8.2 Cuenca

There was a peculiar music coming from one of the side streets on my walk back to the hostel on the afternoon of January 6th. Curious, I took a detour back towards the central park to see what the comotion was all about. Within less than a minute I was caught up in a parade of fancy dressed children on fancy dressed horses. Still unsure what was happening I followed the procession for the next few streets.

The boys and girls were probably around five years old (not sure about the horses..) and were dressed up like a Nativity play. It then clicked that it was the 12th day of Christmas, so that explained why there was some celebrations, rather than being a regular Sunday habit.

On the route around, proud parents looked on at their little ones, who appeared comparatively indifferent, and were on the whole subsumed by multiple layers of colourful cloth. Towards the last street, I was thrust a cup of “tradicionale drinca” (sort of cloudy apple juice with cloves and other spices) by some of the Mothers who were refreshing the riders. Angel Gabriel then came to a stop, and the rest of the ensemble dismounted.

I later learned from Ruben (that story comes later) that this was Dia de Reyes; a festival celebrating and thanking the Three Wise Men for their efforts with Baby Jesus.

Back on my original route to the hostel, I saw a stage had been set up right outside, and that a crowd was beginning to gather to watch the performers who were up there. Food stands had popped up, and lots of people had their faces painted or were wearing some sort of mask.

Four hours later, the street was heaving.

A full on concert was underway with singing, dancing, and the occasional inflatable animal/beast making its way through the crowd. The hostel’s balcony served as an excellent vantage point to see the action.

Myself and a Swedish guy (Rasmus) nipped downstairs to “the offie” to get a beer. Because of Sunday licensing laws, they weren’t strictly allowed to sell alcohol, and so they poured our ‘Pilsener’ (Ecuadorian national beer) in a cup and hid it in a black plastic bag. It was then a balancing act back to the balcony.

There we sat and chatted about many things including Europe, cycling, and the people of South America. The conversation was halted throughout the evening by several renditions of ‘Gangnam Style’ by various performers. I also had some “snus”, a type of Swedish tobacco product.

The reason for people’s face painting and masks was because the day was also “Dia de los Inocentes”, or at least that is what Ruben said. In their equivalent of April Fools’ Day, people would play pranks and make fun of politicians with the safety of their identity being concealed.

The party packed up around midnight and I headed to bed as had been on the nightbus from Quito the previous evening. Morning came, and by default I got an extended tour of the city as I was directed across all four corners in order to get a Police form to claim on insurance.

At the final stop I got chatting to Ruben, who was a new traffic policeman in town, when I was looking for the correct office. As I needed to go and get my passport from the hostel, he offered to give me a lift (I guess it was a quiet day). On the short drive there and back, he explained a bit about the festivities of the 6th and back at the ‘Fiscalia’ he generally was of great assistance when it came to filling out the report.

As we were both newbies to the city, he suggested seeing some of the sights, but unfortunately our schedules didn’t coincide.

Also in the city I visited a Museum dedicated to the Panama Hat (ooohh). I know, I’m in Ecuador, right? I think it was lost in translation some years ago, as they apparently originate close to Cuenca. Anyway, from what I gather, it takes 5 days to prepare, and then weave the headgear which are then pressed in these big vices. Kind of like a waffle-maker.

The final day in Cuenca was spent in the nearby National Park (see 8.2.1) before a quick pit stop at the hostel, and the departure from Ecuador.

Dia de Reyes Parade

Stage by hostel

View from balcony

Panama Hat Press