Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Dance of the Yumbos from Tulipe

The Yumbos were a pre-Incan civilisation in Ecuador dating from around 800AD until the Spanish started coughing and sneezing in their vicinity.
They were primarily a peaceful bunch of traders who lugged goods back and forth from Quito to the coast.
Tulipe is the ceremonial centre of the Yumbos civilisation and an important astrological observatory. It was recovered archaeologically a decade ago. When Lucy was conducting a health survey in the area, the ruins of Tulipe were in the back garden of a shop owner.
Apparently back then it looked like a sunken swimming pool filled with overgrown weeds. These days it looks like a sunken swimming pool cleared of overgrown weeds.
We were in Tulipe to film the Dance of the Yumbos, performed by the youth dance group of the Alli Causai Hospital.
Here's what we filmed...

Shooting took place over two days - the second of which was baking hot.
Not a lot is known about the Yumbos - most especially how they might have danced - so it's necessary to exercise some creative licence.
Taking a group of teenagers away on an overnight road trip in England would almost certainly spell drunkenness and high jinks - particularly considering we all ended up in a night club in Mindo. These teenagers from Ambato were all well behaved, most were largely preoccupied about the time and portion size of their next meal. I remember one remarkable scene, when a pizza restaurant was vetoed by the teenagers who were concerned it was not sufficiently satisfying.
The teenagers were all booked into a hostel in Mindo but Lucy (probably wisely) booked us (Emilia included) into a slightly more upmarket hotel.
Over dinner the bus driver, who had spent time in America, impressed the kids with his stories about his time spent in America. When he learned I was a native English speaker he delighted in conversing with me in English, the subject matter of our one-sided conversation was largely concerned with the time he had spent in America. Since I wasn't an American and was more interested in my trucha a la plancha than his stories, most of which were about America and the time he had spent there, my use was quickly exhausted and he returned to impressing the kids with his stories... about metaphysical poet John Donne and the paradoxes inherent throughout so much of his canon. Shame, I wanted to hear more about America.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Getting Married in Ecuador: Part Two - the Religious Wedding service

Part two: The religious wedding

The civil service is done and dusted and we have all the certificates to confirm we are legally married... now we can go and get married all over again (only this time it's going to be really fun).

Lucy and I got married for the second time at Ecuador's oldest hacienda in a 16th Century chapel built on top of an Incan sacred site. We were married by a Lutheran minister, with an indigenous Indian initiation ceremony and a Wiccan cleansing. It was ecumenical and a touch unconventional to put it mildly. After all, we had guests flying in from the US, England and Peru - so we had to put on a bit of a show.

Planning for the wedding began only a few months in advance. It would be disingenuous of me to take any of the glory for the final success of the day - this was Lucy's triumph. We had a tiny budget but we had a lot of help from a lot of very generous people. Here's what we did...

The Venue

The real coup was to secure Hacienda Guachala as our wedding venue. It is Ecuador's oldest hacienda and was once the richest estate in the country, there is a saying still used in Ecuador about Guachala which is the equivalent of 'as rich as Croesus'. Guachala's hacienda once sat at the centre of an estate spanning some 21,000 hectares - that's more than twice the size of Jersey.

Hacienda Guachala, Cayambe, Ecuador
The courtyard inside Guachala
Guachala's glory days were over soon after the outlawing of the colonial feudal system which partitioned the country into vast estates incorporating the native Indian populations as part of the hacienda owners property. This medieval-style slavery persisted until agrarian reforms in the 1960s and 70s before it was finally stamped out altogether in the 1980s. The agrarian reforms were perhaps more a reaction to the perceived threat of the Indian population becoming Communist rather than through a pang of social conscience.

These days the hacienda is still impressive albeit slightly dog-eared. It's a vast estate to maintain but Ecuador's climate is very forgiving, without frosts or long months of rain. People built to last back in the 1600s and the walls are nearly a metre thick, not to mention the forest of fat timbers propping up those walls. That said, Guachala could do with more than a lick of paint and some modern fixtures... of course, this faded charm was precisely what Lucy and I both loved about the place.

The present hacienda owner's daughter married a man called Cristobal Cobo, who has combined archaeology with his knowledge of the astral bodies to discover long lost pre-Incan sacred sites, a sort of Indiana Jones figure, without killing any Nazis. To chat to Cristobal is fascinating and he has some very interesting ideas about turning the map on its side. He believes the best point to orient ourselves is the sun rising in the east above the Equator (in fact, he will have you know, the word orientation itself comes from the Latin word oriens, meaning east). I'm digressing slightly... every Wednesday Lucy used to dance for the tourists in the centre of Quito with her folk group. While the dancers were limbering up and grooming their raposas Cristobal would give a little lecture on his studies and so this is how Lucy got to know him.

Fast forward 15 years and he receives a Facebook message out of the blue from Lucy mentioning she wants to get married at his house! He was very gracious about it all and even invited us around for dinner. His family were charming, his dog was enormous and we had an amazing meal which was all the tastier thanks to the homemade relish he served made from the cacti he grows on the hacienda (a little sideline). We got approval for the wedding and were given a free rein of the estate.

The Chapels

There are two chapels on the Guachala estate, we had the choice to marry in either building.
Hacienda Guachala, Cayambe, Ecuador
The original chapel from the 1580s
The first is the old chapel, built in 1580 when the hacienda was founded. It was built plum on the spot of a sacred Incan site, another instance of the Spanish stamping their dominance on the local population. It's a powerful message - my God is harder than your God. I suppose the Incas were rather inclined to agree, their sun god Inti was notable only for his absence as the conquistadors raped, pillaged and infected half his people with smallpox. Jehovah on the other hand - as the Incas would have been taught by those first missionary priests - rained locusts and death on the Pharaoh when he tried a similar trick. The old chapel is dilapidated and long since deconsacrated, it's most contemporary function was a home for the babyfoot table... which is also dilapidated and long since deconsacrated.
Table football in a 16th Century Chapel
A game of babyfoot while you pray... come on you Greens

The other chapel is much larger and from the 1920s. It was the first building in Ecuador to be made from concrete, then considered a wonder material. The concrete was formed in Europe to the required specs and imported across the Atlantic and along the Panama canal. It must have cost a fortune. Concrete is so prolific these days it's hard to imagine going to such trouble, but to be fair the hacienda owner was right ahead of the curve, a true early-adopter.

