Behind the mountain closest to the sun, on the hidden flanks of Mount Chimborazo, lies the quiet city of Guaranda. Most of the year, life in the town is sleepy and quiet. Its generous, happy inhabitants lead a traditional life, dominated by their mountain landscapes and agriculture. But when Carnival comes around, energy is overflowing and the entire city heads to the streets to party. One might say that in Guaranda, you need a year to prepare for Carnival.
Carnival can last up to six days; there are few cities that, during Carnival, bring together so many people in the streets to watch or participate in its processions. Here in Guaranda, masks abound, with vivid colors, dances, troupes, and floats with large effigies; all are testiment to the high level of care, organization, and anticipation with which the events are regarded.
The Taita Carnaval, or Father Carnival, is the great host, and the huasitúpacs are the trouble-makers who give out drinks of the town’s excellent produce: a high alcoholic grade aguardiente known as pájaro azul (“blue bird”) – don’t be surprised when you see people dressed up as one in the streets! The drink is distilled from boiled sugar cane, herbs, and… cooked chicken.
The ‘games’ are officially inaugurated by the Taita a week before Carnival, and the locals ‘play’ hard. As throughout Ecuador, people throw each other eggs, cornstarch, flour, and a lot of foam. As the days go by, making their way to Carnival weekend, its all about the events. Concerts, beauty pageants, and parades dominate the streets with the bright and diverse colors. Masks, characters, uniforms… some elegant, with pretty felt hats, others humorous… and always colorful.
Carnival in song and dance
Music and rhyme are a central part of the party. The mischievousness of the people is sometimes best exemplified in rhyme, and Carnival, a time of mischief, is full of poetry. The coplas, or folk poems, speak mainly of love, heartbreak, passion, eroticism, or simply of the sweetness and rows between lovers.
But they also speak of the festivities, the parade, the typical dishes, the experiences of dancing, singing, getting drunk and being part of the party. Carnival is all about letting go…
Or, as the song goes:
¡Ahijuay pucha Carnaval! I have to sing you, I have to dance you, and on Ash Wednesday… I’ll also have to indulge you!
Guaranda’s Carnival was declared one of Ecuador’s Intangible Cultural Heritages in 2002.
Main photograph: The Taita Carnival announces when the parties officially begin (Juan Pablo Verdesoto).