Seeing a Different Side

Peter Saudek - Ecuador


April 8, 2011

During the recent holiday, Carnaval, I traveled with my host family to visit our grandparents for the weekend in Carchi, which is the most northern province of Ecuador before Colombia. My host mother’s parents live in a small community called “Sixal” that has a population of about one hundred people. Sixal sits on the top of a mountain that is part of a series of a massive, rich green mountain range. When the community is not swallowed in the clouds (which is most often the case), the view from its location allows you to see nearly the entire region of Imbabura.

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After hours of packed buses and a two hour walk up the second half of the mountain, we arrived in one of the most placid settings I have ever been in. We stayed the three days in their adobe house, experiencing life in the campo (countryside). The three days included tending to the new-born pigs, moving the cows’ locations to fresh areas of grass, going on long hikes through the forests in the mountains, and the most special of all, preparing and eating cuy (guinea pig, pronounced “kuwee”). My host grandmother explained to me that eating cuy is a tradition that is held to honor special guests and family. With my grandmother and mother, we killed the cuyes. The night before, my grandmother had spent the hours before going to bed taking the fur off the little animals and soaking them in a sauce full of strong herbs. We woke up at sunrise the next morning to make the fire on the mud floor in the middle of the kitchen and used specially carved sticks for roasting the cuyes over the fire. After about 5 hours of preparation we sat down with my grandparents, mother, siblings, and cousins to eat our cuyes along with fresh potatoes from the farm, covered with a spicy sauce made from peppers called ají.

Most Ecuadorian meals I experience on a daily basis are eaten in general silence with an occasional “Que rrrico!” Meals are a time to eat in peace and focus solely on your food, eat however you want, and have your elbows and both hands on the table. I thoroughly enjoy the meals here.

After a weekend full of farming and family bonding we headed back to Ibarra to celebrate the end of the Carnaval festivities which consisted of water fight after water fight with everyone in the neighborhood.

Peter Saudek