Hacienda Guachala, Cayambe, Ecuador
The newer chapel from the 1920s has twin towers and a
much larger space for the congregation. Old light fittings
still dangle above your head like Damocles' sword.
The exposed beams look fantastic. All of the
concrete to construct this chapel was imported from Europe
at great expense. It's hard to believe concrete was ever
considered such a rare commodity
Hacienda Guachala, Cayambe, Ecuador

a_DSC3158Perhaps unsurprisingly we chose the chapel from the 1580s. Lucy's mum wasn't sure about our plans and I'm sure she wasn't the only one. To get the 16th Century chapel looking presentable for 70 guests would take some imagination and a lot of hard work. Our plan wasn't complicated - candles and flowers.

We found a candle factory in Quito where we were able to buy in bulk for a reasonable price. We bought about 100 white church candles of various sizes and filled the chapel with them. It was almost certainly a fire hazard - but luckily nobody worries too much about these sort of things too much in Ecuador (except me, I was terrified Lucy would catch her trailing dress on the flame and go up like a firework).

Before the wedding ceremony could take place in the chapel, Lucy's aunt Liliana cleansed it with her white witchcraft because apparently 'it had some spirits living there' (probably the Holy Spirit since it is a chapel after all). I can't say I go in for all this malarkey but it's better safe than sorry. Honestly, the last thing I wanted to do was upset some unquiet soul, disturbed in their eternal limbo by our wedding shenanigans.


Enrique Males

BodaIf our first coup was getting Hacienda Guachala for our venue, the second coup was getting Enrique Males to sing at our wedding. Enrique Males is an Ecuadorian folk singer from Otavalo (just up the road from Cayambe). He has a deep and powerful voice and sings in a mix of Quechua and Spanish languages, sometimes using pre-Colombian instruments loaned and recreated by Quito's archaeological museum. I fell in love with his ballad Ariningacaman and, after a couple of drinks one evening, said to Lucy: 'Why don't we ask Enrique Males to sing at our wedding?' Lucy's always game for a challenge no matter how pie in the sky.

If the idea had been mine, Lucy made it happen. Enrique Males was performing at the main concert venue in Quito as part of a charity fundraiser against the encroachment of the Yasuni Amazon region by oil speculators. Part of his stage act had been a diatribe against the evils of 'el hombre blanco', so it was with a hint of white guilt that I first met Enrique and his wife Patricia after the show. He stressed how he didn't just sing at your typical Ecuadorian upper class wedding, and he didn't have much love for the Catholic church. He was interested to hear about the strange concoction of a wedding we were brewing at Guachala and agreed.

Enrique arrived with two musicians, one with a violin and the other with a small, twangy guitar. It was amazing to hear them practicing before the ceremony in the chapel. Enrique was keen to start the ceremony with a traditional conch call and did not want to sing as Lucy walked down the aisle. This is how it went on the day - my Dad fortunately took a video or else it would have been lost forever.
Enrique is such a gentleman that he accepted our invitation to stay for the wedding breakfast and insisted on another performance after we had eaten. He was singing in the courtyard of the old hacienda and the sound reverberated beautifully. Again, my dad was on hand to record this exclusive performance.  Enrique is a true gentleman.

La Banda

The band in full swing
You can't have a party in Ecuador without a band, so we hired a group of local lads from Cayambe. There was a big festival in Cayambe that week so bands (or at least sober ones) were thin on the ground. Lucy found an entrepreneurial troupe of teenagers who had all served their apprenticeships with the adults and were looking to branch out on their own. There were a few percussionists who were even younger still and whose apprenticeships must have been very short.

We met their leader in Cayambe the month before the wedding and he promised they would all arrive wearing an outfit - thankfully he lied and when they arrived on the day of the wedding it was in mufti. In Ecuador things can at times seem chaotic but when somebody makes a promise (especially one sealed with a cash transaction) they always deliver. We handed half the cash to our teenage band leader weeks ahead of the wedding and didn't hear from him again until he arrived promptly on the day. Latin America sometimes has an unfair reputation for being slap-dash, the only balls up on our wedding day came from the Dutch bakery Jurgen in Quito who forgot our cake order. The Netherlands had unexpectedly thumped Spain  in the World Cup and I think perhaps the Dutch owner had gotten a bit carried away on the Grolsch. Ignominious and hungover, he emptied half the cakes in his shops into the back of Lucy's cousin Veronica's car and knocked off 50 per cent, he even promised us a free slap-up breakfast (which we never cashed in).

The band had arrived early and were over the moon when we invited them to help themselves to a plate of food - I think they ate more than the rest of the wedding party combined. There was plenty of food to go around - but more about that next.

Stuffed raposasBand music in Ecuador is raucous, brassy and stompy. It's easy to dance to, even if you can't dance (like me) and the tunes are simple and infectious. The highlight of the dancing was when the raposas arrived. The raposa is a sort of Andean skunk that makes the highlands smell like weed. These raposas were stuffed and are used in traditional folk dances as a fertility symbol. I can never remember if I just invented this or if it's real but the raposa is thrust from the groin during the dance as a potent phallic symbol... I hope I didn't invent it. The raposas were stuffed by Lucy's dad Carlos himself in his homemade taxidermy horror lab - which has also seen snakes, owls and iguanas lain upon the cold slab for disembowelment and a final formaldehyde bath. We must take Carlos at his word that the raposas were already dead when he found them, although judging by their hellish, contorted faces death came neither welcome nor peaceful.

