyond the touring company, and now works with 320 dancers in 11 groups, including groups of the physically disabled, the elderly, and children. In almost every region we have visited, we have seen regional dances, and have been asked to dance, invited on stage to participate at the end of the show. The maypole is woven with ribbon as the dancers respond to music based on the calls of wild birds. “I learned from many mothers and many fathers to respect nature. . .” exclaims Camino. “This next dance is about Changas, how men used to ride on horses and seduce beautiful women. This dance is for the place that I was born. . . .” We move though regions such a Imbabura, Cotacachi, Pichincha, Guayas .. . “ The dance is a tour of geography. Camino exclaims: “Our roses are the best in the world, our chocolate the sweetest, the birds the most beautiful, even the whales come to visit our coasts, Quito is the first heritage city in the world with its golden churches . . .” And todo bailen, everyone dances, so at the end of the show, hands are extended with warm smiles, we are pulled into the circle, under the rainbow ribbons and flower arches and amidst songs about mountains, we all dance together, joining the circle, and asked not to forget to write.

For more about the ballet jacchigua or to catch one of their many performances,

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In The Field

Camera traps: viewing the unknown

Gabriela Vinueza, Msc. Tiputini Biodiversity Station

Early naturalists were in a sense mass murderers of the species they loved the most. In order to study species, they collected, dissected, and preserved specimens; and many field researchers still practice these techniques to build scientific knowledge. However, dead specimens tell us very little about behavior. Further, the thick of the jungle understory and the height an distance of the canopy make observation based behaviors very difficult. The camouflage that protects animals from predators also makes them difficult to spot; and even skilled human observers make noise and give off scents which can cause species to go into hiding. Jose, my guide who grew up in the Amazon and has lived at Tiputini for over ten years, has only seen a jaguar 6 times in his life; and yet Tiputini has one of the highest concentrations of jaguars in the world. How can we find out more about the large species that we rarely get to see? Seeking to research and document the diversity and abundance of large mammals and birds in undisturbed forest in Ecuador, Tiputini has established a camera trap system that has been in use for about 3 years. Camera traps are waterproof plastic boxes with heat and motion sensors and cameras inside. The animal's heat and motion triggers the camera to take a picture or video; night shots can be set up to shoot in infrared. Tiputini's ten camera traps are currently on the understory; each pair of traps can monitor an area of 10 sq. kilometers. In just three years, these traps have generated recordings of over 70 species through 250000 images! Aspirations are to establish a series of traps in the canopy in the next few years. Traps generate a lot of information. Not only do we get information about animals, we also get information about forest health, as certain keystone species only live in non disturbed forest. They are especially useful to look for “rare and cryptic species in large areas,” and have helped scientists to discover new species. Species in this category in the Yasuni National Park area include the Giant Armadillo, about 2m long, which has been filmed digging very quickly as they browse for ants, making large holes in 5 minutes. The Tamandua is an arboreal species, and was thought to alwaysstay in the canopy, but cameras show that when they want to go faster they come down to the ground. Giant anteaters, pretty much the size of a jaguar, forage on the ground looking for termites. Cameras have shown them using their long furry tail for defense, swimming across rivers, and carrying babies on their backs. Early camera traps included a gunpowder flash and frightened animals when they discharged, interfering with accuracy of information. Durable, reliable digital cameras have significantly improved the success rate of digital cameras and reduced waste, and this has led to a very fast evolution of camera traps. Contemporary camera traps are noninvasive and allow scientists to study animals in remote areas like snow leopards in the Himalayas. Some of the most exciting image and vidoes from Tiputini cameras have been filmed at salt licks. These upwellings of minerals and water are used by diverse species which eat the clay to amend their diets and improve their health. Different licks have varying mineral contents, Animals visit salt licks to eat clay and minerals to help with digestion to reduce impact of toxins in berries and leaves. Traps at these locations have led to behavioral discoveries such as: red-shouldered bats visit salt lakes after pregnancy to recover minerals. The collared peccary lives in small groups of up to 10. Like domesticated pigs, peccaries have no sweat glands, so they roll in mud to cool down and get rid of parasites, Tiputini has generated the first video of a sloth going to a salt lick, more research is to follow. These tree dwellers are so exhausted by the movement down the ground that they usually stay at the salt lick for a couple of hours and sometimes even take a nap on the way. Sometimes photos show multiple species using the salt lake at the same time; as diverse as a bat, caiman, and red brocket deer; or a giant anteater followed by a jaguar with two cubs. Howler monkeys and spider monkeys have been filmed sharing the salt lick, and were comfortable enough together that a baby spider monkey was even observed jumping onto a howler monkey's back instead of its own mother's. Mom came fairly quickly to retrieve it. Nine banded armadillos are often spotted on the ground looking for insects to eat. They do adapt well to disturbed environments but have been overhunted for meat and crafts. With a camera trap, new was behavior observed; armadillos can jump when they get scared!

We now know that the black agouti is a key species for reforestation; they eat the outside part of the coconut and bury inside part to eat later, but as they often forget to go back and collect the coconut, they end up planting trees. Information about abundance can also be monitored with camera traps. The Paca, a spotted nocturnal rodent, is apparently as delicious as guinea pigs. They are rare in many areas due to overhunting, but they are abundant in Tipuntini and have been filmed at the salt licks. Observations of indicator species, such as the Salvin's Curassow, which only lives in undisturbed forests, show that the forest is in good health. Some rare or hard to find species such as the Common Piping Guan, the Roufus-vented ground cuckoo, the Nocturnal Curassow have been filmed. Camera traps have shown the abundance of ocelots in the region, verifying their activity in both the day and night; and collected the first ever video of ocelot with its kit. Individual ocelots can be recognized by their spot patterns; although considered an at risk species, they are plentiful here, with a density of about 35-80 cats for every 100 sq. km. More than 50 individuals have been recognized. Some animals like the Jaguarundi and the Jaguar are so elusive they are almost never seen, but appear on the camera traps. The jaguar is the largest apex predator here, biggest cat in the Americas. Jaguars are threatened because of prey depletion, habitat destruction, and fragmentation. Understanding their behavior will help conservation efforts, and observation is also needed to document shifts in population sizes. They are elusive – Jose, our guide, has lived in the jungle for 30 years and has only seen a jaguar 5 times. Camera traps have documented a number of jaguars hunting near salt licks. In order to increase observations in the study of jaguars, scientists have lured with snacks including fish, chicken, peanut butter. However, what is best is Obsession for men by CK or Chanel No. 5. The civet musk in the perfume is now synthetically formulated, but is based on sex pheromones from civet cats in Africa and attracts jaguars. This has allowed Tiputini researchers to film jaguars mating for the first time. Researchers are able to compile more complex information, using capture/recapture techniques to follow movement patterns and identify individual cats by their spot patterns. Preliminary data indicates a high density of jaguars here, second only to areas in Brazil. There have been 21 different jaguars identified on site, although their range can include 100 sq. km. Scientists have been able to observe the same animals returning to the same areas, and conduct some longitudinal studies.

