While we only spent a couple hours exploring the Ilinizas Ecological Reserve its clear that there is so much to see here. We spent around 30 minutes hiking into the reserve. On our way in from the parking lot, our group ran into a Shaman, travelling with an Ecuadorian family. He asked Fernando Iza where he’s from, and instantly knows his family when Fernando volunteers his last name. We continue onward with our hike. There is a small footpath that leads the way to a brightly orange colored waterfall, due to the high levels of sulfur in the water. We paused for a second, taking in the beauty of the waterfall, and the lush mossy rocks that surround it. Then we continued to ascend higher, in order to see the hot springs that exist in this area. We could see the Shaman and his group slowly ascending behind us each with heavy loads on their backs, also stopping for some moments at the waterfall.
We hike uphill for another 20 minutes or so, and then we arrived at the hot springs. At this point, we sit and relax, dipping some digits into the highly sulfuric water. After some time, the Shaman and his group arrive. They beckon us over, but Fernando asks if it is okay if we watch from above, so that we can observe the whole process of the blessing he is preparing. The Shaman put his large carved walking stick in the hot spring, and with the family, began tracing the flag of the Andes into the ground, using flowers and fresh fruits to make four distinct corners. Then, he placed the earth, fire, water and air (the air corner remained empty, as air already fills this space) into the four corners. The family who attended this hike with the Shaman then moved to the four corners of the flag they have drawn into the dirt, and they began chanting some phrases in Kichua. The Shaman pulls out a shell, blowing into it several times, with a loud and distinct note emitting from it. He then walks over to the springs rinsing out the shell and returning to the flag. He fills the shell with a sweet wine, which he sips from, and then passes around to the family, with each member taking a sip. Then he comes over to our group and offers us all a sip.
It was really interesting watching this cultural tradition still being maintained after years and years of practice, and we were very grateful for the generosity of the Shaman in sharing this with us. At this point, we turned around and headed back towards the car, to take advantage of the rest of our day.
I would highly recommend booking with Cotopaxi-Travel. This day trip was enjoyable and we were able to explore nature and experience a cultural tradition by chance and by luck of being with Fernando Iza. If one has the time, I would seriously hope they are able to do this when visiting Ecuador.