My own Dad captured this video of Lucy and I dancing with raposas to the banda. The band played late into the night, fueled only by rum - which not one member was legally old enough to drink.

We were dancing in the central courtyard of the hacienda on the cobblestones, needless to say it's not the ideal dance floor. To counter this Carlos carted the enormous dance mat from his Ambato folklore group all the way to Cayambe. It worked so well that Lucy spent the entire night dancing bare foot without any injuries the next day.
Lucy in full swing to the band 
Later in the evening we put on a pre-prepared Spotify playlist with a mixture of salsa, rock and the Pogues (maybe we even included the Macarena - for the old folk, like). At one point in the night Peruvian Oscar unveiled his cajon (a giant box drum) and played it - the cajon was our wedding present and poor old Oscar and Flor de Maria had to cart it all the way from Lima - it must have taken up half of their baggage allowance. Fueled by Pisco my last memories are dancing like a loon and shouting at the top of my lungs: "Mas loca, Candy (Lucy's best friend), mas loca."

Food and Drink

Esteben and the tuna steaks

When I was living on the coast I got a taste for tuna, bought with disastrous consequences at Puerto Lopez fish market. It's meaty, delicious and cheap as chips - although never actually served with chips, just plantain. For the wedding I wanted to serve barbecued tuna steaks - it's not very traditional but I thought there might be a bit of theatre to it.
Perhaps in the embryonic stages of planning I'd half imagined myself behind the barbecue, chef's hat on, 'Kiss the Cook' apron and grilling up a storm for the guests. Luckily, rationality (in the form of Lucy) swiftly intervened. We put out a Facebook aidez-moi, calling for a competent chef who knew how to handle a hot stove. We were so fortunate that Lucy's American cousin Nidia knew of just the man, an old friend of her's, Esteban Tapia. Of all the people who helped make the wedding run smoothly Esteban is one of the main players. Here's why.
Before the wedding Estaben invited Lucy and I to his house in the valleys outside Quito. He has a beautiful home with an even more amazing kitchen garden where he grows fresh fruit and veg. He was just branching out into hosting exclusive al fresco dining evenings at his own home. We had forewarned Esteban of our tuna plan and he had already marinaded this half-baked scheme. When we arrived he presented us with a tuna steak he had prepared earlier, it was amazing. We talked about what vegetables we could serve with the fish and also a few cocktail ideas... like everybody else in Ecuador (apart from Lucy) he had never heard of Pimms.

Not only was Esteban familiar with hacienda Guachala but he'd actually cooked on the volcanic stone barbecue in the courtyard. We'd harboured ambitious plans of buying a tuna fresh from the boat on the beach markets of Manabi then getting it driven to Cayambe in time for the wedding. Esteban had a much better idea - just leave it to him.

On the day Esteban arrived early and got the barbecue fired up with wood and - with his eyes watering from the smoke - slaved over a hot stove like an absolute trooper. In fact not only Esteban was working hard but also his wife and daughters. Once the cooking was done he manned the small bar area and served cocktails until late into the evening.

I'm slightly ashamed I did not thank him more appropriately for the efforts he and his family made on my wedding day. Dios te page.


We served Pimms cocktails immediately after the service. The Pimms was lugged from England by my parents, it's impossible to buy Pimms anywhere in Ecuador. The recipe was my dad's and he gave Esteban a quick lesson in mixing a passable Pimms. It was a huge success and everybody enjoyed, a few people hadn't realised it was alcoholic and perhaps knocked their's back with a bit too much gusto.

With the meal we served Chilean wine. Ecuador really isn't a wine country and it's hard to find good wine that doesn't cost the earth. Luckily the Chileans know what's good in life and have developed a well respected wine industry with a particular talent for pinot noir - which is what we were serving. The white and sparkling wine was also Chilean.

After the meal we had a bar serving gin Martinis, which even the Ecuadorians associated with James Bond. The gin was another import from the UK and Lucy's cousin Veronica (of cake carting fame) bought some Bombay Sapphire back from the US. We also served Mojitos - or Cuba Libres for those with a sweeter tooth. Carlos generously volunteered to buy the rum and arrived armed with 24 litre bottles. It was safe to say there was enough booze to get the party started and all the guests well and truly car parked.

Later in the evening Candy and Daniella, our Peruvian special guests, cracked open the special Pisco they had brought and it was liberally distributed across the dance floor. The Pisco is served directly to the lips and fresh from the bottle's cap. Resistance is futile. It was probably the straw that broke the camel's back - only it wasn't a camel, it was me, and it wasn't my back, it was my head.

The Dress

Lucy's dress is 100 years old. It was discovered in a house clearance in Chicago still stored in its original box. It was bought online and shipped from the US. It was a bit of a gamble and there was every possibility of it arriving in tatters. When the parcel finally came we were both a little nervous when we saw how small the box was - it seemed impossible a wedding dress could fit inside such a tiny box. What we hadn't bargained on was just how fine the material would be. Neither Lucy nor I are fabric experts but it seemed to be somewhere between silk and lace.

We opened the box at Lucy's cousin Nidia's house and within five minutes we were all sneezing and my eyes were streaming with allergies. We were going to need to gently beat the dress to release the dust and then hang it to air in the Ecuadorian sunshine for a day. The dress fitted like a glove. The gamble paid off.

When Lucy came to dress on morning of the wedding she realised half of the dress was missing. The petticoat was bag in Quito and we were at least an hour to the north in Cayambe. With only three hours until the wedding it was squeaky bum time! Luckily her friend Andrea came to the rescue and volunteered to pick up the dress on her way to Guachala. She had to pretend to the security guard at our house that she was Lucy's sister and had forgotten her key. The plan worked like a charm and Andrea - expertly driven by then boyfriend/now husband Fernando - arrived just in time to save the day. Reminiscing as I wrote the blog, Lucy breezily dismissed the incident with the words: "Well I knew I'd forgotten something, I just didn't think it was something so important."

