After a weekend of beach-bumming and french fry eating in Canoa, we returned to the jungle well rested (and showered!!) for our final week with the Tsáchila tribe. Last week, it rained almost 24 hours per day, which is to be expected since it’s the rainy season. This week though, we’ve lucked out with a fairly dry spell. The only downfall is that where the rain lacks, the mosquitoes sure do make up the difference! I’m currently sporting 95 bites, which seems to be an average amount among us all. Poor Hannah has about double that, whereas Sarah is on the other end of the spectrum with less than 10. She strangely seems offended by the insects not being drawn to her, while the rest of us roll our eyes in extreme envy!
We began to weave the leaves onto the roof on Monday and have been making quick work of it ever since! While most of us have been needed on that, Eden, James, John, Chris, and Jack stayed hard at work clearing the dreaded ant-infested dirt mound and trying to avoid the only thing worse than mosquito bites: ant bites.
By Tuesday, we got into a pretty good rhythm for working on the roof. While one of the tribe members, Richard, belted out his favorite songs, half of us carefully stood on wooden beams twisting the leaves into place, while the other half tossed the leaves up for them to catch. I’m happy to report to parents that no one was injured by falling off of the beams– although, Tori and Sarah clumsily had a couple of run-ins with the bamboo polls while on the ground.
I am excited to say that our structure has successfully been completed as of Thursday afternoon, and the hammocks will be put in this weekend! The leader of the tribe, Alfonso, informed us that the tradition for volunteers is to climb up on the roof for a picture after completing their project. However, due to a very rainy last two days, we were unable to do that for safety reasons. We did manage to get a group picture (from the ground) a couple of hours before completing it, though!
After putting the finishing touches on our structure, Richard led us on a two mile trek to a beautiful, secluded waterfall. Unfortunately, James and Luisa stayed back at camp to rest up, as an upset stomach got the best of them for a bit. Luckily, after some rest and re-hydration powders, they’re feeling much better now!
The Tsáchila women who cook for us have been so kind during our stay. Every single day this week, we were greeted by their smiles mid-afternoon, as they walked outside to inform us that a quick break was needed because they had just cut up some fresh fruit. I think one of the hardest goodbyes is going to be to the cook’s two year old daughter, Emily. We all fell in love with her the minute she waddled into the kitchen during dinner to individually shake each of our hands. It’s safe to say that she’s more polite than your average adult! Another hard goodbye is going to be to the adorable three month old puppy that mysteriously showed up to camp a few days ago. There has been some hushed talk about sneaking him back to Quito with us, although a few minor (major) flaws in the plan may (will) hold us back.
We spent our last day in the jungle enjoying a whole day of festivities put on for us by the tribe members. Sadly, the pouring rain decided to make an appearance again, so most of the outdoor activities couldn’t be done. However, that didn’t stop the tribe from showing us an abundance of cultural activities. From an intense soccer game, a traditional potluck lunch where each of the women brought their favorite homemade dishes, and temporary “tattoos”, it was an amazing final day. I think everybody’s highlight though would probably be the hair dyeing portion. Our bold friend, James, decided to let Alfonso give him a haircut the way that the men in the tribe have it. (A side note to James’ parents: You may want to book a haircut for him the day he gets home..!) Nonetheless, he was a great sport and gave us all a wonderful laugh!
After the haircut was completed, Alfonso went ahead and did the finishing touches to make James look like a true Tsáchila man by dyeing the front of his hair red (don’t worry, that part only lasts a day)! He was rocking his new hairdo so much, that he inspired Marcus and George to get their hair dyed red, as well. They made sure Alfonso stayed far away with the scissors for them, though! Feeling a little jealous, Eden and Rhian decided to get a couple pieces of their hair dyed. Rhian’s turned out as a nice red braid, whereas Eden’s resembles more of a dread lock at the moment. No complaints among any though, as the commonly used phrase “it’s a gap year, so it’s okay” is said.
The day ended by a goodbye ceremony, which consisted of each of the tribe members presenting us one-by-one with a necklace and bracelet that they made. The indescribably sweet gesture was followed by some traditional music and dancing with the children in the tribe.
Our first adventure in Ecuador of living with the Tsáchila community has come to an end, and it’s left us with nothing but smiles and amazing memories (… and lots of permanently damp clothing). But we wouldn’t change a single second of it. As we venture into the next portion of the trip and trade the jungle for the Andes, I’ll leave you with the words of our struggling Spanish learning friend, George: “hasta banana”!