Carnaval: Enjoying Life!

After my last non-detailed post I figured I should give a bit more info in regard to what’s happening on this side of the world.

Since leaving my original community and host family things have changed quite a bit. I live near my original community in a giant house with another volunteer. I feel like I did when I first moved out of my parent’s home. I answer to no one! On the other hand, I do miss living with my host family.  Their home was peaceful, I miss the dogs and chickens, I miss my host mom asking me several times a week why I don’t put sugar in my coffee, I miss sleeping on a real bed, and I miss wifi. I also feel like I’ve become disconnected. Don’t get me wrong, living with an English-speaking person whom I can have real conversations with is awesome but I feel more like an outsider living in my gringa bungalow while my community members are out and about doing Ecuadorian things. It also doesn’t help that school is out so I have no more classes to give and the women are finding it difficult to have periodic meetings so this has decreased my productivity and increased my desire to spend copious amounts of time preparing food dishes, finding reasons to go into town and sleeping in (sounds like vacation).

Fortunately  I’ve had to do lots of traveling for various reasons. Last week I went to Quito for my annual medical check-up. This one, being for “Close of Service” was quite thorough. Several bodily excrement samples had to be given for various tests. Miraculously, and I do mean miraculously I don’t have parasites. I find that incredibly hard to believe given the fact that I don’t necessarily take many precautions to avoid getting them. Street food is a staple and water isn’t boiled as often as it should be before I use it. Regardless I’m in good health! During my trip to Quito which involved three days I spent time getting to know Quito better and enjoying a last few drinks with some of my fellow volunteers. One evening we dined on Llapingachos (a personal favorite) and then made our way to the Guapulo District of Quito. This area consists of a zig zag road making its way down a steep mountain. One particular area has several hipster bars that sell hot Canelazos. We found a table on a balcony that over looked a very foggy Quito where only halos of lights were visible. We stayed warm with the outdoor space heaters, canelazos and conversations. It was a magical experience.

After my medical examinations were complete I made my way up north to visit my friend in the small community Morochos. She welcomed me with homemade lasagna and we caught up with our personal lives. The following day I made a dangerous trip to Otavalo in search of cheap jeans. It proved to still be dangerous (dangerous on my pocket book) because I was lured into purchasing three sets of earrings. I’m sick. I have a horrible earring purchasing disease. That evening we traveled to the town Peguche to enjoy a mini concert of a variety of South American traditional musical bands. Each band played their region’s songs with local beats and local dancers. It was beautiful and interesting to be able to notice even the slight differences. It helped having a couple of Ecuadorian indigenous boys with us to inform us where the bands were from. We ended the night dancing which mostly involves stomping in a concentric circle with up to 30 other people. I was dragged into the middle a couple of times by an incredibly inebriated young man. I did my best to hold my own by attempting to dance ‘traditional’ (very modestly with very little booty shaking.)

The following day we relaxed and traveled into town to my friend’s boyfriend’s home. We began to braid each other’s hair and put on make-up and then made our way to his grandparent’s home. There we were dressed up in traditional Anacos the traditional Andean Kichwa skirt, shirt, belt, shoes, and any other pertinent accessories. They’re very beautiful but not the most comfortable. These belts must be pulled on nice and tight to prevent the folded cloth making up the skirts from falling off. After being dressed, taking the obligatory photos and drinking hot colada with bread we traveled again to Peguche for the big show. It being the weekend before Carnaval this concert attracted everyone from the nearby towns and cities beckoning them to come dressed in their Sunday best (it really was on a Sunday) ready to drink and dance. Unfortunately it was heavily raining which forced everyone to get under the large roof making very little breathing room. We made ourselves a small bubble and when dancing was in order our nearby bystanders pushed away the plastic chairs to make just enough room to dance in a very tight circle. Classy as we ladies are we brought Clos Wine in recycled soda bottles to join in on the festivities while maintaining our budget. We finagled our way into the middle of the concert crowd and ‘danced’ which involved very little movement as we made our way into a circle. When the direction was changed elbows became lethal weapons. We decided to get some air and some food which led us to leaving. It felt as if we’d been at the indigenous concert for only 30 minutes but it was early morning and we had no doubt been there for hours. I slept beautifully that night.

The next morning, still not well rested we met up with another volunteer and his host family from Tumbaco to travel to the town Chota. This Afro-ecuadorian town nestled in a beautiful desert-like portion of northern Ecuador is a famous Carnaval destination. Famous for their bomba, fritada and extreme carnival activities drones of Ecuadorians make their way to this small town if only just for one day. When we arrived I got out of our van and took a gander at the rushing river that was providing ammo for the Ecuadorians ‘playing’ Carnaval. I was initiated into the festivities with two buckets full of water dumped on me. Fortunately Chota is a warm place. From there we used spray foam and paint as pay back. My friend and I were determined to get in on the fun knowing that we were obvious targets being gringas. We armed ourselves with cheap face paint that we dumped into our hands and smeared the bright colors on the faces of our fellow Carnival ‘players’. If someone was clean, even better! We saw a large group of boys armed with not just paint, water and foam spray but also confetti and glitter. As I said we were determined to get dirty so we attacked the young men. Four days later and I still have glitter in my scalp. It was worth it! We stopped playing and went to lunch down the road and as we made our way back we realized returning to the Carnaval compound was not an option. Traffic was horrific and we made the decision to go back home. Our driver took a short cut which took us through the mountains on an old road. The Andes gifted us a beautiful view the whole way, rainbow and all.

This year’s Carnaval was one for the books. I got to experience Carnaval in an Indigenous way and got to truly ‘play’ Carnaval. The best part was that I got to celebrate it with good company as well.




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