Carnaval in Ecuador is insane.  It’s not something to be described, only experienced.  Start with a lot of canned spuma (think sweet smelling shaving foam), then add colored flour, water balloons and raw eggs to throw or smash over someone’s head.  Then, get some instruments, make some homemade chicha or buy a case of tallboys to share.  And do this while dancing non-stop for hours in the streets to traditional Ecuadorian music.  
This is Carnaval.  

Ecuador celebrates Carnaval for 4 days and there isn’t many in this country who aren’t participating.  I took a late night flight from Mexico and an over-night taxi ride to meet my Ecuadorian family for their not-to-miss Carnaval celebration.  It is their tradition to meet up with their extended family in the countryside above Riobamba at the home of Margarita’s grandparents.  It was my first time meeting the extended family and they whole-heartedly welcomed this Gringita into their fanfare. 
Margarita and her mother had planned ahead and made sure to pack a traditional outfit 
for me to wear in the style of the local Indigenous people.
Then, they outfitted me with a drum and told me to start dancing.  I asked repeatedly for lessons on the dance steps, but I found out that it really doesn’t matter.  Just shuffle to the beat and try to avoid getting completely doused with flying particles.  After about 5 minutes, I realized that was pointless.  Each spuma dousing dissolves in a few minutes, the water dries in the heat, and only the flour 
leaves a colored crust on your skin.  It’s just an experience I had to embrace.  
Margarita’s grandparents live high up in the hills above the city of Riobamba.  They live in a pueblo, or cluster of houses, known as Bacun.  (We counted 22 houses clinging to the mountainside in this pueblo.)  For Carnaval, it is tradition for all the families in this valley to represent the spirit of their small pueblo as they gather together in the central, and slightly larger community of Punin.  
So, at the beginning of the celebration, we all gathered in our community groups and waited our turn.  This was when Margarita and her parents took the opportunity to introduce me to all the neighbors in the community group representing Bacun.  Everyone was so welcoming and wanted to take pictures with me.  They were very proud to have a guest from another country in their midst.  
These ladies were so excited to welcome me into their celebration.  Margarita’s mom, Maria, is standing on the right in this photo, but I don’t know the others.  I think they’re all in my family… in fact, most everyone I met in this small town is related somehow to each other.  
Then, one by one, each community group paraded and danced and spuma-ed tirelessly 
in front of the judges hoping to be named the most spirited community.  
Pablo and his Uncle Erik were big culprits 

for spraying the spuma!  Then, I got a can, too!

Live chickens were also part of the dance as it is customary for each pueblo 
to bring an offering to the leaders of the hosting community. 
Celebrating Ecuador with flags and traditional military uniforms 
also receives high points from the judges.  I’m here with Pablo and Carmen’s Husband, Wilo.
After dancing and dancing and dancing for the judges on the stage, I told Margarita 
“We have to win, we’re the only pueblo with a Gringita!”
And we won!  Notice the trophy presented to our community.  Notice also that Margarita is in front and she isn’t wearing a traditional costume.  It’s because she gave me hers for the day. 

And then the dancing and the dousings continued….

At one point in the festival, they stopped the music and invited me to the stage
to say a few words of praise for the wonderful celebration.  
  I enclosed the video of my speech at the end of this post.
Eventually, mid-day, we all headed home to rest… because that night, 
at the community center/ church/ soccer field/ bull ring, more festivities were planned.

That evening, as we walked up the road, we were met by this man running very quickly toward us.
It was his job to greet all the community members and give them fresh
Caldo de Gallina (Chicken Soup) upon entering the evening celebrations.
(Free soup!  I love this country!)
An then the games began!  All the community members turned out to watch amateur bull fights.  
Some people brought their instruments and formed a band
and all the young men were encouraged to join the bulls in the ring. 
My little brother Pablo, and Margarita’s brothers Brandon, Erik and Francisco
were captivated by the standoff between the cowboys and the bulls. 
After an important round with the bulls, they would parade the winner and their family
through the ring.  The community organizers also stopped the show once to throw 
fruit, sodas, beer and chips into the crowd. 
Lorena (center) and Margarita shared some homemade chicha from this neighbor’s bucket.  Depending upon the duration of fermentation, some chicha was sour, some was sweet.
But always, it was served to everyone through the night with one single glass. 
Francisco, Johana, Wilo, Brandon, Lorena, Alisson and Israel all enjoying the show. 
Even Brandon and and my host dad, Jose, had to
try their luck with the bulls.
But then, in one of the final rounds, the announcers opened it up for novices to run with the bulls.  
I assumed of course, that this would be only for boys.  But my cousin Johana grabbed a poncho 
and jumped into the ring.  We were so excited to see her go!
The announcers were also excited and made a big deal out of the only woman who had been in the ring all night.  They were so impressed with her brevity and performance, they gave her a trophy.

Ivan, Maria, Jose, Anita, Alex, Johana, Francisco, Marjory, Erik, Margarita, Me, Alisson, Israel, Brandon and Pablo holding Johana’s trophy. 

As the night wore on and the bulls got tired, the community organizers had other events 
such as a crockery pot smash (sort of like a piñata) and a greased pole to climb for prizes.  
Then, the dancing began again. 
Our family stayed for awhile, and then slowly wandered home under the light of a million stars. We had something fun planned.  I’d been telling Margarita about the tradition of roasting marshmallows over an open fire and since there was a constant fire burning in the barnyard, it was the perfect time to introduce this new American tradition.  Earlier in the day, we had made a special trip into Riobamba to find marshmallows at a grocery store.  
We bought three big bags for all 26 of us.  
They loved them, and they ate them all!  
Another successful integration of American traditions…. wait until I introduce them to S’mores!
Carnaval was an amazing experience for me and getting to celebrate it with Margarita’s loving family was so memorable.  But even more special than that, was the opportunity to observe rural Ecuadorian life in the home of Margarita’s grandparents.  For the first time while in Ecuador, I experienced “rural poverty”.  My next blog post will be a Part 2 of this Carnaval weekend, highlighting her grandparents life and living conditions in the Ecuadorian countryside. 
Because my Blog platform doesn’t allow videos to be emailed, I’ve gotten smart about putting my videos at the end of my post.  If you can’t see the videos below and would like to see my Carnaval speech, or more craziness of the celebration, go to
Margarita thinks this video is hilarious.  I was getting a lesson on the Ecuadorian beat.  
But in the end….  the Vaca Loca (the crazy cow) got the best of me! 
And this gives you a taste of some of the dancing…. and Carnival celebrations.