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Travel and Photography by Burt and Evelyn Johnson

Cuenca Almost Became Part of Peru

Peru-War-SignsToday marks the twenty year anniversary of the start of the most recent war between Ecuador and Peru in 1995. 

Last weekend we drove to Girón to see the countryside, accompanied by six friends that were all visiting Ecuador.  We had originally expected a trip to the waterfall in Girón to be the highlight, but instead we were treated with a fascinating history lesson of the wars between Ecuador and Peru. Our initial stop was at a monument commemorating the Battle of Tarqui, where troops from Peru and Gran Colombia fought in 1829. At the time, Ecuador was part of a triad with Colombia and Venezuela. Peru believed that Guayaquil and Cuenca both belonged to Peru, because their then-president (José de la Mar) was born in Cuenca. Gran Colombia emerged as victors and retook Guayaquil back from Peru. Otherwise parts of what is now the Azuay state in Ecuador would have been part of Peru. Ecuador emerged as a separate nation a year after the Battle of Tarqui.

We then stopped at the Casa de los Tratados Museo Histórico Militar, which is Girón's focal point, and where the peace treaty between Gran Colombia and Peru was signed after the Battle of Tarqui. The treaty of 1995, after the last Ecuador-Peru was was also signed here. Displayed were portraits of the war heroes, long muskets, pistols, army boots, and bayonets. What was surprising was seeing the graphic depiction of how the borders of Ecuador have shrunk over time. 

Vic was with us, and seemed such a good fit for the old Ecuadorian soldier's uniform that the museuym staff had him wear it and pose for photographs.

Murals On Our First Anniversary

Murals on walls near our home in Cuenca, Ecuador

One year ago today, in 2013, we received our Ecuadorian resident visa and became officially able to stay in Ecuador as long as we wish, albeit with certain travel restrictions.  I was thinking what I should write on this auspicious date.  I finally decided I would use this post to share some of the street art around Cuenca.

I have said for years that culture and art are common themes in this city.  One of the daily reminders of this is the array of murals found around the city.  A few are actually commissioned by the city, but most are "street art" or possibly even "graffiti."  This is distinct from the kids with black spray paint tagging walls.  Unfortunately that happens too, but most taggers respect the true artist and do not deface their work.

So here are a few of the mural photographs I have collected of Cuenca over the past couple years.  This is less than half the murals I have images of, and I definitely have images of far less than half of those in the city, so consider this only a small sampling.

These murals are on the sides of bus stops

Some of the murals take on the form of cartoons

Others are artistic pieces

Even some businesses get in on the fun

Another Niño Parade

The parade was led by roughly 30 horses, most with children riding in costume.

Christmas eve has the biggest Pase de Niño parade (click here for our 2012, 2013 and 2014 Christmas parade posts).  Between then and Carnival though, there are a series of smaller Niño parades put on by various church congregations and neighborhoods.  As we were walking back home after Sunday brunch today, we came across another one forming up, and decided to stop and watch.

The horses were followed by a couple dozen cars decorated as floats.

Many of the floats had kids riding them in costume too.

There were also a couple of bands, and a dancing group in the parade.

Another Inocente’s Parade

Food vendors were the first to set up, and kept the audience fed all night.

This is our third year attending the "Día de Los Inocentes" Parade in Cuenca.  It seemed this year was a bit more subdued than last year (2014), which was our favorite so far.  You can also see our first year (Jan 2013) post here.  You can read our 2014 entry for info on what the parade is supposed to be about. The Cuenca parade has morphed into a combined fantasy, social statement and political satire event. In the past, it included more men dressed in drag.

The political satire was much more subtle this year -- some say because of the anti-libel laws passed in 2014 and the general feeling that the Correa government is now censoring criticism.  Unfortunately, my Spanish is not sufficient to ask these people directly, so I am left on the outside wondering why it was so tame this year?

Masks were on sale at several stands.  Many looked like left-overs from New Year's Eve.

Vendors were selling balloons, bubbles, fireworks, face painting and more.

Amistad Club clowns were the official parade marshals, trying (and usually failing) to keep the audience back.

Many of the parade groups wore large cardboard or Styrofoam heads -- many of which I did not understand?

Here are some of my favorite individual costumes in the parade.

Many of the audience dressed up too, even if they were not in the parade.

As a description of the elements of the parade, perhaps it is best to end with a quote from El Tiempo, the local Spanish language daily newspaper.  Here is what they said about the parade, translated via Google Translate:

At 18:20 started the journey of the groups from the intersection of La República and Avenida Huayna Capac, with the parade of children of school NOVA. Then it was the turn Azuay District Scouts, who acted with the theme "Scary Movie Scout". Young people dressed as zombies, scythes and other characters from the underworld. Next, the students of the South American Technical Institute with his troupe "Chiripiolcas, garroteras and garrotazaos" where combined issues of national political events represented by the characters of comedian "Chespirito". For example, a very old ambulance logo YESS (We're Insurance Suffering) to the accompanying figures of the "Neighbourhood Chavo" injuries and ailments, parodied services Ecuadorian Institute of Social Security (IESS). Also, put the South American rhythm when nine "chilindrinas", performed a dance to the sound of batucada.

