Adventures in the Rainforest
Biking to Santo Domingo with Pedal for Change
As I observed the T'sachila shaman cleanse the soul of one of my friend somewhere within the Ecuadorian rainforest, I layed back in my hammock and enjoyed the mysticality of the moment. I realized how eye-opening, impromptu and magical traveling can be.
I never would have thought I would spend my weekend visiting an indigenous community in the Ecuadorian rainforest. My roomate heard about the trip through an acquaintance a few days before. We didn't know much about Pedal for Change then or what it stood for, but we're always ready for an adventure in Ecuador. We quickly read through the travel information and jointly agreed : "¿Porque no?"
At 5 am on Saturday morning, I wondered if we had made the right choice. Should we have stayed in Quito for the weekend and gone out in la Mariscal? Half-asleep we made our way to the Velodrome where we met our guide and the rest of our group. Reina, the founder of Pedal for Change, welcomed us with a bag full of food. She knows how to make friends. After a gorgeous 2 hour car ride west of Quito, we stopped in a tiny village up in the mountains. Helmets on, water bottles full, cameras ready, we mounted our bikes and headed down the road. I don't think it can rightfully be called a road, it was more of a rocky dirty path where you cross the occasional cow and beat-up truck with a trunk full of kids hitching a ride up to the next village. At first, I was focused on trying to figure out the gears on my bike and trying to avoid falling off a 20 foot cliff, but as I relaxed, the beauty of the scenery hit me. Traveling by bike let's you see and discover so much more. This road was barely accessible by car, we never would have been able to experience this view otherwise. As we rode down the environment started changing; waterfalls started appearing and the trees grew bigger and greener. I took more than a few breaks to take pictures of the breathtaking nature, and also to rest my hands. Brakes and rocky roads are not my friends. After two hours of downhill we started our 9km ascent. I pedaled through, the voice of my spin instructor in the back of my head urging me to keep going. Except this time the reward at the end of the hill was greater than at any of my spin classes: the most amazing sandwiches I had had in Ecuador served with a gorgeous view of the misty valley.
Bellies full, we rode down the hill for another two hours before reaching Santo Domingo. Strangely our hands hurt more than our legs after our 6 hour ride, blame it on the bumpy downhill once again. After a quick nap in the car, our group finally reached the T'sachila community where we would spend the night. The T'sachilas are a famous indigenous group in Ecuador due to their tradition of painting their hair red with achote. After receiving a warm welcome from the community and a delicious meal, the leader, Alfonso, spoke to us about his community. The young go where the money is, many are leaving behind their indigenous culture in favour of modern lifestyles. He shared with us the importance he is placing on tourism to help the community succeed financially and to revive his culture. He invited a local shaman to practice a cleansing ceremony for us. Curiously, with candles providing the only source of light, we observed him chanting in T'safiki, agitating palm tree leaves to the sky and spitting out an unknown liquid. "Who wants to be cleansed" said Alfonso. We all looked at each other with a mixture of amusement, curiosity and fear of the unknown. Sebastian, one of the guides, was the first brave volunteer. Waving leaves, hitting rocks over his head and chanting, the shaman cleansed his soul. When asked for other volunteers I quickly put my hand up. Getting my soul cleansed by a shaman in Ecuador, "¿Porque no!?". I'm not an overly spiritual person but as the shaman was practicing the ceremony I felt a different kind of energy, my mind was relaxed and I was solely focused on myself. It was a moment of meditation and appreciation. Maybe this feeling was born out of the mix of the sounds of rainforest, the warmth of the people and the thrill of the ride.
After falling asleep to sounds of drums coming from the other side of the forest (I imagined them to be tribal drums but I'm about 100% it was some kind of rave), we woke up in the early morning and floated down the river on a raft we found by the shore. Our breakfast consisted of fresh passion fruit, homemade pan de Yuca and instant coffee ( a must in Ecuador). Alfonso told us we had to catch our own lunch, after a good laugh we realized he was serious. We went down to the river and the men showed us their traditional fishing method. Before lunch, Alfonso's friend demonstrated how he painted his hair with achote. A couple of the girls got streaks in their hair, maybe we'll get the hairstyle trending in Canada! After eating the fish we helped catch and chewing on fresh cacao, we had to pack our bags and head back to Quito. I was ready to rent out a hammock, live off cacao beans and spend another week in this paradise. Throughout the trip I kept thinking about how lucky I was to experience this epic scenery and to learn about the T'schila culture.
This Pedal for Change trip has by far been my favourite experience in Ecuador so far, I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who wishes to go on a life changing adventure. I mean this NGO combines all of my favourite pastimes: traveling, cycling and volunteering. What is there not to love about it? This trip has inspired me to get more into biking and to plan biking trips during my travels around the world. Because I truly believe in Reina's cause, I'm now volunteering for Pedal to encourage other students to experience Ecuador in a sustainable and culturally-enriching manner.
Hopefully you'll join Reina on an adventure soon! The road is waiting for you.
University of Victoria student
Pedal for Change website: http://pedalforchange.org/