Carnival in Cuenca is synonymous with play, fun, color and good food: an opportunity to stop whatever your life’s routine may hold and discover the charm and mischievousness of age-old traditions.
Compadres and Comadres Thursday
Talk about throw-back… two weeks before Carnival, families chose their compadres and ‘comadres’. Those chosen are presented with a bread or sugar “guagua” doll wrapped in the traditional way (think tamale – on a sumptuous tray of flower petals!).
When committed to such an honor, the elected would offer their visitors a glass of “mistela” (spirit with macerated fruit) and confirmed that they would attend the festivities (or shall we call them, ‘the games’, during which everyone, even grandpa and grandma threw water, flour, and cornstarch), at the house of those who had bequeathed compadre or comadre status.
Today, the “Compadre and Comadre” Thursday is a festivity that has been revived by the Municipal Corporation of Cuenca and its Tourism Foundation, aiming to rescue important city traditions. The celebration is the official announcement of the holidays and is a consolidated tourist attraction that takes place on the Thursday before Carnival, in pre-pandemic times, congregating thousands of people to choose a compadre and comadre for the city. Likewise, symbolically named authorities and media outlets, are also offered the status of “compadres” of Cuenca’s Carnival festivities, committing them to promote the festival and its customs.
Among the culinary delights that families prepare we find: classic Cuenca bread; exquisite sweets such as macerated peach, quince, and figs; and the incomparable “mote pata”, prepared with peeled hominy, pork, bacon, and sausage.
Carnival of Rio… Gualaceo
Since 2000, the carnival parade of Rio Gualaceo has transformed Avenida Jaime Roldós into a veritable “sambadrome”. Flowers, balloons, streamers, carioca, and the human warmth of ten thousand people, who revel in half-a-hundred parades, radiating color, beauty, joy, and sensuality: one of the most striking spectacles in Ecuador. On Monday and Tuesday, along the riverbank, concerts take place (with occasional international guest stars), as well as sporting events organized by the Municipality. The beautiful beaches of Santa Bárbara and San Francisco welcome thousands of Carnavaleros!
A Carnival with History
They say that people in Cuenca used to play Carnival throwing eggshells filled with colored aniline and in some areas they’d create hidden pools to wet the passersby who headed to the Sunday market (they had to pay to avoid getting wet). Those seeking to find girlfriends took advantage of the festivities to sneak into their houses and “declare their love”. Of course, they never arrived empty-handed, but with a basket full of liquor, cigarettes, and something to eat. If you had money, you’d come along with a bottle of cologne to spray your loved one with.
On a not so festive note, the dangerous game of ‘Pucará’ consisted of throwing stones at the members of the other team. Players would cover themselves with thick hats made of sheep’s wool, leather, and wood. Many ended up injured… some dead!
Courtesy of the Cuenca Tourism Foundation