By Carol Antman for The Island Connection
Apropos of the connectivity of our world today, I booked a home stay with a Quechua family in Ecuador through Airbnb. From my first-world home on Sullivan’s Island, it seemed like a soft adventure for solo travel and a good way to practice speaking Spanish. Especially for $10 a night. But as I rambled into the dark countryside in a cab that kept stopping to ask directions, I became concerned. Especially when my cabbie gave up. He hailed another driver and directed me to “Get in his cab. Maybe he can find it.” I was dropped off at a steep rock staircase. On a boulder, the words Loma Wasi and “welcome” in three languages were scrawled in chipped paint. I bolstered my courage and schlepped my suitcase up the stairs. “Hola,” I called as I entered the courtyard full of hanging laundry. Puppies scampered underfoot. A tarp covered with corn husks covered the ground. Mercedes, the family matriarch, greeted me as she fed stalks into a smoky fireplace and mixed dough to make tortillas. Diana, her daughter, was grinding roasted pumpkin seeds with a mortar and pestle to make a sauce for purple potatoes. I offered to help and soon we all sat around the dinner table: a family of four visiting from Quebec, a volunteer from Toronto and the five family members. After dinner, they showed me to my room. I had a comfortable bed, a private bathroom with a flush toilet and a shower with occasional hot water. The silhouette of Imbabura Volcano filled my window, the town’s lights far below. Piles of finely woven Ecuadorian blankets covered the bed. Although it was July, I needed them all. There was even strong Wi-Fi. But that night, loud skittering sounds from inside my ceiling made me pull the blankets over my head. “I may leave early,” I wrote in my journal. “I draw the line at rats.”
But the next day I mellowed. Andy, the volunteer, admonished me about the rats “That’s life on a farm!” The family entranced me. They never stopped working. They swept the dusty courtyard, did washtubs full of laundry by hand and tended animals. Making breakfast involved picking fruit to juice, milking the cow for coffee, gathering eggs for omelets and (if it was the right weekday) hiking up the hill to the neighbors to get fresh bread. Then it was time to start dinner.
One day Andy was tasked with moving big boulders from the garden, putting them in a wheelbarrow and dumping them across the yard. As he began, Mercedes filled a burlap sack with boulders and slung it heavily over her shoulder. “Isn’t there something easier you can do today Mercedes?” he asked her. But she kept on. Mario, the patriarch, was proud of his youthful travels to Europe with his pan flute band and his ability to cure diseases through shamanic ceremonies involving guinea pigs. A box of the squealers was in the backyard awaiting roasting on special occasions. On a particularly clear day he took us up the hill to see Cotacachi Volcano. It’s said that the snow on its peak means that the mountain had sex with Imbabura Volcano.
“Don’t go in that ravine at night,” he pointed out along the route, “there is bad energy there.” He told us about a guy who followed a blond gringa and went missing for fifteen days. Phantoms roam the mountainsides. The surrounding community of Tunibamba builds bricks. Along the onehour walk into the nearest town, I saw several pits from which clay has been excavated. Cows are yoked together to stomp and mix the ingredients. Then blocks are cut, often by families including children, and left to dry in the sun. Occasional trucks grunt up the hill to carry them away. But at Loma Wasi, they had begun this home stay enterprise instead. An English speaking relative made them a slick website and took care of the bookings. His responsiveness was much better than the lackadaisical approach I found at many tourist offices in the country. Appreciative comments by visitors from around the world attest to their success. We were mutually curious. Mercedes and I discovered that we were both grandmothers about the same age. “Tell me about your animals,” she asked. “I have none,” I replied which left her wondering if I was really as rich as she supposed. One night in a bit of exuberance fueled by a little rum another visitor had brought, I instigated a dance session to Uptown Funk. Diana was so amused, she videoed it and showed it to the neighbors. I was glad I had bucked up and had such an authentic experience.
“This is a crazy special opportunity to see a different world,” I wrote in my journal. Isn’t that the goal of traveling?
Roadtrips Charleston highlights interesting destinations within a few hours drive of Charleston, S.C. as well as more far flung locales. Carol Antman’s wanderlust is driven by a passion for outdoor adventure, artistic experiences, cultural insights and challenging travel. For hot links, photographs and previous columns or to make comments please see peaksandpotholes.blogspot.com.