Ecuador – Part 8: Cuenca

Chapter 12: Festivals

There is always some kind of festival going on in Cuenca. Most are small and neighborhood oriented. I was wandering around in the northwestern area of Cuenca, which is at a substantially higher elevation than where I lived down by the river, when I came across an annual neighborhood event that included running races, giving out medals, food and dance. Runners were receiving recognition when I got there and a neighborhood feast was happening a block away from the medals ceremony. 

In another area dancers were performing traditional dances for the community. 

For the bigger events I will start with New Years Eve. “Monigotes,” also called Año Viejo dolls, are large dolls that symbolizes all that went wrong during the year. You can buy them; many families make there own, stuffing them with straw or other flammables possibly including fireworks. The heads, typically made of paper mache, may be cartoon characters, super heros, local and national politicians or people held in disgust. There were a lot of Donald Trump heads when I was there. Messages that are stuffed inside the dolls reference bad events that happened during the year or names of people that treated one poorly. Many street vendors sell the dolls and, more abundantly, the heads. 

Fires are set up to be lit in the late evening. Authorities try to control where fires will be allowed, perhaps with marginal success? Dolls are piled up on the fire pits. When it is time, the fires are started. 

I saw a few people jump over the fires, an act of spiritual cleansing that originated with ancient Andian cultures. There is music and dancing in the streets. 

The next big event is Carnival in February/March. The town goes wild with parties and a tradition of squirting others with water and foam. It gets pretty crazy. If you are not into getting sprayed, stay home. 

You might recall from my discussion about Ecuador’s fight for independence from Spain, in Ecuador, Part 7 Chapter 1, that Ecuador reached independence city by city. There are many independence days. Cuenca’s was on November 3, 1820. Independence day in Cuenca is celebrated so robustly that it is a national attraction. The streets are flooded with locals and visitors, some from neighboring countries. It was my favorite celebration, which lasts for a few days. Small parades dot the city. 

Getting ready for a parade.

Many artisans from the region – Ecuador, Columbia and Peru – come to this celebration to sell their art and crafts. Much of it is of extraordinary quality. 

The most massive parade of the year is Pase del Niño Viajero (Passing of the Child Traveler), often shortened to Pase del Niño. 

The parade begins at close to 10:00 in the morning on December 24th. Preparation for the event starts as soon as the previous parade has concluded. It is a massive pageant/parade celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, in part, that typically concludes at about 6:00 in the evening after 15,000 participants from Cuenca and neighboring small communities have made their way through the city, cutting through El Centro on Simón Bolívar Street. The event is really a collection of small parades, some Christian and some pagan. Traditions of indigenous cultures are part of the massive and seemingly unending parade in front of as many as 150,000 spectators. Participants organize and line up where their group belongs early in the morning, as do  spectators that want to claim a good place to view it all. 

The parade is ushered in by officials, using a truck that leads participants through the gauntlet of spectators that have already gathered. Soon, a mass of enthusiastic humans and some horses, pigs and whatever else flows through the city. 

In my chapter on Art in Cuenca I showed you the chola of the year in her fabulously beautiful clothing. There is a lot of similar clothing in the parade. Some of these garments are very expensive, perhaps in the thousands of dollars. 

Pagans on parade…

You may see the festivities in their glory by viewing these photos in higher resolution. Click HERE

Next week, get ready for some hats and doors.