Saturday
Apr192014

Futbol Pandemonium

 

Futbol Pandemonium from Burt Johnson on Vimeo.

Futbol fans really get into a frenzy, jumping around like kangaroos

I have gotten into the habit of always carrying a small camera with me around Ecuador (for those interested, it is a Sony RX-100 MK II).  I never know when I will turn a corner and run into something going on that I hadn't expected.  Today was a typical example of that.  We started off going to Kywi (a large Cuenca hardware store) for some items we needed around the house. About a block away, we started hearing drums, and then trumpets, and changed direction to see what was happening.

We discovered a crowd of young people standing in the square next to Iglesia La Merced (where yesterday's Good Friday parade started) and Coffee Tree (a popular local hangout).  At the time, there was only about 30 people there. Since there was also about an equal number of policemen around, we guessed that something bigger was brewing.  I asked one of the police (in my broken Spanish) what was going on and when it would start. I was told it had something to do with futbol (aka 'soccer' in North American parlance) and would be starting in about 30 minutes.  We decided to grab a beer at Coffee Tree and wait to see how things unfolded.

Soon banners began to spring up around the square.  At the time this was going on, we knew only the barest outline of what was happening.  This is the scourge of not speaking the local language.  I can only dream of someday speaking enough Spanish to figure out details on the fly.  As it is, we figured out a lot of after getting home and putting Google plus Google Translate to good use...     These banners were from various towns and clubs near Guayaquil, and represented groups in town to support their team.

The Game

We found that this was a major game between the Barcelona Sporting Club and Deportivo Cuenca. The Barcelona Sporting Club is the Guayaquil football team, which is in first place in the national standings.  Meanwhile, our local Deportivo Cuenca team is firmly in last place. You can guess the outcome -- Guayaquil beat Cuenca by 3 goals.  I read an article at the start of Easter Week, where the local bishop blessed the local team.  He was quoted as saying something to the fact that "God does not come down on the field and make goals, but if all members of the team let Jesus into their hearts, perhaps we can pull out of last place..."  Apparently Cuenca was the national champion in the past, but has now spent the last two years in last place. The blessing didn't seem to help...

The Fans

The band piled out of the square and onto the top of a chartered double decker tour bus, and festooned it with more banners.  Our later investigation found that the Sur Oscura banners represented a fan club that is considered the "main hooligan" of the Guayaquil team, and is well known for violence at sports events.  Apparently the large number of police were not just there for traffic control...

Given that reputation, we felt the crowd was well mannered. They were certainly boisterous, jumping around like kangaroos while chanting their team song over and over (everyone seemed to know the words -- as we passed people on the streets, they would start to mouth the song too!). One guy was setting off rockets using a coke bottle as a base and a lit cigarette as a fuse lighter (that is him in the lower right above), but most were just having fun. We saw no liquor and no drugs anywhere in the crowd.  The local newspaper said that the police were planning on putting a barricade in the arena to separate the fans from the two teams though, which sure sounds like trouble in the past.

As an interesting side note, the Cuenca Trash Patrol (my name -- not really sure what they are called?) was out in force in their blue coveralls.  They patrolled the area, picking up litter as soon as it was discarded. When the crowd moved on, there was no litter on the ground, everything having already been picked up.  I continue to be impressed with the effort the city puts into keeping it clean.  Now, if only they could do the same for the graffiti that is taking over parts of town...

Here are a few other photos I liked, but didn't seem to fit in other groups...

Friday
Apr182014

Viernes Santo

Today is Good Friday ("Viernes Santo" in Spanish) in the Christian religion, which commemorates the day on which Jesus was crucified on the cross. Many Catholic churches in town had small parades where a statue of Jesus on the cross was taken around the neighborhood.  Iglesia La Merced is one such church, about a block from our condo, so we went to watch and document.

The crowd was small, maybe around 50 or so marchers.  At first we were surprised at the small turnout, but then realized that each of the 50+ churches in town was doing the same thing, so the participants were scattered.  The weather was threatening rain, which probably also reduced the participation, though we never got more than a light drizzle until everyone was over.

Several homes along the parade route put out small altars in celebration of Easter.  The priests leading the march stopped at each one, made a small speech and then blessed them, before moving on.

There was to be another parade in the evening.  We went back to watch that also, but it was running late and the rain was starting to really come down, so we quick-stepped the block back home to avoid the coming deluge.  No sooner did we reach our front door than the sky opened, and it poured for the next several hours.

[PS: The next day the river was swollen and running fast, which was a nice relief from the sparse rain and low river of the past few months.]

