After celebrating Ecuadorian carnival, I decided that from now on I want to celebrate it every year. And as you might feel like joining me, I wrote this little guide on how to celebrate a successful 6-day long Ecuadorian carnival and what to expect! (Please consider that the guide is based on my own experience and that I am not trying to generalise. I know that Ecuadorians celebrate carnival in many different ways.)
Okay so where do you start?
1. First you need to understand what carnival is: It is a festive season that occurs before lent, originated in ancient Greece and Italy and is mainly being celebrated in Roman Catholic countries. During it there are parades, parties, concerts, people dress up, and there is also an excessive consumption of alcohol, meat, and other foods prescribed during lent. In Ecuador people also spray carioca (coloured foam similar to shaving cream), water, pig blood, eggs, flour and paint on each other.
2. The next step is to find a group of people who you want to celebrate carnival with. With those people you start throwing liquids at each other a month before the festivities starts. This year carnival was at the end of February but people, especially kids, started playing at the beginning of the month. Then, you start to organise the festivities, which you do by finding a pig. This pig will be used for day-5. Also, you need to figure out 15 different outfits for carnival. Each day you will need around 2-3 outfits, due to the amount of water fights you will be involved in.
3. Now you need to buy equipment: water guns, water buckets, carioca, flour, eggs, paint and cheap sunglasses. The sunglasses will protect your eyes from the carioca. (I did not know how chemical it is and ended up with a really bad eye infection and damaged sunglasses.) Your final step in your preperational process is to learn the word Achachay. It is a word from Kichwa, the language that many indigenous people speak in Ecuador. Some words from Kichwa are now also used in Spanish, such as Achachay. The meaning of Achachay is that something feels very cold. Due to the constant water fights during your Ecuadorian carnival, you will get pretty cold and eventually the only word that will come out of your mouth will be Achachay.
4. Now, you are ready to start the festivities, which start on Thursday by having a party at your job. For me that was the local school. Everyone comes equipped and so should you. At my school, first there was a carnival program, which involved dances and a competition deciding who will be the queen of carnival. Then the people at your job (for me my students and the teachers) and you start attacking each other with the water, carioca, flour etc. I really enjoyed throwing water at my students and the teachers!
After regaining some energy, you go to the closest city in the area (for me this was Cuenca) and celebrate El Jueves de Compadres. In the centre of the city is a show, including many artists and dancers. Everyone watches the show with excitement, whilst also spraying each other full with carioca. Hence, you dance and have foam fights for a couple of hours. By doing that you don not only enjoy yourself but also make new friends and enemies! At the end of the day you fall tired into your bed and get ready for another day filled with events.
5. The next day you go to the parade organised by all the schools in your town or you even take part in the parade (I did!). Every school prepares dances and costumes for the parade and also each school has a car, which is being decorated. The car is for the queen of the school. The parade is not only a cultural experience but also a mess due to the amount of carioca present! After the parade ends everyone stays in the centre, dances, drinks and continues spraying carioca around. In the evening you go to church to see a presentation done by kids related to carnival (my host brother Juan Carlos played a priest and the other one, Javier, was a peasant). Then you go home and get ready for day 3 of the festivities.
6. On day 3 you start the day slowly. Maybe you go to see a small parade somewhere but otherwise you should take it easy. This is because you have a busy night ahead of you: You will go to a party in the neighbouring town! For this you need to dress up (heels should be present, which in my case looked quite funny because I am already way taller than most Ecuadorians!). The party is located in a school building. A life band is present and you dance to local Ecuadorian music and reggaeton. Be ready to dance all night long and to once again be attacked with carioca. Also, only think of going home when the clock hits 4 am. You will probably end up going to sleep at 5 am and will have to put on an alarm for 9 am! Good night.
7. Day 4 is another day full of fights involving liquids and parades, which you should also attend, as every parade is special and exciting in its own way. You start the day by watching the parades, which is an insane mix of traditional-, reggaeton- and pop- dances, people who are wearing costumes and women, who are queens of some school or organisation. Then you go, get a bucket and find someone who has a flat roof, to throw water from that roof on anyone that passes by. It is so much fun and everyone does it! After that you finally get your water guns, carioca, flour etc. to get ready for the most intense fight of the festivities, as the whole town is present. At times you will be walking for 10 minutes not being able to look up because you are being attacked so much. The worst place to be is in a park, which has a lake or a river, as people will come with buckets full of water and the water might also be quite dirty. After 3-4h off being wet, you go home and take a warm shower for a long time.
8. For day 5 you have to get up early, maybe at around 7 am. Today is the day you spend with your extended family; around 30 people will be present. The family day will be at this house in the countryside that your aunts own. You do not really get why they have it and probably will never get it but that’s okay because for day 5 this house is perfect. At 9 am you arrive at the house and who arrives too? Well the pig you bought ages ago does and it is still alive! So now it has to be killed the pig (someone does it for you). It is an interesting experience and you will observe how throughout the day you and your extended family end up eating every part of it. Then you start a water fight with everyone. Everyone is equipped, and as there is a tab close by the buckets and water guns are constantly full. At times you will be forced on to a chair and around 10 people will come with their buckets filled with freezing cold water (this is the moment you really have to shout Achachay). However, the toughest incidence of the day is when your family members come with pig blood and start throwing it on you. They might even end up using some pig organs as “shampoo”. You will be kind of grossed out but it is part of the experience and you will eventually laugh about it.
Overall, the day is a mix of eating, water/foam/flour/blood fights, cooking and just hanging out next to the bonfire. You will have to bring many clothes to this party and will eat a lot of pork, mote and rice. At 10 pm you go back home, feeling tired and full but very happy because this day has been awesome!
9. Day-6 is your final day of carnival and is the day to descansar (rest): You sleep in, have lunch at some family member’s house and maybe have one last water fight. After that you wash your clothes and get mentally ready to go back to work! Finally, you fall into your bed, reflect about the exciting couple of days you have had and laugh because you used Achachay so much!
28 weeks down, 6 weeks to go