Carnival in Baños!

Trip Start Jan 23, 2008
Trip End May 23, 2008

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Sunday, February 3, 2008

When we arrived in Banos, it was clear that we had made the right decision to skip Ambato. Banos is a haven of leafy plazas, fountains, benches for people-watching, festive streets, wide sidewalks, narrow roads, and colourful vendors. Even with the excitement of Carnival, not to mention a relatively active volcano towering invisible in the clouds above, I felt a sense of tranquillity in Banos I have been missing the bustle of Quito.

We found that hotels were either booked or more than double their usual rates. Nevertheless, we ended up with a great room in a great location with a great garden and great hammocks for only $26 (including breakfast). After strolling around the town, we decided to explore a trail that climbs up the steep lush slopes that rise above the town. The trail rose about 1000 ft, which put us at about the same elevation as Mt Rainier. We got a great view of the town below including the plazas as well as the famous Piscina de la Virgen we hoped to visit.

As we headed back down to the trail, I stopped to chat with some local sheep thethered along the trail. This is when we encountered the warm and enthusiastic Juan. In chatting with him, he mentioned that he doesn´t go in much for Carnival becuase he is a Christian. This was a surprising declaration in a country where 95% of the population is Catholic, and even more celebrate Carnival. He mentioned that there was going to be a concert in one of the parks that evening, and we were both interested in checking it out. He hurried off, clearly eager for his evening.

As we re-entered town, it quickly becamse obvious that we were just in time for a parade. The streets were lined with people...sitting, standing, leaning over from 2nd floor terraces. Soon enough, the desfile began and for over an hour and a half, we whitnessed our first carnival spectacle. The most popular sort of parade entry was dancing groups. This consists of a pimped-out truck with a tower of huge speakers in the back, blaring music to a group of elboratley dressed dancers who follow in step.

Groups ranged in age from little kids to elderly people, and dance styles ranged from ingienous to salsa to rock. Audience participation was also important, if not welcome, becuase it wouldn´t be carnival without Spuma. Spuma is pretty much like shaving cream, except that is intended for the purpose of spraying on other people rahter than oneself. Dancers, spectators, and even the various queens and princesses were easy targets for the mirthful- if ruthless- spumarazzi.

After an hour and a half, most of the spuma was exhausted, but still there was no end in sight of the dancers, reinas, and pimped out trucks. So we set out in search of dinner and then the concert in the park. For dinner, we enjoyed nice wood-baked pizza, red wine, and tomato salad. After the pizza, we stepped out into the plaza and realized that the concert Juan had invited us to was right there. So we strolled on over to the stage to check it out.

In keeping with the rest of the weekend, the concert was an experience to remember. It did not take us long to realize that this was a evangelical Christrian rock concert, complete with full band, lights, and fog machine. As Christians, we were familiar with the model. However, this seemed to be something of a novelty in Ecuador. I imagine that the location of the concert across from the main Catholic church was neither accidental, nor appreciated by the leadership thereof, since I am pretty sure that the evangelical movement is intended to challenge some of the Catholic dogmas. Now we understood why Juan made the distinction. We caught site of him during the concert; he was having a great time, and seemed happy that we showed up. We were happy we came, as its cool to see folks so excited about God.
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