The place to be for Carnaval (the few days before lent begins) in Ecuador is Ambato, a town 2.5 hours to the south of Quito. Ambato has a "Festival de Flores, Fruta y Pan" (Festival of Flowers, Fruit and Bread) as the centerpiece of the party.
Johanna, a friend from Santa Fe, had arrived in Quito to visit the weekend of Carnaval. We we traveled to Ambato with some new friends from our hostel: Rosalyn and Nick from Brighton, England, Damon from Sydney, Australia and Patti from Italy.
We arrived in time to catch the parade, which featured floats made from fruit, flowers, bread and nuts and beans, all grown locally. We did have quite a few people between us and the parade... but it was fun people watching, and we could see the parade over their heads...
Each float also featured one or more "Reinas", (RAY-Nahs, which are queens), from all different levels of Latin American organizational strata, for example reinas from each country, from the continent, from the city, selected specifically for this festival, etc.
The queens were very popular with the crowds and everyone vied for their attention.
It was this type of public interest in the reinas, that lets you know that when people refer to you as a "reina," they mean it as a compliment.
After the parade we checked out the big fruit/flower/bread presentations. This display (below), on the front of Ambato's Cathedral, is made each year with a different theme.
Here's a close-up of the use of bread and fruits:
The town was also showcasing the roses grown in the region; they were beautiful!
In the afternoon, attentions were turned to foam-wars (actually called "Kareoke"-kind of like silly-string in an aerosol can) and the most popular of the two Ecuadorian beers, "Pilsener." If I haven't mentioned it before, Pilsener is a ubiquitous and cheap drink consumed all over the country. It is, in fact, a type of Pilsner.
The foam wars apparently are a government-fix (a substitution, you might say) to the historic problem of egg and other types of food-throwing, and is hugely popular with the kids... and with everyone in town later at night.
It started off in the park, Damon had all the kids chasing him... Later in the evening we walked around town to people-watch. Several streets were filled with townspeople and tourists having street parties outside of bars. Traffic still passed by, but it had to creep at a snail's pace. A majority of the cars passing through, however, were participating in the foam wars!
A fun surprise that evening was that "Washington", a Habitat for Humanity driver from the site in Santo Domingo, appeared- to my confusion. He is actually from Ambato and had recently returned to start a hard-rock band. He introduced Jo, Damon and me to his family, friends, rocker-buddies, etc. He seemed to know everyone in town, and he had been participating in the party for the last three days! Washington is the one to my right in the pic.
He really wanted us to stay for a rock concert that night... but we wanted to get back to Quito before 5am.
I wore a "Carnival" face mask (future gift to James) from Otavalo (north of Quito, market town) to add to the festive atmosphere...
but I think wearing it may have contributed to my eventual role as a target for the foam-wars!
We finally left town, covered in "kareoke", tired and happy.