Saturday, 14 June 2014

Ecuador - wedding, fireworks and the Southern Cross

OK, so it was the day of the wedding at Hacienda Guachala, Cayambe and what could possibly go wrong? Well Lucy could have left her wedding dress back in Quito ...
Actually, she only left half the dress behind (what was I saying about being organised?), while Tom, normally the one my money would be on for a wedding-day clanger, only managed to lose his cuff-links - a mere trifle.
Luckily, Lucy spotted the missing wedding dress good and early, so she was able to phone her friend in Quito (who was coming to the wedding) and the friend managed to call in at Lucy's mum's house, convince the security guard she was not a robber, persuade him to let her into the house, find the dress and get it to Hacienda Guachala with half an hour to spare!
It was a nice sunny morning to start the day and we began with breakfast of coffee, rolls, cheese and jam on the verandah. Christoble was lighting the oven, Mintaka was on the prowl and there were a few jobs still to be finished. I pottered around with a few things, helping here and there; Margaret and my sister tied calla lilies to all the posts around the top part of the verandah; Lucy's dad got more roses, had the petals pulled off and scattered them in the fountain; and I practised my reading - Bright Star by John Keats.
Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
        Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
        Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
        Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
        Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
        Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
        Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.
It's a tricky poem to read and it took me half a dozen run-throughs to understand what he was saying and another half dozen to get the punctuation/intonation right. It sounded fine recorded on my iPhone, but I fluffed it when it came to the big moment.
The wedding wasn't until 2pm, so there was lots of time. I had a wander around the pool, which was also a large hot-house with lemon trees, bananas, coffee bushes and more bougainvillea (in every colour) than you could shake a stick at. The hot-house was also home to a large tortoise with an interesting past. Gabriela told me that a US film crew had been in the Amazon shooting a documentary about the indigenous tribes. One tribe was preparing a feast for their departure and the tortoise was on the menu. The Americans were appalled and immediately rescued it from the pot and brought it out of the jungle with them. They stayed at Guachala on the way home and couldn't take the tortoise back into the US, so asked Gabriela to look after it. I don't think it has a name, but it seems very happy in its new home.