Thursday
Apr172014

Semana Santa

Ecuador is a very Catholic nation, and Cuenca is a city with numerous free concerts and symphonies. It is therefore no surprise that there have been a series of symphony concerts all week, each at a different church.  Tonight we attended one at "The Old Cathedral" on Parque Calderon. We arrived a little late and were actually the last couple allowed to enter.  Guards kept the remaining crowd outside, since the church was filled beyond normal capacity.  A youth choir joined the orchestra for much of the performance.

(For our Northern friends, "Semana Santa" is the Spanish term for "Easter Week")

Sunday
Apr132014

Palm Sunday and Cajas Art

Today was Palm Sunday for the Catholics in town, but we started the day by returning to Lake Zorrocucho in the Cajas, where we spent last Sunday.  Alberto drove us there again, and then Evelyn painted en plein air.  We were joined this time by Shimi -- an artist friend from Danville, back in the San Francisco Bay Area, who joined us for a few days.

While Shimi and Evelyn painted, Stephen and I walked the periphery of the lake again, this time with a tripod and flash, which allowed me to take photographs I was happier with than last week.  Along the way, we came across several fishermen (yes, always males...) working the lake and accompanying streams looking for dinner.  I never saw anyone catch any fish, but I rarely hear of fishermen talking about the fish as much as about the lakes and streams...

This is the painting that Evelyn worked on for a couple of hours until the chill chased us off to lunch.

Lunch was a minor adventure in itself.  We went to a small Sunday Brunch place sitting at 11,890 ft elevation.  Just going from the car to the restaurant (a short climb up some steps) left me light headed.  There was no chance I was going to hike around that lake!

As we were eating brunch (a delicious trout that was probably swimming in the lake that morning), we heard a WHOOMP! We looked around, wondering if an earthquake had hit. Then the owner came out calling "Out, quick!" (in Spanish of course, but the meaning was clear). Everyone rushed out, while I gathered my camera and coat and sauntered out (I've been in lots of earthquakes before, and knew it was already too late to be worried).  After a couple of minutes, we were told to return to our meals. Turns out the Whoomp we heard was actually a propane explosion in the kitchen.  Toto, I Don't Think We Are Not In Kansas Anymore

 

When we returned to town, we found a parade going down a street about a block from our condo.  This was a Palm Sunday parade, with some people celebrating the triumphant return of Jesus on a path of palm leaves (hence the term "Palm Sunday" celebration), while others jumped the gun and paraded as Jesus carrying his cross down the streets (should be a week from now, but who's keeping track?).

We had heard of these robed penitents parading through town at Palm Sunday, but had not seen it before now.  There are a couple of towns in Ecuador that are famed for such costumed parades, and all references we read said that "every town in Ecuador has them."  It was just up to us to find them.  As luck would have it, this parade near our condo had several small groups in variants of the hooded costumes, in different shades of purple.  We finally got to see them without going into other parts of Ecuador (which we will likely do in future years, but this year is pretty full with travel plans already).

Saturday
Apr122014

Foundation Day

Cuencanas take any excuse to celebrate, and they don't limit their holidays to just one day.  This weekend is an example, commemorating Foundation Day.  This is the day (celebrated for four days...) that marks the time 457 years ago that the Spanish declared Cuenca a city.  As in North America, there are a few purists that take pains to point out that the Canaris settled this location more than 1500 years ago, just as some people like to note that Columbus did not "discover" North America, since it was settled by the American Indians long before.  Regardless, this is the demarcation of the European settlement of The New World.  For Good or Evil, it led to our being here today, and thus is marked by parades, fireworks, and general merrymaking.

Vendors lined a main street (Doce de Abril -- AKA April 12) selling portraits, food and crafts.  Other groups danced in one square or another, demonstrating their ancestral heritage and entertaining crowds that gathered around.

Kids got involved too.  The younger ones participated in a potato sack race (above), while teenagers competed in dance and singing contests.  It was fascinating to watch these singers and realize that some of them definitely had the talent to be tomorrow's teen idols.  These were not the High School talent shows I remember from the States. These kids were extremely talented and a lot of fun to watch.  The audience played their parts too, with the boy dancers cheered by screaming teenage girls, and the girl performers met with equal enthusiasm by the teenage boys in the audience.

In the evening, we wandered over to Parque Calderon, and found a (free, of course!) rock concert in full swing. The voices were superb, and many in the audience were lip syncing the songs, indicating they knew the songs by heart.  One of the biggest surprises was seeing all the musicians turned out in full suits.  These performers were clearly adored by the audience, but there was none of the punk rock rebellion we come to expect in the States. The audience went from toddlers to parents (with their kids) to grandparents, with a very few gringos in the mix, and everyone seemed to love the music.  Unfortunately, the volume got cranked up further and further until we left because it was too painful to be within a block of the speakers.  Seems one aspect is being copied from the concerts in the States...