Kushi Wayra

13 Dec

Today Alex and I with our German friend Lisa visited Chilcatotora, a small village situated only 20 km outside of Cuenca where twenty-one women run one of Ecuador’s most successful tourism cooperatives.

We were warmly welcomed by five cooperative members whose turn it was to work when we arrived at the their house in Chilcatotora this morning. We were promptly served a shot of 40 proof alcohol and a warm cup of sweet aromatic tea, along with a maize dish for breakfast.

After we ate were we were invited into the kitchen to learn how to cook cuy (guinea pig) which we were to eat later for lunch. The cuy had already been killed, gutted, skinned and stuffed with garlic before we arrived and all that was left to do was mount the cuy on a large wooden pole, and then roast it over hot coals. Someone needs to sit by the fire and turn the cuy on the pole constantly for the hour that it takes to cook to ensure it does so evenly. It’s hot and heavy work! Our hosts also showed us how to grind quinoa into powder to make tortillas, and how to grind up chilis in a similar fashion to make a sweet sauce.

Soon we we were taken outside into the women’s garden where we were shown a number of plants and learned about their medicinal properties. From here we were led on a walk through the village. Our biology lesson continued alongside a discussion of life in the village. It turns out that a whole lot of men from Chilcatotora, husbands, brothers, and sons, have left the village and Ecuador to work overseas, mainly in the US where the money that can be earned in illegal jobs justifies risking lives crossing into the country from Mexico. The new cement houses that you can see in Chilcatotora are evidence that some of this money is flowing back to the village, but the women don’t seem very happy with the situation. Rendered single mothers in their husband’s absence, the women have to work hard to raise an income and their kids.

We had the chance to visit the cooperative’s cheese factory where we learned something about making cheese, and got to try the amazing Andean cheese which was deliciously strong after being aged for four months and flavoured with oregano.

By now it was about midday and we were brought a pampa mesa, a traditional picnic lunch for us to share. The pampa mesa consisted of a long piece of muslin cloth laid out on the grass. The food that the women prepared; cuy, chicken, maize, beans, potatoes, peas and carrots were served directly on the cloth so that it became a large communal plate. The cuy and everything else was very tasty. Over lunch we learned that the pampa mesa is a traditional means of welcoming guests and also celebrating important occasions in the community including christmas, wedings, and baptisms.

We were a bit worried about the huge quantity of food that was served, because there was no way that we could have eaten it all. Luckily the women were happy to pack away the uneaten food so that their families could enjoy it later for dinner.

After lunch we visited the house of a another family in the village where the women had a lot of fun dressing us up in their traditional clothes. We listened to music, danced a little, and then went outside and sheared a cow. At about three pm our guide returned to collect us. We said our goodbyes and headed back to Cuenca.

The cooperative’s Cuenca HQ is located in the Casa de Mujer (calle General Torres 7-45 y Presidente Córdova, plazoleta de San Francisco). The whole day cost us $33 per person and was definitely worth it. Tourists and the community benefit from this worthwhile project. It was great to feel truly welcome in Chilcatotora.

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One Response to “Kushi Wayra”

  1. CE De Mattia December 13, 2010 at 9:57 am #

    Your blog reads like a travel brochure and Alex looks like a local
    CE De Mattia

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