Shit I Learned In Ecuador – Part 1

It has been a while since I learned some shit that is entertaining for others to read. Don’t get me wrong, lots of learning has been happening, some of it life changing. But as I moved my way in and out of the glorious streets of Quito with a fabulous guide by the name of Stefani, I was certainly educated on some interesting things in the Ecuadorean cultural sense. Here is what I learned…..

Cuy

The word in this region for guinea pig. Also considered a delicacy that I am yet to try. I just cannot seem to eat the face of my childhood pet, Muffy, that my sister and I used to shampoo and then blowdry in the sink much to the horror of my mother who thought we would kill it. That and a typical garnish is a tomato helmet. I just can’t even….. Anyway, here is what I learned about them.

Tasty snacks and energy healing weapons running around the floor of an indigenous house
  • The name ‘cuy’ comes from the sound that they make “coi, coi, coi, coi’.
  • They are sacred animals and used to live in the houses with the indigenous people.
  • They are not only considered sacred, but are used in ritual cleansing of the body. Not even kidding. Here’s how you do it.
    1. Start feeling unwell and think ‘hmmm…. something is wrong with me. I know, the guinea pig will tell me what is wrong’
    2. Grab the guinea pig like a body wash sponge that you would use in the shower and rub that squirming little animal all over your body. The animal will apparently extract the bad energy and give indications as to what is wrong with you in autopsy. (PS. I am sure from the shock of having to see and touch your naked body, this will cause the guinea pig a horrific and terrible death in which it will die of extreme shock).
    3. Guinea pig autopsy. Cut the thing open and examine all of its organs. Whatever appears to be wrong with the guinea pig is what is said to be wrong with you. Our guide said that she had a parasite and after rubbing the guinea pig on her stomach that when they autopsied the dead pig that shit was wriggling around in its stomach. Ewww…..
    4. Four. Eat the meat of the guinea pig I suppose unless there is some muscular problem and get on with your day, now well and purged of illness and bad energy.

Bones

Bones are considered to be a protective force in the culture of the Ecuadorean indigenous. They would use the vertebra of dead humans and sometimes cows hooves to decorate the entrances of the houses to ward off the evil spirits and for good luck. Oh and to ward off the evilness of people who don’t believe in Jesus….. yeah I know?? Hmmm…..To the point where people started digging up bodies in the cemeteries so that they could keep human bones in their houses. Sometimes they keep a single bone of a loved one that they have buried in the house as that is also thought to be a form of protection for the house and people who live in it.

Human vertebra and stone floor in an entrance way to a house. Didn’t stop my non-Jesus-believing self from entering. Clearly doesn’t work.

Encebollado and bones

So the most famous soup of Ecuador is called Encebollado and it is literally everywhere. They tell me that it is a mix of all of the ingredients that would normally go into a ceviche but with a different type of fish. There was one dude in Quito who had what was considered the best encebollado in the entire country and people would come far and wide to sample it. People were scrambling for the recipe and to figure out what he did that made it so special.

What was the secret ingredient you ask? Well the man, superstitiously for the last seventy years had been stirring his fabulous broth with a femur. Not just any femur though, a human femur. An actual real fucking human femur. I say no more.

Other tidbits

  • All of the roses used in the British Royal wedding were from Ecuador. They also used roses from Ecuador to film The Beauty and the Beast. When the last petal fell, it was from a cursed Ecuadorean rose.
  • Don’t fuck with Ecuadorean artists. One of them was commissioned to do the trimmings on a house in the old town but they refused to pay him the last instalment. As an ode to ‘fuck you’ to both the owners of the house and of course to the Catholic church, he endowed one of the lovely cherubs with the most giant penis you’ve ever seen on a cherub, waving its engorged salute to the church directly over the road.
Check out the schlong on that thing!
  • Ecuador first started to export chocolate in the 1820’s and thank god for that. I am pretty sure that since arriving here I have become about 70% cacao.

Given the sheer amount of shit that I have learned here over quite a large amount of time, stay tuned for Shit I Learned In Ecuador – Part 2, coming to you next week!

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From Broken to Whole: A Year On…

A year ago today I got on a bus in London and left my life in England for good. At the time I had been through so many different emotions I didn’t know whether I would ever feel like a whole human being ever again. I was so hurt and so broken that I didn’t know if there was any coming back from that. I felt like there was nothing left to tether me to my own happiness.

