Or Mardi Gras, or Shrove Tuesday, or so on. Today’s a Christian holiday, the last day of festivities before the solemn season of Lent starts. It’s celebrated in various ways in various countries: in England, it’s sometimes “Pancake Tuesday” because people eat pancakes for dinner, from back when they needed to use up all the fat in the house before the lean 40 days of Lent; in France and French-influenced places like New Orleans, Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday,” is a time of partying and fatty foods; in Italy and Brazil, “Carnaval,” from the Latin for “remove the meat” (which is what pious Catholics do until Easter), is a time of masked parties, exuberant dancing, and wild abandon.
In the Andes highlands of Ecuador, Carnaval combines Catholic traditions with indigenous ones, so people party but also hope for a good harvest and good luck in the coming year. One Ecuadorian tradition is to throw water at friends and family, and sometimes at strangers on the street. Some people also throw flour and even eggs. This comes from an indigenous festival that pre-dates the arrival of Europeans to the continent. I’ve seen guys douse their girlfriends with buckets of cold water, and little kids squirting each other with water guns.
But nowadays the popular thing is to use tall spray cans of foam. So any time you hear that little rattling noise that a spray can makes when you shake it, look out! Someone’s gonna foam you. I feared I might be a special target, as a gringa, but mostly people seem to target their friends. I did get foamed when I went out Sunday night, but so did every other girl who walked by that corner, and it was easy to laugh it off as I headed to the bar.
Taita Carnaval is a symbolic character who arrives from out of town, bringing good luck and food to clean and industrious homes, and letting his sidekick Hunger linger in dirty households. I didn’t see Taita Carnaval this year, but I did catch a parade in Baños, a small town in the shadow of an active volcano. I took some shaky video and stitched it together in a little movie. I hope you enjoy this glimpse of how one town celebrates this holiday!
All right, all right. I know what you want, dearest fellow travelers. Forget anything I might write, you want to see the food! And so, I give you foods of Ecuador, part 1:
I could eat the mashed-potato-with-cheese-then-fried llapingachos every day, and the creamy corn mixture of humitas is delicious (I also had one of the sweet types of humitas, but forgot to photograph it). Everything in this post is highly recommended!
Credit to my tour group leader for never letting on; the surprise was part of the fun. The school I’m attending for the next two weeks had orientation on Monday, and one of the day’s activities was a short tour of some sights in the colonial center of the city. Six of us new students crammed onto the bus with our genial guide, and tumbled out twenty minutes later for a short walk to the Plaza Grande, the most important plaza in Quito. When we arrived, we were surprised to encounter a partially roped-off square, a booming sound system announcing something, and a crowd of enthusiastic Ecuadorians and tourists. What’s going on? Oh, just an elaborate changing of the guard presided over by the president himself, that’s all.
Had I consulted my guidebook more closely I might have known that this is a regular event. Every Monday that President Rafael Correa is in the city, he oversees a changing of the guard at 11am. It’s a lot of pomp for a weekly event, but I love it; the locals in the crowd enthusiastically sing the national anthem as the flag is raised over the presidential palace, everyone starts their week off with a little ceremony and national pride, and it’s not bad for tourism either.
A band stood at the center of the square, by the fountain, and guards marched on foot and trotted on horseback to surround the band while they played the national anthem. The president and his family stood at the balcony, along with others who I assume are officials and friends. An army man in full fatigues and machine gun stood discreetly to the side, a reminder that only a few years ago, Correa had to be rescued from a life-threatening near-coup.
The plaza was crowded when we arrived a little after 11am, so we didn’t get a good position for viewing (or photos, for that matter). But I could glimpse the blue, red, and gold uniforms of the guard, and the smiling face of the president; and I could hear the robust singing of the crowd, and the adorably thin voice of one little kid in particular, her fist waving in the air as the flag of Ecuador waved in the wind behind her.