My time in Ecuador has been a blast and a half so far. I came to visit my friend Mandy, who is currently living in Quito, and decided to meet my friends Abby and Colleen here as well, which was a surprise to some of them. (You can read the whole story of our sneaky surprises on my friend Abby's blog, because she tells it better than me: http://shiftinghabitat.blogspot.com/2012/02/surprise.html )
Reunited with 3 of my former housemates from college, we filled our time catching up while, of course, doing some sightseeing. Highlights include: climbing up the Basilica in Historic Quito for a beautiful view of the city nestled into the mountains; standing on the equator; riding the Teleférico cable car up into the Andes for another hopeful view the city (but instead all we could see was the inside of a cloud we were in); relaxing in hot springs; and ziplining over the jungle canopy. Between beautiful sights, bountiful laughs, and exciting adventures, the memories and our time spent together are the best recuerdos.
Another highlight of Ecuador has been celebrating Carnival! Similar to Mardi Gras, Carnival is usually celebrated in South America the few days leading up to Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season. In fact, it is celebrated all over the world in many different ways. Most people think of the most flashy Carnival celebrations, like those in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with elaborate masks, costumes, and parades.
But in Ecuador, it is celebrated a little differently. There are still parades with costumes and indigenous dancing, but the most fun, and most widely practiced form of "playing" Ecuadorian Carnival is by being diablitos: playfully mischievous little devils that throw water, flour, and eggs at unsuspecting victims. We played Carnival with some of Mandy's friends here, and it turned into a full out war with kids and adults alike. By the end, we were all soaked in water and caricoa (similar to silly string, it's a colored foam-like substance that dries like water). People mostly play with other people they know, but a few times, neighbors would throw water at us from their windows or roofs while we were playing on the streets.
In some busy areas or at the parades, you would get covered in every substance no matter what, just by innocently walking through the street.
I'm not exactly sure why Carnival is celebrated (or Mardi Gras for that matter), but it is just a fun time for adults to act like kids and to be playfully mischievous. I think has something to do with letting loose and having fun before the Lenten season comes. I learned from some quick Wikipedia research that some say the name Carnival comes from the Latin expression "carne vale," which means "farewell to meat, signifying that those were the last days when one could eat meat before the fasting of Lent. The word carne may also be translated as flesh, so suggesting carne vale as "a farewell to the flesh", meaning that Carnival encourages you to let go of your former (or everyday) self and embracing the carefree nature of the festival.
Whatever it means, it was a a blast. Feliz Carnival!