Carnaval in Banos and in the Mountains

Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
Trip End Apr 05, 2010

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Flag of Ecuador  , Tungurahua,
Saturday, February 20, 2010

So much has happened in one week - the Puppet Circus, Carnaval, a trip to the top of a mountain, the mural project and spending a day in a school in the Amazon rainforest!

I would be remiss if I did not mention Carnaval, as it is the biggest holiday in Ecuador. We were able to take some pictures of how it is celebrated in the town of Banos and how is is celebrated high in the mountains in the tiny village of Lligua

I should explain that the Carnival festivities in Ecuador are a combination of Catholic and indigenous traditions. The word "carnival" comes from the Italian "carn-aval", which means absence of meat. The festivities precede the period of Lent in the Catholic calendar and it is a time when there are no restraints in behaviour, in compensation for the 40 days of penitence and abstention that follow in preparation for the remembrance of Christ's crucifixion.

Itis a time of parades, masks, water, music and dances. In Ecuador, they add 'espuma', which is like a foam that is sprayed on everyone and everything!

One guidebook mentions that "In Ecuador, the celebrations have a history that stretches further than the arrival of Catholicism. It is known, for example, that the Huarangas Indians (from the Chimbos nation) used to celebrate the second moon of the year with a lively festivity, during which they threw flour, flowers and perfumed water." Now this pagan tradition has merged with  Catholic rituals and is the biggest, wildest holiday in the country.

All throughout the country, "diablillos" (little devils) play with water and spray foam. It is kind of like snowball fights. Everyone anxiously waits for the Carnaval weekend, especially the children and teenagers. Throwing water balloons, sometimes even eggs and flour both at friends and strangers passing by the street can be a lot of fun but can also be pretty annoying. We never knew when or where we would be hit. Chris was approached by a group of teenagers as he walked home and was able to outrun most of them. notice that I said 'most of them'. He got drenched. A man who was laughing at the running gringo got his due when he was doused with a pail of water mid laugh.

Although the government as well as school authorities have forbidden
this game, it is still widely practiced throughout the country. Pails of water are even thrown in through an open car/taxi windows and old and young are sprayed with the Espuma. You either join the craziness or hide out in your house!

Chris and I watched a big parade in which all the schools in Banos were involved. The town filled with tourists on holidays and what a crazy place little Banos became! Four days of loud noise, car congestion, drunks and being sprayed.

On Monday (Day 3), we had an opportunity to go with Marcial, and Ecuadorian friend, up into the mountains to see how the people in the little mountain village of Lligua celebrated Carnaval.Llegua is a tiny village made up of 30 mountain families. The town is situated on the banks of a mountain river. We were welcomed to their celebrations. Where do I start to explain what we did...

First we ate - barbequed guinea pig, boiled potatoes and giblets, and some kind of salad. Not my favourite meal but everyone was watching us so we finished it to the end ... The bones, teeth and claws were the only things that we left on the plate.

Then Marcial's uncle took us  on a little walk over a hanging bridge to the other side of the river to listen to a band playing, a woman singing and the piece de resistance - a wet T shirt contest. The mayor approached Deb, another volunteer, and I with his microphone and after welcoming us asked us if we would like to be contestants! Yikes!!!

So we all sat on rocks in the river, watching the contest and hoping like heck that we were not going to be the next ones to be thrown into the river. Everyone else was grabbed and thrown in at some point during the contest.

We decided to take a safe, little walk away from the fun and Marcial introduced us to an elderly American woman, Joy, who had bought land nearby and was now living on her own in a container box!!! You know, those big boxes used to ship materials on trains or ships! It was unbelievable.

She had windows and a door put in but it was still pretty small, probably 6 feet by 20 feet. Marcial was building an addition on the side of it for her. She had 1 hectare of land and had 2 gardens - one with plants from the U.S. that she was trying to grow and another bigger garden with indigenous plants and vegetables that the locals gave her. She was glad to talk in English to us and enjoyed the break in her day. A pretty interesting lady.

Returning to the village, we got in Marcial's vehicle and headed up the mountain. We travelled on a road took took our breath away, in a couple of ways. First it was high up. And secondly, it wasn't a great road and with no guard rails it was pretty frightening. We even had to cross a waterfall that spilled across the road.

At times Marcial stopped the car so we could get out and look at the volcano. From these high spots, we saw how massive it was and it was puffing away like a steam engine.

At one point, Marcial stopped the car, picked an orange, turned on some Elton John music and told us that we had to dance a traditional dance using an orange between our foreheads. We were told that the trick was not to drop the orange. We did okay with it. It was pretty funny to be dancing at the top of a mountain, with a volcano in the background and Elton John doing his thing.

Finally we got to the top where Marcial has his home. He has done fairly well with wind power, solar power, electricity and water and a fabulous garden. After drinking Cedron (lemon verbana) tea made from leaves from his garden and trying to see the volcano through the clouds, we made our way down in the dark, believe it or not! Another amazing day in Ecuador.

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Mike Maurice on

Had to add this comment. When in Kuwait I experienced the same "foam wars" at their festivities celebrating their independence - also in February and definitely nothing to do with religion. You could be attacked anywhere but street corners were their favourite spots as the cars came to a start or from passing cars as we would slow down. All in good fun but that was my first time with the foam.


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