Ecuador is full of all kinds of adventures. The country is rich in culture and natural wonders. Living at Oasis means we have access to so many of the activities and adventures that are available on the coast.
Just about 30 minutes away is an indigenous community called Agua Blanca. It is one of the oldest communities in Ecuador. Communities, or communes as they are called, are a form of traditional governance apart from the municipality kind of government other towns use. Founded in 1930 it is a commune within the boundaries of the Machallila National Park, a natural preserved area that contains the archeological remains of the most important pre-hispanic cultures of the Ecuadorian coast - the Manteño culture.
The commune houses their museum, a few restaurants, and community buildings. It also offers a sacred lagoon whose mud and waters are full of minerals, like a natural spa, and they offer massage services here too. There is hiking, some lodging and camping and horseback riding. There is a $5 per person entry fee to use the facilities and to explore. The best $5 you could spend!
We were told that there are about 400 "comuneros" or members and 3,000 goats! The goats provide a significant portion of the livelihood of the people here. Seco de Chivo is a specialty dish, served with rice, plantain and beans.
Indiana Jones in Ecuador
I recently met a modern day Indiana Jones in Luke Dalla Bona of Archeology Vacations. Luke's passion for archeology in Ecuador followed several years as an archeologist in his native country Canada. In 2015 he relocated to Ecuador and began to focus on archeology in this rich area called Agua Blanca.
One reason I was inspired by Luke to take this adventure was his commitment to the advancement of the culture of the Agua Blanca community. His company shares its revenue with the community and is beholden to no one but the comuneros themselves. Luke shares our same values around supporting the people of Ecuador through the work we do here. By creating his program not only does he offer a truly unique experience to participants but everyday he is learning more about the Manteño culture and its people and sharing this ancestral knowledge with the contemporary inhabitants. Walking around Agua Blanca we could see a sense of pride and respect from the people there originating in the work they have done to become a strong and united community.
The Big Dig
Napo and I met a group of about ten people all living on the coast, mostly Canadians and another American, who were as intrigued as we were about assisting in this archeological dig. Although fun, it's actually serious business. We painstakingly brushed aside dirt and with a trowel gently scooped dirt and rocks into a bucket as gems of history were uncovered. A bone fragment here, a piece of ceramic there, a shard of seashell, pieces of a vase were all uncovered in the time we started our dig. Each discovery is placed in a baggie and its location carefully recorded then it is cataloged and housed for further inspection.
After a few hours of crouching, kneeling and squatting to get the most comfortable position to dig, it was (thankfully) lunch time. Stretching out and walking to the nearby restaurant, we all shared conversation around our finds, but also our lives. What brought us to Ecuador? How long had we been here? Who did we know in common? What were our plans? Lunch was a lively conversation among new friends while we shared traditional Ecuadorian dishes of Seco de Chivo, Arroz con Pollo, Pescado Frito and even a vegetarian meal that had me doubt my choice of lunch.
Although our group went back to continue their dig, Napo and I decided to take the relaxing route and walk to the sacred spring, a natural lagoon of sulphur waters that originate underground from nearby volcanoes. It was a beautiful day for the walk (about 15 minutes from the museum). We were greeted by a comunero who graciously opened the gate for us. We had been here about four years ago and the changes and upgrades were obvious. Here was a restaurant and bar and a small structure for massage therapy. Massages with the natural springs mud (which leaves your skin as smooth as a baby's butt for a week) and palo santo oil, made from the aromatic tree Palo Santo (Sacred Tree) are between $10 and $25.
After a swim then coating ourselves in mud from head to foot, we sat in the sun while the mud dried, talking with the man who had let us in. He spoke about the desire to have more tourists come and learn about their heritage. Their visits also bring an economic windfall so they can continue to advance while they protect their culture. After being fully "baked" we jumped back into the water for a cleansing swim emerging with soft, smooth skin. A quick toweling off and back into clean clothes got us ready for our return walk.
As we were saying our farewell to the comunero I heard a drum beat and looked toward the sound. I noticed three men dressed in traditional Agua Blanca shamanic garb. Each community, each area of the country, has it's own spiritual traditions and ceremonial garments and rituals. These men were here to practice a solstice ceremony they would perform on the solstice this December. They seemed to be enjoying the good weather and company and cheerfully agreed to a photograph.
Our day ended as it began, at the Museum. We bought some palo santo for burning at home; it keeps away mosquitos. Our taxi came to retrieve us and soon we were on our way back to Puerto Lopez where we stopped for dinner. Then back to Oasis for a warm shower and a cup of chamomile tea and a very restful night dreaming of ancestral communities and spiritual ceremonies on the ground we had been privileged to explore and enjoy.
For a short but fun video on our experience of being Indiana Jones for a day, check out my video here. You'll come with us as we do our digging and experience the beauty of the sacred pool (vicariously of course.).
We will be offering individual and group participation in Luke's Archeology Adventures for those visiting and staying at Oasis so you too will be a part of uncovering the mystery of the ancestral Manteño culture while supporting the contemporary community to thrive.