On October 31, I attended a performance by the Cuenca Symphony in a theater I'd never been in before but had wanted to see. It was large (3 tiers of seating) but it was old and need of major restoration which probably explains why the upper two tiers were closed off. The seats were worn out, creaky, and were numbered with 4" stickers on the backs. There was no squinting and fumbling to find your seat number, that's for sure. They screamed...
I had seen the symphony last year for a Christmas concert and was quite impressed with their performance. I counted about 60 instrumentalists. Again, their performance was quite enjoyable..well...what I was able to enjoy what with people constantly coming in late DURING a number, finding a seat, squeeeak went the seat, people leaving DURING a number, people yapping, and one dude who couldn't put his GD cell phone down. He was texting and answering his phone (no, it didn't ring out loud) and speaking to someone while holding the program over his mouth. HOW RUDE!! Then, there was the baby shrieking. An ice pick through my ear would've felt better. After several numbers, I left. There were many people lined up against the wall, so you could say it was SRO. Oh, and it was FREE.
On November 1st, I went on an organized tour (for expats) to learn about another cultural tradition. The 'Day of the Dead' is mixed in with the independence celebrations, though for a different reason. It's not at all like Halloween where people get dressed up in costumes and go door-to-door to get candy. It's about family visiting and celebrating their dead loved ones and ancestors in the cemeteries. They spend part of the day visiting the cemetery and adorning the graves with anything from flowers, to trinkets, to blinking lights, to photos, to lit candles, and sometimes all of the above. Some even leave food for the dead. Another tradition is to clean the grave, especially those that have glass doors. As you'll see in the photos, many of the graves require a ladder to be reached. The family unlocks the door, performs some cleaning and tidying up, and may replace some of the novelties inside the enclosure.
Our tour was at the main city cemetery around 9pm and there were THOUSANDS of people young and old there!! Ummm...I mean living, breathing people. It's all about people-class and level of wealth that determines where a person is buried. How close they are to the chapel, how high up, how big of space, in the ground, above the ground, or in a family vault. Even the unclaimed have their own space. In some areas, it's by profession. Taxi drivers have their own enclave!!! Politicians and lawyers, too. Interestingly, once a person is buried it doesn't necessarily mean that is their 'final resting place'. They might move. You see, burial places are RENTED. Fail to pay the rent, your loved one will be moved to a lower rent district. Can't afford to keep up the payments? You can have their remains moved to a less expensive location. Someone in the group asked what the average rent might be. Approximately $45 a year. That means $450 for 10 years, or $2,250 for 50 years. I wonder how they serve the eviction notice? Knock Knock....."Ma'am, you need to move. You haven't paid your rent. Ma'am...MA'AM!!! WAKE UP!!!!"
Outside the cemetery was a zoo of vendors selling flowers (real and plastic) and all kinds of trinkets for the dead as well as little packages of cleaning supplies. And, there was food everywhere including cotton candy. I fully expected to hear someone belt out 'GIT CHUR POPCORN, GIT YER HOT DOGS!!' It was crazy with everyone yelling out their product for sale. No one seemed to need a permit to set up operations. Clearly, some had made their Coloda Morada drink in a big bucket at home and came to the cemetery prepared to sell the traditional drink by carrying the bucket amongst the crowds and scooping up a cupfull for each paying patron.
We also went to a restaurant to learn about another part of the 'Day of the Dead' tradition...the making of and eating/drinking of GuaGua (wah-wah) de Pan and Colada Morada. Guaguas de pan are bread babies. Some families make their own guaguas de pan at home, but most buy them from the panaderías, or bakeries, which only make them during this time of the year. These bread babies can be up to 12 inches long and are shaped with a ball of dough for the head and a long, tapering ball of dough for the body. They are decorated with icing and may have jam or some other sweet inside.
