It was our fourth day in Cuenca, and Tess and I were once completely lost as to what we were doing that day. When we had ventured out of our hostel onto the streets, water balloons, water, and foam had come careening down from the sky like homing missiles. Then, a couple minutes later, we found ourselves inevitably wet. Our attackers, we later saw from the safety of a used book store, were gringos. However, we also knew from our vantage point, that they weren’t the only people looking for targets that Sunday. We had both seen unlucky tourists and locals running to save themselves from getting very, very, wet. Back to my previous point, we didn’t have anything planned that day, and our options were even fewer once we learned that the city was for all intents and purposes, closed down that day. Carnaval seemed to have that effect on Cuenca while we stayed there those few days (this day being a Sunday did not help either).
Eventually, I ventured downstairs to see the hostel owner, his family, and two gringas preparing water balloons and filling buckets with water. After inquiring as to what our options to do were, he asked if we wanted to join him and his family while they went through the city. Finding nothing better to do, and myself being very interested as to what this day would turn out like for a local Cuencan, we went along for the ride.
Not even 10 minutes into our ride down the street, and that may have been as far as we got-the end of the street, I found myself staring down the nozzle of a can of foam. The car pulled up next to us at a red light, and when I turned to look I met with the great misfortune of foam shooting into my face, ears, and hair. Before I had time to fully recover, we were off; and we ourselves were looking for potential victims to ‘wet’ as the hostel owner’s young son would say.
As we caroused through the city, we saw mainly two kinds of people. The first wore smiles and joined the water battles with gusto. The second may as well have worn ‘Peligro’ signs and safety cones, as they were armed with piercing glares that said, “If any water gets within 10 yards of me, even the truck you’re in won’t save you.” Needless to say, we avoided getting the latter wet.
The day went on, and storms greeted the already drenched city as if saluting the celebration. Seemingly harmless raindrops quickly turned into needles which spit insignificantly into the metal of the truck; our faces were not so lucky. Our luck took another turn for the worse as the truck pulled off the street to stop at a store. Before the truck had even come to a stop water began to cascade from all sides as buckets, water balloons, and hoses unloaded their full force onto the defenseless, unprepared gringas. Tess, the two gringas, and the son desperately retaliated as the hostel owner and I retreated into the truck in an effort to escape the barrage. Alas, their valiant effort served for little, for as the truck pulled out, Tess and the others were irrevocably, sopping, wet.
From the comfort of the inside of the truck, I watched as the others shivered, hair wet and plastered. Wind and rain continued its incessant assault while lush green fields zipped by to give way to a small town. We passed the town square and headed back into a series of narrow dirt roads which led us to our destination, an inconspicuous house made of packed dirt and wood, with VERY inconspicuous occupants. Two windows opened overhead, and two heads peeped out; both bursting with energy and demanding we come inside. After much ado over how wet some of us were, we made our way upstairs.
Buzzing with a jolly vibrancy that belied her age, la Abuelita proffered up coats for two of the wetter gringas along with robust jumping hugs. Grinning at his son and grandson, El Abuelito brought up chairs and passed around tart yellow cherries as he grinned and said, “Comeras.”
When we were somewhat warm and very much so stuffed with cherries, the time to leave neared. After another hearty hugging session from both parties, we were ready to head home. Once again I watched rain patter against the windows while small gray buildings, mountains, and fields went further and further out of view.