The foundation of the Ecuadorian fiesta lies in two things: alcohol and an agent of death….though in some cases, the alcohol is, of course, that agent. I’m pretty sure there is a certification agency that checks to make sure that both are present at anything claiming the label of “fiesta.”
Take, for instance, the Fiestas De Guapalo. These fiestas occur in a tiny barrio down the backside of the hill behind Hotel Quito every September after the sugar-cane crop is harvested. The sugar provides Guapalenos with their drink du-jour for the fiesta, cane-lazo. Cane-lazo is a type of hot mulled-sugar-cane-liquor-cider. Between the price tag of 5 bucks a bottle, the heat, and the sugar, the stuff goes right to your head. The bands that play concerts during the fiesta encourage the drinking. That way they can take breaks in the middle of their songs without the audience realizing that the whole time, they’ve just been pantomiming to a CD. The cane-lazo also fuels the fun when the fireworks come out. Whether it’s the burning paper-mache bull bucking through the crowd, or the three-story bamboo rocket launcher showering the crowd with napalm; you hardly notice the smell of burning skin and hair over the rich aroma of the cane-lazo. I’m not convinced that the fireworks really count as an agent of death, but, at the last fiestas, as the stray rockets whizzed by my head, I was glad I had a bottle of cane-lazo in my hand…I’m pretty sure it could put out a small hair or clothing fire.
Of course, if explosives won’t do the trick, there’s always velocity. During the Fiestas De Quito, it is commonplace, after drinking copious amounts of Pilsner and watching bulls die, to jump on a chiva. The chiva, in its simplicity, is a beautiful agent of death. All you have to do is take a bus too old to be considered safe for transport, rip off the doors, slap a dance-floor on the roof, hire a band, and strap on a tank of more cane-lazo. Then you charge two bucks a head, pack the bus full of drunk patrons, fire up the band, and drive around the city looking for low-hanging wires and overpasses. You can see the fun directions in which this is heading. Occasionally the chiva may stop to pick up additional passengers, to allow its passengers to dance in random town squares, or, maybe, to pick up someone who has fallen off the roof.
Decapitation by telephone line happens so quick though, where’s the fun in that? Better to drink so heavily and with such zeal that you black-out, do something incredibly stupid, and end up in an Ecuadorian jail. That’s probably the kind of place which would have you wishing for the rapid exit of a swan dive off the back of a moving bus. Carnival, of course, is perhaps your best opportunity to land yourself in jail. That preamble to lent, when the Catholic world lets its hair down before 40 days of devout reflection, is the penultimate in hedonism. Here in Ecuador, Carnival is celebrated throughout the country with a variety of local traditions and pageantry. There are two universals though; alcohol and the throwing of water on others. I know, I know, it seems harmless enough, but when the two mix, it’s amazing what can escalate. Water turns to squirt guns, squirt guns evolve into water balloons, water balloons get lobbed at passer-bys…and then, before you know it, your friend has tossed a water balloon in to the vehicle of a policeman, where it promptly exploded, soaking his crotch, and probably ruining whatever was in his pockets, but you don’t care because you’re cowering in a corner praying to God that he can’t tell which drunk Carnivalian threw it because you REALLY do not want to go to jail in Ecuador.
So, from everyone here at the Ecuador Reporter, we hope you had a great Carnival fiesta.
The Blue Footed Booby has posted videos of near-death fiesta experiences (except for the water balloon—that evidence has been destroyed) on his blog, www.esteecuador.blogspot.com