Cuenca 2020 Cuenca, Ecuador MSMU Travels

Carnaval: Foam, Water, and Family

Good afternoon, and welcome back to another #HolyThursday! Like Shelby’s blog, my post this week is going to show you some of the many traditions the Ecuadorians have for celebrating Carnaval, a time of indulgence and feasting before the thoughtfulness of Lent begins. 

Carnaval is technically only a four-day period (starting on the Saturday before Lent), but, here in Ecuador, they begin celebrating even earlier. Across Cuenca, people are stocking up on carioca, a foam that is sprayed on everyone and filling their water guns. It is important to always be ready for an attack because everyone, young and old, participates in some way in Carnaval. Finally, another Carnival tradition that is popular in all of Ecuador is to roast an entire pig and serve it to your guests. 

For me, the highlight of Carnaval in Cuenca was the battle among the Mounties in the Plaza Otorongo. We all met there on Saturday morning to watch the end of the City Hall Parade, where dancers in elaborate, traditional costumes would dance down the steps, also known as escalinatas, into the plaza. These costumes are typical of Carnaval because of their flashy appearance; for example, check out this picture of the dancers! 

After the dancers arrived in the plaza, the real fun started. Although no one was wearing clothes for playing with foam, everyone ended up covered in it! The Mounties played together for over an hour, joining forces with a little girl of around six years old and occasionally firing back at some passers-by. Even Doctora, who didn’t want to be sprayed, ended up covered in a mist of the overspray. After an entire hour of spraying each other, we finally ran out of foam … and money. Given all the excitement, the plaza really epitomized what Carnaval means in Ecuador.

Like my title suggests, family is a crucial part of any Carnaval celebration. Our host family took us to different homes of their family members to eat and spend time together. For lunch on Saturday, we went to our host mom’s sister’s house. We spent Sunday at her other sister’s hacienda in the countryside (with another roasted pig). On Monday and Tuesday, my host family took me to the coastal town of Santa Rosa, in the province of El Oro, to visit some of our host dad’s family. The first thing we did on Tuesday was drive to Machala to visit the main plaza of the city. Unfortunately, they were renovating the main church, but we still were able to enjoy the beautiful fountains. We also visited Puerto Bolivar, which is one of the main ports in Ecuador to the Pacific Ocean. The entire pier was filled with people taking shuttle boats to nearby islands for picnics. 

Finally, on the way back to Cuenca, while stopped in traffic, my host mom put down her window to let me get a better picture for this blog. As you can see from this picture, the Carnaval partiers were quick to take the chance to soak us with two buckets of water inside the car. As Marco, our host dad, says, “Esto es Carnaval.” 

Check back next week for a tour of La Catedral Vieja of Cuenca, the oldest European building in the city! 

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