countin' the days

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Holy Fiesta

Last Saturday, my two favorite little Ecuadorians were baptized. Sayani (3) and Apauki (5) received their holy cleansing in a tediously long nighttime ceremony in the central church of Cotacachi along with another two dozen tiny people from surrounding communities, half of whom were, not surprisingly, asleep for the whole thing. But this was hardly the main event.

Immediately following the ceremony was one big-ass party. About 100 people came: family, friends, friends of friends, community members, their children, even a few random dogs. The celebration kicked off at 11pm, when a DJ arrived with three enormous speakers and began pumping out ear-poppingly loud cumbia. (Sidenote: Cumbia, though originally a musical form from Columbia, has infiltrated Ecuador to become something of a national musical phenomenon. To paraphrase Lonely Planet, it does indeed sound like a "three-legged horse" trotting along to a Latin blend of rhythm, bass, horns, and words. More often than not it´s all produced on a single electric keyboard. Cumbia is everywhere, from restaurants to bus rides to grocery stores, and at times is sped up to such a frenzied tempo that it becomes "psycho cumbia.") Food was of course the first order of business, and each person was served up some soup and various plates, all of which naturally included the poor dead creatures mentioned in my last post. Interestingly, the guinea pig (cuy) was cut into pieces and served directly into people´s bare hands, along with a whole potato. People were pretty stoked on the cuy. It was about this time that the alcohol began to surface.

Drinking in Ecuador is a very communal affair. It goes something like this: someone walks around with a bottle of alcohol. There are three choices, and three choices ONLY of what to consume. Pilsener, the national beer; agurdiente, homemade sugar cane alcohol; or box "wine," this absolutely repugnant sugary crap artifically flavored with chemicals and in the resulting neon color it becomes, bears an eerily odd resemblance to nuclear waste (I tried my best to stay away from it). The bottle beholder walks around the party with a small plastic shotglass. When you are approached (and everyone is), you accept the shot gleefully and select another person with whom you make serious eye contact and dedicate the toast to. This person is thusly deemed the next recipient of the shot. He, then, follows suit by consuming the booze and selecting the next drinker. This process resolves around and around and around until, inevitably, it rolls right around back to YOU. Naturally, everyone gets real wasted real fast.

I retired around 4am, but the party did not. In fact, the cumbia continued at headache-inducing volumes until 10am! The DJs went home, but my family continued to play music music through their own speakers. When I finally emerged from my room around 2pm, haggard and not very well rested, there was a crew of about 5 guys who were still going. They hadn´t slept, were still drinking, and would in fact continue to do until the following night! I don´t know how they do it.

The best part of the night, for me, was the dancing. Although I got very, very tired of endlessly hearing cumbia -- especially with some of the same popular tunes repeated over and over again -- I was rewarded with a break from it, when they played selections of indigenous highland music I had never heard before. Everyone got into two large circles, and essentially shuffled around in time to the rapidly changing tempo of the music until someone decided to shout "VUELTA!" and it was time to turn around and shuffle in the other direction. And in case you´re wondering, out of all the dozens of slaughtered animals, by the end of the night only the head of one of the pigs remainded. Great success!

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