We met Juan at a church a few miles from the village of Susudel, where he led us on foot to his home. Along the way we witnessed mountains as rugged as I've ever seen, made moreso by their stark and barren slopes, unsoftened by vegetation. Here is Juan speaking with Jason, another teacher at CEDEI. We stopped here briefly to catch our breath and, in my opinion, to witness a place of honor, graced by a stand of majestic trees well-adapted to their dry and wind-swept environs.
Juan was taking us to his land so that we might experience a temazcal ceremony. To call temazcal a sweat lodge is as poor a translation as the rendering of the beautiful word and concept of acequia into the English 'irrigation ditch.' But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, we needed to make our way to Juan's property in time for us to build our camp for the night, which, as is predictably the case throughout the year in Ecuador, would be coming at 6:30 sharp. We got their just in time, to both set up camp and take in our surroundings before dark. Here are a few glimpses of our setting for the night:
To the right of the fire in the background, you can just make out a small little hut in the background. That is the place of the temazcal, where all 20 or so of us would be huddled inside in short order. Before this, Alejandro's wife Monica administered to us a preparation of San Pedro cactus, a traditional visionary medicine that grows wild throughout the mountains of Ecuador. Compared to my previous experience with San Pedro, this one was very subtle, serving mostly to contribute to my sense of calm and appreciation throughout the grueling temazcal to come. After we partook of the San Pedro, Juan then came around with a snuff he had prepared from tobacco and other herbs, stuffing copious amounts of it up each of my nostrils before ordering me bruskly to inhale it deeply. This I did, and shortly thereafter this round of medicine, the fire was encircled by loud coughing and sneezing from all sides. We were told that this snuff, as well as the San Pedro, would serve to open up the doors of our senses, to permit us to fill our awareness with powerful sights and experiences, while ridding ourselves of the negativity we may have accumulated in our lives.
As the steam rose in the lodge, I began singing a song of thanksgiving in a cadence that had come to me during my previous San Pedro experience: