All over the world people celebrated Carnaval last weekend. A weekend of parties, parades, and general craziness before the beginning of Lent. Of course, every country celebrates differently.
In Ecuador, Carnaval is celebrated by gathering in the middle of the city and throwing water, eggs, flour, shaving cream, paint, or anything else that's around on each other.
I was lucky enough to be invited to leave the city for Carnaval by my friend Maeve's family. We went up north to a city called Ambato which is known for its more tranquil celebration of Carnaval. There, this weekend is also a festival of fruits and flowers, and throwing water, eggs, flour is prohibited. At first I thought this might be a little sad because I would be missing part of the tradition, but when I got there and was wearing four layers all day, I was really happy nobody was throwing water at me.
On Saturday we traveled all day long, and finally got to Maeve's grandparent's house at night. We walked in after twelve hours of travel to meet the entire family. There must have been forty people there! It was overwhelming, but for me it was really nice to be in a big family situation like that. It's what I'm used to, since I have such a huge family at home. I did feel a bit jealous to see all of those cousins together though!
On Sunday, we woke up early and went upstairs to the roof of the house to watch the parade that conveniently began right in front of the house! This was part of the fruits and flowers festival, and appropriately, included many elaborate floats all made out of fruits and flowers! Every section had a float with a "queen" and a big dance number. It was really fun to see some of the traditional dances and costumes in the floats.
Afterwards, Maeve and I went to meet up with some exchange students that live in Ambato. Two of which are American boys who are two of my favorite people here. We ate lunch at their house and hung out for a while before heading for Los Torros, the bull fights.
I was not prepared for what I was about to see. I knew there would be matadors and bulls, but had never given a thought to what they would do to the bulls. Until now, I hadn't even thought about what the word "matador" means… it means killer. For me, coming from the U.S. where animal rights are always in debate, and being a vegetarian, I didn't think that in 2013 there would still be events that tortured and killed animals for entertainment….. I thought wrong.
The bulls have been exactly the same for hundreds of years. The practice is just as it was when it began in Spain, and survived on all these years after their expulsion. I respect it for the cultural aspect, and found the art form of the matadors very beautiful and cool, but I will never ever attend another one again. Even if I wanted to I might not have the choice, killing the bulls is already illegal in Quito, and I imagine that soon this won't exist anywhere.
There are six bulls, three matadors, and each matador's three-man posse. The ceremony consists of three very specific rounds.
First, the bull enters the ring, where the three assistants annoy the bull with pink and yellow flags. They wave them in their face then run behind the barricade, just to get them riled up. Next come the picadors, to make the bulls even madder. The picador "the poker" rides in on a horse and stabs the bull in the back with a spear. They do this to weaken it a bit, and to keep the bull to keep its head pointed down.
Next, the real matador enters the scene for a bit, sort of testing out the bull. Then his little gang needs to get the bull angry/injured enough for the real show. Each one has two spears, the object is to get both stuck in his back. They stand holding both and run towards the bull and jump in the air past him to get them both stuck in him.
Now, only the matador is in charge of the bull. He is immaculately dressed and carries the famous red flag and a sword. He does all the tricks with the bull, gets him to go in circles around him, gets down on his knees and has the bull run under the flag. This part is actually impressive and quite cool to watch, but then it takes a turn for the worse. If the bull is deemed unworthy, if it didn't put on a good enough show, its time for the matador to kill him. He changes swords, and stands right in front of him with the red flag moving the bull's attention downwards, and he stabs him straight in the neck.
For good measure, some other guys come and stabs the bull to make sure he's dead.
The first bull I saw, I cried. I know that sounds like an annoying, dramatic, vegetarian thing to say, but it was really upsetting! I couldn't believe that people were still doing this! More upsettingly, I got used to it.
The coolest part of the whole thing was watching one bull get saved. This particular bull tackled and nearly killed one of the guys with spears when he tried to stab him. At the end, instead of kill him, the matador threw away his sword, and ran towards him and touched him on his back. He blew him a kiss, and you could see that he really respected the animal. That part was really amazing to watch.
On Monday I spent the whole day with Maeve wandering around the center of the city where the festival was. There was tons of beautiful art for sale, flower exhibits, and tons of delicious fresh fruits! We bought some art and walked over to a market where we bought tons of fruit, fresh coconut juice and yapingacho - a typical ecuadorian dish with almost mashed potatoes, egg, avocado, and salsa. It was a really fun day spent exploring this beautiful city! Later we met up with some friends again, then left early on Tuesday morning for Guayaquil.
All in all, it was an amazing adventure! I definitely want to return to Ambato again before I leave!