Feb 252012

Vilcabamba, Ecuador.


For some it’s a reason dress up. For others it means a whole lot of beer. There are people who associate it with samba.

For the people of Cuenca (Ecuador), it means soap, foam and water. Lots of it. Which in turn for us meant an escape. Into mud.

Carnival kinda crept up on me, didn’t really realize about it until I got my first face full of soap… Around here the way to celebrate is by buying a spray-can filled with a colorful and sweet-smelling foam / soap, which you use to douse unsuspecting bystanders / passersby / gringos (officially people from the USA, but liberally used for anybody who looks white (or sun-burnt). That would be me).

Imagine just walking down the street, mindin’ your own business, when three kids with too large smiles “inconspicuously” walk towards you. Before you have time to grab your wallet to chase them off with a hand-full of well-aimed change (right between the eyes is the best spot!), you are sprayed in huge amounts of foam, making you look like frosty-the-snowman after he’s taken a bath (cold, of course).

That happened to me. And my mind was filled with just one thing: Revenge! So we made the first spray-can-vendor we came across very happy by exchanging a hard-earned dollar for a can of extra-sweet-carnival-foam-spray-can-of-doom(-and-destruction). Eyes shooting fire we set off in the general direction in which our little tormentors had run. Of course they weren’t to be found, so we instead we took out our rage on random other people that passed us by. They seemed to take it with good humor, which kinda made it less fun for us… Especially when they gave as good as they got.

Luckily carnival is only a single week… (is there a smiley for sarcasm? In that case, insert it here)

A few days before all this Vivi and me did the most touristy thing of my entire time in South America so far: The Devil’s Nose railway (named after the mountain it comes over, which with a lot of imagination (and some hard liquor) does look like a nose). A 3 hour back-and-forth train-trip, specifically for loud Americans and fat Germans of over 50. True, the views were stunning and the “authentic” native dance we got at the end-point (or is that half-way-point, if you’re only stopping there for a bit and then returning) was very pretty, but it did make me feel that I needed to trade my back-pack for a Louis-Vuiton suitcase (with matching beauty-case) and could only stay in 5-star hotels afterwards…
After a few days of carnival paranoia (not only is it good custom to spray innocent passersby, it’s even better custom to throw water balloons or even entire buckets of water from balconies), we decided to escape the city and head for the nearby “Cajas” national park.

The little bit of trouble with buses that didn’t run on a national holiday was quickly solved by a friendly cab-driver who took us the 40-odd kilometers into the hills for the very reasonable sum of 20 dollars.

Cajas is a so called high wetlands. That’s a fancy word for a swamp on top of a mountain. Meaning loads of water, ponds, lakes, creeks, bogs, peat, some mountains, and mud.

The last I came into close contact with whilst very gallantly trying to help Vivi across a somewhat wet patch (my legs are slightly longer and thus cross water somewhat more easily than a 1.65m Peruvian), as a misstep made me sink calf-deep into the soggy combination of stagnant water and sand for which the park is famous. This was the first time I was actually happy that I had been dragging my huge and heavy water-tight hiking boots with me for this entire vacation…

And luckily when we got back to the city there was enough soap / foam to make me smell nice and fresh again…

My foot. After encountering a mud-pond.

Vivi, walking through Cajas

Cool in the park