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!