After the radio interview, we raced back to Casa Sol for a community meeting convened by Marcos Lema. He gathered a cross section of indigenous leaders representing various aspects of community life, including agriculture, commerce, spirituality, and culture. He called it a welcome ceremony, but he wanted to welcome us in a way that helped us appreciate local customs and values. Each person took a turn talking about some aspect of culture and then answering questions from the group. At the end, I also spoke about Spokane Tribal culture and sang an honor song.
At the conclusion of the meeting, we walked to the waterfalls at Peguche, which are considered a sacred site by local indigenous people. Dancers perform purification rituals at the base of the falls during Inti Raymi, the Sun Festival.
Marcos led the way into the water, blessing his path, while the people observed from a small wooden bridge. Another man and I both followed him into the freezing water, wearing only our underwear. The jagged rocks bruised my feet while the spray of the waterfall drenched me completely. On the physical level, I felt miserable, but spiritually, I felt the presence of all the unseen beings from that sacred place. I'm not sure how long we stood in the river singing, praying, and giving thanks. All sense of time vanished. It was an otherworldly experience.
When we finally returned to dry ground, the people looked on with bewildered expressions. The crashing sound of falling water prevented them from hearing the songs or prayers. They only saw us stripping down and diving into the cold river without any sense of why.
Finally, we returned to Casa Sol and enjoyed a hot meal together. I explained what I understood of the blessing and then repeated the songs again for everyone to hear. It was a powerful experience, but not because of words or any human understanding. From that moment, I felt connected to Ecuador, as if my soul had been adopted to our brother land in the south.
I know I will return someday.