Monday, July 23, 2012

Cuenca, Dia de los Difuntos

Cemetery in Cuenca
 In Ecuador, el Dia de los Difuntos is celebrated on November 2nd to remember the deceased. This past week, we had Wednesday through Friday off, and the majority of high schools and universities have the entire week off for the feriados. For the Day of the Deceased, families made a traditional drink called colada morada and a bread called pan de guagua which date back to pre-colonial indigenous traditions. The drink is made with several types of fruits typical to the region, especially pineapple and blackberries--the blackberries give the drink the characteristic dark purple color, as well as many spices including cinnamon.
The bread is made in the shape of a baby--guagua is Kichwa for baby--and has a sweet flavor. Families typically bring a large pot of the drink to the cemeteries in which their loved ones are buried and use the day to remember them.

In Guayaquil, this day is typically a calm day for families to spend together. However, Cuenca's foundation day is Nov 3, creating a more upbeat atmosphere through the smaller, highland city.

I arrived in Cuenca with Dave and a few friends around 10pm on the 2nd and headed to the house of a friend. Rather than taking a regular bus that costs roughly $8 for the 4 hour trek into the mountains, my friends wanted to take a van, for which we paid $12 each to a company called Atenas that does direct routes exclusively between Cuenca and Guayaquil. Although I'd rather pay less, it was far more comfortable and we arrived sooner than we expected.

We spent a little bit of time relaxing at our friend's house, where the rest of my friends would be staying, before we took taxis into the city to find the hostel Dave and I had reserved. When we finally located it (Hostal Hogar Cuencano), we were greeted by a tired owner who told us there were no rooms available. After going back and forth explaining to him we had made a reservation a while back and establishing the fact that he was in fact the person that emailed Dave back earlier that day telling him it'd be no problem if we got in a little late, he realized that he had mistaken two other travelers for us. The two guys, also New Yorkers had apparently reserved a room for the next night but decided to come early and try to get what they could. They ended up tricking the owner into thinking one of them was the Dave he had been in contact with, and they had already headed out to the city by the time we got there.

The owner's only solution at first was to give us his maid's room, since she had gone off on vacation, and only charge us half price ($5/each). After looking it over, I told him we'd leave our bags with him, head out and wait for a phone call from him that the two guys had arrived back at the hostel and were moving their stuff into the maid's room. We went off to get a late dinner, explored some of the city and returned back to have our bags all moved into the room we had reserved. I was frustrated with Celso, the owner, at first but I appreciated that he took the blame and was able to solve the issue for us.

The next day we went off to explore the markets and the city. We found markets and fairs everywhere we went, with bands playing the local Andean music throughout the city. Each day we spent in Cuenca we followed a fairly similar routine of searching for delicious food, good deals at the markets and enjoying the city.

The view of the large three domed cathedral seen above is taken from the San Francisco Market. The Cathedral is located in the central part of the city with a park located in front, as is typical for many South American cities to be based around the most important church and a central plaza. Much of the festivities that took place over the long weekend were also centered around this area. The main flower market is also very close, where Dave snuck off to buy a flower for me, and decided against it when the woman told him the cost was 25. His assumption meant that this woman was trying to get 25 dollars out of him; until he realized she was referring to cents. 

Note: This post was written in November 2011 although unpublished until July 2012. 

Ecuadorian Futbol

Yesterday night I headed to the Estadio Banco Pichincha with a few international students and an Ecuadorian friend from one of my classes. The game was between Guayaquil's Barcelona team--logo and name basically copied from Spain's Barcelona--and Quito's Liga Deportiva. I saw Liga a couple months back in August but the Venezuelan team wasn't too strong and we missed the only goal of the game. The atmosphere wasn't too strong because the game didn't matter much since it was a certain win, and the other game I went to in Cuenca had been last year during the World Cup--the teams playing weren't great so most people preferred to head to the bars to see the World Cup games. For those reasons, I'd have to consider last night's game an introduction to "real" Ecuadorian futbol matches.

Although Barcelona isn't the best team in Ecuador, their fans are known to be the most intense. Because we were heading to the game around rush hour, the city buses were out of the question and all of the radio taxis that are stationed near our ciudadela were occupied. We hailed down a yellow taxi, which is typically not the safest thing to do--but with the license printed in three different parts of the car, the photo matching the taxi driver, and taxi seguro on all sides of the car, it's considered the best option when you have no choice but to take a yellow taxi. The trip cost five dollars which isn't too bad given how far we were going and the fact that we overloaded the taxi. When he reached a point where traffic was too bad, he let us out and we followed the herd of Barcelona fans to the stadium for about 20-30 minutes.

We wasted a little time waiting for someone else to meet up with us so when we got into the stadium there were no seats left in the section we bought tickets for--Trifuna. The tickets cost $9/each and are a level above general admission. General admission is a section used primarily by the most intense Barcelona fans, and rarely are women found in that area. Fireworks and fights are fairly common in that area. Since the bleacher seats in Trifuna were full we remained standing behind the seats throughout the game.

Since the two teams playing are from the two largest and most important cities in the country (as the largest port city, Guayaquil is the business center of the country, while Quito, the capital is obviously the political center), it's obvious that there's a strong rivalry between the two teams. Like in every match, the fans for the opposing team are delegated a given area in which they are permitted to sit, to avoid fights between fans (although its still pretty common among fans of the same team).

By halftime the score was 1-0 Barcelona--with excitement circulating because Liga will fall to second place if they lose this game. However, soon after the second half began Liga scored their first goal. In the last five minutes or so of the game Liga had scored their second goal, resulting in many Barcelona fans (primarily families) leaving to get a head start on traffic, and some of the few Liga fans that were there trickling out to avoid confrontations with angry Barcelonistas. Barcelona came back to tie the game shortly after but Liga was able to break the tie in the very end of the game to get the win.

Note: This post was written in late October 2011 but left unpublished until July 2012.