There are a number of obstacles to camera trap studies; the moist and warm environment can mess with electronics, and so costs of replacing cameras mount quickly. Animals can also add to camera maintenance costs. Pecarries are aggressive with foreign objects, and move through the jungle in large groups of up to 400. The wild pigs have chewed, rubbed, and gnawed on cameras and often damage them. Capuchin monkeys are very bright and inquisitive, and individuals often notice cameras; one video shows a capuchin shaking branches to interfere with the camera's capture! National Geographic provided initial funding for the camera trap project, and it is currently supported by the University of San Francisco in Quito. Information collected from these studies has led to publication of several papers on mineral licks, observation of new species, and impact of human traffic on animals (apparently, not much at all!) “The Secrets of Yasuni” book was published and distributed to schools in the area. Research is ongoing! You can find published articles have been in scientific journals including online science sites such as Mongabay, and Motherboard, and follow Tiputini online: Fb Tiputini @tiputiniusfq

Images: 1) wooly monkey in canopy 2) spider monkey 3) huatzin 4) butterflies at a salt lick

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Summarized and extracted from lecture by Dr. Gustavo Lovato, Universidad de los Hemisferios, with performance at Casa de La Musique; demonstration by Miguel at Museo Ethnologico Mindale and visit to Nunda Manachi, workshop of musical instruments in Otavalo; performance of coastal dances at ESPOL in Guayaquil.

Simon and Garfunkel's “El Condor Passa” was a traditional Andean tune before the duo got ahold of it, and is ubiquitous amongst street musicians and at celebrations and festivals throughout Ecuador. The essential nature of music in Andean culture can be traced to precolumbian times through the archaeological record. Ceramics and potsherds from the Mâchalilla culture include both remains of ceramic instruments and vessels which depict musicians, indicating the high stature of musicians in early society. The Machalilla are “the first acoustic engineers in the Americas;” sonorous objects like ceramic whistles show up as early as 6000 BC. Most interesting are the chorrera. These vessels feature communicating chambers and zoomorphic heads. The chorrera are remarkably constructed to sound when water is poured between the interior chambers; technology was so advanced that the artisans could craft sculptures that could reproduce any kind of animal sound and would reflect this animal in its form. The complexity of these sonorous vessels belies a technologically advanced culture with a rich ritual life. Ecuador is home to earliest documented archaeological site featuring instruments. Archaeologists use the ceramic record to understand musical traditions through analysis of representational images of musicians and also remains of instruments. Music was part of the ritual life cultures such as La Tolitas and historians know that it was involved in rituals including healing, birth, and rites of passage. In Bahia de Caraquez, musical objects feature religious themes, were part of political courts, and included serpent and cat deities associated with fertility and the sea. Cuasmal ceramic culture was highly advance and included 17 types of ceramic instruments as well as bone flutes. Some of the instruments are thought to have only one life; artists/yechaks would construct and fire the instruments, sound them in ceremonies, and then destroy them ritually. Ethnomusicologist Rodrigo Covacevich is investigating the sounds of various instruments to see if they can be replicated and understood using contemporary technologicy; videos of him playing the multi-chambered ceramics are available online. The relationship of heritage cultures to music is thought be less entertainment focused than today's music and more of a direct response to nature and cosmology. “Sound for them was to be used for a specific ritual, a specific movement” temporal punctuality. The Inka kept court musicians; the last emperor, Atawallpa had over 40 musicians in his court before the Spanish beheaded him at the moment the indigenous refer to as “the middle of the day becoming the night” The orchestras of 40-50 musicians playing both ceramic instruments and instruments made of cane such as the rondador would play at the temple of the sun virgins, accompanied by a long court of dancers; over 3000 people would attend celebrations. Gatherings and street celebrations today throughout the country often feature musicians playing publically, with certain ceremonies, dances and songs chosen for time of day or year; and the community invited to join in a circle dance. Music in Ecuador is also highly influenced by the Europeans; and the colonial period from 1500-1830 featured the Spanish conquistadors but also monks from Belgium, Germany, and other parts of Europe. To the European ear accustomed to an 8 note scale and counterpoint polyphony, “indigenous music was experienced as funereal, lugubrious, martial, and infernal . . . For this reason indigenous music was often forbidden by the catholics and instruments were even destroyed” Indigenous culture didn’t disappear, it was just subverted. As the colonial powers did not steward indigenous cultural heritage, Ecuadorean musicians are now at a point of cultural recovery. There are now composers for example documenting indigenous music, or composing music based on African Ecuadorian music . This trend began in the Republican era, after Ecuadorean independence, and syncretic songs and dances include the Pasillo, which is influenced by European waltzes Andean dances, and the San Juanito, which combines the celebration of the solstice in June with the feast of St. John. The Casa de la Musique is located near the base of Pichincha mountain and was once used as a ceremonial site by indigenous people. It is the result of an alliance between the historic Philharmonic Society of Quito and Hans and Gisella Neustaetter, Jewish immigrants to Quito during the 1940s who dedicated their lives to supporting Ecuadorean music and a children's hospital. One of the highest concert halls in the world, Casa de la Musique has to pump oxygen into the concert halls for some performances.

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Excerpts from talk with Elmer Salazar, guide and visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Isla Santa Cruz

All flights to the Galapagos land on Manta at the ecological airport. The island is fairly barren, and features leafless silver trees pushing through auburn and black lava. A few lone cacti are beginning to gain some ground. We are greeted by our assigned ecological guide. As the entire peninsula is a National Park, and the surrounding waterways are a marine preserve, all visitors must be escorted by naturalist guides. The airport is surrounded by wind turbines to generate its electricity, and has louvred window slats left open for ventilation and light. Visitors' shoe soles are decontaminated by textured mats, and baggage is fumigated in addition to to protect take a short bus ride to the ferry to Santa Cruz, where we received guidelines for safeguarding wildlife and warnings about the appearance of fire ants. The islands are volcanic in origin and most are shield volcanoes, formed by a slower lava bubble emerging from sea mounts. The Nasca techtonic plate moves each year, at a reasonable pace of 17km each million years. This is the same powerful plate which produced the Andes. Some islands feature large craters, with diameters up to 900 ft, and depths up to 600 ft, and the oldest islands have caldera lagoons. While coast lines often feature barren rocks, a garland of mangroves or beaches with sand in a variety of colors, as one moves inland the vista shifts to ghostly white denuded palo santo trees pushing gently up from red and black lava fields. This “holy stick” is sometimes used for mosquito repellent and often used for incense in ceremony. In the Galapagos highlands, the endemic Scalesia trees are being pushed out by invasive blackberry thickets, but still provide habitat for birds. On our way to Racho Primicias, we stopped to hike and view pit craters by the Gamelas (twin) peaks. The pit craters were formed by a collapse of porous volcanic rock. Nearby lava tubes evidence the emergence of magma which formed the islands. The force and velocity of the heated liquid rock, propelled by expansion of gases, left the walls of the caves smooth to the touch. Owls sometimes roost within the caves. Although the islands were propelled to fame by Darwin's Origin of Species, the Beagle only stayed in the Galapagos for 5 weeks and visited 4 of the islands. Darwin's theory of evolution was inspired by the diversity of mockingbird's beaks on the islands. The otherworldly landscape prompted the first sailors to arrive on the islands to compare iguanas to dragons and winter in the Galapagos to hell. This reputation contributed to the conservation of the islands. Although the islands were used as stopping points for pirates and trade ships, few were interested in settling. In fact, the islands were not affiliated with any nation state. Galapagos was only recently annexed to Ecuador 1882. Of all of the islands, only Floreana and San Cristobal have fresh water. As a result of its appeal to settlers, Floreana has suffered some of the greatest habitat loss; its population of giant tortoises is entirely extinct. Dogs, rats and fire ants continue to threaten tortoise eggs and hatchlings; before human colonization, their only natural predators were Galapagos hawks. The Darwin Foundation's ambitious Floreana project is aiming to conserve and restore some of the ecology, and is introducing tortoises from various islands which are bred at their tortoise rehabilitation center. Healthy tortoises can live up to 260 years, and continue to grow and mate throughout life. The park is working on the eradication and control of invasive species, but the process is expensive and time consuming. For more information and to support the Darwin Foundation, go to:

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A Tale of Two Cities: Trash

By Land:

Land management is crucial to sustainable development but few of us think about the management of garbage. Cuenca is a growing, affluent middle class city of over 300,000 citizens is breaking new ground with the installation of a community landfill which is generating clean energy. 428 tons of trash are collected a day, and collected in trucks which are weighed at the landfill's entrance. The landfill is run by the municipality and has negotiated an agreement with the surrounding community, to compensate them for the environmental impact . Private companies are charged a fee based on how much their trash weighs, and 5% is paid to the community, which adds up to $700k last year. The landfill was started in 2000, and is now in the process of capping off its second hill. It will be resodded with grass to contain any debris. The first heap is already planted; liners contain the runoff, and this liquid output or leachate is treated and sent to the liquid waste treatment plant. Most interesting is the chimneys, which reduce the carbon footprint and smell of the landfill by collecting methane. The methane is piped across the street, to a biogas processing plant which produces clean electricity for the region at a rate of about 22,000 volts a day (fueling 3000 households). In contrast to the 428 tons of garbage in the landfill each day, Cuenca only recycles 120 tons each month. One challenge is public education; awareness campaigns are in the works with plans to encourage sorting. Currently, there is no municipally organized collection of recycling, but individual microentrepreneurs are paid to collect material. There is no recycling facility in Cuenca so collected materials must be sent to Quito for processing, which is costly and discourages companies from stating initiatives. Plastic bags and tetra packs are especially problematic. Plastic bags cost 1 cent to make and 6 to recycle, and so economic incentives to overproduce must be met with changes in social values to advocate for reduced plastic consumption. For more information:

By Sea:

Single-Use Plastics in the Galapagos 8/5/18 Notes from a lecture by Elena Perez, MS, US Fulbright Student on San Cristobal

“We've been accustomed to seeing plastic as a modern convenience, as a lifestyle, how easy!” Where does the trash go on an island? Sadly, ven in the protected waters of the Galapagos, at the dock one can easily see small pieces of hitching rope; plastic bags and more small waste floating in the water, on a sea turtle's back, or caught in mangrove roots. On our first evening in Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the Galapagos, with a growing population of 12,000, we watched a gecko walk across the powerpoint and discussed potential solutions to management of waste plastics in island ecology. The islands, a National Park and Marine Researve, used to hold a population of 0-5,000 inhabitants but recent economic booms are pushing population closer to 20,000. Ms. Perez is working with a team of local researchers to conduct citizen science seeking to determine the origin of the plastics found on the beach. Survey methods for collecting include simple beach walks with time constraints; but individual differences in vision, mobility, bias, or even time of day relevant to tide can make results challenging to disaggregate. Smaller pieces and microplastics, which make up the bulk of plastic on most beaches, are almost impossible to sort or id origins; and may difficult to detect among grains of sand. So Elena's local research hasn't been published in scientific journals yet but has been disseminated.

Much of her work is focused on raising awareness and educating the population. She usually begins with a very brief survey: Please circle on a map: Where is your favorite place to connect to nature? 2) Where do you think the litter and trash is coming from? While the first impulse may be to blame tourists for litter, solutions include encouraging sorting of recycling to increase efficiency so that recycling can be transported off of the island. Local water is not potable and can be high in salmonella, so most people on the islands rely on bottled water, and in an unfortunate loop, plastic inevitably ends up in the water. Education for toursits is important too. Tourists often don't don't know there are alternatives – but alternatives to plastic bags and bottles are usually available if one asks. So the 3Rs become the 4Rs: “Reduce, reuse, recycle, reject” Elena uses of environmental pscyhology to investigate what influences our behaviors around plastics. Behaviors can change with attitudes, perceived responsibility, motivation, social norms, educational levels, experience/frequency of noticing litter, and values. She works a lot with local youth, and recently developed a series of various activities for “Shark day” to educate about whale sharks, microplastics, and interdependence. It's difficult for humans and nature to just catch the plastic material. Just as the mangroves stabilize beaches and prevent shoreline erosion by catching sand, they also catch plastics. There are also some areas of potential confusion. Some areas such as the boardwalk seem to have less plastic litter, but it may be that workers are cleaning streets to promote business, or that plastics are blowing into the ocean more easily because of wind. The Darwin Research Center is planning to kick off a larger plastics education campaign next year, including community beach cleanups and large scale public sculpture. Even though I brought my own refillable water bottle and tried to keep it filled from the large jug at my hotel, I probably used a dozen or so disposable bottles during my short stay in the Galapagos, many handed to me by guides. We all need to shift attitudes away from the convenience mentality of throw away plastics. There is no “away” to throw unrecycled waste – all results in the land or the sea.

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Ocean health and human development in Ecuador
Excerpts from a lecture at ESPOL on 8/3 with Dr. Mercy Borbor Cordova, Fulbright alumna and a boat tour with marine biologist Dr. Pedro Jimenez, president at at Puerto El Morro

