Viva La Fiesta, Viva Latacunga! 197 Anos!
Once again, we find ourselves with a room right on the square at the right time. It must be trail magic! When the taxi dropped us off at our hostel we were surprised to see bleachers being erected underneath our window and around the square.
We spent the evening enjoying local bands and soon found ourselves looking forward to the exuberant festival of La Mama Negra which was to take place the following day.
You could feel the excitement in the air. The streets were barricaded and trucks were unloading cases of liquor and beer to tents set up along the parade route.
We knew we were in for a treat when we saw a large roasted pig being unloaded in front of the store we were visiting. We had no idea that it would later be dressed and at the center of the festival.
The following morning we awoke to a marching band under our window at 7:30 am. A procession was carrying the Virgin of Mercy to her place of honor in front of the Governor’s office at the end of the square.
The only way to describe the festival is to say it is like Mardi Gras on steroids. The festival began around 1742 when the town was spared after the eruption of Cotopaxi the local volcano. Cotopaxi’s patron saint, the Virgin of Mercy was credited for sparing the town the wrath of the volcano and a celebration has been held in her honor ever since.
The festival incorporates the cultures of the native inhabitants, Spanish, Incan, Mayan, Aymaran and African.
Though the inhabitants converted to Catholicism when the Spanish arrived, they blended many of their own beliefs and traditions into their new faith. The festival of La Mama Negra incorporates all of these into a mad exuberant celebration.
The festival takes place at the end of September and again during the week of November 11.
The festival is a colorful celebration of bands, native dancers and musicians. Candy is tossed into the crowds, large decorated pigs are carried through the streets and alcohol is poured freely to the masses.
Every church, village and neighborhood seems to have a Krewe, which is composed of dancers, a band, a beauty queen, a few transvestites, some masked Shaman, a horse and a large pig covered in fresh fruit, flags, flower garlands and liquor bottles. What’s not to love!
At the end of the parade Mama Negra makes an appearance squirting milk and liquor on the revelers for good luck.
We had a birds eye view of the craziness from the rooftop of our hostel. The parade lasted longer than we did!