Well, the dress looked amazing and, more importantly, Lucy looked stunning in it. Despite entering its centenary year it stood up to the rigours of a wild Andean fiesta than anybody. Lucy kept her dress on all day and danced in it all night. We surveyed the damage a week later and the only evidence of its trials and tribulations was a small red wine stain which Lucy was able to scrub clean by hand. Will this dress ever be worn again, or was this its last hurrah? We'll keep it in a box, safe for Julia.
Lucy makes her way to the chapel

I was wearing a white suit, partly inspired by my man Carlos Vives' creepy, pretend wedding in his video for Volvi a Nacer.


One of the big advantages of getting married in Cayambe is it sits bang slap at the centre of Ecuador's rose industry. Surrounding Guachala, where sheep once grazed, are enormous poly tunnels filled with roses in a climate controlled environment (although I wouldn't want to breathe the fumigated air inside). Roses of every variety and colour are grown - even blue roses (although they are in fact white roses fed strong colouring). The best roses are picked, packed and shipped to the United States. The rest are sold cheap to the local population - and it's little surprise Cayambe is awash with florists. We visited and placed an order for 100 bunches of a dozen white roses and maybe 10 dozen blue delphiniums.
Tom and Emilia labouring hard
I had never tried flower arranging before but I talked the talk and succeeded in convincing people I knew what I was doing. Lucy and I had a plan to create trailing garlands of roses. We found a florist in a dodgy suburb way in the north of Quito. The owner of the floral accessories wholesaler was really kind but her's was an unlikely business - we had to wake up her Romanian neighbours to get access.

The day before the wedding we had a production line going to build all of the bouquets - ranked most highly among my assistants were Lucy's sisters Emilia and Arlen. It took a long time to make the decorations and when the roses started dropping out of the garlands my dad leapt into action with the garden wire to hold them in place. On the altar I made decorations of roses and delfiniums, flanked by twiggy leaves and sprays. It transformed the chapel.

In the pond next to the hacienda were growing thousands of lilies - known locally as cartuchos. The hacienda owners kindly picked them for us and we found hundreds floating in the central fountain when we arrived - the heat of the Ecuatorial sun was fast wilting them and we rescued as many as we could. We used the lilies to decorate the font at the back of the chapel and also tied them around the wooden beams surrounding the courtyard.

On the day of the wedding Carlos, in one of his many unpredictable flourishes, went to town and arrived with another 50 or so bunches of a dozen roses - this time bright oranges, pinks and deep reds. We didn't really have anything to do with this sudden surfeit so Carlos (or possibly Jenny) hatched the plan to decapitate the flowers and float them in the fountain. It looked stunning and was an incredible last minute addition to the floral decorations.

a_DSC2899 a_DSC3019
Flowers in a fountain

Chamiza and El Castillo

BodaA chamiza is a ceremonial bonfire of eucalyptus lit in the Andes during fiestas. Guachala is surrounded by the tallest eucalyptus trees I've ever seen in Ecuador. The tress sway and creak in the winds and probably cause Cristobal a few restless nights, especially since several have already rotted and fallen. It was perhaps a good therapy for him to go medieval with the chainsaw, but he arrived on the day of our wedding with a trailer full of eucalyptus which he piled into a large mound in the centre of the courtyard. As darkness fell and to the music of the band, a single branch was lit and held high into the night sky before being dropped onto the prepared chamiza. Eucalyptus was imported from Australia to Ecuador as a way of controlling malaria, the thirsty trees suck all of the moisture from the ground and make it harder for the bugs to breed. It is full of oil, which smells amazing and burns like it had been soaked in petrol.
The flames licked and cast a beautiful warm light around the courtyard.

A week before the wedding Lucy found a man who could build and detonate un castillo - a sort of timber framed castle packed to its turrets with fireworks. He arrived as the fire was still flaming to the stars and found a quiet corner - presumably away from the sparks - to assemble his Heath Robinson light show.

Without announcement or any pomp he lit the castle and up she went. On Lucy's orders (not mine), the castillo was covered in sparkling fireworks rather than bangers. The operator pushed the flaring structure around in circles as more and more wheels fizzed into flame sending showers of sparks in every direction. It was an impressive finale that I think very few guests had expected.
El Castillo erupts

Thanks to the people who made our wedding happen

When you have a tiny budget but have big ambitions then you really need to rely on the kindness and generosity of friends... and in our case, strangers too.
Felipe Adolf is a Lutheran minister and an old friend of Lucy's mum - he's also the President of the Council of Latin American Churches. He gave up a lot of time to talk us through the service and listen to our own requests. He performed a heart-felt service and was so warm and welcoming to all our guests.
Pictured above (left-right) is Lucy's mum Nidia, sister Emilia and cousin another Nidia (AKA Ferni). Nidia did many things, but top of the list was vacating her own house so that my parents could stay. She also gave us the use of her car for a mini-tour around Ecuador after the wedding. Emilia also kindly gave up her room ahead of the wedding, so my auntie had a bed. Emilia - our fire guardian - bravely swung the censer of incense at the start of the ceremony. Nidia (AKA Ferni) tore herself away from the bosom of liberty to catch a flight, with the rest of her family, to be at our wedding - but she came bearing gifts, pearly gifts. Lucy wore the pearl necklace and earrings she brought on the wedding day. 
The chap with the hair longer than mine is our hippie pal Beto, the founder of Kiart - Ecuador's premier folk art studio. Remember my story about getting Enrique Males to sing at our wedding? Well Beto made that happen. Enrique is Beto's friend and he acted as middle-man. He also bought incense and a stove to light the ceremonial smoking before the ceremony.
Another thank you and another Nidia AKA Shaopix. Aside from being a general support for Lucy ahead of the wedding, she was also the only person we could trust to ensure the smooth running of our event. The photo above represents just 1/50th of a second of the managing (read: bossing) required for a wedding like ours, to seem this chaotic and improvised takes precision planning and this was all down to Shao. For example, when extra guests arrived for the meal, it was Shao who was able to rearrange a carefully prepared seating plans at a moment's notice and ensure nobody went hungry. She also let Lucy hang her bio-hazard wedding dress in her cupboard - and Nidia hates dust.
Many of the best photographs on this page were taken by Santiago Arcos. He might not like using a flash as much as I do but his photos are incredible. He stayed a lot longer than we asked and all of Lucy's sisters fancied him like mad. Here's his website if you want to see some great photos.

