Penultimate Post: Fiestas de Quito

The pictures are here:

It is odd to be writing about my second to last week of my semester in Ecuador from my front room couch in Westby Wisconsin, after having returned from it all. Since it is a good exercise for me, however, and you are all perhaps mildly curious how things finished up I will record my last adventures.

Thinking way back to the week after Mindo, Monday was fairly uneventful, but Tuesday the 1st brought not only the arrival of the last month of the year, but also the 21st birthday of the stupendous Sarah Isenberg. Being a Tuesday, we didn't do much, but I met them (her and Tyler) in the centro historico after their class fieldtrip to hear a book reading/lecture. We had some chai and split a large brownie three ways, then went home to the rest of our homework, like good little children. Wednesday was about as eventful as Monday (so not) and we proceeded onto Thursday.

In the half hour break during Spanish class there was the "paso del niño" on campus, which was the Christmas story acted out in various locations, finally ending up in the setting up of the nativity scene, with some lovely carols that then got horribly stuck in my head for days afterwards. It was an interesting mix of colonial period costumes that are typical of fiestas de Quito, and biblical shepherds, as well as some guy in sports sunglasses and in modern clothes, who was inexplicably standing behind the manger with a basket the entire time…Sweets were handed out, and there was an indigenous style parade that passed by as well.

That night, after some dinner, Minori, Sarah and I met up with a Spanish class classmate Brett, and we all went out to a Salsa club. The goal was twofold: that he and Sarah could practice their fancy moves in preparation for the dance competition the next day among the Spanish classes as a way to celebrate fiestas de Quito, and as an extended birthday celebration for Sarah. We didn't end up staying too late, but did enjoy watching the whirling and impressively graceful pairs swirling below us as we sat on the upper balcony. Minori ended up staying at my house, since the keys to her house were locked in a classroom in her coat pocket.

Friday morning's class was not really class, but instead a competition between all the Spanish levels in various festive things like treasure hunts, bingo, and more traditional fiestas de Quito things like a Cuarenta tournament (which is a card game played with 40 cards around this time of year) and a salsa/chulla Quiteña dance competition.

I ran around taking pictures and collecting useless trivia about the university for the treasure hunt (coming in 3rd place or something not quite adequate) but Nivel Cinco go our moment of glory when Sarah and Brett won the dance competition with flying colors. They have both taken many a dance class, and are ridiculously graceful, and took the opportunity to show off all their spins and twirls, whilst the poor couples from the other levels were stuck with the basic steps…

Rodolfo's class was canceled that afternoon, because of fiestas de Quito, and thus, after that excitement, I went home to nap and do a little work before we went out to the concert. Tyler, Minori, Sarah, Veronica and I met up to walk over to Parque Carolina to see the Carlos Vives concert, which allegedly started at 6.

We got to the crowded park around 6:30, where we bought some bottles of canelazo, some fried rice and salchipapas (French fries, salad and a sausage in a bowl) then found a spot in the grass where we could sit down and try not to freeze as we waited for the actual concert to start.

When complaining about the cold, I attempted to look on the bright side, observing, "Well it could be worse, at least its not raining" just then I felt the first drop. I had unintentionally reproduced almost exactly the scene from Mell Brooks' Young Frankenstein…We thus huddled under Veronica's one small umbrella for a while, the food in the center, really only keeping only our heads dry in addition to the rapidly emptying plates.

We soon decided the most logical thing to do was to lie down on the now rather wet grass in a circle, my head on Minori's stomach, Sarah's head on mine, etcetera around the circle, then put the umbrella in the center to shelter only our faces once again. We lied like that for a few solid hours, chatting as we listened to the fairly horrible and random pre-show music.

I think it says a lot about our group that we still managed to have such fun, despite getting steadily soaked and frozen listening to some random and sub-par music as we waited for the show to start. We thoroughly enjoyed the either disdainful or amused looks we got from the fest-goers, upon seeing a pile of soggy gringos lying on top of each other and laughing hysterically in the wet grass.

Sarah was asleep pretty soon however, and we decided we were actually pretty wet, and getting wetter. We thus migrated in search of bathrooms (Carlos Vives himself still not even having started) and ended up standing in front of an over-crowded Shwarma (spellcheck thinks I am spelling it wrong, and I don't even know if thats true or not) restaurant, using the heat of the meat cooking fire to dry off.

As the concert was really actually about to start, we decided to wade through the crowd to see how close we could get to the stage. After being thoroughly jostled and squeezed and stepped on, we decided that despite the slight side angle, as opposed to the actual behind view of the stage, the loud speakers meant that we could hear the music from anywhere anyway, so it might be better to be able to breath freely, without strangers being shoved into our chests, restricting our respiration. Pretty soon Veronica's very kind mother picked us up and dropped us off at our various houses.

Saturday was a day that got a slow start, involving many logistical challenges of meeting up and finding people and waiting and running out of credit on our phones…but finally Sarah and Tyler met Minori James and I in the centro historico where we did some exploring, post card buying, empanada and papi pollo (French fries and chicken) eating and some canelazo drinking, before heading back to the north to meet up with James' friends for another chiva. Here again we had to wait a lot and figure out where people where and who was coming where and when, thus we decided to go to a pizza restaurant to hangout in the meantime. We played some Cuarenta and BS for a while, while more friends joined the now quite large group, before we finally got organized enough for the chiva.

A rather odd situation ensued while we were waiting for the chiva-granted, we were a large group of gringos hanging out on the sidewalk late at night, but we didn't feel that this warranted the fact that an also large group of police suddenly surrounded us, flashing their lights and blaring their sirens. We didn't have any alcohol open, and were not committing any public indecency or crime of any sort that we knew of…It was super strange, but they clearly wanted us to leave, so even as we got pretty upset about feeling like we were in trouble when we knew we hadn't done anything wrong, we left, to avoid a scene. Just then, our chiva arrived, luckily, so we got on, for an hour of dancing and trying not to fall over, as we careened around the city. After getting dropped off, we then had a very indecisive hour or so deciding which club to go into in the Foch, the famous night life district, also known as "gringolandia" The group finally decided on a bar, without dancing, where drinks were ordered. Tyler and I soon decided that since we weren't interested in drinking anymore, and the lack of dancing meant we were rapidly falling asleep, we might as well go home.

Sunday was a day, as if often is, of not leaving the house, and of homework. Ximena and I also waged a lengthy glitter filled battle with the Christmas decorations, which was only won the following Tuesday, as she finally tackled (many YouTube tutorials later) that tricky tree-topper bow (because their fake tree is actually too tall for their house, meaning we couldn't assemble it fully and had to make a bow to avoid the chopped-off look) At the end of the day, we gave up, leaving a living room that looked like a festive disaster area, and we went to bed still pretty coated in glitter, despite efforts at washing off, and sweeping.