Dr. Borbor spoke to a futurist approach to environmental sciences in Guayas; her research focus on global progress through social ecology. She emphasizes that environmental, economic, and social pressure from coastal zone development inevitably lead to biochemical ecosystem change. This change has an ecological impact on marine life,and directly impacts on human health and wellbeing, and she declares, “climate is the most important driver for human society.” She uses intense local studies of the Guayas ecosystems to develop models for management which may be adapted worldwide. Her initial studies in ecosystems, structures and functions surrounding land use in Guayas, have given way to an examination of the ties between oceans and human health as well as urban health and climate resilience. The watershed of the Guayas is the larget in Ecuador, spanning over 32,000 kilometers. Ocean health is tied directly to land management. Macronutrients are the base of the trophic chain in the conversion of energy to organic life. One of the most influential macronutrients is nitrogen, which can originate in fertilizer, waste water, compost. The balance and the management of nitrogen in the ocean system near populated areas is a useful sustainability indicator. If nitrogen is poorly managed, runoff will cause nutrients to accumulate in rivers and estuaries, leading to eutrophication, dangerous red algae blooms, dead zones and loss of food sources and habitat for wildlife and people. Much of Dr. Borbor's work is now focusing on developing time scales for human/ marine systems and modeling a socioecological system for ocean health and harmful algae blooms (HABs). HABs are on the rise, and 2015-2016 was a banner year for widespread, largescale harmful algal bloom events in the Pacific from Chile to California. Through Project Climate Variability, Dr. Borbor is working with the World Health Organization to develop an information systems platform for monitoring climate shifts through ocean and biological and human health. She considers the city of Guayaquil a laboratory for “Climate Services for Health.” She is involving more and more sociological studies to understand the reasons for smaller-scale management choices which add up to greatly impact waterways. As she develops this project, she speaks to challenges such as building interdisciplinary reasearch teams, engaging local stakeholders and funding, and crafting effective outputs. Ideally this research will lead to tailored local solutions which respond to human and natural geography to support local level changes in practices to reduce health risks and improve management of these macronutrients. One of her big goals is to increase implementation of citizen science and employ ordinary citizens in data collection, which can lead to more effective and efficient realtime solutions to emerging problems. Dr. Jiminez is the president of an Ecuadorean association for the conservation of marine mammals, FEMM, and wanted to show us the dwindling population of bottlenosed dolphins near the Guayas industrial port. He took us on a tour from Puerto el Morro, a small town whose inhabitants' main livelihood is fishing from hand crafted wooden boats. These fishermen are benefitting from the protected area of mangrove forest bordering the Guayas river. The area hosts 5 different species of mangroves, and many fish proliferate amongst the roots of the trees, creating a rich aquatic ecosystem which provides food for top level predators such as catfish, dolphins, and people. However, the mangroves are threatened both by small-scale development, as people clear space for houses and boat docks, and large scale development; the port of Guayas, located miles from the city near the river's mouth, has denuded a large swath of riverfront. FEMM is working to develop public awareness that reliance on the rich fisheries is interdependent with the health of the mangroves, and legislation has been put in place requiring developers to plant 6 times the number of mangroves which are cut. However, seedlings do not fill the same ecological niche as fully grown trees, and only 20% of plantings thrive. The population of dolphins in the cove can be spotted by flocks of frigate birds, albatross and pelicans, which congregate near schools of fish where dolphins also like to feed. The dolphins inhabit a very busy shipping port and are often feeding in the same areas where fishermen are casting their nets. Most fishermen in this area use hand-tied gill nets which pose strong risks to dolphins; which breath air and drown when caught in the nets, becoming by catch when the nets are drawn in. Loud noises from outboard engines, motors, cranes, and even people shouting are deafeningly amplified underwater and impact dolphin health. The pod of dolphins, once over 200, has dwindled down to 50, and although a few calves have been spotted this year, the outlook is grim. Curious about their neighbors, the dolphins will swim alongside tour boats and peek above the water to investigate human activities. Ecotourism brings money into the local economy, and if managed carefully, can help increase local investment into sustaining the mangrove forests and modifying fishing practices to protect the dolphins.

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Ecuador: The birth place of chocolate

The Cacao plant originates from the Ecuadorian Amazonia. Hacienda Canas has over 50 yrs growing cacao and 100 hectares of bananas in production as well. The general manager, Sr. Serrano, is the 5th génération of his family growing cacao. As a hobby, he maintains a fruit collection, with over 65 different species of tropical fruit trees, each year increasing and propogating his trees to help conserve heritage seeds and plants. To maintain biodiversity, seedlings and cuttings are given to locals. The hacienda is home to 400,000 cacao plants and is the biggest nursery in Ecuador. Water for the hacienda's irrigation channels comes from the Andes mountain an is clean and cold. The varietal, CCN-51 (Collection Castro Naranjal) was developed on this hacienda to be more productive and improve the standard of living of small growers. It is disease resistant, highly productive and delicious, and produces cocoa pods just 2 years after planting. Each tree produces for 30 years, but as they are essentially clones of each other they could be considered one large organism. The workers at the hacienda harvest cocoa year round, but August is the peak of production. To propagate new plants, over 15,000 branches a day are cut from living stock, trimmed, washed, and planted with rooting hormone. Placed in small pots, then covered with plastic, the shoots will mature in 4 months and be sold to cacao farmers for $1.80 apiece. The nursery has 100,000 plants currently ready for sale. Chocolate producers, tours and school groups often come to visit to view the production process. When we arrived at the hacienda we drank a cup of cacoa pulp juice; sweet and high in antioxidants, the pulp must nevertheless be rinsed off to process the beans. After rinsing and drying in the sun or a dehumidifier, the next step in production is the fermentation process. For 3 days, the beans fermentation in woven sacs, generating a palpable heat which converts the seeds' sugars to alcohol. By the third day of fermentation, the alcohol converts to acetic acid, which kills the plant embryo and heightens the chocolate flavor. Some haciendas market sorbeso, a strong byproduct liquor made of the cacao liquids. Before shipment to the market, good and bad beans are separated by size in an agitator, which also cleans the beans of any remaining fibers. Bad beans which are too small for production or are fed to animals or used in compost. All quality standards are tested in the on-site lab. Jessica, the quality control specialist, cuts 100 beans from each batch to ensure the bean is brown and well fermented (those undertreated will be purple). Then, perhaps the best part of her job - taste testing to be sure the flavor is adequate. Ecuador is the number 3 global producer of chocolate, and quality and prices are gaining on competitors from the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Prices are set at commodities market in NYC. The hacienda also cultivates 94 hectacres of bananas, with over 130,000 banana trees, and employs 85 full time workers. Sr. Serrrano works with the rainforest alliance and maintains three other environmental certifications on this farm. He is beginning to host ornithoogists, as over 58 different species have been spotted within the bamboo on the farm, most likely attracted by the hacienda's fruit collection. Sr. Serrano is also a member of Folkloric foundation of Montubios and is promoting the folklore of coastal communities. The Canas Hacienda doesn't produce their own bars but for the record, other than that incredible taste test of the raw chocolate at the quality control lab, my favorite local brand is Pacari – the Andean rose flavor is out of this world.

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Valdivia – Funerary Practices on the Coast.

We stopped near the port of Saint Helena, to explore Valdivia and Vegas culture. Valdivia is one of the oldest cultures in Ecuador, and the first to develop ceramics around 3500 BC. The Vegas period predates it by 4500 years; archaeologists are continuing research to increase knowledge about the gaps between the cultures.

