Of all my weeks in Ecuador so far I think the last rated as one of the best and busiest so far. Finally, after 3 months of living here I have actually decided to go and visit some more of the country.
To start the week there was the infamous Mama Negra Fiesta, a crazy drunken street party in the nearby town of Latacunga, of which there are two each year. The last one in September I also frequented, and this was where I made such a drunken impression on people that I doubt most of them will forget this Gringo in a long, long time. Due to past exploits I had decided to take it easy this time around. As to be expected, this plan flew straight out of the window as soon as the fiesta started.
Basically like the previous Mama Negra, this parade is all about costumed people parading through town for three hours carrying out the odd traditional dance and offering a cocktail of free liquors to anyone that's interested. As I was situated at the start of the parade this meant that the free alcohol was available in abundant quantities. It didn't help matters that I was with a local friend and his entire family, who I can only presume are alcoholics in denial and being the token Gringo led to copious amounts of free alcohol coming my way.
Three hours later as the last dance troupe past by, with the hot Equator sun beating down, I realised I was well on my way to drunkenness. Even so, even with my trademark bloodshot eyes it didn't seem to put off members of the local radio station interviewing me and another group of people wanted my picture for some Ecuadorian magazine. I can't really see how a picture of my reddened face and cheeky smile can increase publicity and sales. By the end of the night after retiring to my friends family home, and after more free alcohol I found myself in the arms of an old age pensioner who I am positive had made it her last dying wish to dance with me, without having her brittle feet crushed by my lack of coordination. As to be expected, she failed in her plight. All in all it wasn't a bad day; free alcohol and food and not having to spend a penny to enjoy myself. I wish all days could be like this!
Sadly though street parties full of free alcohol do have one or two negative side effects. Examples include copious amounts of vomiting and the odd act of violence. One such act of violence was carried out by the mother of one of my school children, who decided in her drunken state to strangle to death an aunt of another student. This made for a rather interesting and tense atmosphere in school the past week. I have no idea what the reasons were though surrounding this act of murder.
As well as partaking in drunken festivities I also had the luxury of spending a weekend in the spa town of Baños, situated on the slopes of Tungurahua Volcano. In the past 4 months the town has been extensively damaged from eruptions, the last of which saw the whole town evacuated in the early hours of the morning to burning molten lava falling from the sky. The damage can still be seen on the inward journey to Baños where the flow of lava left a trail of death and destruction.
I was actually surprised at how quickly Baños had been restored and rebuilt after recent eruptions and even more surprised by the number of Gringo's. They almost outnumbered the locals, which meant there were few chances of any cultural experiences. It was nice to finally have a relaxing weekend eating good food, swimming in thermal baths heated by the nearby Tunguruhua Volcano, seeing numerous cascading waterfalls, riding the longest cable-car in Ecuador (which was nothing more than a flimsy wooden basket on a tiny rope!), and finishing the weekend in a quiet side-street bar listening to The Pixies back catalogue. I'd like to see the locals try and dance salsa to that! Well, actually, they did dance salsa to it. Very well indeed to. It mad me sick!
So, other than enjoying parties full of free alcohol and basking in beautiful weather on the slopes of Ecuador's most volatile and dangerous volcano, it was another fun week of teaching, especially at the University. I knew I was in for a torrid week when I entered my first class to a barrage of laughter concerning my atrocious attempts of salsa during the 'Day of the Dead' party the previous week. If this wasn't bad enough I also found out that Miss Blackcurrant Juice is only 14 years old. Strange really that the students found mocking my dancing more amusing than the fact I shared a dance with a minor. I shouldn't be surprised though considering the number of 14 year olds around here that already have babies. It even seems normal for men in their twenties to be dating girls of such a young age. Quite disturbing that such girls lose their innocence and childhood, which can never be retrieved.
Things didn't get much better during the lesson as half way through the chewing gum I was chomping on decided to go all limp and soft on me, turning into a substance more like glue than anything else. I decided to soldier on with the teaching until disaster struck, with the gum sticking firmly to my bottom lip. Several seconds later as all thirty students hung on every word, my mouth had become a complete mess, resembling that of a dead mummy, with numerous strands of white gum stretching from lip to lip. As I tried to wipe them away, they quickly stuck to my hands as well. Seeing the mess I was in and the high levels of giggling that was coming from the majority of the students, my fellow teacher stepped in to take control of the lesson excusing me to go and clean myself up. Not the best way of making a good impression on your students. I don't think I’ll be chewing gum in lessons for a while!
Other highlights included teaching a lesson about abortion, where I somehow managed to get on to the subject of sex education at school and how in England we use bananas to practice the use of condoms. As I was finishing my explanation my fellow teacher casually asked "why don't you just use a dildo?" Of course a student had to ask "what's a dildo?" As my fellow teacher fell silent, it fell upon my shoulders to try and explain what a dildo is and its main purpose in life. There were many embarrassed faces by the end of my explanation, although I definitely think they all know what the word dildo means now! Another situation saw me having to explain the phrase 'pick somebody up'. Like usual, I had no idea in what context this was to be used in. I should have known though that it was not going to be 'going to a nightclub and getting a random girl (or boy) to have a one night stand with you'. My teacher looked quite disgusted with my definition as he quickly remarked it can also be used when a parent meets their children at school to take them home.
I must say after the past week I’m quite happy to have a week’s holiday from teaching, which I hope will be less energetic than the last couple. Saying this though, with the amount of travelling I already have planned on dodgy public transport I doubt this will happen.