Letting the Condor take flight

There are two things that seem to stand out the most when my students recount their memories of our trip to Ecuador (based on their collection of blog posts): the intensity of the Amazon, and the open friendliness of the the Agato community in Northern Ecuador.


Overlooking the community of Otavalo. Towering above the town is the ancient volcano, Imbabura. (A recent grass fire had turned the top of the volcano black.)

I wanted a component of our journey to Ecuador to include an experience of life in the rural Andes. Our agent at True Ecuador Travel recommended a 2-night homestay with the Agato people, near Otavalo. I had no idea what to expect. I visited Otavalo briefly on my first trip to Ecuador. It was a cloudy day. We took in the famed Otavalo market on a Saturday, and visited the rainy, socked-in volcanic crater of Cuicocha, just outside of town. Looking back on that first trip, it seems strange to me to think about how much I missed just passing through.

On this trip, I was able to take in so much more with my students, as they absorbed it all with me. I’ll refer you to their posts, as they have aptly captured the details about our visit with the Agato, and a taste of what life was like in their community. (See the posts written by Katie Dorman,  Jeff Hoffman, and Maddie Harrison, and others, coming soon!)

What was it that had the biggest influence on them?

I think it was the fact that the strength of the Agato community is in connection: connections within the community between individuals, connections with the land, and connections with the past through tradition. They believe everything and everyone has a role and place in community, and that a balance of masculine and feminine is necessary for harmony. They believe that a mix of new knowledge and old wisdom are critical for living sustainably, in harmony with their environment.


Artwork at the entrance to the protected forest at Cascada Peguche, Otavalo.

Every geographic feature in the region is woven with story and legend, and those stories tie prominently into modern life in the Agato community. For example, not far from the community, we visited Peguche waterfalls, a 50-foot, white-water cascade through a dark gorge, draped in green. This waterfall sits in the midst of a 40-acre eucalyptus forest, touted as one of the most beautiful forests in Ecuador. The falls are an indigenous ceremonial site – especially during the celebration of Inti Raymi (the solstice on June 21st).


On the trail to Peguche Falls.

Our Agato community ambassador, Alexandra, led us on a walk through the forest to the falls, and along the way, we came to an artesian well. Alexandra had us gather round, and here, she shared the philosophy of her people. The Agato way of thinking stems from long traditions, old stories, and ancient prophecy. They use this to help them understand what they see in the world. In particular, there is one prophecy among many of the indigenous people of the Andes and the Amazon that plays such a prominent role in their lives that I heard it multiple times in the two days we were there. This prophecy roots their culture in the modern world, but also helps them hold on to tradition.


To show respect for Mother Earth at the artesian well, we were told to sprinkle water on our heads.

The prophecy goes something like this:

For 500 years, the condor ruled the skies. The condor is a metaphor for the heart, tradition, old wisdom, intuition, community, and importantly, the feminine. It is a symbol of the south, and importantly, the national bird of Ecuador.

For another 500 years, the eagle ruled the skies. The eagle represents the mind, technological advancement, new ways of thinking, science, activity and motion, individual power…and the masculine. Of course, the eagle is the national bird of a major world superpower.

The prophecy maintains that at the end of the reign of the eagle, the condor will rise again, and they will both fly together in the skies.

The indigenous people of the Andes and the Amazon believe we are in a time at the end of the reign of the eagle, as the condor is rising, and that the condor and the eagle must fly together for the world to remain in harmony – to protect our natural resources, and to live sustainably. In other words, at this point, our survival as a species involves being able to embrace a more collaborative approach toward how we organize our collective lives – to integrate of new ideas, while respecting nature.

This story of the eagle and the condor could be interpreted on a much more personal level. On some level, we all seek balance in our lives, whether we realize it or not.  It’s easy to be thrown off kilter in the modern world, with iPhones, and traffic, and big-box stores. These things that make life convenient have pulled us away from the rhythm of the seasons, and even the cycle of day and night. We know this is not sustainable for much longer – it’s taxing on our world, and our psyche.

For one student’s take on the eagle and the condor, and the impact this philosophy had on his way of seeing the world, see the post by Jeff Hoffman.


UNCO students all decked out for a community celebration with the Agato people.

Interestingly, the artesian well that we visited is one of the ways that the Agato measure the health of their community – and the world. When the water level is high in the well, that’s a sign that there is plenty. Alexandra told me that the water level has been dropping over the years, a sign to them that things are out of harmony.

But you don’t have to travel to Ecuador to see signs that the world is out of balance. Just take a look around in your own life, and in your own community. From the air we breathe to the food we eat, to how we go about our days – we are on the brink of having to make some major changes in how we manage what the Earth provides for us, and how we live our lives. But what we learned from the Agato (and from many other cultures!) is that this change can be an opportunity to become much wiser beings.


Alexandra and I at Lago Cuicocha.

If you’re interested in learning more about the eagle and the condor, here are some scholarly resources:

For more academic view of the prophecy and the movement within indigenous communities toward fulfilling that prophecy, you can check out this master’s thesis by a student at San Francisco State. There has also been an entire dissertation (San Diego State) written on the meaning of the eagle and condor story in indigenous communities.

Here’s a scholarly article in the American Business Law Journal about how sustainable development and fair trade embody the spirit of the eagle and the condor flying together.

For less scholarly accounts, you’ll find them quickly on Google!





2 thoughts on “Letting the Condor take flight

  1. Very interesting insights. I read Jeff’s blog. If all your students gained as much as he did from your trip, I’d say it was highly successful. Good job, Professor Shellito.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s