Pase del Niño Viajero
Updated: Dec 13, 2020
In my wanderings and walks to Mojeron Moto to stare forlornly at my bike, I'd run across a little restaurant tucked away on a side street. It turned out to be run by a local who'd worked in Chicago for 10 years, and on his return to Cuenca had opened a US style eatery. The bar portion was run by a Canadian expat lady and they dished up some ribs and barbecue sauce for me. Dang tasty and a nice break from local rice dishes.
The upshot was, I got invited to an expat party a couple of days later to watch the upcoming Christmas parade known as Pase Del Niño from a streetside balcony with food and drink all the afternoon.
That Saturday morning, the Canadian expat picked me up in a cab, which turned into a meandering quest to find a way to the address of the party, as so many streets had been closed for the upcoming parade. Beside me in the back seat was her little Maltese, his head sticking out his carry bag, absolutely uninterested in being petted and unresponsive to my babytalk to him.
We finally got within a couple of blocks of the party and bailed out of the cab to walk. I grabbed my camera bag and a food dish she'd baked for the party, standing next to the cab while she retrieved her Maltese baby from the back seat. Suddenly she exclaimed "PiPi, I can't believe you sh*t on the back seat!" To her surprise, PiPi had PooPooed on the rear seat of the taxi, apparently worming his way out of the head hole of his carry case, doing his dump and then somehow getting back in the carry case.
I could vouch it hadn't happened while I was in the cab nor had I seen any proof when I got in the cab. While she searched for tissues to take the turd off the seat, I did a quick check to make sure I didn't have any on me. I saw or smelled nothing obvious, apparently having missed it when I jumped quickly in the cab due to the busy, honking traffic behind us.
After the excrement escapade, we walked the couple of blocks or so to a nondescript building, were buzzed in and climbed up to a beautiful, expensive apartment overlooking the main parade street. It was filled with food and drink, other expats and general chitchat. I decided to set my camera bag on an end table, slipping it off my shoulder. When I laid it down, I noticed a blob of PiPi PooPoo smeared on the backside of my leather bag. Hmmm. Since the bag rides on my hip and side, I took a look at my nice shirt I'd worn to impress everyone. There sat a tortilla sized schmear of poo, where my camera bag had smeared it all over my side. It's hard to explain the joy of realizing my coming out party to impress the expats had seen me shaking hands and trading pleasantries with a giant brown patch of poo on my side! I wanted to kill PiPi.
With such limited space on the motorcycle, I'd splurged and brought on nice travel shirt just in case I was invited to a Presidential dinner or bumped into Queen Elizabeth. I'd spent nearly an hour that morning trying to get the now permanent creases and wrinkles out from having been super-compressed in my sidecase for 3 months. Realizing I now had a giant brown poo patch on my left side, I tried to walk sideways through the crowd, constantly turning to the left to keep the big schmear out of sight.
I found the tiny guest bathroom, yanked off the shirt and managed to drop one sleeve in the toilet, while putting it under the spout in the itty bitty sink. I spent a good 15 minutes trying to wash the sh*t out of the shirt with the little bar of guest soap, while listening to the occasional rattle of the doorknob from desperate guests. Finally cleaned, though soaking wet, I crumpled the now empty Kleenex box and buried it in the trash can, hoping the owners wouldn't realize an entire new box of tissue was missing... "Honey, did you take that box of tissues out of the guest bathroom? I just bought it for the party and now I can't find it anywhere!"
With the side and half the back of my shirt wet, I smiled, nodded and crab-walked sideways past guests who were introducing themselves attempting to hide my shame until I found the balcony and some sunshine to wait until it was dry. Eventually the sun did it's job and I went back in for a drink and snacks with thoughts of murdering Maltese PiPi still filling my mind. The expat crowd was an interesting one, mostly older hippies but a fun and funky group. I was struck by the number of grey-headed guys like me with ponytails...
One guy, Bill from Colorado, had done a lot of adventure riding, both in South America, the US and India. We talked a lot and agreed to meet up again.
As I watched the parade assembling below, I just couldn't face spending the afternoon watching from a balcony and schmoozing with people, so I snuck out of the house, diving into the long line of parade floats and masses of people queuing along the sidewalks. It was far more interesting and photogenic.
The parade is known as the "Pase de Niño" and is a conglomeration of families, groups and cultures, mainly dressing in the Biblical characters of the birth of Jesus. It was long and featured mainly children, lasting for hours. Floats were festooned with candy, fruit and cooked items, all part of the decorations. Beautiful horses and riders clattered the streets, groups of dancers swirled and smiled. It was a mesmerizing sight.
The various groups and costumes were fascinating, especially the little children who did a great job of suffering in the heat in their outfits and dutifully waving, though they had no idea why. Candy was thrown, bands played and dancing groups of differing cultures came through.
Throughout the day, over and over I had great encounters with the friendliness of the Ecuadorian people as I walked and shot pictures. Occasionally the indigenous women, who do such a great job of avoiding photos or eye contact, would glance at me and the glimmer of an upturned corner of the mouth beginning to smile would appear, before their eyes quickly turned away. I began to recognize that their culture was one of shyness rather than animosity, and they exhibited the training of that culture well.
One particular aspect of the scene I enjoyed was watching the candy being thrown and the resultant reactions. The adults were just as much in a mad scramble and just as excited to get a piece as the little children were.
One exciting facet was the amount of fruit being lobbed from floats and trucks, and it kept life interesting to see apples, oranges, mangos and bananas coming at you like a home run baseball. Once, near me a lady who wasn't looking took a hit on the head by a large and quite juicy mango.
One woman stood beside me on a curb, and when I finished a picture, she began talking to me in Spanish, pointing and discussing many things of which I had no understanding, but I realized she was being friendly to me as a gringo and wanting me to feel at home in her city.
Throughout the afternoon this repeated itself in many forms, two of which come to mind. First was a parade float featuring a smoking brick oven with piles of handmade bricks, and children in a miniature mud pit holding bricks and wads of fake money, shouting sales pitches for the business owner of the float.
As I photographed one of the boys, I gave him a thumbs up. He hesitated, then responded with a thumbs up, having never done such I could tell, and behind me I heard a chorus of laughs. I turned around to the crowd on the sidewalk who were laughing and smiling at the scene. I gave them a thumbs up and they all laughed again. The boy realized he was on to something and kept repeating it for the crowd as the float floated away.
The next memory was a few blocks further, when a guy, late 20's with a big daypack, came over while I was shooting and welcomed me to Cuenca in Spanish, quite genuinely. He shook my hand several times, and though he did't speak English, conversed with me. Again and again he shook my hand, fueled to some degree by alcohol, but nevertheless sincere and happy to meet me. As I finally indicated I needed to go, he grabbed me and gave me a big bear hug, not once but twice, then shook my hand again and again. He finally let me go and I walked away feeling both strange and good as I instinctively double checked my pocket for my wallet. It was an interesting afternoon.
As I walked along, mothers would pose their children for me with big smiles. The day waned as the parade wound down. After several hours I reached the tail end as the sun dropped low, watching an organized and efficient team of blue and orange suited street cleaners attacking the streets to remove trash and washing the mounds of horse droppings away.
Here and there, locals came out of their homes to offer water or drinks to the workers.
A Gallery of Faces from the day: