I made it to Quito! Two days ago! And, shockingly, I’ve actually been enjoying my time here! Enough that I haven’t had (made?) time to blog, which, I suppose, can only be a good sign. Alas, a more general introduction—replete with unfounded cultural generalizations and a description of the never-ending emotional rollercoaster that is fieldwork—is going to have to wait a bit longer. In the meantime, yesterday, I hit the experiential jackpot in a way that merits sharing.
My language program offers weekend excursions, and, figuring that I was going to be working for most of my next weekends, I sprung for this week’s trip to Otovalo, a market town about an hour from Quito. The market itself was cool—a sprawling expanse of handicrafts of questionable authenticity and gringos bargaining in broken Spanish—but nothing exceptional. Afterwards, we were driving higher up into the mountains to visit a Condor sanctuary, when we found our road blocked by a large group of indigenous people, easily recognizable by their traditional ponchos and hats.
At first, I thought the group might be creating some sort of a roadblock, which I had read was a frequent form of indigenous protest. Seeing as we were far from any main highway and the only car to be seen, though, this didn’t seem too plausible. Quickly, though, it became clear that the group was just dancing in the street, ringing around a handful of musicians. We asked a campesino walking beside us what was happening, and he replied that this was the festival of the sun. He added, rather matter of factly, “Es nuestro pueblo, nuestra tierra, nuestra fiesta. Tenga que esparar.” It’s our town, our earth, our party. You have to wait.
Another man walking beside us added “Vamos a bailar”, which seemed close to an invitation, so we hopped out of the car to watch the growing throng of people. Initially, I felt tentative about taking pictures, until I realized that the entire performance was already being taped by members of the community, using all manner of cell phones and digital cameras. We followed them as they danced into their village—blocking their road the whole time. There, we were met by a rather mind-blowing cultural mishmash (the kind that globalization proponents love to talk about): women in traditional dresses and men in Argentina soccer jerseys, corn-based home brew for the adults and lollypops for the kids, and a fully electrified rock band singing in Kichwa. We tend to lament the introduction of technology and modernity into indigenous cultures, but in this case, I can certainly appreciate the fact that, for once, these people are taking pictures of themselves rather than having pictures taken of them.
The whole point of the gathering, though, was clearly to party, so out of respect for that, I’ll leave any analysis at the door and just say: holy shit, I was at the foothills of the Andes, and got to see a sweet indigenous party.