The colada morada is a thick purple-colored drink made from cooking blackberries, blueberries, cinnamon, cloves, and other fruits and spices with a little oatmeal in the water until thick. The drink is then blended until smooth. From the middle of October until the second of November, cafés and restaurants try to outdo each other in offering the best guaguas de pan and coladas moradas. Yeah, I drank one...it was like drinking purple goo with lumps of fruit in it. Not impressed, but I can now say I did it.
Our tour lasted 3 hours which included the bread babies, colada morada, guided tour of the cemetery and private bus...all for $15.
People come from all over Ecuador to participate in Cuencas celebrations. There is a LOT that goes on. Tented craft fairs line streets all over Cuenca selling Ecuadorian, Peruvian, and Columbian art, clothing, jewelry, and whatnot. Performers grab sections of Parque Calderon to entertain the crowds. There's fireworks. Food vendors are wherever they happen to set up their barbeque and go into operation. No, it's not about Thai noodles, Burgers, Chinese, Pizza, and Corndogs. It's 98% Ecuadorian such as grilled meats and vegetables on skewers, potatoes, corn, candies, ice cream, etc.
And there are concerts in almost every significant neighborhood...FREE concerts! I must've ran into at least a dozen stages around town. The big daddy of them all was a concert in the stadium for a big name mariachi group. The huge arterial, Ave Solano, was completely shut down of all vehicle traffic for its mile length, and the streets immediately around the stadium were as well.
The President came to town, too. I caught his 'motorcade' which consisted of maybe 3 average-sized SUV's and a couple of motorycle police escorting them through traffic. Yes, they went through and around traffic. Streets were not shut down for them. It wasn't a huge entourage of armored cars with ambulances following. It was just a whoop whoop from the cops to warn us to move over, then cautiously driving through a red light and onward. No helicopters overhead. No news vans. No people lining the streets to wave at a black limo. No limos!
Last year, I saw an amusement park setup but never went to. I have always liked wild rides. So, this year, a friend and I decided to go check it out. It was situated in a bizarre location...essentially what looked like a gravel pit just above the autopista (freeway). Hordes of people parked wherever they could....along the freeway, off the side of the road by smooshing down the brush, wherever. Many people parked on the other side of the autopista and had to make mad dashes across the road at the roundabout then clambor up a long dirt road to the site. We went at night and walked in near pitch black up that steep dirt road. On the way up were various vendors who created their own makeshift sites on the steep hill by pushing rocks and dirt to level out their 'site'.
Their were two levels to the 'parque de diversion' ('fun park'...though somehow I can't help but think a 'park of diversion' sounds kinda kinky). The lower level seemed to be a separate operation because all of their rides looked rather old and beaten. The upper level had very new-looking rides and definitely within my thrill-scale. Tickets were $1, $2, or $3 depending on the thrill-scale. There was only one $3 ride that I could tell. The ones we rode were two bucks each. Entrance to the park was FREE.
First up was a big pendulum motion thingy. We sat in groups of seats around a circle at the end of a big vertical arm. The ride started to swing back and forth. Then, our circle of seats started to spin as we were thrust back and forth like a pendulum out of control....higher and higher. My stomach felt queezy. We were screaming. My friend Ronald shut his eyes for the entire duration while I grabbed momentary glances of the city, amusement park lights, trees, and people swirling around me then shut my eyes so my brain didn't implode.
After we staggered off the ride and got our stomachs back in order, we headed to a ride RONALD wanted go on. Since I made him go on the wild pendulum, I agreed. I shouldn't have. First thing I noted was this ride would NEVER be allowed in the States!! It screamed lawsuits and injuries. Visualize....a big bowl-like structure laying flat. Around the perimeter of this bowl is one continuous hard plastic seat lined with a continuous steel rail about shoulder height (while seated). Take a seat. No seatbelts. No padding, ANYWHERE. You just sit anywhere you want along the continuous HARD plastic seat and you wrap your arms around the steel rail....your body forming the shape of a 'T'. Hang on for dear life. The bowl starts to spin slowly. OK. Then the bowl starts to tilt. Fun. Then the bowl starts bouncing. NOT OK!!! Whatever part of your body is not secured (which means ALL of your body except your arms) is flung about like a rag doll. You have NO control. Peoples legs were flying everywhere...into the laps of the person next to them, up, down, left, right. You desperately try to reposition yourself to get a better grip but it's impossible. It was hysterical to watch the others across from me fight for their lives but it was all in the midst of the pain I was enduring at the same time. One guy completely lost his grip and his friends had to grab onto him while he was flailing about to keep him from being chucked into oblivion. A few times, the ride would stop doing its pancake-flipping-in-a-frying-pan-thing to give us a welcome reprieve...only to start it all over again.
