Saturday, October 24, 2009

Vaca Loca

Vaca Loca; Crazy Cow Dressed Up in Fireworks

My favourite area of Quito is the Centro Historico, and my preference was and still is to live there. Every time I visit the old part of town I encounter all sorts of activities and festivals. Today I discovered an extensive market area, much like the casbah in Istanbul, full of everything and anything one could possibly need or want. I was looking for shoes for Maya, but was not entirely certain of her size, so I will have to take her there to there to choose a pair. I was also on the lookout for a costume for Maya and I did find several stores that sold 'disfrases'. Ecuadorians do not celebrate Halloween, but do have events that requires disguises. I chose a cat outfit, after many phonecalls to and from Maya. When I brought the costume home, Maya was less than impressed by the outfit. She had an American school friend over to play with, and there is a plan brewing amongst the American teachers at Maya's school to put together a Halloween celebration. The children will be chauffeured to each house for a trick-or-treat. Once I stopped looking for costume shops I saw one after the other, and some stores were decorated with Halloween themes, which was confusing because I have mostly heard disapproving comments about the holiday. November 2 is the 'Day of the Dead', when Ecuadorians visit their dead relatives in the cemetaries and often bring food and picnic with their ancestors. The bakeries have been offering 'guaguas de pan' (cakes baked in the shape of babies and filled with mora or guayaba or manjar or nutella) and 'colada morada' which is a fruit/maize melange which tastes a little fermented and sweet. Isabel has been offering me 'colada morada' daily for the month of October, which is early for most Ecuadorians, but she told me that her tradition is to eat guaguas and colada morada up until the second of November. Our wonderful local bakery had an event today wherein the children could come in and decorate their own 'guagua', much like a pumpkin decorating activity that we would have in the United States.

Carmen Alto Church

Church Spire

I wandered through Plaza San Francisco, where a young people's concert was in full swing. The music was loud and screaming so I walked away, but when I heard that the deafening music had mellowed, I doubled back and saw young people dancing sedately to Andean music. They were dressed in Otavaleno costumes. The contrast with the raucous rock was stunning. Later, at the Plaza de Teatro, a Christian musical festival was just starting.

Santo Domingo

Plaza Santo Domingo

Fireworks on the Plaza

Later, for the evening, Eric and I had dinner with a couple from the United States. I had met Kenneth at my Spanish class, and he and his wife Anne are from Wyoming and are spending two years in Quito. Anne teaches at Academia Cotopaxi. We found ourselves in the same restaurant I had eaten at last time I was in La Ronda two weeks ago, listening to very loud Andean music and eating llapingachos and large cheese empanadas. When we had arrived at the Santo Domingo Plaza, which is just up the hill from La Ronda, a festival was in full swing, with men dressed in masks, long flowing hair and pants and tunics of red and white. I asked one of the costumed people what holiday it was and was told it was Saint Christopher, but I could be wrong about the name of the saint. There was a band playing, people dancing, sitting and listening. There was a 'vaca loca' (a wooden structure painted to look like a cow, with fireworks attached all over) ready to be set off, along with two 'castillos', tall structures set up with fireworks. We were told that the 'vaca loca' would be 'lit' at 11:00 PM, so we arrived there just as the vaca loca ( a man stands inside the structure, which is designed to be lit at the bottom corner which sets off the first firecracker, and then that sets of the next firecracker and the next one, on throughout the paper and wood cow) was starting, running around, setting off fire crackers, scaring the onlookers, risking his life. I have experienced a vaca loca before, it is a traditional event in Ecuador, part of any grand fiesta or event, and is an absolutely insane practice.

The Vaca Loca Takes Off

The Celebrants

The final part of the celebration included bigger, better, more magnificent fireworks. Huge bamboo and paper towers had been built, designed so that once lit at the bottom, fireworks would be set off and light the next part of the structure to set off bigger and louder fireworks. The fire would spout out in every direction and high into the sky, and the costumed dancers would dance close to the illuminated towers. The onlookers kept trying to get closer, but then there would be a huge spark or loud bang, and everyone would scatter in fear and then ccreep closer again. It was a wild night!


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