Wednesday, November 4, 2015
A Different Independence Day
We have just concluded a period in the Cuenca and Ecuadorian calendar that covers a number of holidays and events. If you know dias de las fiestas in Latin America, you know that the location where you live or are at just generally shuts down. That was largely true here, as far as I know, with some exceptions.
Whatever you wanted to do based on *your* North American cultural expectations had to wait until the return of normal business, which starts today. Remember, you're only one per cent of the local population of Cuenca, according to those who write about such things in newsletters and such here. You don't get to set the tone for how your special days are celebrated. . . the Cuencanos/as do.
Last Friday morning, we experienced a citywide power outage. The whole city went dark around 4:20 AM and lasted for a few hours. When I got up at 7:00 AM, I checked for electricity service, and the lights were able to come on again. However, in due time, we learned that our laptop had suffered damage due to the power surge that occurred. It now has a dark screen that is not workable. Hopefully it will come back to life without too much time or money spent. Lesson learned: use a surge protector on the laptop, which I had neglected to provide, though the desktop computer has one. Simply turning the machine off might have helped, too. Sigh.
Getting back to the festividades, we went through in order: a very muted version of Halloween as observed here in Cuenca, the appearance in homes and buildings of Christmas trees and ornaments (both held on Saturday), All Saints Day or Dia de los Santos on Sunday, Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos on Monday, and finally Cuenca's Independence Day or Dia de la Independencia on Tuesday.
On Friday the 30th, the traffic in our neighborhood started to build. It was like freeway traffic in Southern California, but at city street speeds. . . which was about the speed of walking more or less. You could see the traffic coming in from outside the city coming from specific directions, and the traffic from Guayaquil especially was thick. Over 100,000 people flooded into Cuenca from all over Ecuador, and even other countries according to reports. I saw a license plate from Venezuela, as well as a VW Campervan from Argentina which had painted on the back roof "Argentina a Alaska" (Argentina to Alaska). Ambitious, eh? (grin) In that same general area of El Centro downtown, I've seen a newer model VW Vanagon with California plates months ago. Probably staying at one of the hostels in El Centro. Anyways, with the tourists taking nearly every available hotel and hostel bed in town, the place was jumpin' with tourists. . . mostly speaking Spanish, of course.
Their objective was to take part in the various activities surrounding the dias de las festividades which were centered in the El Centro of Cuenca, as well as the area along the Tomebamba River just to the south of El Centro. A parade with different high school students in school uniform started the process for the days of celebration, which was Friday, and was centered about Parque Calderon, the city square of El Centro downtown. From that start, the different dance venues began, and the street fairs full of different foods, drinks, regalos (gifts), and other wares such as clothing and hats - the Panama Hat is made here and is centered in Cuenca, by the way - were set up under tarps using folding tables and chairs. Streets were blocked off and dedicated to the different vendors of food, drink, and wares.
It was like having the Antelope Valley Fair without the parking fee and long walk (we took Cuenca Transit buses to El Centro), and a lot more relaxed and decidedly less big business commercial. Just the Mom and Pop folks there, and plenty of 'em. Expats too, showing their food and gifts. It's open to anyone who wanted to get a city permit for a booth.
We heard plenty of fireworks, but didn't see any go off. The Cuencanos like the noise more than the sights of 'em from what we can figure out. There was music and free concerts, where even one of the major streets of the south of Cuenca, Remigio Crespo, was blocked off for a street party. We didn't attend any, however.
Halloween is not a big thing here in Cuenca. One expat who writes from time to time in Cuenca High Life wrote about his young son going door to door Trick or Treating. . . his responses were fewer than if he were in the United States, but he still enjoyed the going out. Most residents were not prepared for a Trick or Treater to knock on their door, unsurprisingly. Our Iglesia Verbo church had a pastor bring a witch's hat to let the secretaries try the thing on just for fun and take some photos on the church's Facebook page. They tried it on willingly and in fun, but one hesitated at first before finally succumbing to a smile and a por favor from the pastor involved. That was the extent of Halloween 2015 for us.
Meanwhile, on the same day as Halloween, our landlady got out the Christmas ornaments and tree from storage, and began with the help of the guard on duty to assemble them and install the Christmas lights. The reception room soon began to take on the appearance of Navidad as well as the drive into the underground garage, which was lighted up with Christmas lights that sparkled with a light white glow at night. I later found out this is a normal custom to do it this time of year with Ecuadorians. Even the mall I frequent, Mall del Rio, already had its tree up in the main court area. At least they don't have these items up in September, like you sometimes see in the United States more and more often. Earlier and earlier it gets Stateside. . . soon there *will* be Christmas in July if the trend continues.
According to Cuenca High Life, Day of the Dead or Dia del los Muertos is when people visit and apparently perhaps decorate the gravesites of the dead in one's family. So people stay in town for that day, which was Monday. Tuesday was Cuenca's Independence Day (from Spain, by the way) and traffic was the lowest amount I had seen the whole period. Mind you, the buses were still running - if not as many of them - and were generally empty in the earlier morning, unlike when it's a workday. Middle of the day they were full as usual. Meanwhile the streets were still blocked off in El Centro for the different vendors who were still there for five days straight. Plenty of people, and a relaxed feel where extra tables and chairs were provided for tourists. We never had a problem walking around or finding a place to sit. . . or finding a place open so we could use a restroom for that matter, too.
Definitely not like an Independence Day in the United States, but something enjoyable and relaxing here in Cuenca. . . which suits its laidback nature as a tranquilo, calma kinda place to live. !Viva Cuenca!