Ecuadorians love their festivals.  Each city, it seems, celebrates the date of their historic founding. Then, they have to celebrate the founding days of other cities.  There’s also holidays for historic battles that were fought to earn Ecuador’s independence.  Then, there’s religious holidays in this predominately Catholic country.  Finally, each autonomous Indigenous group has their own festivals to honor the solstices, the season of planting, the season of harvests and Pachamama, Mother Earth.  It’s not out of order to say that I could attend a different festival every week of the year.  This is good for me, because I, too, love the spirit and energy of a good festival. 
September is definitely a prominent season for festivals in the provinces near where I live, and I spent much of my free time over two weeks attending several parades, concerts and other events.  This post is a compilation of photos exhibiting some of the more unique cultural parts of these fiestas. 
In Otavalo, they celebrate the Festival de Yamor, a festival to honor all the gifts they receive from the harvest of corn… foods like choclo (corn on the cob) and mote (hominy), 
as well as traditional drinks such as chicha (fermented corn juice).  
This float represents the many gifts from the corn harvest. 
In all the parades, the Ecuadorian flag is prominent. The yellow in the flag represents corn or gold, depending upon who you ask.  Both are important products of Ecuador.  The blue represents the seas and the skies, while the red represents the blood lost in 
the many battles for their independence.
If you ask anyone why they love the festivals, they will probably tell you that they love watching the dancers.  An average parade is 3-4 hours long, and the vast majority of it is various professional or non-professional dance groups giving their rendition of traditional dances.  
Their costumes, often handmade, are incredible! 
This group performed The Bomba, a traditional dance of the Afro-Ecuadorian cultures.  
Yes, he’s dancing with a decorated bottle on his head.  
The brilliant colors at these Andean Festivals are amazing!
There’s also a lot of music.  Some of it comes in the form of huge speakers in the back of pick-up trucks leading the dance groups down the street.  But local school bands, or civic employee bands are also featured.  I love this photo because it shows that the traditional daily wear of Indigenous people is considered part of the official uniform in school and work. 
In Ecuador, Indigenous people always wear their symbolic clothing with pride. 
Some of the clothing that the Indigenous wear is machine made, but most of it is 
hand woven and hand embroidered.  Always stunning! 
In some of the smaller parades, autonomous communities represented themselves by carrying a sign announcing their pueblo (probably somewhere high in the mountains), and they carried gifts of appreciation to Pachamama for their successful harvest. 
The variety of headwear is always interesting.  If I was to guess, I think much of it
was born from the necessity to keep the intense sun off of their heads. 
I would bet this man has been dancing in this parade his whole life!
The Spirit of the Huma (with his two faced mask representing positive and negative energies)
 is always a prominent feature in every Indigenous parade. 
These large clay puppets are designed and made by artists in this area, 
so they were also featured in the festivities. 
Ecuadorians celebrate all kinds of arts and dance in their culture so I also spotted cheerleading teams, break-dancing groups, martial arts clubs, roller-skating clubs, gymnasts, and hip-hop groups.  If it’s musical with movement, it’s big in Ecuador. 

This was definitely the funniest thing I saw.  First, the man standing on the left had this costume that made it look like he was being carried by another little man.  Then, some other guys taped a chicken to an electric cart, but made it look like the chicken was pulling him.  I know, I know.  It was so cruel to the chicken!  But don’t worry, I’m sure the chicken was his dinner that night anyway.

The craziest thing I’ve seen is “Vaca Loca”!  Literally, “Crazy Cow”!  The evening starts with a big music concert.  Then they set fire to a giant bamboo structure that is saddled with fireworks.  As each section explodes, it ignites the next section to create a huge long-lasting display of pyrotechnics.

Finally, the top part of the structure sets off fireworks into the sky. 
At the same time, a man starts running around the base carrying a giant 
structure of exploding fireworks.  He’s supposed to be the “Crazy Cow”.
As you can see, there’s no safety barriers or guidelines in these festivals.  Ecuadorians love their pyrotechnics and it’s your problem if you don’t stand back far enough.  
The most unique parade so far has been Mama Negra, a huge tradition in the city of Latacunga.  This  festival was supposedly established after nearby Volcan Cotapaxi erupted in 1742.  The people worried that Latacunga would be destroyed by future eruptions so they created a twice-annually celebration in honor of the Virgin of Mercy, the Patron of Cotopaxi, asking her to spare Latacunga 
in the future.  It was in this same time period that the Spaniards brought slaves to this region to work in the mines.  So, the people of Latacunga, incorporated their arrival into this festival as well.  Although it’s a strange (and sad) history to celebrate, some believe their homage is working.  
Latacunga hasn’t been destroyed in Cotopaxi’s recent eruptions. 
This is Mama Negra, a representation of the Virgin from many cultures.  She arrives on a horse  wearing an elaborate costume and carrying dolls to represent her children.  
She shares “her milk” from the squeeze bottle onto the crowd.  
There was so many fun costumes and colors at this parade.  
The men on the left are the Camisonas, dressed as the women in history.
This is a representation of a King of the Moors.  They were the enemy of the Spaniards 
(who conquered Ecuador). So, he is seen today as a symbol of strength to the 
Indigenous communities of the past.  
The street was alive for hours as the parade wound its way through the streets of Latacunga
and up a steep hill to a symbolic cross at the top. 
These characters are the Huacos. They grabbed people from the crowd to cleanse them with palm fronds and bones, supposedly preparing them for the coming of Mama Negra.

At the end of their cleansing, they’d spit Chicha (a sweet, fermented corn drink) into your face.
My friends, Ava and Ashley, experienced the whole treatment,
so I started running away every time I saw the Huacos coming!
Ice cream, cotton candy and caramel apples are favorite festival foods.
But it’s not a festival in Ecuador without the large fried pieces of pig skin!

One of the most amazing parts of Mama Negra was the number of communities or families who created and carried an Ashanga.  This is their offering to Mama Negra, and it always included a whole pig, other traditional meats like cuy, full bottles of liquor and varieties of fruit.  It is so heavy, men had to take turns carrying it up the street and then resting it on a stool.  Watch the videos and you’ll get the idea!

My friends and I spent hours watching this festival from the street and the balcony of Ava’s new apartment.  At one point, I leaned over the railing of the balcony to catch some candy being thrown up from a participant and I leaned too hard on my side.  Ouch!  I cracked or broke my rib, and have been nursing it ever since!  That ended my festivities for awhile.  But overall, Mama Negra was a very interesting cultural experience.  I will definitely go back again next year!