On the journey out, our hand luggage had been weighed down with bottles of gin and bottles of Pimms. Tom had wanted a quintessentially English drink to serve to guests after the wedding (before moving onto the hard stuff) and Pimms fitted the bill.
There was a slight late-morning hitch because the hacienda staff didn't know what to do with the Pimms and Tom had disappeared (it turns out he was in a dark room with Lucy's Peruvian friends practising his speech - complete with jokes - in Spanish). Lucy asked if I could give lessons in making Pimms - ha, does the Pope know any good prayers?
Actually it's not rocket science, but I was able to ensure the strength was at optimum level - three parts lemonade to one Pimms. At Wimbledon this year, it was as weak a 9:1 and they were charging £7.50 for what was little better than a glass of lemonade. The hacienda team had plenty of fruit, but everyone looked concerned when I said the perfect Pimms contained borage. Gabriela hurried back to the house for a book  in English on herbs. Borage was identified, yes it grew in Ecuador, but not on the hacienda. No worries, I actually prefer it with mint.
Tom dressed in our room and I did the best man thing - sorting out his cravat and lending him my cufflinks. We thought the wedding was at 2pm, but hair issues and the lack of a dress pushed it back to 2.30pm and Lucy, despite being only 50 yards away, still managed to be fashionably late.
Lucy on her way to the chapel
The chapel looked lovely and the service would be in Spanish, conducted by a minister from the Lutheran church, who is a close friend of Nidia (Lucy's mum - there are two other Nidias, we discovered). There were no hymns, but there would be music provided by Enrique Males, a folk musician, and his group. He began the ceremony by blowing a conch shell and shouting a call to meeting in Quechua, the language of the people of the central Andes. A song was performed while Lucy and the wedding party processed to the front. You can see a video here.
It was a nice ceremony (despite my almost complete lack of Spanish) and both Margaret and Carlos got emotional. There is a video of the closing song here. Lucy looked stunning and (in a white suit and with his long hair down) so did Tom!
The formalities almost over, it was time for the festivities. There were a lot of these and I’ll summarise for the sake of brevity.
Food: was tuna and various vegetables prepared on the outdoor barbecue. This was a huge slab of volcanic rock (not hard to find in Ecuador) with a roaring fire beneath. It did a very good job and the food was good. I’m not a massive fish eater (unless it’s battered), so that’s big praise.
Drink: there was plenty of this. After the Pimms, we had wine with the meal, sparkling wine for toasts, then cocktails (mojito or gin martini). Later the neat pisco was being passed around. This was the influence of the Peruvians, who brought a special bottle. Much drinking in Ecuador is communal. A large glass of liquor is passed from person to person with the instruction/invitation “tomar” – take or drink. You drink and hand it back with the invitation “tomar”. This means that the person handing around the drink gets a swig every time someone else drinks and therefore gets rapidly rat-arsed. This goes some way to explaining the state Tom was in on Sunday morning.
Dancing: there are many similarities in wedding traditions between Britain and Ecuador, but some things are very different. One of these is dancing. In Britain, the bride and groom are forced onto the dance-floor and others join in when they’ve had a few drinks. In Ecuador, as soon as the music starts, everyone is straight up – people love to dance and they don’t stop until the music stops (see here). Tom and Lucy had hired a banda, an Ecuadorian musical ensemble which comprises drums, brass and a saxophone. They play a tune that goes round and around on a loop and would typically play for half an hour non-stop, have a break and then back for another half hour. It certainly tests your dance stamina. I can't mention dancing without mentioning the raposa dance, but I warn you this won't make a lot of sense unless you've been on the local sugar cane spirit all night. A raposa is a sort of fox/badger/stoat creature native to Ecuador. Lucy's father Carlos has a hobby stuffing animals (taxidermy) and the raposas were road-kill. At some stage Tom, perhaps inspired by Nodger at Straw Bear, decided it would be good fun at a carnival to dance around with the raposas pretending they were going to bite people. If you've ever seen Rod Hull and Emu, you'll get the idea. When the raposas were brought out everyone cheered and the dancing stepped up a few notches. There's a video here which tells more than I could in three pages. There's also a video of my sister doing the raposa dance here.
Bonfire: There was a large bonfire in the courtyard. This was made of eucalyptus tree branches and it went up like an Australian forest fire. The children loved it and it was fed all night with still a few wisps of smoke visible next day.
Fireworks: Lucy had ordered a firework castle. A chap comes in a pick-up truck, with a frame contraption in the back. Fireworks of all types are lashed onto the frame. When it comes to the display, the chap lights the fireworks, which are mainly interconnected, and stands inside the framework, turning it around as different sides light up. It looks a fairly hazardous job, but Ecuador hasn't really succumed to health and safety culture yet. The chap did have a handkerchief pulled over his nose and mouth, however. Fireworks lasted 20 minutes or so and the climax was a series of bangers and rockets which shook the hacienda, but failed to make Mintaka or the possessed cat blink. There's a video here.
It was pleasant outside and the dancing went on via MPV player and sound system into the small hours.
One of the highlights for me was seeing the Southern Cross. Christoble knows a fair bit about astronomy and we were talking about stars in the southern hemisphere the night before (when it was too cloudy to see anything). Wedding day night was much clearer and so he took me into the darker part of the courtyard to see the Southern Cross. On the equator, it's quite low in the sky (directly south, of course) and, looking north, you can also see the Great Bear (the Plough), which is the iconic constellation of the northern hemisphere. It is possible also to see the North Star from Cayambe, but Christoble explained it was very close to the horizon and you needed to gain some elevation in order to get a view.
When I retired for the night, the dancing was still going on. Lucy must have danced for seven hours.