I'm sorry that I don't have a photo of Cristobal or his wife Gabriella so here is their amazing half Akita/half St Bernard dog. Cristobal and Gabriella were both were so generous and welcoming and let us host our guests in their home without feeling like we were intruding. Cristobal was also very kind to my dad and gave him a little tour of the night sky as seen from the Southern hemisphere. His two young daughters even lent a hand on the flower arranging production line. 

Young Darya was unfazed by the important task of delivering our rings safe and sound to the altar - everything was resting on her shoulders and she smashed it right into the roof of the net, plus looking cute to boot. Her mum Pamela, Lucy's cousin and professional dance teacher, took the time to teach Lucy and I how to dance a Charleston which - to our eternal shame - we did not perform. I was so shy. Public speaking, fine, dancing like a mentalist with raposas, no problem... performing a choreographed routine in front of nearly 100 guests - scary wary. 
The dads were both a huge help. Mine had the considerable responsibility of ensuring the safe passage of my mum and my aunt from England to Ecuador. Nobody in the party had ever left Europe before, let alone visited South America. My dad is busy filming in this photo, which is lucky because we had very little video of our wedding except those which he had taken and uploaded. He also wrote his own blog about the wedding (and with a much shorter lead time than me). Carlos - that's Lucy's dad - performed a plethora of duties aside from handing over his first born at the altar. The eclectic assortment of objects he sourced, procured and ferried to Guachala include crates of rum, dance mats, flowers and even a Catholic censer, borrowed from a priestly chum. He was also remarkably good to not object to me marrying Lucy - perhaps a giant, long-haired Englishman is not what he had foreseen for his daughter, but he took the shock very well. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Getting married in Ecuador: Part One - the Civil wedding service

Part One: The civil wedding

I got married in Ecuador not once but twice. What was once a deeply Catholic country is becoming increasingly secular (although centuries of Catholicism still ensures which direction Ecuador's moral compass points to this day).

A secular state means a marriage service stripped of religious jiggery-pokery. So what are you left with? A rather soulless service held in a government office presided over by a bureaucrat who pronounces 'husband and wife' with the same listlessness as rubber-stamping a planning application.

This is where I was married - Direccion General de Registro Civil, Quito
My first wedding took place in Quito's central registry office, close to the Quicentro shopping centre and the main park. Being an Englishman simplified our wedding plans... I was only allowed to marry in the Direccion General de Registro Civil. Ecuadorians marrying compatriots can pay for a registrar to visit their venue but foreigners don't get this luxury.

We tried to keep the civil wedding under wraps, partly because none of my family from England were attending and partly because we didn't want to steal the thunder of the big church wedding we were planning later that year. Of course, there was no way we could keep it a secret from the Ecuadorian wing of the family and Lucy's parents, sisters, cousin Shaopix and friend Tanya all attended (the latter were witnesses).

Although neither Lucy or I had placed very much stock on the civil wedding when the day arrived I think we both recognised its significance. Although we had tried to pretend to the contrary, this was the real thing. We might tell everybody that the real wedding was in a couple of months time but legally this was the only one that counted. I wore my brown three-piece suit and Lucy wore white - well, it is a wedding after all.

Smiles after the service with Lucy and her sisters
I was very nervous on the way to the registry office, packed into the Fundacion Alli Causai truck and - as the only foreigner - feeling ever so slightly isolated. Nobody from England was with me to share the moment... largely because I had kept it a secret. There had been nothing Byzantine about keeping mum, it was just that people were making great efforts to attend the religious wedding in two months time and I didn't want them to think they'd missed the boat, My parents had only had a civil wedding at a registry office and I worried that doing things twice might have seemed needlessly showy for my thrifty father's northern sensibility.

On Lucy's side were her parents and her three sisters, Arlen, Emilia and Camila. Her cousin Nidia and her friend Tanya served as our witnesses. Nidia tried to combine her duties as witness with a secondary role as photographer, but I think it proved harder than she'd expected and we weren't exactly presented with an album of 'keepers'. Not to worry - during the short service a cartoonist entered the room and sketched us both in charcoal. I was portrayed as a towering, long-haired giant with beady, little eyes... so I suppose it was a fairly good likeness. If I ever see the caricature again I will publish it on this blog but I fear it may be lost forever.

I was nervous ahead of the service but I knew what to expect, having attended (and photographed) the civil ceremony of our friends Tanya and Christian a few months earlier. It is short, official and humourless and aside from signing your name on a document there is no ritual and few frills.

Afterwards we headed back to the north of Quito and to Nidia's house to eat sushi (probably Emilia's idea) and cakes (probably Carlos' idea) and sparkling wine (probably my idea).

I think Lucy and I were both feeling relieved. Bureaucracy in Ecuador isn't always a straight-forward matter - particularly when you are a foreigner and documents need to be counter-signed and verified. I'm sure in the back of both of our minds we had considered the possibility of an official declining my papers.

So legally we were married but we had both steeled ourselves to disregard this ceremony. Neither of us wanted to detract from the big bash on the horizon. Of course, we were married and this was a fact we could not avoid and in response we played a little game, asking one another what percentage married we felt... it wasn't a very scientific scale but the answers tended to skirt between 20-70 per cent. Of course, neither of us wanted to score higher than 70 in case it took anything away from the next wedding.

Let's say, the formalities were completed. The paperwork was in order... now we could set about the real challenge - putting the finishing touches to an ambitious wedding where all our friends and family would be in attendance.

