Carnival, the Ecuadorian version of a harvest festival—or perhaps the Ecuadorian version of Thanksgiving—began just before Ash Wednesday with the long-standing tradition of throwing water on everyone, teasing, parades and masks.
This was my first experience of Carnival and though people had told me about it, it is something that really can’t be explained. One needs to experience it.
Carnival festivities last from the Thursday to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, or the beginning of the Catholic Lenten season. Though, according to my neighbor, Paco, Carnival in Ecuador is not really a religious tradition. It is more like a pagan harvest festival giving thanks to Pachamama or “Mother Earth”.
I must take Paco’s word for it because what I saw was incomprehensible to me.
At one time the festivities included violence, but today, under the watchful eye of the police, the teasing includes a benign spray foam and/or water.
Carnival lasts five days. During that time, foam and water come from all directions. Cars driving by foam the people walking along the street, punks turn suddenly and attack a gringa tourist strolling innocently down the street with a quick shot of foam (not even bothering to turn around to assess the damage), a grandpa and his grandson launch water balloons from their third-floor window, startling a family as they walk down the street.
The teasing and foaming were, in most cases, all in good-spirited fun. But, as with all humanity, some people’s spirits when allowed to “tease” reveal themselves as just plain mean.
Women with babies innocently waiting at the street corner were not immune to a soaking. Expats on their way home from the market had their groceries ruined by a bucket of water. Sometimes the water is followed by some flour.
While the locals, especially the children, appeared to enjoy Carnival, it will not surprise you to hear I was dubious and cautious about walking the streets.
Carnival Food—Just Say Yes
Food is a big part of the Ecuadorian Carnival celebration. My neighbors (people we had not met before but, since our flat looks down on their house, we were not complete strangers) invited us to share their carnival feast. As an American, I really prefer my pork loin nestled in a bed of Styrofoam and wrapped tightly in plastic but, since one of the mottos of an expat is, or should be, “say yes,” when they offered me a plate, I said yes.
I said yes to blow-torched pig skin (add a little salt). I said yes to potatoes in fried pork fat; I said yes to an overly sweet dessert and to the traditional Carnival soup.
And there was more! The meat from the pig was boiled and served later with rice.
This was my first Carnival. Next year, if I don’t follow the other local Carnival tradition of getting out of town and going to the beach, I am sure I will find it more manageable and maybe even fun.
For now, I am glad it is over. I think it will be a while before I eat pork again.
Have you been to Ecuador’s Carnival? How about some other festivals in your new country? We want to hear all about it.
by: Dana Dwyer