I live at 10,000 feet in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador with my husband, Michael, in a house made of wood, mud, stone, straw and horse manure. Our indigenous region is called Cañar, for the Cañari Indians, and we are the only extranjeros – outsiders – living in this lovely, homely place. Every afternoon, a bank of clouds rolls up from the tropical coastal valley below, obscuring our splendid view of the Andes and enveloping us like cotton wool. Our house, with thick adobe mud walls, a glassed-roofed patio that collects heat during the day, and a fireplace at night, keeps us comfortable. We built the house five years ago with local workers, local materials, and an Ecuadorian architect who is a specialist in earthen construction.
We live here six months every year; the other six months in Portland, Oregon. Michael says he would stay here permanently, but I say we need time with northern family, friends, and a foot in the world of movies, restaurants, bookstores and reliable Internet service.
Indigenous peoples have inhabited this region for over 10,000 years, according to recent research. In 1463, the Incas marched up from Peru and conquered the Cañaris; less than 100 years later the Spanish arrived and conquered everyone with a few guns and horses.
I first came to Cañar twenty years ago to teach photography and oral history skills to two young Cañari men in a research project. After that, Michael and I came back again and again, for a baptism, an exhibit, a course, a grant project and another grant project. Finally, we decided to buy a small piece of land, build the house, and make this our “second-life.” In fact, I’ve recently published a book called Our House in the Clouds: Building a Second Life in the Andes of Ecuador.
Today, I’m a documentary photographer working at the service of the Cañar community, shooting just about anything I’m asked: marriages, births, funerals, plantings with wooden plows and harvests with scythes, traditional festivals, and school parades of children dressed as Incas. This is the place where I live.