Cayambe Ecuador – From one side of the country to the other and halfway back again, I’ve been in transit a lot and online a little. On June 21, I reached Cayambe Ecuador after dark and decided to stay in the city instead of my normal stopover at Hacienda Guachala.
This alignment of choices placed me square in the middle of a June Solstice event, where the locals still honor Pachamama, known to others as our dear Mother Earth.
This event is part of a month-long celebration called the Fiestas de San Pedro* y del Sol, which bridges the Catholic religion with the ancient Indigenous customs. – *This year’s festivities will continue until July 8, but the San Pedro customs are observed throughout the country, sometimes for several more months. On June 28, I will be attending Jama’s on the coast.
The night manager of Hostal Cayambe told me of a ‘children’s parade’ that would start at nine in the morning. Her description was quite modest, and the extremely-colorful parade lasted several hours!
I should have suspected that the finale would be timed for 12 o’clock, as the sun approached its northern stopping point for the year. Needing to check out before noon and leave on the 1:00 pm bus, I pondered, “Go see the last part of the parade or go to the bus terminal?” Of course you know which choice I made!
“Arrrrrriba,’ the locals said while pointing toward the edge of the city. After checking out of the hostal, I feared I had missed the noon event. Unsure where to go, I asked random people on the street. “Arrrrrriba!’ they echoed, and I continued my ascent.
Meeting more people, I walked faster and was grateful the people at the hostal advised that I leave my bag in their office!
Walking higher and higher, I pictured the groups taking turns in a token salute to the sun, perhaps bowing and then retreating to town. Sometimes not knowing what to expect provides us with the greatest surprises. Just past a cluster of blue wildflowers, a sweeping panoramic view nudged me to step to the edge, pause and admire what waited ahead.
I choked back tears to be witnessing such a beautiful tradition.
What if I’d checked out of the hostal and gone straight to the bus terminal? Pausing at various look-out points, I watched and photographed from afar and slowly approached a beautiful gathering of quiet people.
All but touching the sky, people clustered in small groups or continued their music and dancing in unobtrusive rhythms to honor Pachamama. No children ran wild; no adults were drinking; no one tried to out perform another; small groups participated in their own dance while others visited quietly while eating ice cream and treats. No church was needed there; the Great Spirit smiled on all present.
After walking the outside edge of the crowd, I approached closer, not sure if my presence was ‘proper’ etiquette or not.
There was plenty of room for one more person, and they barely noted my presence. In the center was a simple-yet-complex circle drawn with rose petals and fruit, with a colorful flag in the center and four stations around the edge to represent North, South, East and West.
A select few of the younger ones were part of the ceremony; we watched the lighting of the fire and the distribution of that fire to the four points. I marveled at the respect and responsibility of the younger generation, who accept their roles with seriousness.
What affected me strongest was their respect and affection for Pachamama. Yes, it was a day of festivity, but it was also a day of seriousness. The parade and the ending ceremony represented a balance. There is a time for play and there is a time to honor our planet. The younger ones will continue that tradition.
I wondered, “How unique is this custom? Where else on the planet do communities gather to openly acknowledge the importance of our Mother Earth and pass on that respect to the next generations?”
I sent a quiet ‘Thank you,’ to the universe that a chance alignment of events delivered me to a place where I could touch the sky with kindred spirits… Like Cinderella realizing the approaching midnight hour, I bolted to retrieve my bag from the hostal and catch the bus for Quito.
I boarded the bus, which rolled out of town less than one minute later! Whew! I left no slipper behind, but a part of my spirit will always linger where I touched the sky with the locals.