One of the common artifacts found in area are Valdivia venuses, fertility figures of terra cotta with exaggeratedly rounded bellies, breasts and thighs. Many are small figurines, it is believed they were buried in the fields as well as in houses, to bring increased yields from agriculture. We stopped at the museum of the Lovers of Sumpa (Amantes de Sumpa), an archaeological site of the Vegas culture. The Vegas are the oldest culture documented in the geological record in Ecuador. The remains were discovered as they were interred in tolas, large hills, in a coastal region where hills are a rarity. Dr. Karen Sthothert began studies in this area in1988.The tola with the lovers contains at least 200 skeletons in three different types of graves. The museum is an in-situ exhibition with removable vitrines allowing for ongoing scientific study. The lovers are so named because they are posed in a close embrace, with the woman's head nestled on the man's chest, his arm wrapped around her protectively. They would have been 20-25 years old, and relatively healthy, with cause of death indeterminate. The 10,000 bones show some fractures but they are only due to the stress of time; no violence appears to be inflicted on them. Vegas did not have a ceramic culture but laid rocks on top of corpses within the graves, usually pinning them down at the shoulders, hips and knees. Archaeologists think the purpose was to keep the souls of the deceased in the bodies to protect the living.
The primary graves include the undisturbed remains of an individual, often accompanied by kitchen implements carved or constructed from shell, bone, boar's teeth, and most likely wood. The lovers would fall in this category. The secondary graves show some signs of interruption with multiple; one beautiful example shows a child carefully placed by his mother's side in a secondary burial. The tertiary graves have disarticulated bones in larger groups, and are believed to be individuals of lower status. All of the graves document ritual burial with spondylus and conch shells, used as covering for the grave site and also nestled carefully into the individual's belly. Some of the conches were modified to serve as horns. The calcium and other minerals in the shells have aided in preservation of the bones. The sand in the gravesites also is a darker gray than the surrounding soil matrix, and contains elevated carbon, and it's inferred that the Vegas used fire to cook and perhaps for ritual purposes. This ash also aided in preservation of remains. Due to the extreme age of the gravesite, all organic material has decomposed, so scientists are left with only the durable materials such as stone, bone and rock to interpret. The Vegas burials contrast with the Valdivia, who interred their dead with funerary goods inside of basillha, large ceramic vessels. Bodies were carefully curled into fetal positions inside the basilla, which were sealed with an empty vessel placed on top like an inverted urn. Similar to the Vegas culture, sometimes spouses were interred together. We visited Agua Blanca, another commuity museum organized by Montena people who live inside of Machallila National Park, and saw the remains of an enormous temple complex as well as some in situ graves. The temple foundations are all that remains visible to the untrained eye, but the frontispieces featured elaborately carved lintels, and seats carved with jaguar icons once ringed the edge of the temple. Artifacts over 1000 years old are often revealed during the rainy season when rivers flood the area and erode the topsoil.This site has been active since 1977, and contained at least 600 structures. Agua Blanca is named for the park's white rimmed sulphur springs, which are still used as a sanatorium for health promoting baths.
We passed a few modern cemetaries on the way to visit a school and cacao hacienda today. Contemporary cemetaries include mixed practices, with some bodies interred in the ground, and large, towering mausoleum drawers looming over the sites. Some wealthy families may have individual mausoleums but the towers make more efficient use of urban cemetary plots. Sadly, we were able to view a funerary procession in Otavalo as well, where traditional Kichwa practices in the home often precede the procession to the church for the Catholic burial service.

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Sombreros in Ecuador are a social class and group statement; in addition to quality, hat style can depict affiliation with cultural, regional, or ethnic groups.
Panama hats are not from Panama. The name derives from a large order of Ecuadorian straw hats purchased by Theodore Roosevelt for construction workers on the Panama Canal. Ecuadorian habadashery traditions continues to thrive in the cities and especially in rural areas. I’m of the opinion that everyone looks more well dressed when sporting a classic hat. The sombrero trade has been transregional for centuries. In the past, donkeys took 3 weeks to transport woven hats over the mountains to the nearest port for sale (Guayaquil). Allegedly, people who transported hats had to sign a will before leaving home because not everyone would return from the journey. Panama hats are hand woven from toquilla straw, a local relative of the palm, which grows up to 3 m tall on coast. 7 stems are needed per hat. The fibers are kept moist and weaving is done at night as the misty air helps to humidify the fibers and keep them from tearing. If the fibers tear, the hat must be started anew. Weavers use a wooden form and work from a medial cruciate shape from the center out toward the margins. The standard quality Panama hat takes 2-3 days to finish. An extra fine hat can take up to 6 months. Prices vary greatly (from $35 to thousands) by the quality of felting or weaving. The toquilla straw hat workshop we visited was founded by Homero Ortega. It remains a family run business.; we were able to meet the current president, Alicia Ortega, and were given a tour by her niece. The workshop supports and sustains the work of rural communities through a sort of self directed piecework. Hats are purchased from off site coastal workers partially finished, then and trimmed, washed, dyed, and finished around the brim here in the Ortega workshop.

7/28 In contrast to the coastal style of straw hats, in the highlands near Saraguru, thick, hard hats are made from felted wool to protect the wearer from the rain. Maria Sebastien a Kichpe and her family in Saraguru welcomed us for a demonstration and fashion show, and we visited the community artisan who makes most local hats. Traditional Saraguru style hats weigh up to 1.5 lbs, and Senora Maria jokes that if you husband is being too macho, you can use the hat to protect your head and also to hit him. Nowadays, lighter hats are in fashion but the 200 yr old tradition is still vibrant.

The process is complex and can take up to 2 days; the master hatmaker we visited crafts 5-6 hats a week. Wool must be proofed, carded, cut and layered before being passed through a hand cranked laminator to be pressed into sheets. The sheets are layered crosswise over a form to create a hollow hat shape, and coated with a mix of natural pine resin and black beeswax, then wet felted through pounding and rolling with steam. The hat is plunged into boiling water to shrink the wool, and placed over a metal form to give the characteristic crown shape. The edges are trimmed and the hat is painted with zinc oxide to make it a bright white. More beeswax is heated and singed around the edges to seal the felt, and spots of black are painted around the underside of the brim where it will frame the face, radiating out from the interior like the petals of a flower and radiating in from the brim.

Although at first glance one might be reminded of the spots of a cow, the pattern had a cosmological significance. The black and white symbolize duality; the man and woman, hot and cold, sun and moon, day and night, which complement each other and come together to allow life. When the black and white come together they concentrate energy and create light; so by wearing the spotted brim close to the mind the Saraguru clarify their thoughts and promote mental harmony, creating a more peaceful community.

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At Caguanapamba, we were treated to a pambamesa, a traditional Canari meal served at festivals, weddings, funerals, Pampa Mesa is usually served on the ground it translates to “table of the earth.” It represents solidarity, reciprocity, connectivity with Mother Earth and each other.  Each family brings a part of the meal. “We share all of this energy to show we are connected with pacha mama. The energy protects our family and the  community and maintains our connections. All the food is prepared in the community by hand. 
This ceremony protects ourselves, our health, the health is not just physical. This symbolic ceremonial act which symbolizes solidarity now with you as visitors.” The meal includes corn in several styles , tamales, fava beans, fresh cheese, beef, eggs, and the traditional cuy (guunea pig). Caguana Mesa is an independent tribal nation. According to stories, in 1633, the Canaris were made to buy their own territory from the Spanish for 500 pesos/coins and 2 oz gold. We enjoyed dancing as well. 
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The site of Carainka, with a face carved into the mountainside reflects the Kichwa deep connection to nature; nearby relics include carved a tortoise, a serpent in the round and an incised sun in the cliffside; ritual baths, granaries, and the temple of the sun, of which only the foundation remains. Kichwa and Canari beliefs overlapped in an understanding that humans and nature are interdependent and engage in reciprocal interactions with nature and seasonal ceremonies which ensure continued balance in human life through balance in natural forces. The Canari believe the macaw is their mother; all parts of nature have living spirits and can influence human relationships and health.

The Inka trail stretches from Columbia to Peru. In this region of Ecuador, the Inka combined their religion of sun worship with the Canari moon worship. The temple of the sun at Ingapirca includes a lunette shaped terrace and a collective Canari grave as well as the guilded temple at the epogee. We walked a nearby portion of the Inka trail and visited the nearby Inkan and Canari baths, where we were blessed with a traditional cleansing ceremony from Taita Yeche. The ceremony features a sacred mandala or Chakana made of corn aligned to the four cardinal directions, and adorned with the offerings to the four elements; aromatic herbs and a sacred fire for the air element; fruits for the earth element; and sacred spring water. Taita Yecha offered reciprocal blessings to and from the four cardinal directions and the three worlds of air, water, and earth to bless our journey, our families, and our health.

