A day with Kushi Waira, a local indigenous community in the Andes in Ecuador

During our stay in Cuenca, we wanted to get a little closer to the local and indigenous communities, to discover the pre-Inca culture and to see how the local people live, in harmony with nature. And almost by chance, while we were looking for a chocolate tablet in an ecological store, we found Alfonso’s phone number. This is how chocolate took us to know the Kushi Waira community not far from Cuenca!

Kushi Waira, a self-sufficient community in the Andes of Ecuador

The small Kushi Waira community is a local organization led by Alfonso, whose aim is to promote responsible tourism and show the indigenous traditions of local people. And all this in small groups, which we loved! In our case we were alone during our visit to Kushi Waira, a very special experience that we want to share with you.

In the agenda: meeting the local community, mountain walk, visit of a primary forest, explanations about local medicinal plants, pre-Inca rituals in a sacred place on top of the mountain, walk along the Camino del Inca, traditional mountain food with local organic products, and then typical music and dance with the community. Not bad, right? Are you ready?

An unforgettable day

The morning began with a good foot, since from the first moment the sun was shining, it was a perfect February day! We had breakfast on the terrace of our hotel in Cuenca. The car was waiting for us in front of the hotel 5 minutes before 9am. So we got inside and 20 minutes later we were already in the middle of the mountains, in a small hamlet hidden at the bottom of a green and silent valley. The only noise was that of cows and sheep, or the fresh wind blowing at those 2500 meters of altitude.

A warm welcome

Alfonso welcomed us with a big smile, with his hat on, and invited us to enter his house. We also met his wife, who brought us a typical welcome canelazo (an alcohol-based cane drink and herbal infusion). Alfonso is about fifty years old and is already the father of 8 children. He has always worked in the village, and his passion for traditional herbal medicine is contagious. Nowadays he tries to perpetuate the traditions proposing to some tourists the visit of its village.

After some explanations about what we were going to do the rest of the day and the objectives of the organization, we went to another room. There we were served a delicious breakfast: mote casado (based on corn and beans), mote pillo (corn with scrambled eggs) and an infusion of herbs. And around this light meal we took the chance to know Alfonso a little more. He is a calm man, observant and of sweet words. He took an interest in us and we were interested in his way of life. Alfonso told us that his mother was a midwife and healer, and that she used nothing more than the medicinal plants that grew in the region. It was she who transmitted to her son the love and respect for nature.

The mountain and the primary forest

Then we set out for a walk on the mountain. We climbed slowly, stopping every now and then to listen to the explanations about the valley, the community, the plantations, the mountain… The landscape was spectacular, very beautiful under that sunny day.

A few minutes later we entered the primary forest. Here, Alfonso took the time to explain the dozens of medicinal plants found everywhere. He also explained the vision of the cosmos of the Cañari, the pre-Incas who lived in the area. We saw plants that grew on top of other plants, and we found it surprising. But Alfonso explained to us the functioning of the energies in the forest. We found a fascinating vision of life and the planet, very coherent and respectful of nature. We were more and more delighted with this experience!

A sacred place

We arrived at Jatun Urcu (in Quechua, “high mountain”), the sacred place of the community. We took advantage of this small moment to rest while we continued talking about the forest, the plants and the relationship of man with nature. A conversation that was getting deeper and deeper, but Alfonso is a man out of the ordinary, and managed to enthuse us with his ideas. He also took the time to heal some of the pain we had after so many months of travel. He explained to us the importance of Mother Earth (Pachamama) and Father Sun (Inti) in the heart of nature and its community.

Kushi Waira

Then we continued a little further until we reached the Inca Trail. Yes, the most known part of the Camino del Inca is near Cusco, but the true Inca Trail came  all the way north to Ecuador! Also, in this part of the way we were surprised to see the colors of the earth: red, orange, white, purple… It was great!

On the way back, we sat for a few minutes in a natural bed of tree leaves, which helped us to get some energy back. A quiet place where we met the smiling looks of a couple of locals.

Traditional meal

At 1pm, it’s time to eat! Alfonso’s wife reached the top of the mountain loaded with food. In a traditional pampamesa, the food is served directly on a cloth on the grass. And no dishes! On the menu, grilled chicken, vegetables from the garden, potatoes, a delicious mashed cassava, rice and corn. All accompanied by spiced tea. It was exquisite and very filling!

After the meal, we did a cleansing ritual. Alfonso did a prayer in Quechua and bathed us in a smoke of incense and herbs. Then his wife cleaned us symbolically with medicinal leaves. The ritual was short but we felt strangely good, clean, full of energy and happier. So it looks like the ritual worked!

Music and dancing

We then started descending back to the house. The road remained magical: the colors of the mountain and the silence were peaceful. Arriving at Alfonso’s house, he showed us the different musical instruments made by the community, especially flutes and other wind instruments (such as flute and kena).

In a corner of the great hall he showed us an ancient grinding stone that came to his family hundreds of years ago. So he showed us the handmade corn flour preparation, and we wanted to participate in the corn grinding! Then he mixed some sugar cane with the flour and gave us some to taste: a simple but very rich flavor! He then mixed rice with a drop of water, sambo seeds and some pepper, and ate it with a little bit of mote (cooked corn). Very tasty!

To finish the day, Maria, Alfonso’s daughter, came to meet us, and together they played two or three songs for us. And a little surprise, they took us out to dance for the last song! We did it with great pleasure, although we did not understand very well how the steps worked. It was a very pleasant moment shared with the family. Finally, they prepared a small game of piñata and gave us a couple of musical instruments. Really very kind of them!

Conclusion of our day with Kushi Waira

It was an unforgettable day! We spent a very good time with Kushi Waira, we learned a lot about the history of the indigenous people of Ecuador, about their vision of the planet and nature, we met some very kind people who wanted to share their culture with us to make it last. If the experience interests you, do not hesitate to contact us so that we can give you the contact of Alfonso.