The fun was about to start...

Part Two: The Real/Fake Wedding

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Becoming an Ecuadorian Citizen (in an afternoon)

My daughter Julia became an Ecuadorian citizen. She was not born in Ecuador, she was born in London, so the process was slightly more complicated (but not much). She has an Ecuadorian mother and an English father - that would be me.

At four months old Julia crossed the Atlantic for the first time and visited Ecuador. She had a whale of a time but entered the country on her British passport as a tourist - so it was high-time we resolved this and made her officially Ecuadorian.

Julia at Hacienda Guachala in Cayambe, on the line of the equator
Back in London we attended the Ecuadorian consulate, a crummy building near Kings Cross station. We had imagined the process might be lengthy and formal so my dad volunteered to come along with us, in case Julia needed a minder while we were being interviewed. Instead the process was relatively short and informal but it was nice to have him along for the ride all the same. I bought him a gourmet burger to say thank you but I'm not sure he enjoyed it very much because it was served bloody (he is fussier than a little lord).

The consulate was quiet, it was just our little party and a family of economic migrants from near Otavalo who were living in Milton Keynes - from the slopes of Imbaburra to the slopes of the Milton Keynes Snow Dome. They were returning to Ecuador after seven years of graft in England. Julia garbled garrulously to their two-year-old son; he turned to his mum, concern in his eyes: "What's up with that baby's mouth, why can't it talk?"

Waiting room literature was a selection of newspapers printed for London's large Latin community. The pages were filled with adverts - mostly for immigration lawyers - but dad enjoyed reading an article on David Cameron and another on Jorge Lorenzo. It's good Spanish practice.

A political propaganda film was playing on a loop on a TV in the middle of the room. President Rafael Correa was banging on about mining - I can't remember if he was for or against the mine, but by the end of the programme I was left in no mind his side was right, whatever side that was.

The citizenship process was like all Ecuadorian bureaucracy - baffling with long periods of inactivity punctuated by fleeting bouts of frenzied signing and rubber stamping. Embarrassingly the citizenship had a price of £4.20 and nobody had thought to bring change. I had a £20 note but they wouldn't break it and bank cards were out of the question. Between the three of us we upturned every pocket and scraped the paltry sum together with five pences and coppers - the bureaucrat oversaw the debacle with remarkable patience.

I'm not sure what Ecuadorian citizenship meant to Julia, frankly she looked rather nonplussed by it all. It will no doubt come in very handy at some point in her life but I'm sure her British passport will be the more useful travel companion. I can imagine plenty of instances where pretending not to be English might be diplomatic, after all Britain has been at war with just about every country on the geo-politcal map and has racked up plenty of animosity. By contrast, Ecuador has only ever been to war with Peru, and this was a short-lived and amicable dispute settled when the Ecuadorian army got in a muddle and sent 500 crates of unripe bananas to the front-line instead of the rifles.

As the latest Ecuadorian citizen, we got a souvenir photo of Julia taken next to the giant Ecuadorian flag and the signed poster of the President.

Julia's first moments as an Ecuadorian
Not every country permits dual nationality but Britain and Ecuador do. My favourite part of the episode is the declaration by the Home Office that if you take on a second nationality then don't come crying to Britain if you get conscripted in some foreign legion, the Queen can't get you a discharge. Julia, you're on your own.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Enrique Males: Ariningacaman

This is a music video I made for Ecuadorian singer Enrique Males' song Ariningacaman.

Enrique Males is from Otavalo and despite being a softly-spoken man face-to-face he has the most impressively deep and powerful voice when he sings. He specialises in traditional Andean folk sounds, typically played on pre-Hispanic wind instruments.

Ariningacaman is sung in Quechua and is a love song to Males' child. It was sung at my wedding in Cayambe after Lucy walked down the aisle.

The video is a montage of some of my favourite footage I filmed after nearly a year filming in Ecuador's rural communities. I made the video because I love the song and it didn't exist online - I would like more people to hear and appreciate Enrique Males' music. I hope you like it.

Kay shungupi nawipi yuyaypi causangapac nanguta manachi


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A rough guide to Latin American music

I shall attempt to hack a path through the dense jungle of Latin American music. Previously I'd dumped all Latin music into one collective pile, but the genres and sub-genres are endless. To be honest, I still find it hard to distinguish the subtle differences between Chicha and Cumbia or Salsa and Son Montuno. However, I fully support the necessity of endless sub-categorising. As a fan of metal I can tell you the differences between death, thrash, black, power, Viking, or hair metal.

So here goes and in alphabetical order (this list is by no means complete and is very much a work in progress)

Bachata – Latin music from the Dominican Republic, it became very fashionable again in the late 1980s thanks to a singer called Juan Luis Guerra. Bachata is a mix of European and African traditions and features rhythm guitar, bass, bongos and a guira - a metal board or drum played with a stiff wire brush. Here is a nice example of a Bachata song I like by Juan Luis Guerra called Ojala que lleuva Cafe (I hope it rains Coffee). 

Banda, Musica de – the most popular party music of Ecuador, you can't have a fiesta without Musica de Banda in the Andes. It is brass bands, cymbals, bass drums and loud thumping rhythms that compel your feet into stamping. Every police force, neighbourhood, army regiment, and school has its own banda de musica and competition between the rival bands is fierce. Nothing gets the party started like the banda. At my own wedding we booked a local banda from Cayambe - provided they were fed and watered (with rum) they kept playing for hours. My dad took this video of my wife Lucia and I dancing to the banda - we're both carrying raposas (stuffed skunks) which are a fertility symbol in the Andes... and I'm dancing very badly.

The Banda at my own wedding, playing before the bonfire
Bomba – an Ecuadorian music from the black immigrants of El Chota, an Andean valley in the highlands. Most of Ecuador's black population is based along the coast (particularly Esmeraldas) so El Chota is unusual. The African roots have been fused with indigenous Indian folk traditions so it has a very distinctive sound and appearance.

