Latacunga Stories and Tips

Week 58 - Day of the Dead (Ecuador)

Latacunga Photo, Latacunga, Ecuador

I have always known both my strengths and weaknesses, and this week saw my strengths totally undermined by one of my biggest weaknesses, my dancing.

November 2nd in Ecuador saw one of the biggest annual celebrations as whole country stopped work to celebrate the 'Day of the Dead'. I was informed that this day of celebration is practiced throughout the world, which surprised me slightly as I have never heard of this before in my life. Now, normally celebrating the lives of those loved ones that are no longer walking the Earth with us would involve a trip to the cemetery, where I presume a few prayers would be said and flowers placed upon the grave before returning back home to enjoy a nice relaxing afternoon. How mistaken was I! In Ecuador, especially the Central Sierra region where I live, they take this celebration of the dead to a completely different level. Not content with flowers and prayers they turn all cemeteries in to one big party, surrounding the graves with tables, chairs, food, music and most importantly alcohol. They sit here for the entire day, leaving at dusk. At which time most partakers in the celebrations are unable to walk due to their copious amounts of alcohol consumption.

For the entire day they also leave an empty seat, food and alcohol out for where their beloved deceased can sit if they fancy joining the party. It is the day of the dead after all! One of my students told me he had spent the day feasting with his 2 year old brother in the cemetery, who died recently. It's a very strange sight to see and also to hear people talking about. Some would say novel. Personally I think it's an intriguing way to celebrate a person's life and show them they are still remembered.

One part of the celebrations that I did find a little strange though was the night before the 'day of the dead' celebrations, where families leave plates of food and drink out for the spirits of the dead to come and eat and drink, very similarly to that of Western families at Christmas with Santa Claus. Now I understand parents eating a few mince pies to trick their children in to thinking old St. Nick is still alive and kicking, but to do this to a boy who has just lost his younger brother is slightly different. As this is a tradition I know very little about I will keep anymore opinions I may have on the subject to myself!

Anyway, going back to what I was originally talking about, I am happy to say my poor dancing techniques have led to more embarrassing moments. The University in Latacunga I am working at, to celebrate the 'day of the dead' held a party at Skyway, a local nightclub. As part of University tradition the most beautiful girl and boy were crowned, although unlike normal beauty contests, when crowned they were given the special names of, when translated in to English, ‘Miss Blackcurrant Juice’ and ‘Mr. Baby Bread’, both of which are a local delicacy in this part of Ecuador!

After being crowned most beautiful girl at University, Miss Blackcurrant Juice was asked to choose a man to have the first dance with. As 400 pairs of eyes looked on, Miss Blackcurrant Juice looked up to choose the 'lucky' guy. Through a combination of being her teacher, being the first person she saw, shaking my head violently upon making eye contact with her, and basically for comedy value, she decided I should be the chosen one.

Up until that moment, they had been playing the soppiest love songs, but by the time I made the ten steps to the dance floor, the music had changed to a beautiful salsa mix. Before I knew it Miss Blackcurrant Juice was throwing her arms everywhere, with feet moving at ridiculous speeds, all in the name of salsa. At this moment I would like to say I matched her move for move with my salsa skills, wooing the adoring crowd in the process. As to be expected though this was never going to be the case with my swaying head, and stagnant arms, not to mention my robotic leg movements, all of which proved to be my downfall. By the end of the longest five minutes of my life, I swear every one of the 400 strong crowd had lost a litre of bodily fluids through tears of laughter alone.

I suppose looking on the bright side, it didn't stop a few more brave ladies proposing to dance with the token Gringo, although the offers weren't as forthcoming as they were for my girlfriend. It really does amaze me how everyone here are exceptional dancers (not only in salsa), although if anyone was to dance like they do here at any club in England outside of London, they would be getting many strange homophobic looks.

By the end of the night and after finally learning the easiest salsa move of all (after three hours of practice!), I had the pleasure of retiring to the cheapest hotel in town, Residencia Amazonas, which not only had a worrying strong smell of human faces floating around the room but I later learnt doubled as a local brothel. Luckily there weren't any strange noises to be heard in the night, and I quickly fell asleep to the soothing sounds of Zoolander, my first TV action since arriving in Ecuador.

Other than celebrations of the deceased, I also had the pleasure of frequenting the largest and most important indigenous market in Ecuador, situated in the small Andean town of Saquisili. Upon arriving, the town was a mass of people due to a rally by Dale Correa, one of the two presidential candidates. I have to say, I felt a little sorry for him though as it seemed more people were interested in getting their weekly supply of oranges and sheep heads than listening to the possible future pledges of their country.

While not listening to political rallies, I decided to again try sampling the ‘delightful’ taste of guinea pig for the first time in Ecuador, where I was able to choose from the vast array of roasted ones on offer, their heads twisted and distorted through what I can only imagine to have been a horrible and painful end to their existence. Even the protruding front two teeth didn’t put me off from carving into its tiny charcoaled body. I wouldn’t say I will ever become addicted to this delicacy, but if anyone likes the taste of rabbit, then I can highly recommend tasting the joys of guinea pig.

This weekend I have another Mama Negra fiesta in Latacunga to participate in. I think I will be far more reserved and behaved than the last one I went to, as I have been warned that the festival is highly dangerous for visiting Gringo’s with thieves, robbers and con-men arriving from all over the country to relieve unsuspecting tourists of all their valuables. I’m sure I will be able to keep myself out of trouble!

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