Sometimes on a Saturday — Adventures in Ecuador

Sometimes you half-ass plan a Saturday.

And you somehow string together a ride for you and a friend to go to the National Park the next day. Early. You heard they limit the number of people they let in.

You hike. For 5 hours. Up and down. You slip on rocks, go ankle deep in mud, land on your ass. Eat nuts for breakfast and lunch. Take pictures. See trees you’ve never seen before. Get sunburned because you’re 14,000 feet in the air and the sun doesn’t need to beat down to turn you beet red.

And after you hike, you decide to get lunch. There are two places. One is a new restaurant right alongside the road. The other is a restaurant in an actual house 50 meter down from the road. You decide on the latter.

You eat. It’s good food. The house is nice. Spacious. Home-y. Comfortable. The old lady who cooked your food is kind and smiles. She tells you how to get back to your city.

Then she starts talking about something called “temescal“. You don’t know what that is. She mentions something about “cultura” and lists names of other countries. She says it’s nearby and she thinks you and your friend would like to check it out. You kind of brush it off and smile.

You go to pay the bill. You thank the woman. She asks if you want to see the temesecal. Quieres ver? She asks. OK, you say. Why not see something happening.

It’s out back behind the house. You’re introduced to an American girl who has moved to Ecuador. She’s from your college town. She’s enthused about temesecal which she explains is a sweat lodge — a personal purification ceremony that’s popular with the native people and tribes of your country.

They are performing a ceremony here — in the background of the restaurant you just ate lunch at. She asks if you’d like to join. You and a friend think about it and decide it’s unpassupable. We’ll do it, you say.

You wait sometime. You learn more about the ceremony. You meet the leader of it, the man who is running the fire (where he burns 28 volcanic rocks which will be used later in a tee-pee like tent (called “the womb”) to heat it (and trap that heat) to a temperature your body surely is not used to) and some other participants.

When it’s time to begin, you strip to your boxers. You enter the womb with 15 other people. The ceremony begins. It’s all in Spanish. It’s absolute black inside — no light. You are asked if you want “medicina” which you oblige to. It is San Pedro. You’ve just taken a natural hallucinogenic while put into a tent where you can only move a few inches side to side with other mostly-naked people.

The ceremony goes for 2 hours. It is mixed with songs, chants, prayers, and heat so hot it feels like your face will melt. You sweat, and sweat, and find new places to sweat from and cannot even rub sweat out from your eyes because all else — fingers, palms, arms — are wet too.

The ceremony has four sessions (or puertas as they’re called). You smile, sweat, and breathe in the rocks as water is poured over them. you learn the spanish words for lemongrass, for rosemary, for amber.

When it’s over, you’re offered a ride back to your apartment from two people you just sweat with for two hours.

You’re wet with sweat, tired from the hike, burnt, and a bit broken — and yet that seems so unimportant. Experiences reign supreme.

Sometimes you half-ass plan a Saturday…..and wonderful happens.

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