A pleasant half hour drive from the town site is the active Laguna de Cuicocha (Guinea Pig Lake) at the base of Cotacachi Volcano! …… steam bubbles to the surface at regular intervals from this active underwater volcano …….. the fresh air was superb after Quito’s polluted air!! I took the little tour boat for a half hour lookabout, savouring the moist fresh air and the lush green volcanic scenery. To my complete surprise, a small group of high schoolers on a field trip from Quito, broke out in song as we left the shore …. the theme song from Titanic in flawless, albeit Spanish accented, English!! What a delight and totally enhanced the boat experience!! Celine Dion would have been proud of the bunch 🙂 …. good friendly fun group of kids … however, despite knowing all the words to the song, could not converse in English with me at all! …. lots of giggles and smiles though, mostly at my meager Spanish 🙂 !! Maybe they were too shy … singing as a group is way easier for communication 🙂 … I loved it …. the song is still one of my favourites and I tear up every time I hear it.
Clemenia and Eufemia from the hotel encouraged me to take in the annual indigenous celebration in the center of town today … called ‘Inti Raymi’ …. It is an ancestral celebration exclusive to the Otavalenos of this region and coincides with the crop harvest … I had been to Otavalo some weeks ago for their weekly animal market … there are hundreds of thousands of Otavalenos in this Northern Highlands region of the country … they are the most industrious and successful of the more than twenty different indigenous groups within Ecuador … In total, indigeneous people make up roughly 25 percent of Ecuador’s 14 million people. They pretty much dress as they have for hundreds of years in these rural towns of Ecuador ….. Only the hand embroidery on the ladies’ blouses may have become brighter with new colourful threading available and upon closer inspection, (ever the skeptic, I am snoopy that way :)) … some of the embroidery may be done on machines now rather than by hand. The women wear dark skirts with white embroidered blouses and black sandals …. the men, white pants, blue ponchos and white sandals ….
It was a quiet scene when I arrived in the town square shortly after breakfast, but within half an hour, a steady stream of male dancers, dressed up in rather strange cowboyish costumes, topped off with huge black hats, fill the main street. It is quite the explosion of color and sound for a normally quiet small town …… hundreds dancing down the main street …… more of a rhythmic marching stomp than a dance really, and accompanied by a repetitive chant …. this will apparently go on for several hours!!! … wives, sisters, daughters, mothers, girlfriends are all here, passing water, pop, juices to their men …. It would appear to me, after watching and walking about for the past three hours, that a frenzy is taking hold of the dancers …. it also occurs to me that something stronger than water and juices are being consumed!! At this point, I opt to take my leave and head back to Mirage for lunch ….
Unfortunately, as is the case with far too many indigenous people around the globe, much drinking of the homemade hooch variety is a sad reality …… in Ecuador it is ‘chicha’ …. a fermented corn liquor … police holding shields are scattered everywhere … they are needed for later this afternoon when fighting breaks out …. it apparently always does with all the drinking going on … (Last year three died and dozens were hospitalized during the festivities, hence the heavy police presence this year) ….. I noticed many glassy eyed, staggering, indigenous cowboys as I walked back, wildly swinging leather riding crops with hard metal based handles …. these will end up as fighting tools later in the afternoon. At one point, I was jostled about as I accidentally got in the way of the dancers … I was busy taking pictures and was not aware that the dancers had abruptly changed direction and before I knew it, I was jostled and wedged against a wall … causing me a minor moment of panic … drunk mobs are not something to reason with! TIme to vamoose and celebrate the remainder of Inti Raymi with a nice lunch and a massage back at the hotel 🙂