Water is one of the three realms of existence, and water management is seen as essential to human health. The banjoinka, or incan bath, near ingapirca is an archaeological site centered around baths for the moon festival, Kila Raymi, and is still in use for healing ceremonies today. The director, Julian, gave us a tour, and our Taita yache explained this was a place for healing as well as astrological observation. The site is believed to hold a natural positive charge which aids in healing; the sacrifice of animals, including guinea pigs, are still occasionally practiced, to nurture the altar stone for pacha mama. In the Canari era, observations of the moon were used to help plan farming, and celebrated with festivals which continue today. Pauca Raymi, the spring festival, is the second largest, where the harvest is shared with the community in a pompa mesa. It is not by accident that the first church and monastary built by Spanish Franciscans in Quito in 1586 by the Spanish was directly on top of the only fresh spring on the mountaintop. Today, scientific research in Ecuador is returning to traditional knowledge and seeking guidance for reforming and modifying agriculture and land use to manage the water. Scientists such as Dr. Maria Cordova are again looking to the health of the waterways as one of the best indicators of human health in the future.


Pumapungo: The door of the puma

  • notes from a lecture with guide Christian Encalada

    Today we visited Pumapungo. The terraces of mounded earth and stone walls served as a foundational Mesa for Inkan residential constructions. We are looking at the foundation of one huge building. While larger Inkan sites often feature enormous, 8 faced stones stones precisely fitted and slotted together without mortar, this site features more rustic architecture, and is formed with rougher stones and mortar. The site is constructed to align with major constellations with sight lines to four mountains, including the high holy PachaMama. The building housed the sun virgins, or akiahuahua, young women who dedicated themselves to serving the king, tending ceremonies, and giving birth to royal children. In keeping with cosmological beliefs, the site is still home to a garden sown along the four paths. Inkan gardens were circular and contained food crops like corn as well as medicinal herbs. The Inca built irrigation canals for the garden and also used these channels to feed ceremonial baths. In some ceremonies, they allowed the Canaris to take baths in the same water as the king, reinforcing Inkan cultural hegemony. The Canari worshipped the moon, and were more of a matriachal society, as evidenced in oral histories and elaborate nature of women’s funerary culture. The main god of the Inka was the sun, and their culture was patriarchal and warlike. This region was called Tomebomba, the valley of the knives, in recognition of the fierce rapids in the four rivers coming out of the Andes. It was the residence of Guaynacapa- one of last Incan Kings in region, whose tomb has been found nearby along with over 30 other human remains. Contrary to popular belief, the Inka did not sacrifice their enemies; people in burial sites are high status and prestige burials. The Inka had a strong belief in the afterlife, and celebrated the dead instead of mourning them, often burying them with chicha (fermented corn), jewelry, pottery, and Spandalus shells, which were used as currency. These jewelry and pottery traditions are continued here with a fine filigree tradition on display at the Pumapungo museum. In fact, on site there is a kiln pit built by the first all boys high school in Cuenca. The Inka expanded their dominion over the Canaris in the Cuenca region through war and alliances, first under the leadership Tupak Yupanki, later Wayan Kapak, who died of small pox. and finally his sons, Waskar and Atawallpa, who fought over the throne. Waskar instigated a war through slander and word of mouth for 7 years, and when Atawallpa refused an official invitation to visit, sent soldiers into physical combat. Atawallpa’s forces vanquished those of his brother, and slaughtered infants, even those in utero, en masse to ensure his brother’s bloodline was extinguished. Atawallpa was soon deposed by Pissarro in one of the first waves of Spanish colonial violence.

In homage to the birds by the Inka as pets and released in religious ceremonies, the site also hosts a bird sanctuary for injured birds, which are released to nearby Cajas National Park when they are rehabilitated. Tomorrow we will be visiting some more ruins at Ingapirca and the Caguanapamba community.

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In 1533, a slave ship wrecked off the northwest coast of Ecuador. 17 men and 6 women were the surviving settlers who formed the palenque or Freedman’s community of Esmeraldas. Later they were joined by escaped slaves and a number of palenques were formed along the coast. The settlers were from diverse parts of Africa, and escaped slaves were strongly influenced by Roman Catholic practices, so a syncretic culture was formed. Music and dancing are at the heart of culture, as a way of sharing stories, celebrating spiritual festivals, and healing the sick. Most religious music in the region features Catholic lyrics but is accompanied by marimba and drums and features traditional African rhythms. Influences include Yoruba, Mandinke, !Kong, and more; Shango, Yemaya, and Oshun are celebrated.
At the Casa Oshun culture center we were treated to a performance and a dance lesson in Andarele, a call and response form with singing, and the faster west African Mapele, before a traditional meal of coconut fish and rice and a lecture on music. More information can be found here:
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Art and nature are closely entwined with daily rituals here.
Conches are associated with fertility because only women had the pneumatic resistance to dive deep enough to collect the shells, for food and decoration for collars for caciques. Many divers perished because the shells are so heavy and currents are strong, so the shells were very expensive also used in a menarche for girls. During this ceremony, a clay figure of a girl was broken and the young woman was gifted with a figurine of an adult woman. It leads one to wonder what portions of the quinceanera celebrated here borrow from older traditions. As elsewhere, Spanish colonists created Mitas, building early shrines and later cathedrals directly on top of heritage sacred sites.

The ceramic culture of the Kichwa is highly developed, and works for quotidienne use are in museums along with more ceremonial water jugs. Like a more complex ocaruna, each pitcher is designed with a form which sounds an animal’s call when ceremonial liquids are poured through its chambers.

Each of the four elements is associated with a totem animal which endows the people with special gifts. The caiman inhabits the water element; the serpent, the Earth, the eagle the air, and the jaguar fire. Apart from these religious figures, the condor is

Death masks were made for caciques and highly individualized; one example at the Museo historico in Quito even depicts the Caciques chewing a bolus of coca. But the community museums such as the Otavaleno focus on preserving living culture and not just artifacts. Among the Kichwa, death is considered a journey with an inevitable return. The community celebrates a wake and sets up an altar or offrenda with grains, seeds, water, maybe even chicha set up to support his journey to the next world. For three days, the community dances the fandango and plays games near the deceased. After the three day period, they go outside and scream “huandia!” to open the door to the next world so the soul can leave.

As the Otavalo museum focuses on living folk museums not dead artifacts, we were invited to play some of these games, which are commonly part of weddings as well as funerals. All games are passed down through oral tradition. There are more than 33, but traditions are at risk. We were introduced to several games. The first is a sort of gamble for two players. Six grains of corn are burnt on one side. Players roll these die until one player wins by rolling all six black sides up; the winner slaps the loser on the arm. Another game involves side by side head to toe, and rolling up into a sort of pike or shoulder stand alternately and striking your opponent on the bottom with a woven belt until they cry “basta!” The Rabbit and the wolf involves a circle of players who cover their knees with a blanket and pass a rabbit under the knees while the wolf in the center tries to catch the rabbit. In the Condor game, a sowing stick is wrapped in a black cloth and a player hunches over underneath to impersonate the condor. The group sits in the middle as sheep and the shepherd tries to chase the condor away as it tries to eat each one of the flock. Finally, Yakuchi Matchi - crossing the river. Players make a double line foot to foot and their legs become the rushing river. The player 2, TaiTa or Father has to forge the river with a son, player 2, on his back. The river players kick, block, and wrap feet around taita like seaweed to try and prevent his crossing, but eventually he reaches the other side. I can see how beautifully laughter and play could lift spirits at a funeral. It is a privilege to be so warmly welcomed across the border between cultures.

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Intro to Intercultural medicine in Ecuador
Excerpts from a lecture on 7/21 from Dr. Will Waters, Sociologist at the Center for Global Health at GW as well as demonstration and lecture from Senora Maria and other midwives of UNORCAC in Otavalo 7/23 and and Yachak in Saraguru near Ingapirca, 7/30.

“Health and medicine are not the same thing” Social determinants of health; how is health interdependent with our social relationships?

Since the miasma theory of Galen has gone by the wayside and fallen out of vogue, the western model of medicine looks at the body as an series of entwined chemical and mechanical machines. This machine can run down as we age; it can fail due to poor inputs such as bad nutrition, drugs, or poisons, or poor usage. We also consider cleanliness very important to maintenance of the human machine. In Ecuador, indigenous health is more holistic. As Ecuador is home to 19 groups in diverse landscapes such as the highlands, Amazon Basin, Northwest coast, other parts of the coast, the Galapagos, and Afroecuadorian population, beliefs about medicine are correspondingly diverse. Who is considered indigenous? A general definition is people whose origin story places them on the land they currently inhabit. In the 2010 census, individuals were able to self-indentify ethnic groups. 7% of people self-identified as indigenous, and 72% identify as mestizo. However, many people who consider themselves mestizo may also use traditional medicines.

The largest group of indigenous people are located in the highlands, and are direct descendants of Incans, Kichwas, and other PreIncans. Generally, the belief is that diseases can have a natural or a supernatural origin. They can originate from bad spirits, but can also originate from imbalance in nature, or poor relationships with ancestors. Mountains, winds and lakes can make people sick, as well as man-made features such as cemetaries. Spirits, malevolent forces, or evil people can also make one sick, for example through mal ojo, the evil eye, or susta; fear or shock, and other forces. People who are not very strong such as young children must be carefully protected from these forces. Although these constructions are different from the biomedical model, the biomedical model is usually known and somewhat accepted as well. Shamans work in concert with medical doctors; Taita Manuelo tells us that he will send patients to doctors for illnesses such as fevers, broken bones, and tumors; and that doctors will send patients to him for diseases caused by stress, which western medicine is not very effective at treating.
The Kichwa view themselves in terms of dichotomies. All things fall into one of two categories by their nature, not their usage: examples are hot/cold, hard/soft, masculine/feminine. These opposites are reflected internally as well as in the external world, and can affect our health and well being. The Yechak or curandera, healer, treats illnesses by identifying which elements is out of balance and adjusting its complemen through plants and ceremonies. This is not just practiced in the countryside - many of the herbs used traditionally are available for sale in the urban markets. Health is a state of harmony in ourselves, in our family, and in our relationship with nature. This concept is called Sumakowsai, or good living, in Kichwa.

The constitution, which is 440+ articles specifies that health treatment in Ecuador must be intercultural, universal, and free. Just as Westerners may go to a healer, a doctor, massage therapist, acupuncturist, etc. Indigenas will go to a curandero, yachak, or midwife for assistance. The midwife learns her craft from her mother; asks from a blessing from heaven before beginning treatment; inquires after any problems, symptoms, or history; administers plant based medicine; swaddles mother and baby, and supports them with prayers, offers massage and wise counsel. Other treatments done by curanderos include rubbing and praying with an egg or guinea pig, then opening it up to see what the entrails contain as a means of diagnosing the illness and offering a sort of prescription for treatments. This suggested treatment directs the individual towards rebalancing their system. If an illness is recognized to be more physical, such as an acute infection or a broken leg, people will go to a western doctor. Physicians also recommend some traditional medicines, for example, dermatological conditions may be treated with an application of chamomile tea. The health care model in starts with local decentralized health centers in small towns, up to largest hospitals, both public and private, in large cities. Women can go to a health center and opt for either a western birth or “culturally appropriate birth” ie; family present, midwife present, and warm, inviting environment However, although this intercultural model is the ideal, the construct is not yet available or accessible to all. There are cultural barriers in part due to lack of training of medical staff in intercultural practices. Most health practitioners are trained in the western model so may not know how to be culturally appropriate without culturally specific training. The system encourages women to birth in hospitals because hospitals have increased survival rates in case of problems.

White is the color of death here so white walls in hospitals are not welcome. Many women do not like being naked, in a cold place, and prefer being at home with a midwife by the hearthfire, tea and massage. Language can also be a problem, as many indigenous women may not be comfortable interacting with a doctor who is of a different class, ethnic identity, and gender, and may not always be able to communicate well in Spanish which is often their second language. The model of intercultual medicine would be at its epogee with full integration, with hospitals having on staff midwives. Some centers have attained a level of coexistence, allowing midwives to practice within the hospital along with doctors/nurses. More regions have attained tolerance, allowing midwives to practice in the remote areas without interfering. The nation has largely overcome the past problems of intolerance, which were widespread during the colonial period, when midwifes were persecuted and prosecuted. Today, the midwifes in Otavalo are lynchpins of the community, cultivating medicinal herbs I the garden, providing prenatal care, follow up care, structural realignment, birth assistance, and holistic care for the women of the community. We were invited to visit the medicine garden and view an enactment of the midwife's work by Senora Maria, a midwife in Otavalo, an active leader in the Cotocaxi Women's Cooperative.

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The Otavalenos are well known for their excellent handicrafts; especially artisanal weaving. But I am most strongly impressed by the level of organization this group of Kichwa has taken to elevate community economics and improve community health.
We visited the Sunday farmer's market and saw a beautiful variety of berries, seeds, fruits, and grains for sale along with a few sweets and fresh baked breads. This farmer's market is flanked with bilingual signage about the nutritional value of several local crops. The market is the result of 40 year's work by the Cotocaxi Comite Central de Mujeres, a women's union organized in 1977. The organization's main goals concern the 18,000 inhabitants of the Cotocaxi region's 45 communities, and include political representation, worker's rights, water (, and conservation of folkways. They support leadership roles for women and offer trainings; manage a regional antiviolence campaign; organize a microlending structure for entrepreneurship, operate a seed exchange to preserve heritage crops and teach ; promote artisanal crafts and traditional medicine including midwives. They provide and encourage access to spaces of power and project support for indigenous women, for the health and prosperity of the community, and coordinate mingas or community work days when needed. We had the privilege of visiting five branches of this incredible initiative. In addition to the farmer's market, we were introduced to midwife practices; visited a factory where women have industrialized production of the chica drink made from fermented corn and are poised to increase distribution nationally as an organic, healthy alternative to soft drinks; and visited an artisanal fibers workshop in Pechuge. We were treated to a local, organic, healthy lunch at the cooperative's restaurant “Jambi Mascane” which translates to “seeking health.” The quinoa soup was especially divine. These women are truly midwives of economic prosperity and sustainability. Traditionally, in the highlands, women don't let the hearthfire in the home go out, it is always well tended. Today these women continue to tend the hearth, nurturing cultural traditions, stewarding the land, and building strong community economies.

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Otavalo is known for its traditional Kichwa population and their world renowned textile work and hosts a busy Saturday market. Wool from sheep or lamas is spun into yarn and traditionally woven in a back strap loom into belts, ponchos, rugs, blankets and scarves. Women also embroider white blouses and linen tableware. On the haciendas, men were assigned a uniform of white pants and shirt, brown hat, and a poncho with variegated colors which would signal on which hacienda they worked. Today color choices are diversified but many Otavalenos wear traditional dress daily. With the weaver sitting on the floor and working on a traditional back strap loom, making one poncho could take a month. Today, many weavers prefer a mechanical loom and shuttle, which allows them to speed up production to four ponchos a week. Some of the fabric goods for sale in the market may be imported from other communities, even from Colombia or Peru, from areas with cheaper and less artisanal production methods. In Peguche, near the sacred waterfall, a women’s work collective is promoting traditional fiber arts methodologies and selling direct to visitors, with all profit going to the producers. They particularly support single mothers in the community to ensure they have a steady source of income. We climbed the hill from the falls and participated in a minga community dance at sunset while visiting with these entrepreneurs.

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Where is the middle of the world?
-notes from a lecture at Mitad Del Mundo

There is a rich debate about the TRUE location of 0’0” and some incongruous cultural artifacts about the way we practice geography. The origin of the word north in most European languages is Ner, the sanskrit word for left. The Earth rotates west to east, along an axis going through the poles, which is why the sun rises in the east. This can be confusing as it doesn't mesh well with the Mercator projections most westerners are accustomed to. As our guide stated, “This is a plastic globe ; the earth below us cannot so easily be discussed!” There is a growing movement in the scientific advocating for a new geography. If cartographers rotate the Mercator map laterally, placing Siberia up, the North Pole left, and Antarctica to the right as it not only represents the rotation more accurately but also easier and more logical for climate and environmental data. There are three monumental sites that may claim the title Mitad Del Mundo, or middle of the world. The oldest is a site the Inca called Catequilla nearby which is now in archaeological exploration. The government of Ecuador through Pinchacha's Province council constructed the Cuidad Del Mitad Del Mundo between the 1970s and the 1990s, lined the entrance walkway with busts of geographers celebrating the first Geodesic Mission of the French Academy of Sciences which identified the equator. Oversized, uniquely colored hummingbird statues which double as resting spots abut the walkway and nod to local cultures. The monument itself is a granite pyramid housing a museum with cutting edge interactive digital and physical exhibitions. However, a second “Mitad del Mundo” featuring the Quitsato sundial as its central decoration, was developed in near the Catequilla site at 0', 0" in 2006 after improvements in GPS technology demonstrated that the Ciudad was not located exactly at the equator. It may therefore be a bit of a political jab that the newer Mitad Del Mundo in Cayamba has their bathroom labeled “the fake museum of Mitad Del Mundo,” with some interesting murals regarding the Coriolis effect located over the toilets.
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At Hacienda Guachala, a women’s collective is cultivating and processing agave to make guachala, pulque, and syrups. Most agave take 12-15 years to mature, and flower right before they are ready for harvest. The hacienda pays community member a fair price for agave sap cultivated in home gardens and encourages seed cultivation to preserve biodiversity and avoid monoculture. The diverse cultivars include the familiar blue agaves used to make tequila
and mescal, the Cabuya harvested for fibers and cordage, the medicinal elephant's trunk agave used for fevers, and agave marginale, used to make mescaline /peyote. The tall cactus is the aptly named San Pedro. It is tapped for sap which is processed into a hallucinogen used to open the gate to the sky world in ayuhuasca ceremony; as St Peter holds the keys to heaven. The hacienda hosted a traditional Minga community lunch for us.

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We finally arrived! Driving up the hills to Quito we were flanked by a stunning view of Cotopaxi on one side and the plume of volcanic smoke from Reventador which erupted while we were en route. We traveled to the Universidad Catolica del Ecuador for a lecture from Dr. Javier Carvajal about biorefinery.
The university under Dr. Carvajal's lead is investigating the use of waste agricultural products such as spent grains and tagua nut endings to create products such as ethanol,biofuel, and nanofibers. This project starts with beer.

Quito is home to the oldest brew in the Americas. The first known beer was brewed by Jesuits in 1566 with open air fermentation from wild yeasts. Dr. Carvajal's team has located source casks and scraped the yeasts, which are used in current cultures. His students begin their work with homebrew, which we taste tested for science and can verify is delicious! They follow an original recipe from the monastary for one porter, Pope Francis has declared it his favorite beer. The fermentation process allows students to selectively ferment and refine organic matter from any source using a variety of yeasts. The Jesuit yeasts aren't the only yeasts in Dr. Carvajal's collection; the scientists travel look much further afield and have quite a substantial yeast library kept in a deep freeze at -80 Centigrade. The sources can be exotic; one strain is cultivated from the digestive system of an Amazonian beetle. The yeasts themselves are quite diverse; one strain has been found to sport rings around cellular structure similar to the planet Saturn. Some of these yeasts have been shown capable of isolating heavy metals such as chromium-6, and research is ongoing. Fermentation yields products other than beer, ethanol and yeasts; tagua nuts generate a nano cellulose fiber which carries a positive ionic charge and can be used to clean polluted water - which has been verified in test runs as it is used to clarify beer. Dr. Caraval certainly knows how to engage his students! The scientific research is directed towards environmental and economic sustainability.

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The best laid plans are subject to Volcanic shifts! Our flight from Dallas has been turned around due to a volcanic eruption near Guayaquil - the ash cloud is drifting towards Quito and the plane cannot fly through it, though we are told we may be able to fly out later tonight.

The avenue of volcanoes near Quito is stunning and active, several of us were planning an expedition to Cotopaxi on our day off. More info is here:

We don’t have too much information yet as we are currently aloft, about 22,000 ft of altitude somewhere over east Texas but will hear more news about the eruption and its impact on our expedition once the eruption shows up in the news! Image below courtesy of the BBC website from an eruption in the region last year.


We began our training at UT in Austin, getting acquainted and enjoying some orientation presentations on cultural geography. Austin is home to America’s largest population or urban bats - over a million and a half Mexican free tails live in a bridge on Ladybird Lake and fly out to feast each dusk!
See @landandstory on IG for video!

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Expedition Background

I have always had a passion for the power of narrative arts to change worldview.
As an undergraduate, I travelled to Bamako, Mali with the School for International Training and witnessed how the tradition of griotisme continued to transmit cultural values even through contemporary genres such as rap music. I continued my education to become an illustrator and educator in Baltimore, Maryland, where I teach foundations of drawing and painting as well as an issues-focused contemporary art course which explores the use of visual arts to respond to political, environmental and social issues through traditional and digital media. I continue to conduct international research to deepen my practice and keep education in my classroom contemporary, relevant, and inquiry-driven. I am taking a sabbatical leave of absence to explore the role of the arts in global society and create artwork which responds to stories of human interactions with the environment. I am beginning this journey on a Fulbright-Hays fellowship to Ecuador, where I am travelling with a group of 15 other educators from around the USA. Our research focus is on culture and biodiversity, with an interest in the intersections of a culturally pluralistic society with a rich history and an extraordinarily diverse landscape.
On this expedition I will blog about individuals, stories, and natural phenomenon I have the privilege to encounter during the trip, and will share some of the artistic responses and pedagogical philosophy which I develop.

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