Ecuador Stories and Tips

Week 71 & 72—Naked Chef (Ecuador)

Ambato - 'Fiesta de las Flores y las Frutas' Photo, Ecuador, South America

With an action-packed week just finishing, due to the copious amounts of 'carnaval' celebrations taking place the width and breadth of South America, I suppose it was about time I wrote another journal entry. You would have thought with such a high continental gathering I would have some inkling what it was all about, but I’m still none the wiser.

My very own 'carnaval' celebrations were spent in the nearby city of Ambato for their traditional 'Fiesta de las Flores y las Frutas,' which basically when translated means a party full of flowers and fruit. It sounded very intriguing and choosing to go to this also meant missing out on getting a drenching at other festivities closer by. Of course, Ambato isn't quite Rio de Janeiro when it comes to 'carnaval,' but when you consider that alongside the variety of floats, all made from fruit, vegetables, and flowers, is a rather ridiculous number of waving, smiling, stunning beauty queens all surrounded by troupes of singing and dancing paraders, it soon becomes mightily entertaining. For the single male members of the species Ambato's 'carnaval' gets even better, as 80% of the dancers and performers are scantily clad young ladies. It's not surprising that many spectators were watching open mouthed!

In fact Ambato's celebrations are so internationally renowned that they are able to attract the most gorgeous 'Miss' girls from Columbia, Bolivia, and Venezuela. Indeed, Miss Bolivia and my humble self shared a moment that will live long in my heart. As she passed by aboard her float, shaped like a 'Bill and Ben—The Flower Pot Men' tribute, she had the audacity to throw little old me a flower. I would like to think the meagre red carnation thrown was in the name of friendship and international understanding, but from the sexual connotations in her eyes I thoroughly think desire was the main underlying reason! I swear there were tears in her eyes though when she saw me hand the flower to my girlfriend sitting next to me. The fact that she was throwing flowers to almost every male member of the crowd takes nothing away from the moment we shared together.

Once fruit and flower celebrations were over it was time for my first ever appearance ringside at Empresa Turistica Plaza de Toros for 'Feria de Ambato,' to watch some bulls get sacrificed all in the name of entertainment. This cultural experience somehow left me disgusted, excited, and confused all at the same time. Bull fighting has always intrigued me, I mean, how can so many people enjoy such a sick, cruel sport that ends with the despicable murder of an innocent animal? There has to be something exciting and enjoyable about it? For those of you who are oblivious to bull fighting's order of play, let me explain my experience. I apologise if this is a tad gory or disturbing!

Before the bull even enters the amphitheatre-like stadium it is stabbed in the back, with a ribbon strategically placed in the open wound, and has some substance rubbed in its eyes, making it impossible to see properly. Add to this the fact that it's starved of water for 3 days; the odds are already stacked against it.

Once into the arena, the bull is then made to run aimlessly after the various matadors, tiring the already dehydrated beast. Breathing heavily and probably already knowing the inevitable, a horse is brought out where its rider then proceeds to stab the bull a few times with a big spear. If this isn't bad enough a variety of matadors, to the delight of the 5,000 capacity 'ole' shouting crowd, stick sharp, protruding implements into the back of the bull. As blood drips down its back, the bull's life is ended by a long sword stabbed down the length of its spine. At this point, not even giving the bull the dignity of its last few dying breaths, another matador violently and repeatedly stabs the back of its neck and spine until it's lying side up, legs stiff in the air.

Taking all of this into account I’m a little confused as to why I enjoyed such an event. There is no doubting the cruelness and viciousness of the 'sport,' but there is something exciting and enjoyable about it that I just can't put my finger on. Maybe it was the electrifying atmosphere of the crowd, similar to an English football match. Maybe it was the comical theatrics of the taunting matador. It could even have been watching the bull seeking a little solace and revenge by goring one of the matadors twice in the buttocks and groin. It was nice seeing the bull in pole-position for a change. Sadly, the goring of the matador, blood gushing down his legs, didn't really prolong the bull’s life. A second visit to the 'Plaza de los Toros' would be needed before believing that I really do enjoy this blood sport, or whether it was the cultural differences that got the better of me.

Moving onto something slightly different and a little less disturbing, is that in just over a week I will be venturing deep into the depths of the Amazon, where I will be staying for a week on the edge of a lake. From the information I have read, it seems the area I will be living in, going by the name Reserva Faunistica Cuyabeno, has the highest biodiversity rates anywhere in the Amazon jungle, so chances of spotting jungle wildlife should be high. If not, then at least I have piranha fishing and naked cavorting tribesmen to drown my sorrows with. After going to Quito to book this trip through the company Nomad Trek (www.nomadtrek.com), my girlfriend and I decided on a celebratory meal at our favourite Indian restaurant, Great Indian Restaurant (Jose Calama E4-54 entre Juan Leon Mera y Amazonas, Tel: 2238269/ 094180183). I lost my hunger slightly though as I watched the majority of our food cooked by a chef wearing nothing but a flimsy bath towel. The Naked Chef he certainly wasn't! I also caused a stir on the bus back home to Latacunga by asking for a cocaine ice-cream (helado de coca) instead of a coconut ice cream (helado de coco). I really couldn't see why mispronunciating one letter could cause so much fuss amongst my fellow bus companions. Obviously I must have the face of a crack addict.

On the Ecuadorian Sierra teaching front, this is my last week before vacations. It's a shame as my English lessons have seen some inspirational and revolutionary ideas. The best of which saw me blindfolding some students and getting other members of the class to direct them, helping to practice the words 'left,' 'right,' and 'straight ahead' in the process. Unfortunately things didn't really go to plan as one child walked into an exposed nail on a playground slide and another tripped over nothing, twisting his ankle. I state now I take no responsibility for these events and feel both angry and disappointed that during an emergency meeting the school decided to enforce a 'no blindfolding the students' rule to all teachers. Ridiculous if you ask me!

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