Sorry for the delay, folks!
For many Latin American countries, including Ecuador, Saturday through Tuesday of this past weekend was a rowdy celebration known as Carnaval. Different countries and some individual cities have traditional ways of partying before Ash Wednesday, the day when Catholics begin forty days of fasting and penance leading up to Easter. Customary festivities in Ecuador include parades, games, music, water fights and of course, a holiday from school! Typically, natives and tourists flock to the West- towards the beaches- to make merry day and night during Carnaval. On Saturday morning, however, I found myself packed into a four-door sedan at full capacity rumbling South to a city called Riobamba. I was traveling with Muma, a friend from the Catholic University soccer team with which I have been training, her brother Carlos, two friends on their way to respective hometowns, and her adorable Schnauzer, Lila. Traffic notwithstanding, the adventure really began ten miles outside of Ambato, when the car started shaking then haltingly collapsed with a fully deflated front right tire. After unloading the fifteen suitcases we had miraculously packed into the trunk, we discerned that we had a spare tire, a jack, and a socket wrench…but no keys with which to take off the hubcap. In the end, Muma and I hitched a ride to Ambato, borrowed a mechanics assistant, took a taxi back to our car with him, photographed him changing the tire, and deposited him back at the ferreteria (hardware store), rattling on our way. We arrived in the afternoon to Muma’s house- a series of stacked apartments belonging to her mother, her brother Juan, and two other aunts, deceptively hidden behind the family mattress store. We pulled up on the crowded cobblestone street and were greeted by aunts, uncles, cousins and four more dogs. What a beginning!
That evening, Juan, Carlos, Muma, myself and two Frenchmen who were in the area drove the hour back to Ambato to watch a friend of the family who is a torrero- a bullfighter. It was my first experience watching the elaborate art, and I admit I almost laughed the first time one of the torreros danced too close and fled behind the protective barrier, closely followed by an angry bull. It was thrilling though to hold my breath as a more skilled torrero beckoned the beast with a flick of bright fabric and arched his back as the bull charged within inches of it. With each pass, a murmur passed through the crowd…Ooole! Ole! Then came the part I had somehow forgotten about- the ceremonious unsheathing of the sword and skewering of the bull, complete with spurts of red blood. We left after the fifth of six bulls was dragged out of the arena by a team of horses.
On Sunday morning, Muma’s mother presented me with a rose in honor of el Dia de Amor y Amistad- which I had completely forgotten about! We then prepared to go to the family’s finca/casa del campo/country estate. I was warned by the family to bring a full change of clothes with me to nearby Penipe, in the Chimborazo province. “Vamos a mojarnos!” “We’re going to get wet,” I was told. The house was in the middle of an acre of corn just up the hill from town and it had a long zipline, a swingset and an outdoor cooking area. We unpacked the cars and most of the young people grabbed beers and rode in the back of the truck back to Penipe’s centro. We were dropped off in the crowded main plaza, where almost every face in sight wore the marks of paint, foam, and water. There was music playing and the streets too were littered with empty cans, popped balloons and water bottles. Almost immediately, our dry clothes became a tempting target and we began looking for the “safest” walking route, to no avail. Several water balloons soon landed on me anonymously and to top it off, a man casually walked past me and deposited a handful of chalk dust in my hair, giving it a hearty rub. We walked back up the half-mile to our house and divided into teams, arming ourselves with small basins and plastic water jugs with the top halves cut off, and a two-hour water-fight ensued. The women cooked steaks, sausages, potatoes and choclo (corn on the cob), filling the yard with steam. While waiting for dinner, we dried off in the sun with a game of soccer. Everyone from 6-year-old Emilio to 24-year-old Carlos participated. After dinner, we loaded the cars back up and returned to Rio Bamba. We got back just in time for some of the family friends who had come with us and me to catch the last Mass of the day.
Monday, most of us headed to Ambato for more Carnaval festivities. Ambato is known for its Festival of Fruits and Flowers, but we mostly walked around exploring the indoor mall, the outdoor shops, the displays of art, the various ice cream shops and the inundated parks. Outside the Cathedral of Ambato we listened to a band of musicians singing and strumming for some time before heading back. Although we had planned to return yet again that evening for a fiesta involving a Dragon y Caballero (Colombian reggaeton) concert, we had to think of an alternative when the parking garage attendant disappeared from his post. In the end, our group had a night on the town in Riobamba. Fortunately, my friends knew waiters and bouncers at seemingly every venue such that the cost was low for extended enjoyment. The surprise of the night for me was the bar that boasted a bubble machine that had the first floor up to their knees in suds. The party ended early Tuesday morning with a big group singing and passing around a guitar in Muma’s brother’s apartment.
We drove back to Quito midday Tuesday, fighting torrential downpours and mudslides that caused massive delays in the bus system, unfortunately for a number of my classmates. I made it home early, around 6 p.m., got ready for class, and went to bed. Happy Carnaval!
Next post, my goal is to share a little bit about daily life here. Stay tuned!