A Spitting Image
I woke up this morning and had a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs. As usual, I had no idea what our plan for the day would be. Today, I thought, from my family’s favorable forecast of the day, we were going to take a hike to see a waterfall or something. Well, read on!
My dad and I hopped up on our two bikes, and pedaled up a huge hill to get to the falls of the pueblito of Baños, Ecuador. Was it hard? Si! I had to walk my bike at one part, that was the opposite of flat. Eventually, panting, we made it up near the falls. There was a group of people standing around waiting for something, and, apparently this is what Dad had planned. So, we joined them. Before long, we were jumping a barbed wire fence in order to get on a path to the waterfalls. Anon we commenced to escalate, straight up and into the cataracts.
Soon we found ourselves watching the other 15 people get half naked, including the Shaman (an indigenous healer with a traditional ponytail, a wide smile, and a wide belly). Everyone gathered to hear him speak. He then took one of the men by the hand, and had him sit in front of the waterfall (that was gushing at about 167 kph) and started, “The Ceremony.” The Shaman’s wife, also in traditional dress, handed him what looked like a liquor bottle, and also a green bottle with what looked like a strange leaf juice. Then his wife handed him a root of some plant. He took a bite of the root, and chewed it in his mouth. Then he took a swig of both drinks, looked at the man sitting in front of him, then spit it all out in the man’s face. My facial expression was probably distorted about then. The man who was spit upon wore the Shaman’s breakfast. I wasn’t the only one who’d had scrambled eggs.
The newly baptized-by-coca-leaves-and-liquor man then went out and dunked himself under the waterfall. I guess that is what I looked like when I got baptized in a lake. The man waded out of the water, changed for life. The Shaman proceeded to spit the liquid on the rest of the people and change lives, and I proceeded to watch. Soon, all had been cleansed and everyone was all smiles. About 2,500 hugs followed. Just when I thought it it was all done with… I saw him waving at ME. My eyes popped, was he talking to ME?!?!
He beckoned me over, and I dragged myself closer to the waterfall. And closer. Closer. Then I was standing right next to him beneath the waterfall. His wife took my Tarheel snapback hat off and told me to close my eyes. I did so (I still peeked). The Shaman took a swig of his liquor bottle. Why am I here? A bite off the sacred root. I don’t want this dude’s breakfast on me! Another swig from the other bottle with the strange leaf juice. I don’t wanna have snake pee all over me because I was spit on by the witchdoctor of this little village… I shut my eyes tight. PHHT!! He spit in my face. But he had a special skill; he sprayed it on me. His spit was a spray of Axe from a bathroom cleaner, startling, different… but refreshing. It actually smelled good. He spit on me again. Both times it startled me…it was quite different than anything I’d ever experienced. The Shaman’s daughter laughed, probably because I had a distorted face at the time. The Shaman’s wife told me I could open my eyes again, and when I did she threw my snapback hat on backwards and gave me a hug.
It was done. I smiled. It was done. But not only because I was done… I smiled for the experience. Another great (different) experience in South America, added to my list of memories…
Editor’s note: The cleansing ceremony was one of the preparations for a bigger event that would be the following weekend. These Pachamama (mother earth) ceremonies are traditional to the indigenous Andean people. The Wagner’s roles were to photograph and video the events, but we ended up participating more fully in order to get a better understanding.
FelexOctober 17, 2012
Great experience! I imagine the experience with a traditional healer here in Uganda but spitting over my face is very different.
John (Pots) WagnerOctober 17, 2012
John (Pots) WagnerOctober 17, 2012
Benj, Your blog is beautiful. That’s what you call really experiencing another culture first hand! Sometimes it is uncomfortable, sometimes unnerving, but the understanding that it brings makes your life fuller and more complete. In fact it is our best hope for world peace in the future. A philosopher named Voltaire once said “All wars are caused by man’s misunderstanding of man”. There has never been a more profound and true statement other than Jesus’ command to “Love your neighbor”.
It took me 70 years to get to where you are now in your acceptance and understanding of your fellow man. Hopefully, with the expansion of communications and travel at the explosive rate we are experiencing, this will become a reality to hundreds of millions of people throughout the world in the future.
Mom MomOctober 17, 2012
Benj, an incredible experience expertly expressed!! You handled it well and lived to tell the tale. Way to go!! Can’t wait to see you.
Love, Mom Mom
CArlaOctober 20, 2012
I’m so impressed with how open you were to participating, and how you expressed your witty inner voice.
BTW spit is also the way Nepalese people neutralize the burning of stinging nettles on your skin. So if you ever brush against stinging nettles on your hikes, just spit on the spot.