Cuenca Independence Day CelebrationsNovember 7th, 2013 | Posted by in Celebrations | Ecuador | The Places We've Been
Celebrations ring through the air for days at the beginning of November in Cuenca in honor of the city’s Independence Day, officially the 3rd of the month. Like other large population centers in the region, Cuenca won its independence (1820) before the country as a whole did in May of 1822, and both dates are cause for celebration. Guayaquil as well, for example, celebrates its independence on October 9 (1820) in addition to the national holiday. After separating from Spain, the region became part of Gran Colombia, a republic comprised of current day Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela, before being splitting eight years later to form what we now know as the nation of Ecuador.
Now, 193 years later, Cuencanos continue to celebrate in style with a citywide festival that includes concerts, dance performances, art fairs, street food, and an intangible energy that permeates every street of town. On Saturday, November 2, we walked from our apartment on the west side of town along the river and into the centro, stopping along the way at a number of celebratory events that were spread throughout the city. One small square we passed through was bustling with enough activity to make any event host proud, and it was small potatoes compared to the larger parks and plazas. Musicians were performing in the corners, tents with uniform signs were filled with local jewelry, sweaters, woodworking, and décor, and happy families meandered slowly through the activity, often with ice cream or another treat in hand. A metro car and impressively sleek education station had been erected onsite to allow citizens to learn about upcoming transportation initiatives, and the line to tour the setup stretched halfway down the square.
In Parque Calderon, we watched young people hosting a dance-off and rap performances. We walked along the river where vendors of all kinds – arts, clothing, furniture, and more – were set up for as far as the eye could see on both sides. In the large Parque de la Madre, we wandered through throngs of joyful groups enjoying the beautiful day and the excitement of the holiday, and despite our not really understanding the large dinosaur figures placed throughout the open space of the lovely, green park, we joined the masses in getting our pictures with them. Nearby, a band’s performance on a large stage was being enjoyed by a pavilion of onlookers, and just when we thought we were exiting the active area, we noticed a line of people that circled a city block twice! We’re still not entirely sure what they were waiting for.
Often, festivals are centered along a certain street (such as those on Fayetteville Street in Raleigh) or around a main plaza with other side events in scattered buildings (like the Spring and Peace Fair in San Cristobal de las Casas), but Cuenca’s Independence Day takes the concept of a citywide festival to a whole new level with a vibrancy that can be felt on every block and truly interesting activity around every corner. Even the areas that didn’t have programmed events were radiating with the energy of the people in them, the children playing and the adults enjoying. We walked in loops through the centro after the sun had gone down, stumbling upon another plaza with dancers performing (second half of video below) and a blocked intersection for a news broadcast with military drumline in tow before making our way back along the river towards home. Our last stop for the evening was at a small stand next to a group of musicians that was selling colada morada (prounced: coh-lah-dah more-ah-dah, translated: purple strained), a warm, thick, purple beverage made from maiz flour, fruits, and spices, and guagua de panes (pronounced: wha-wha day pahn-ays, translated: bread babies), the jelly-filled, swaddled baby shaped, frosted bread that accompanies the drink. These customary treats are consumed in Ecuador and other parts of the Andes as part of Día de Difuntos (or Day of the Dead) on November 2, a holiday tradition that was so ingrained in the independence festivities that it was hardly recognizable as a separate observance. Not a bad weekend to be in Cuenca!