Cha cha cha – a Cuban dance music, a derivative of Son Montuno (see below). Cha cha cha is onomatopoeic, it is what you do between the steps: “One, two, three – cha, cha, cha... etc”. The dance is now a staple member of the competitive ballroom scene.

Chicha – this is Peru's take on Cumbia, but it's extremely popular across the Andean countries. Chicha arrived in the 1960s when Lima received massive immigration from the Andes, mixing tropical music with highland folk sounds. Chicha relies on an electric guitar, instead of an acoustic guitar. In the last ten years it has become trendy with young Peruvians, shaking off its working class roots and arriving in the discos and studenty bars of Barranco. Chicha is classic dance and drinking music.
My favourite chicha song is without a doubt Grupo 5's Te Vas Te Vas. Chilean singer Americo's version is the most famous but it's not a patch on Grupo 5.

Cumbia – Arguably the most popular genre of music across Latin America, Cumbia is everywhere. On every bus the radio will be playing cumbia... or its evil twin techno-cumbia. Originally cumbia was folk music from Colombia, mixing European, Indian and African traditions and was danced in courtship with large skirts made with 10 metres of cloth, so the girls shake, lift and play with their flowing dress.
La Sonora Dinamata are a fun introduction to Cumbia and this energetic live performance gives a good sense of the fun of cumbia.
Los Hispanos have this song about Gabriel Garcia Marquez' novel 100 Years of Solitude
I was lucky enough to watch a Cumbia video being made - it wasn't quite Beyonce.
Man shooting a music video in Ecuador
I was fortunate to see a cumbia video being made before my eyes - this is Geovana Jara
Festejo – an Afro-Peruvian rhythm. There is debate over the authenticity of Festejo, some critics claim it is a relatively modern reinvention to give the black population of Peru an identity. Festejo uses donkey jaws as a rattling, percussion instrument. 
The best festejo song I've found is this by Eva Ayllon called Saca La Mano (Put out the hand). It's easy to dance to, you stick out your hands, stick out your feet and then shake your head like you don't want to lose (as the song says). We danced this at the wedding.

Mambo – an older Latin music, also from Cuba (like so many other styles) and also part of the ballroom dance circus.

Marimba – an Ecuadorian afro music, but also heard across Central America. It is named after the wooden percussion instrument, similar to a xylophone. In Ecuador it is closely associated with the largely black province of Esmeraldas.

Pasillo – mournful, drinking music from Ecuador. The songs are melancholy and the lyrics are over the top. There is a European undertone to the music, particularly the Viennese Waltz. There's a pasillo song by DĂșo Benitez called Diseccion where the singer imagines his own death and being sliced up on the autopsy table, pretty tame if you grew up with Cannibal Corpse's 'Hammer Smashed Face' but pretty gruesome stuff for non-death metal audiences. Until the 1950s amorous young men would hire a pasillo to serenade their sweethearts under the window. If the girl accepted her lover's overtures she would appear at the window, if the gesture was rebuffed she would remain in bed.
Maybe Julio Jaramillo is the most popular pasillo singer, here's Nuestro Juramento.

Reggaeton – born in Puerto Rico, it mixes Jamaican reggae with hip-hop. It is one of the most popular types of music with young Latins today. It's fair to say the lyrics are aggressive, sexist and homophobic. I once found myself in a reggaeton club in Montanita and it was a pretty shocking sight of hyper-sexualised gender violence on the dance floor. The women were simulating oral and anal sex - all in time to the music - while their Guayaquilian boyfriends bobbed along - less in time to the music - swigging from bottles of Pilsner and Club Verde. Reggaeton isn't for me but achieved worldwide fame at the hands of Daddy Yankee's Gasolina.

Salsa – born in New York in the 1970s from Caribbean immigrants who combined Son Montuno from Cuba with Jazz music. It became popular as a symbol of Latin identity and is so intertwined with the dance scene the two are almost inseparable. Unfortunately, no party in Latin America can exist without Salsa music. It is less sexual than bachata but more sensual, the dance is a game of flirtation. Latin girls might even choose a man, based on his ability to dance Salsa. In the last decade Salsa has faced a slight decline with the popularity of bachata and the advent of 'romantic salsa' – a sexist, and lyrically crude form of the genre. The most famous Salsa figure from history was Hector Lavoe (the man who could breathe underwater), he was chaotic, always late for his shows, and died of drug abuse.
I can't dance salsa and perhaps because of this fact the music has always left me slightly cold. However, there are a few diamonds in the rough - like Quitate Tu by Fania All Stars.

San Juanito – an Andean folk music from Ecuador. It gets its name from the fiesta de San Juan, with which it is closely associated. It is upbeat and danced with handkerchiefs (like our Morris dancing). The festival of San Juan derives from the Incan festival of Inti Raymi, celebrating the sun God on June 24. The men tend to sing with deep baritone voices and the women sing with a high-pitched, slightly alien style (a little bit Bollywood), it sounds incredible. I love San Juanito and it's always played at the fiestas. This song by Jatari is called Chimbalito 

Son Montuno – another genre from Cuba, the roots of Salsa music. Percussion plays an important role with its African origins, but also blends Spanish guitar and brass styles. It is purer than salsa, which is blended with jazz, and slightly slower.

Traditional folk - every South American country has its own traditional folk songs but the best I found is Luzmila Carpio from Bolivia. Her high-pitched voice is incredible and almost alien to the ears. She can hit notes you won't believe the human voice could reach. Her song Arawi - performed here live - is haunting and very beautiful. Ecuador has Enrique Males who recreates a pre-Colombian sounds with the wind instruments borrowed from museums. His voice is deep and powerful. He sang this song Ariningacaman at my own wedding - it's a love song, sung in Quechua, to his child.