OMG. If this, in the first place, were even to be allowed in the States there would be two long rows of booths either side of the exit point of the ride. One row would be nothing but Chiropractors to readjust you and lure you into a never-ending contract of adjustment services for the next few years. The other row would be salivating attorneys with forms on clipboards ready to be handed out to file a juicy, money-laden lawsuit. Regularly used terms would include 'Post Traumatic Disorder', 'Nightsweats', 'Inability to perform sexual responsibilities with spouse', and 'Pain and Suffering'.
Then we went on the Zipper...a good old-fashioned ride I loved as a kid. It looked pretty benign. Even Ronald agreed, once the ride started, that it seemed pretty cool as we glided around in a vertical circle. Then, the machine started flipping our cage as we went up and down and round and round. More screaming.
That was it. No more. But. There was another ride that was luring me...the THREE DOLLAR RIDE (enter pipe organ music DUM DEE DUM DUMMMMMM!!!) It takes a LOT to stop me from going on a wild ride, but after watching from the sidelines this ride had me dead in my tracks. Like the first ride, it operated like a pendulum. Except the arm of the pendulum was about 50 feet long. At the base was a cluster of seats in a round formation. Again, very similar to ride #1. As the arm began to swing, the cluster of seats began to rotate. The arm swung higher and higher until, the heart attack inducer, the arm became completly vertical at the top...the 180 degree point, with everyone upside down, facing the ground, spinning at a height of double the arm length!!!! Then.....woooooossshhhhhhh......down and up the other side and again, upside down and spinning. A full 360 degree loop. NO WAY JOSE!!!! I can only imagine the G's the riders must've been experiencing!!! I think I would've gone into labor!!
So, that's how I celebrated Cuencas Independence Day and Day of the Dead. Hope you enjoy the photos I took along the way.
|Cuenca Symphony. Ummm...I can't find my seat!!! It's #135. Where the h_ll is it???|
|Tomebamba river at night.|
|Santo Domingo church where our tour gathered.|
|As you enter the Santo Domingo church.|
|Santo Domingo church|
|Listening to the chef (and translator) explaining how Colada Morada is made.|
|GuaGua de Pan|
|Vendor table outside cemetery selling plastic flowers. Don't you DARE put this stuff on MY grave!!!|
|Visitors viewing grave (see upper level)|
|Some people bring their own crude ladders either made of bamboo or horizontal boards nailed to vertical boards.|
|People cleaning a grave.|
|The tomb of the unclaiimed.|
|A glass memorial of immigrants who didn't make it (ie; attempted to immigrate to Ecuador but died in the process). Notice the illuminated 'tabs' at the bottom (see next photo).|
|Some of the names of immigrants who didn't make it.|
|Nifty tree illumination at the cemetery.|
|An artists creation of an Iguana in metal. Ronald thinks it's pretty cool.|
|Just one of many artists showings around town. This one underneath the Puente del Roto (broken bridge).|
|One of my favorite forms of art where the artist uses miscellaneous pieces of metal from everyday life. The spine along the back and front of this sea horse is made out of bicycle/motorcycle chain.|
|These were EVERYWHERE around Cuenca and in some real weird colors, too! Blue??? Love the chocolate covered strawberries on skewers. Buck a piece. YUMMMM|
|Mannequin/Mime performer on a street corner.|