¡Viva Guaranda! ¡Viva Carnaval!

Trip Start Jan 31, 2005
Trip End Mar 30, 2006

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Last Saturday morning we set off for Guaranda to experience one of Ecuadorīs most famous Carnavals. Guaranda is located southwest of Quito, about four to five hours by bus, depending on what kind of driver you get. The driver we got for the trip to Guaranda was running for Conductor of the Year, in the Nascar division. He didnīt allow a single car or bus to pass us, but we definitely passed every vehicle we came upon, regardless of oncoming traffic and winding mountain roads (moms, ignore the last few sentences). He also honked repeatedly at anything that moved. He must have won the Conductor of the Year award, though, because we arrived in Guaranda unscathed and in record time, considering the Carnaval traffic. Except for the scare factor, the bus ride was a pretty good one. The last part was on the highest paved road in Ecuador and we basically drove right next to the highest mountain in Ecuador - Volcano Chimborazo (see photo we took from the bus).

Guaranda is a smallish town (about 20,000 people) but swells to many times that size during Carnaval, due to the province being known for its festivities. First of all, when our bus arrived in Guaranda, we spent about a half hour in a traffic jam, most of that time spent watching people throw water at each other. Ecuadorians mark Carnaval largely by drenching each other. In other cities like Quito, this is limited to water balloons and the occasional kid with a squirt gun, but in Guaranda they dump five gallons at a time from rooftops on unsuspecting (or suspecting) passersby. And for good measure they run around covering people with pink spray foam, flour, cornstarch and/or baby powder.

We walked from the bus station to the hotel we booked, only to be foamed and have water dumped on us from the rooftop of our hotel (later found out that the culprits were a bunch of K College students who happened to be staying there, too). We checked in and went up to our room and discovered we were staying in one of the biggest dives in South America. While Jeff has never stayed in a hostal or hotel that is such a hole, Allison feels that a place she stayed in Machala, Ecuador (with a few of you reading) was slightly worse (but it cost a quarter of the price, so weīll call it a draw). Something about the combination of strange globs on the wall, paint flung all over, cracked tile, and the non-functioning toilet in the shared bathroom with a ceiling that was about 5 feet tall just didnīt win us over right away (however, it is definitely the type of place Randi would LOVE, or are we wrong?) But we came for Carnaval, not to stay in our hotel room, right?

We headed up to the roof and spent awhile helping the K students throw water on people in the street, which ended up turning into a competition with the Ecuadorian kids across the street for who could get people drenched faster. It was lots of fun, with the exception of the presence of a live electric line right in the path of our water throwing. We each got a few good shocks, but no permanent damage. We currently have posted a good video of the water fight, but we will probably have to delete it eventually because it is taking up so much of our allotted photo space...

After we got tired of throwing water and got hungry, we left the hotel to find some dinner. After that we found the community party of the night off of the main square. We came just in time to watch them light a 40-50 foot high structure consisting of a sequence of spinning fireworks. Sparks flying everywhere, crowds cheering and ducking, smoke... Jerry, you would have loved it. After that they lit off some homemade fireworks on bamboo sticks from the park behind us. They were really good!

The main events Sunday and Monday were parades that were supposed to start at 10am, but, not entirely unexpectedly, started around 11:30. First, letīs just set the scene by saying that the Guarandans like to party and started drinking well before the parade began. Even the 8-year-old boy across the street was spotted sharing a beer with his older siblings on his rooftop. So, by the time the parade started, people had lined the streets with their bottles of alcohol (lots of it homemade), cans of spray foam and water guns. Although the spectators were strictly instructed not to get anybody in the parade wet, that didnīt stop them from spraying parade folk and each other with copious amounts of foam. There were so many memorable moments from the parades, so here are a few highlights:

**Nearly every dance troupe (and there were many) danced to the same song - the official anthem of Guarandaīs Carnaval. Weīve attached a parade video where youīll hear a clip.
**Numerous queens kissing flowers and sending them into the crowd, including one dignified one who personally welcomed the two of us to her town.
**Jeff being pulled into the parade by one of the dancing women.
**Crowd participation. Jumping into a dance troupe and following along or getting your photo taken with a queen walking by is perfectly ok.
**The people in the crowd who felt it was their duty to get the parade participants as liquored up as possible by giving them shots as they passed by. And we only saw the people on our block (though it did seem to be about the rowdiest block in the city...)
**Little kids coming up to us and spreading baby powder on our faces.

For those of you from St. Joe, a little different than Blossomtime.

By Monday we were a little tired of Carnaval (mainly the getting wet factor) and the town was starting to stink from the partying the night before, and then our room hadnīt grown on us much, but we decided to stick around anyway since we had already paid for the room. Turned out to be a good thing... After roaming around town for a little while on Monday afternoon, we ended up at one of the town plazas around 5pm or so where a live salsa band was playing. We wanted to listen to the band, but not get hit with the water balloons that were still being thrown around, so we decided to go behind the stage where a few people were watching and dancing from there (we figured nobody would throw water at the band). We also decided to see what all of the fuss was about these boxes of fruity "wine" that much of the town was buying and drinking out of little plastic cups (for $1, why not?) We read the ingredients and saw that it was not really wine, but fruit juice mixed with alcohol... El Vino del Ecuador! says the box. So, the band was good, the wine was tolerable and we were dancing behind the band along with a few others. We kept getting looks from the band and suddenly, between songs, the band leader catches us off guard and asks into the mic where we are from. Jeff answers and the bandleader says something we didnīt really understand, but we think he dedicated the next song to the foreigners in the crowd. Then after another song, he brings us up again: "Blah, blah, blah, Estados Unidos, blah, blah, bailando (dancing)..." Cheers from the crowd. We just hope we arenīt going to be asked to dance up in front. We werenīt, but almost right after, these older women (one of them missing a few teeth) came up to us and started giving us shots of some local Ecuadorian cane alcohol (Tropico, for those of you who know it) and aguardiente (pretty sure that is cane alcohol, too). Eventually we got pulled into their dance circle and were do-si-doing in the middle while a circle danced around us (Cole would have loved it - they even reversed direction periodically!) At one point Jeff was dancing around in the circle waving the Ecuadorian flag until the flag flew off of the stick. It turned out that the people who adopted us were family members of the band, so after the show ended, we spent awhile talking to them all while they pushed more shots and strange food on us. The band also gave us one of their promotional DVDs to take home as a souvenir. So, weīll say along with the crowds, "Viva Guaranda! Viva Carnaval!"
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