Vallenato – an upbeat Colombian coastal music played with an accordion inexplicably popular with Ecuadorian bus drivers. Carlos Vives made the genre fashionable in the 90s, he won three Grammy Latinos (if you're counting). His best song, by a country mile, is La Gota Fria (The Cold Sweat) but the videos for some of his latest songs are worth a watch, for his sheer hammy performances alone. There's something very likeable about Vives, even when he's acting like a total prat, as in this toe-curlingly cringey video for Vovi a Nacer.

Metal – Heavy Metal in Ecuador is most closely identified with the urban working classes, so has more to do with heavy metals rougher roots than the slightly sensitive, art-school emo scene we see in Europe today. The south of Quito is heavy metal heaven. It's strange to see Latin boys (just like in Europe its male-dominated) dressed in black leather with long, greasy hair under the scorching Ecuadorian sun.
Unfortunately, Latin metal has yet to find its own distinctive sound, particularly in Spanish-speaking South America. Trailblazers like Sepultura and Sarcofargo from Brazil seem to have had more influence in Europe than Ecuador. Instead, the most popular Latin metal groups attempt to replicate the European/US sounds, with the most popular genre by far being Power/Prog Metal. The lyrics (when they're in English) are disastrous and unintentionally comedic – but that's true of a lot of German metal too.
I'll keep on digging, but so far I haven't found anything particularly original. It's a shame because South America has such a deep well of Pagan history to draw from and an oppressive Catholic religion to rebel against. What could be darker or more metal than human sacrifices, snake Gods and living volcanoes?

Rata Blanca are perhaps the most popular... just don't expect Guns n' Roses.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Alcohol in Ecuador

Alcohol is part of daily life in England for most people. Even if you're not drinking yourself then others around you will be and the pub is the heart of so many of our social functions. 

In Ecuador it's a different story. Alcohol is more taboo, for example it is illegal to buy it from the shops on a Sunday (although most small tiendas will sell you a couple of beers, when you're desperate). The middle-classes do not drink like they do in England and there is very little wine culture. Of course there is plenty of drinking and at the fiestas there is almost a self-destructive element to it. It's not uncommon to see people lying in the street, paralytic.

There's nothing like a good, long soak

Most crucially, in Ecuador there is no pub culture.

How I missed the pub when I was in Ecuador. Of course Ecuador has pubs of a sort... but not really. Pubs in Ecuador mean a soulless room where you can buy bottles of lager. Lucy once translated them as 'beer shops', which is completely accurate.
George Orwell wrote an essay on the perfect pub, he calls it The Moon Under Water. It's my perfect pub too. Here's a few of his thoughts:
"To begin with, its whole architecture and fittings are uncompromisingly Victorian. It has no glass-topped tables or other modern miseries, and, on the other hand, no sham roof-beams, ingle-nooks or plastic panels masquerading as oak. The grained woodwork, the ornamental mirrors behind the bar, the cast-iron fireplaces, the florid ceiling stained dark yellow by tobacco-smoke, the stuffed bull’s head over the mantelpiece — everything has the solid, comfortable ugliness of the nineteenth century. In winter there is generally a good fire burning in at least two of the bars, and the Victorian lay-out of the place gives one plenty of elbow-room.  In the Moon Under Water it is always quiet enough to talk. The house possesses neither a radio nor a piano, and even on Christmas Eve and such occasions the singing that happens is of a decorous kind.
The barmaids know most of their customers by name, and take a personal interest in everyone. They are all middle-aged women—two of them have their hair dyed in quite surprising shades—and they call everyone ‘dear,’ irrespective of age or sex. (‘Dear,’ not ‘Ducky’: pubs where the barmaid calls you ‘ducky’ always have a disagreeable raffish atmosphere.)"
Quito's beer shops don't quite match my moon under water fantasies. Of course, in Mariscal there are bars frequented by expats, backpackers, students and even Quitenos looking to score with a Gringa. Even in these upmarket establishments I've had a few adventures - once I was tear-gassed, on another occasion a girl projectile vomited over my feet while her friends laughed. Once a guy was dry-humping his missus on the seat next to ours. I tapped him on the shoulder and asked him if he knew of a motel nearby. Without blinking he gave me directions before resuming his 'canoodling'. You'd never see that sort of mucky business at the Moon Under Water.
Returning to London I've noticed most pubs are becoming increasingly gentrified with their wasabi peas, 'craft ales' and gastro-menus. By doing so they lose some of the old spirit of the public house. They price out the riff-raff and make the 30-something parents believe it's acceptable for them to let their toddlers run riot around the bar.

In Forest Hill, where I'm now living, there are two pubs opposite one another. The hipster Sylvain Post and The Bird in Hand. One is gentrified and the other is a local boozer with fruities and Sky Sports. It's bar apartheid, with a clear line of division that cannot be crossed. The class system is alive and well. 

But however much I missed British pubs in Ecuador, what I didn't miss was the violence associated with British drinking culture. After five beers in the UK, some men seem hell-bent on a scrap. The atmosphere sours and becomes unpredictable, often you can smell the danger in the air. In Ecuador, people just want to dance... or pass out.

A case in point. During the World Cup the centre of Quito was taken over by beer swilling football fans, some Ecuadorian, some Colombian, some miscellaneous (like myself). Everybody was drunk, the football was showing and yet the atmosphere was chilled. There was no threatening chanting, no posturing, no lobbing bottles... but there was music and dancing. I was trying to imagine what it would be like in an English market town with just half that number of people and alcohol.

When England got knocked out of the World Cup in 2006 I found myself in a small market town called Ashby and the mood in town was uneasy. Gangs of lads had been drinking heavily and were pissed off and pissed up. I went for dinner at a Chinese restaurant and by the time I emerged the atmosphere had nose-dived. In the short walk from the restaurant to the hotel about three different men tried to engage me in mortal combat. The funny thing was I didn't say anything unusual in this... it was par for the course. Much better in South America. Over there it's the ones who haven't been drinking you need to look out for - you can't go express kidnapping after 10 pints of export strength lager.