If you’re thinking about Carnaval in South America, you’re probably thinking about Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro– scantily-clad woman in beaded, sparkly tropical costumes, parades, and some of the world’s best parties. While I’m sure that’s probably an accurate picture of Brazil’s Carnaval, Ecuador has its own, wildly different traditions. Carnaval started for me as it starts for most people in Ecuador: with an ambush. Two weeks ago José and I were walking innocently enough from the grocery store to my house, when out of nowhere a white pickup truck pulled up alongside us and dumped a massive pot of [freezing!!] water all over me. Yup, I’d been Carnaval-ed.
Or so I thought. As I learned this weekend, Carnaval in Ecuador is MUCH more than just being innoncently drenched with water on the sidewalk. Its about festively covering [i.e. attacking] your neighbor in foam, dye, paint, eggs, and water, obviously. On Sunday after church José and I went to Amaguaña, a town 20 minutes away from Sangolqui, ready for a full-on Carnaval battle. When we got off the bus in Amaguaña we immediately purchased cariocas— large canisters filled with foam– for what we thought would be self-defense purposes. The bus, filled to the brim with would-be Carnaval revelers dropped us off on the side of the highway because the traffic into town was so bad trying to get into town to playful assault their fellow citizens with Carnaval.
At the entrance to the main road into town we met up with all of our friends from church, which resulted in an immediate assault of foams and dye from all sides. Friends are the worst, my friend Steve commented as he inspected the damage and pointed out a patch of blue dye in the back of my hair that probably wasn’t going to come out later. Oh well, it’s Carnaval, it happens.
Our initial idea of cariocas for self-defense crumbled as we realized how freakishly fun it is to foam random strangers and avoid them foaming you back. Less than an hour later we already had to buy more cariocas to continue playing; we ended up roaming the streets of Amaguaña for the next four hours pushing through the masses gathering in the streets. Highlights included when a group of guys decided they were going to target the defenseless gringa and swarmed around me, rubbing black, purple, and red paint all over my face. Later some of the paint came off when someone ambushed us from behind a garage door and sprayed us with a garden hose; the culprit came running after us the initial attack and smashed an egg on José’s head– a “sympathy egg,” he explained.
After few hours of wandering around all of Amaguaña with the sole intention of engaging unknown Ecuadorians in battle, we decided to take in the free concerts at the festival and eat some street food before heading home after an exhausting day of playing Carnaval . My clothes are permanently stained and the tile on the shower floor probably is still a little black from all the paint on my face and in my hair, but it was absolutely worth it. Through the abushes of foam and water I was reminded of some of the characteristics that I love about the people of this country….their sense of community that surpasses just their family and friends and extends to all those around them. Where else where it would be socially exceptable to foam a stranger or smash an egg on their head? Its an act of closeness, an expression of a sort of community that I could never imagine finding in the United States, and in a most unexpected way I was touched to be reminded of it while staring down the barrel of some Ecuadorian’s carioca.