The past couple weeks I have been hanging out with a local Ecuadorian named Ana. She’s originally from here in Quito, but is well traveled and speaks English quite well, though I try to to get by in Spanish as much as possible. Her best personality trait, and the reason I’m even writing this update on this topic, is just how friendly and open she is about sharing her country and culture. Case in point, after only hanging out twice she invited me to travel with her family on a day-trip to Pujili, Ecuador (that’s Poo-hi-li) to watch the Corpus Christi Festival. Without her I wouldn’t have had this unforgettable experience, thanks Ana!
The event is the Festival of Corpus Christi, a Catholic holiday here that happens to coincide with the traditional Inca holiday celebrating the Sun God. The main event is a long dancing parade, followed by loads of drinking and cockfights. It lasts all weekend, but unfortunately I could only visit on Saturday. People come from all over Ecuador, even Colombia and Bolivia, representing their local culture (both past and present) by dressing up in traditional dress and dancing in the parade. Allegedly, some of the costume and dancing styles date back to the Incas themselves, though I’m no historian, I just enjoy watching the myriad colors and differences in designs.
A recounting of this festival wouldn’t be complete without a mention of liquor, and in particular my experience with it. It is a custom among the parade-goers to offer the dancers liquor as they bounce by, which is all well and fine, though I suspect many of the dancers are quite smashed by the time they reach the end of the parade. Another custom is for those in the parade to offer liquor to the spectators, usually from little plastic jugs and a single shared shot glass. I have nothing against this custom, per se, as sharing your local brew is as important as sharing your costumes; however, there was some understood rule that the gringos must try all the liquor. I admit I don’t blend in particularly well in my REI rain-jacket, polyester pants, and, oh yea, my glowing white skin, but I tried to keep my back to the wall and observe as best I could (all my pictures were taken from the sidelines). Needless to say, once the fellows with the shot glasses got a lock on the gringo beacon, they made a beeline in our direction, arms outstretched, ready to pour some vile, burning liquid down our throats. After the third or fourth I was pretty much done, but to refuse was unthinkable, so I developed a routine to deal with the pain: smile, mutter “salut”, glug glug, grimace, yay!
As if the festivities were boring already, the locals thought of another way to liven things up: dance with the foreigners! At first I refused because I’m a horrible dancer–these were clearly professionals–and I wanted to keep playing my invisible observer role, or at least that’s what I was telling myself. In reality when you travel, you’re never invisible, and the locals have the same right to look at you as you do at them. In this case I wasn’t being harassed by the locals (even though that is how it felt at times), far from it indeed! They were simply being gracious hosts and trying to make the experience as fun for both of us as possible. Being drawn into the local culture, especially at their request, is special, and truth be told, it was disrespectful to sit there watching and taking pictures but refusing to get involved. “I really don’t like dancing”, I kept telling myself, but a crucial part of traveling is getting outside your comfort zone, something I had forgotten.
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