Political satire could not miss with the participation of the family Vanegas presented "Mommy will be what you want the black" where the character of US President Barak Obama, dancing alongside Fidel Castro of Cuba and representatives of Latin America and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Dilma Rousseff, Brazil; Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela; Cristina Fernandez and former President of Uruguay, José Mujica, accompanied the leaders in his Volkswagen Beetle. Also Pope Francisco and Che Guevara, with angel wings, accompanied politicians joked with the audience. Another of the groups that drew public attention was the University of Azuay (UDA), with its theme "Traditional Crafts of Cuenca". Two women dressed as policemen took the sign with the name of the troupe. Behind them a traditional village band sang popular rhythms to make way for the "seamstresses". Students developed a sewing machine old giant, whose pedals were driven through the hands of damsels with old dresses. Al artifact students followed him disguised scissors, yarn skeins, reels, tapes, etc. Similarly, trades like selling ice cream cart, photographers Calderon Park, until the sale of the famous hot dog size "Mandingo" were represented in elaborate costumes. The competition continued with the parade of other groups, representatives of institutions and individual presentations.

Dante’s Inferno Is Shrinking

Masks go on sale a few days before New Year's Eve and are popular with old and young alike

New Year's Eve in Cuenca, Ecuador is like no other we have experienced around the world.  This is our third NYE in Cuenca, and it seems to get smaller each year?  You can see our blog posts from 2012 here and from 2013 here.  This is now the blog for 2014, so you are already there...  :)  As before though, there are so many photos to show that I will limit the text to photo captions.

Many elaborate tableaus were created with monigotes (aka 'effigies'). 22 neighborhoods competed for the best display.

Several full sized monigotes represented various heroes or cartoons. The one in the lower right above won the prize as the best neighborhood monigote display.

People of all ages filled the streets from early afternoon past midnight

The judges for "Best Display" were dressed as clowns, while others dressed as clowns just to have fun

At midnight the monigotes are set on fire, after pinning notes of what the burner wants to leave behind from the old year.  Thus, the fires burn away the old, leaving room for a better New Year

Globos are outlawed since one landed on a church roof and burned it down in 2012. Our neighbor family sent one up anyway -- lifting their hopes for the New Year into the sky

Pase del Niño Viajero Otra Vez*

*Parade of the Traveling Child Again

Every Christmas Eve there is a massive parade in Cuenca.  The centerpiece is a statue of baby Jesus that was sculpted in 1823, then carried by Monsignor Miguel Cordero Crespo on a pilgrimage in 1961, where it was blessed by Pope John XXIII.  This is our third annual parade -- you can read see our images from 2012 here and 2013 here. We came back with over 1300 photos this year, so here is an attempt to give a small view of what it was like.

The day started out raining.  I first thought that rain would be the theme of this year's parade, but the rain stopped just a few minutes after the parade started.

Angels were a favorite costume again this year.

Santa was there -- mostly a very young Santa though...

Children were the biggest draw in the parade... though many of them tired out before the end...

The military is fully involved -- passing out free drinks and parading with bands

Some audience stayed out of the fray, though others joined right in the parade

A few other images I liked, but didn't fit in any other group above...

Video of some of the dancers at the start of the parade.

Video of some of the military bands in the parade.

Cuenca International Chorale

This is the time of year to hear Christmas music.  In the past two years, there has been a choral presentation at the Old Cathedral on Parque Calderon, which we have gone to.  This year, the group was comprised mostly of gringos for the first time, with the songs both in English and Spanish.

We got there 45 minutes early, expecting to get a good seat, only to find the line already more than a block long.  In a departure from prior years, gringos dominated the line this time -- probably because the chorale was also dominated by gringos.

I'll admit that my expectations were not very high for a group of amateurs performing for the first time.  I was blown away though. The voices were beautiful, and the acoustics of the cathedral are so excellent that their voices floated over the audience with no need for electronic amplification.

Cuenca International Chorale 2014

Christmas Music

Stephanie sings as part of the University of Azuay choir

Cuenca is a city filled with music, as I have said several times.  Now that Christmas is around the corner, there are several music festivals every week.  We were invited to Stephanie's birthday party last May.  When we heard she was be performing today as part of the University of Azuay choir, we went to hear her. The performance was outdoors. Fortunately the performers were under some heavy trees, as it rained during much of the afternoon.  Portable canopies were erected quickly for the audience.

There were also a series of children's choirs from local schools performing more Christmas music, both "standards" and new music we had not heard before.


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