We are spending the week in Ambato, Ecuador to see a different kind of Carnaval than we have had in Cuenca for the past couple years (where the week is a snoozefest punctuated by buckets of water thrown on us from balconies). Today was the big parade of the week.
Carnaval is one of the most important festivals in Ecuador, and the celebration in Ambato is considered one of the most beautiful. The parade includes floats (like a miniature version of the Rose Parade in Pasadena) made with flowers and fruits, international dancers, and shows off their beauty pageant queens. The parade was organized by Ambato residents after an earthquake destroyed the city in 1949 (from wikipedia).
We discovered that parades in Ambato are run very differently from those in Cuenca. Parades in Cuenca have no real distinction between participants and audience. Spectators in Cuenca dress up and can often be confused with the official parade members. Also, there is no barricade between parade and audience, and the two mingle constantly throughout the parade. This allows photographers like myself to step right into the middle of the action for interesting angles, but it also means the streets are so crowded that the parade often has trouble moving forward, and it is hard to get photos that do not include unwanted spectators.
Both the Ambato parades we attended had the audience clearly confined to the sidewalks, much like in the States. Seats were sold by businesses who controlled the sidewalk in front of their establishment. Some areas had police barricades in front of the seats, though the street was narrow enough where we sat that those were not practical. We had a policeman standing right next to us the entire time though, assuring that no audience member left the sidewalk viewing area.
Another difference between the two cities is that water and foam spray cans are outlawed in Ambato. We went the entire week and only got wet once from a 4 year-old with a squirt gun and second from a boy about the same age that got us while aiming at his sister. I only saw two cans of the foam spray until the very last night, while in Cuenca it is hard to walk anywhere during Carnaval week without being hit. After the finishing night parade was over and the police dispersed though, the foam cans came out and it was havoc on the streets — we went up to the second floor windows of our hotel and could enjoy the mass foaming from a safe distance… 🙂