In my wanderings and walks to Mojeron Moto to stare forlornly at the bike, I'd come across a quiet restaurant tucked away on a side street, which turned out to be run by a local guy who'd worked in Chicago for 10 years, and on his return had opened a US style eatery. The bar 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.
Upshot was, I was invited to an expat party a couple of days later to watch the upcoming city parade from a balcony and imbibe on food and drink all the afternoon.
That Saturday morning, she picked me up in a cab, which turned into a meandering trying to find a way to the address with so many streets closed for the parade. Aside me in the back seat was her little Maltese, his head sticking out the carry bag and uninterested in being petted.
We finally got within a couple of blocks of the party and bailed on the cab to walk. I grabbed my camera bag and some food she'd baked, standing next to the cab while she retrieved her baby from the back seat. Suddenly her exclamation of "PiPi, I can't believe you sh*t on the back seat!" Yep, PiPi had taken a PooPoo on the rear seat of the taxi, apparently worming his way out of the head hole, doing the dump and somehow getting back in. It didn't happen when I was in the cab and didn't see anything when I got in. 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, thankfully having missed it when I jumped in the cab in the busy, honking traffic behind us. First world problems already.
After the excrement escapade, we walked the 2 blocks or so to a nondescript building, being buzzed in and climbing up to a beautiful expensive apartment, filled with food and drink, meeting other expats and doing general chitchat. I decided to leave my camera bag on an end table, slipping it off my shoulder. When I laid it down, I noticed a little stuff on the backside. 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 PiPiPooPoo where the bag had smeared it all over my side. Both exciting and impressive for a mingling party!
I'd been carrying one nice shirt for the trip, and had spent an hour trying to get the creases out from having been compressed in my case for 3 months, which didn't work anyway. I now had a giant brown poo patch on the side and tried to walk sideways through the crowd keeping the big schmear out of sight. I found the bathroom, yanked off the shirt and managed to drop a sleeve in the toilet, then spent a good 15 minutes trying to wash the sh*t out of the shirt in the sink while listening to the occasional rattle of the doorknob. They'll probably wonder why an entire box of Kleenex disappeared.
With my wet half of a shirt, I walked sideways until I found the balcony to wait until it was dry. Eventually the sun did it's job and I went back in for a drink and snacks. The crowd was an interesting one, mostly older hippies and cool types. I was struck by the number of grey headed guys like me with ponytails. Hmmm.
I met a guy, Bill from Colorado, who'd done a lot of adventure riding, both in S America, the US and India. We talked a lot and agreed to meet up again.
As I watched the parade lining up below, I just couldn't face spending the afternoon watching from a balcony and snuck out, diving into the long line of parade floats and masses of people queuing along the sidewalks. The parade is known as the "Pase de Niños" 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, supposed to last for hours.
The various groups and costumes were fascinating, especially the little children who did a great job of suffering in the heat in costumes 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 such great encounters with the friendliness of the Ecuadorian people as I walked and shot images. 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 the eyes quickly turned away. I began to recognize that their culture was one of shyness rather than animosity, and they exhibited the training of the culture well. It helped me understand.
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 children.
The more 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 ball. 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 shot she began talking to me in Spanish, pointing and discussing many things of which I had no idea, but I realized she was being friendly to me as a gringo and wanting to welcome me to 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 and piles of handmade bricks and children in a mud pit holding bricks and wads of fake money, shouting sales pitches for the owner of the float. As I photographed one of the boys, I gave him a thumbs up. He responded, having never done such I could tell, and I heard a chorus of laughs. I turned around to the crowd on the sidewalk laughing and smiling at the scene. I gave them a thumbs up and they laughed again, the boy realizing he was on to something and repeating it for the crowd.
The next one was a few blocks further, when a guy, maybe 28 with a big daybag, came over while I was shooting and welcomed me to Cuenca, 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, somewhat fueled by alcohol, nevertheless sincere and happy to meet me. As I finally indicated I needed to go, he grabbed 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 double checked my pocket for my wallet. It was an interesting afternoon.
As I walked along the mother's of children would pose their kids for me, with big smiles. The day waned as the parade wound down after hours, and I reached the tail as the sun set low, watching an organized and efficient team of blue suited and orange suited street cleaners attacking the streets to remove trash and washing the mountains of horse droppings away. Here and there, locals come out of their homes to offer water or drinks to the workers. Another great day of living.
A Gallery of Faces from the day: