I glanced at my watch and noticed it was 9:15 am. Poking my head between the curtains of our second story room, I looked towards the street on my right, which was perpendicular to ours, and saw thick rows of people lining both sides of Cevallos Avenue. However, there was no sign of the procession that was “scheduled” for 9 o’clock.
“We’re good, man,” I said while turning to Andrew, my short, brown-haired friend from Loja.
“It’s Ecuador. They probably won’t start ‘til ten,” I confidently predicted.
A few minutes later, Andrew tossed a handful of things into his green, weathered backpack and I followed the gringo out the door.
Exiting the Pirámide Inn Hostel, we saw people packed like sardines, blocking the end of Mariano Eguez, which intersected Cevallos, one of the main drags of Ambato’s renowned Fruit & Flowers Parade. Although the two of us couldn’t see a thing because of the dense wall of Ecuadorians and foreigners blocking the boulevard, we knew that one of the country’s most recognized Carnival processions had commenced. Andrew and I based this conclusion on the distant, yet distinct sound of marching band music as well as the boisterousness of the crowd. Determining that we had absolutely no chance of finding a good spot there to watch the exhibition, Andrew and I turned our backs to the spectacle and headed deeper into the heart of the Central Sierra city.
The Sunday morning rays gradually intensified as the two of us made several failed attempts to find a place to observe the ceremony. No matter where we went, there were crammed lines of spectators standing and sitting on makeshift benches, lawn chairs, and pickup beds, obstructing our view as we continued westward along Cevallos Avenue. While making a few stops to take pictures of Ambato’s strangely empty, ghost town of a center, Andrew and I eventually happened upon the western border of the parade route. Nevertheless, the short stretch along Francisco Flor proved to be no different as we proceeded northward, frustratingly trying to enter the fanfare.
“Any word from the Quiteños,” I asked my brown-eyed pal, wondering if our friends from the capital, Liz, Nick, Nicole, and Rozana, had better luck.
“Yeah, they’re watching the parade on Simón Bolívar (the main artery marking the northern border of the cavalcade), close to their hotel,” Andrew replied after checking his text messages.
And so, we ambled east, darting in and out of Bolívar’s intersecting roads only to be repelled by the force field of bodies at the end of each byway. We still couldn’t find a chink in the human barricade and, therefore, remained embittered, stuck in Ambato’s deserted downtown for what seemed like an eternity. In fact, I was beginning to think we were going to walk straight out of the city and sulk in the surrounding hills.
Be that as it may, Andrew and I pressed on and subsequently found a weak spot. We noticed people leaving the crowd near a corner calling center and exploited the fissure they had created. It was a miracle; we finally made it. Standing proud on Simón Bolívar’s warm asphalt, Andrew and I realized that we had ventured well ahead of the procession. In pursuit of our friends, the two of us consequently forged westward, challenging the upcoming marchers.
While beads of perspiration soaked the inside of my Twin’s baseball cap, Andrew and I quickly weaved our way through the groups of spectators scattered on and along Bolívar. According to Andrew’s newly-received text message, the two of us were getting close to Liz, Nick, Nicole, and Rozana. However, with just a couple of blocks to go, we ran into the head of the procession as well as the face of a stout, middle-aged Ecuadorian officer, who stopped us cold in our tracks. He told Andrew and me that we could go no further. So, we had no choice but to sit down on the hard, hot pavement at the military man’s feet.
During the next couple of hours, Andrew and I took advantage of our first row seats to not only soak in Ambato’s pride and joy, but also the ardent rays of the midday sun. While constantly wiping the sweat off our brows and searching for a comfortable way to sit on the unyielding road surface, the two of us managed to keep our pointer fingers on our shutter buttons. We took dozens of photos as fruit-throwing street performers, flower-tossing beauty queens, classy bands, and dazzling dancers from around the region pleased the exuberant crowd, swaggering down the street as well as yelling “Viva Ambato” whenever possible. In turn, the excited fans reciprocated the enthusiasm, answering the marchers’ hollers with even louder screams. It was impossible to not feel the sense of pride demonstrated by the people on that electrifying avenue in Ambato.
The fruits, flowers, confetti, and bubbles finally cleared and all that was left was a garbage-filled street bursting with rowdy individuals throwing flour and spraying perfumed party foam at one another.
Still, as Andrew and I made our way through the crazy crowds to finally meet our friends at their hotel, I couldn’t stop thinking about the thrilling event I had just witnessed; it was truly remarkable.
I’ve had some unique experiences during my travels, but I can honestly say that never before had I been corralled by a cavalcade. Nevertheless, I’d certainly defy the parade’s eye again just to see Ambato’s peerless procession.