I arrived in Paris where I started the first part of what would be three months in Europe and then who knew what. On that fifth day in Paris my friend passed and I couldn’t even find it in me to cry. I stood empty in the shower trying to process my emotions and not knowing how. All that happened was a blood nose from the stress and the heat and as I watched my own blood flow over my body and down the shower drain I knew that at least my body was alive, even if I felt like there was no other part of me that was.

Those first three months in Europe were rough. I isolated myself from others for fear that they would judge and dislike me because they would be able to see through me to my inner struggle and would judge me for it. That is not a burden that other travellers want to carry and so I avoided other people. I moved from place to place and saw all of the things that I was supposed to see. Ticking boxes. At times, I managed to find small pleasures, like eating every amazing food in Italy and not giving a shit about getting fat because I already was. Like finding myself completely isolated in the world and at peace with myself just for being alone. By the time I made it to Greece I had started to open myself to a select few and make some more friends. I had started to find more of a balance and felt like I could breath a little more freely as opposed to the feeling of drowning that I felt when I left. I was sleeping more and I felt like my body chemicals were going back to a normal level. I no longer lived in a hyped up state of excessive adrenaline and cortisol.

I made my way to Turkey and then Egypt where I travelled with some very wise people that I opened up to and they helped me to process further. The temples in Egypt started to excite me and slowly but surely, I started to remember who I used to be.

The biggest change happened when I arrived in Colombia. Going to school and learning to speak another language made me another person. I didn’t know how to be myself in Spanish and facets of shy and cheeky crept through. I started making a load of friends at my school and we would go out dancing on Fridays. The culture was so sensual and sexual with its dancing that I started to reconnect with my body and my own sexuality, something that I hadn’t done in such a long time as it got buried under a pile of work and stress. It got buried under my grief and hostility.

What followed was a six week stint in Costa Rica and Panama which set me back. Six weeks and four deaths. I went back into my own shell and stopped wanting to speak to people. I had a run of bad luck with illness and allergies that saw me miserable and in the hospital and wanting to throw in the towel. But I continued to ride it out because that is what I did. Because I am Dano. And people keep on telling me that I am ‘the strongest person that they know’ and so who am I to question.

I went back to Medellin, moved into the school and continued for another three months learning Spanish, teaching kids English and organising events. I started writing a book about my life as encouraged by the people closest to me. I made friends with people who gave me confidence to put myself back out into the world because they made me feel valued like I hadn’t felt in a long time. I opened up about my life and confided things about myself to others, mostly in another language. Slowly I started to feel less numb and less angry. By the time my stint in Medellin was over, I had contemplated a job and a career change to stay but in the end decided to take the six months and go home. But what I left behind in that place changed my life forever. I will always be indebted to the people that I met there because without them knowing it, they pulled me out of the hole.

I travelled Colombia for two months. And it again challenged me. After another hospital visit from a stomach so bad it wouldn’t stop, I was really well and truly done. I wanted to go home. A feeling I hadn’t felt in years but one that helped me accept the fact that it was something I was going to do. I again persisted through these feelings to quit. I kept going. And I met some more amazing people that pushed me on. I started remembering what it was like to be calm, happy and fun. I started to embrace the parts of myself that had been buried for so long that were slowly resurfacing. I started reading books that would help me to rediscover who it is that I am and what it is that I want from my life. I started writing more music, playing more music and being more in touch with the creative side of me that is a large part of who I am and often gets hidden.

I now sit in Ecuador. I am calm. I am at relative peace. In the last few months, I’ve been challenged with more loss, with horrific situations, with short-lived romances, some of which gave me faith and others which made me lose it again. But regardless of what has been thrown at me, the one thing I have found in this year that I didn’t have a year ago was equilibrium and the ability to process those emotions and let go. To accept is one of the hardest things that you can do in this life. And as I continue through South America, if all I take away from this experience is the learned ability to accept graciously then so be it. Every person who I have met that I have become close to, I have met for a reason. They have either been a test or they have been a guide. And I know that for the next three and a half months I have more of those tests and more of these guides coming my way. And I will have more once I move back home. But whatever challenge comes my way from here on in, I know I can survive it, and I know I can do it with grace and strength. Because I have already lived at the lowest point, and I clawed my way back out.

A year ago today I was a body going through the motions. Today I am a human again. My soul is at peace. My heart is ready to love and give to others. I am ready to accept whatever challenges come my way with grace. I am ready to be more. And I will be.