Ecuador has no shortage of amazing sights, though I must confess I am intrinsically called to the majesty of the Andes despite my site on the coast. On one of my many adventures wandering alone in this country I went to Quilotoa, a collapsed caldera now filled with water. In recent years it has come to be a tourist spot due to its brilliant blue waters, a result of dissolved minerals. Hiking around the perimeter of the crater took me about two hours due to the uneven terrain and occasional strong winds. As is usually the case the strange mixture of cold due to the 3000 meter altitude paired with sunny skies contributed to my body being confused as to whether I was cold or hot, truly an uncomfortable feeling.
Following my completion at the top, I decided to do the trek down to the bottom of the lake where several bright red and orange boats were paddled gently along the water’s surface though no swimming is allowed given the poisonous nature of the volcano’s water. Going down was pretty easy though the path was steep but my trusty bamboo stick helped guide me down with little issue. After some much needed rest in the shade to avoid more sunburns from the extremely bright sun, I went up again. Now the steep path which had made the trip down so easy made my already beleaguered legs scream from the soreness and strain of the climb. The sandy path, often caked with the poo from horses that at $10-15 per ride were a relatively expensive alternative to walking acted almost as a minefield with me trying my hardest to avoid stepping on it. I even ended up making a new friend in the form of a furry and incredibly soft alpaca whose soft wool is what I probably would have imagined a puffy, white cloud feeling like when I was a kid. Hot, cold, steep, sandy….these are all things that describe Quilotoa and yet it’s one of the coolest places I’ve visited.
After leaving the caldera and heading back to the city of Latacunga, about 2 hours south of Quito, I once again unwittingly stumbled upon a parade procession that was going on during that weekend. The festival was rather unusual in its mixture of religious and cultural beliefs from indigenous, catholic, and Afro-Ecuadorian traditions. Though the vivid costumes and vibrant usage of color in everything from costumes to decorations was a fantastic sight.
As it turns out this was the Mama Negra (black mother) festival, a festival fueled by agauardiente (moonshine) carrying pig carcasses with said moonshine as decorations and perhaps most inappropriate, the usage of blackface. The Mama Negra can be seen in two distinct ways, on the one hand it is a caricature of the Afro-Ecuadorian woman with the depiction using balloons to enhance the size of breasts and butt highlights the continued colonial legacy of whiteness being more attractive than “colored” yet at the same time reducing Afro-descendants to sexual icons. Yet on the other hand the Mama Negra is a depiction of the Virgin Mary that is sponsored by local indigenous people who ask for protection from the nearby Cotopaxi volcano that goes against the long-standing depiction, both colonial and modern, of the Virgin Mary as white. Perhaps the answer is a bit of both, adding a layer of complexity to a practice that in Europe and the U.S. has typically been done to degrade rather than respect.