Otavalo Stories and Tips

Week 53 - High Fives All Round! (Ecuador)

Mama Negra Fiesta Photo, Latacunga, Ecuador

In a week where I started teaching for real, it was partaking in one of the biggest festivals in Ecuador that took the limelight for the week. I have to admit partly for the wrong reasons though.

The second from last weekend in September is known throughout the country as the time for the world famous Mama Negra Fiesta. Basically this ‘religious’ festival seems to be just an excuse to have one big drunken street party. Even better still is that it takes place in the nearest town to where I am living, Latacunga. I’m not that religious to be honest but after seeing the huge amounts of free alcohol on offer that lead to copious amounts of rowdiness and debauchery, then please consider me born again!

The festival started at 9am, and from this moment onwards, there were hundreds of people parading through town in traditional dress, dancing traditional dances and offering sacrifices of food, alcohol, and cigarettes to appease the gods. If I was God I would be a little annoyed as by the end of the parade a couple of hours later, all alcohol had been drunk and cigarettes smoked. To make matters worse, the parade was performed again in the afternoon with a fresh stock of alcohol and cigarettes, this time though in much larger quantities. Virtually no one could walk in a straight line this time around, which seemed to go down a treat with the adoring crowds. Being so drunk also led many performers to see this as the perfect opportunity to rummage into the crowd and cop a feel of all the beautiful ladies. Highly amusing indeed! Even more highly amusing were the amounts of free alcohol being dished out. Age didn’t seem to be a problem as I saw many children guzzling down hard liquor in large quantities.

Anyway, some of you might know me as a guy who likes saving his pennies and who can’t turn anything down that’s free. This is probably why at 4pm I was already showing the tell-tale signs of the menace that I am after alcohol consumption. Being a menace on the streets of London is one thing, being a menace on the small rural streets of Ecuador is a completely different matter. I at least made the conscious effort to refrain from trying to start chants of ‘One man went to war’, ‘Can you take another Stella’ and ‘We’ll be running round Tottenham’. For some reason I knew these wouldn’t go down well at all.

Sadly, such efforts of not being a menace were thwarted upon returning to my friend’s house, where her father was readily waiting with a couple of bottles of the finest Scotch Whiskey, to be shared amongst us all. It was this moment where I wish I was sensible enough to copy my girlfriend and opt out after a couple of swift shots of the burning liquor, but not wanting to offend the hospitality I happily continued knocking the nectar back.

Now, if I had known that we were going to a salsa club later in the night I would have probably a) stopped drinking as much alcohol, b) eaten more food, or just as importantly c) drank copious amounts of water. Unfortunately, due to nothing but stupidity, I did none of these, arriving at the salsa club red-eyed and in full menace mode.

I managed to hold my own for an hour or so before the combination of the variants above started to take their toll and quickly led to my early demise. It started off pretty harmlessly, trying my hand at drunken salsa dancing in the middle of the dance floor, very reminiscent of the Stiffmeister in American Pie 3, except most of the people watching on were showing nothing but repulsion and annoyance of this half-cut Gringo making a fool of himself.

Things didn’t really get much better as my pathetic salsa dancing was soon followed by myself stumbling around the salsa dance floor trying to give everyone high fives. It was probably at this moment I knew I was in trouble. There was still time to do a second round of the dance floor, only this time trying to give as many hunky men kisses on the cheek, only escaping numerous beatings due to the quick thinking of my girlfriend and the beauty of a friend we were with, before collapsing over the toilet. It was here I was found half an hour later in a pile of my own vomit by what I am reliably informed were two strapping bouncers who were kind enough to carry me out of the club fast asleep to a waiting car. It is here that I have to thank my girlfriend for being sensible throughout and taking care of me as it certainly isn’t big, nor clever to get carried away in Mama Negra festivities.

A slight reprieve and the only piece of saving grace to my drunken antics for myself was the friends father who I had been drinking whiskey with returned back home a couple of hours after me in just a worse state, apart from he could actually walk. Even so, he still somehow managed to break the front door of the house, ending up lying in a crumpled heap on the living room floor on top of a collection of broken crockery and figurines. It made me feel a little better. Maybe I am just becoming an Ecuadorian quicker than I thought?

Other than disgracing my country with drunken shenanigans, it was my first week of proper teaching, and I have already acknowledged that a career as a primary school teacher is certainly not for me, having a first week that I wish I could forget in a hurry. It seems the skill of ‘patience’ is a huge necessity in primary school teaching and is a quality that I am sincerely lacking in.

Only five minutes in to my first lesson of the school year, two young boys came up to me asking to use the toilet. Seeing that the lesson was still so fresh and young I declined all their pleading and genital holding antics. Two minutes later they had both wet themselves. Luckily, most of the evidence had dried off by the end of the lesson!

Things didn’t get much better at lunch time when I was forced to play airplanes in order for one child to eat their food. I am not an expert at this game, which can probably help explain why on the second mouthful of food, I misjudged the width of their mouth, sending the salad ladened fork straight in to their gums. Red coloured lettuce isn’t really that attractive! Another kid coming up to me to show me a rather nice machete cut straight down the middle of his forehead, which I highly doubt he could of managed to do himself.

I think I am already in to double figures of the amount of children I have made cry, although most are through the hard stance of punishments I have taken in order to earn a little respect. A few accidents on my part I have to admit have also led to a few tears being shed. On one rendition of ‘heads, shoulders, knees and toes’ a child was getting his toes and knees mixed up. I innocently tried to rectify this problem by pulling his hands down to his toes instead of his knees, only managing to pull the child forward smashing his head on my knee. It was a good 15 minutes until he stopped crying. Although I felt a little guilty, I suppose looking on the bright side he now knows his toes from his knees!

Well that’s more or less all this time around. The security guards at the rose plantation have come up with the ingenious late night game of ‘scare the Gringo’, where they take it in turns to peer through the house windows late at night to see who can scare us the most. It hasn’t really had that much effect so far and I think I was more shocked to look out of the window last week to see Tungurahua Volcano erupting again in the distance. Luckily though unlike the last time, this time was just a small amount of smoke and ash. It was still a strange spectacle to see.

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