Last year we were newcomers to San Clemente and we were warned not to venture out too much during Carnivale (a pre-lenten celebration similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans or the big Carnivale in Rio, Brazil) mostly because people said the crowds would make it impossible to move around. So we only ventured downtown a few times and stuck close to home.
This year we are more seasoned and we made our way down the beach and into town a few times to see our town’s transformation and witness the celebration that is Carnivale.
Remember that our little town of San Clemente is a sleepy little fisherman’s village. On any given day the road leading to the town center and the beach looks like this.
We are bordered on the south by the small towns of San Aleo and San Jacinto which has a narrow roadway along the beach (Malecon) that normally looks like this.
And, as you know from previous posts here, we generally only share our beautiful beach with the fishermen, frigates and pelicans when at low tide there are acres of beautiful open beaches that look like this.
But on Carnivale weekend (actually Sunday through Tuesday) the town fills up with thousands of visitors from Portoviejo, Chone, Quito, and many other cities who come to enjoy our beach and celebrate the festivities.
At about 10:00 o’clock on Sunday morning, Mary and I went down to the beach for a walk and to see if the crowds were arriving. Mother Nature decided to forego the rain that plagued much of last year’s Carnivale and provided a post-card picture perfect day with clear skies and mild warm breezes tempering the perfect 85 degrees.
Although there were more people than normal on the beach, the real crowds had not yet all arrived and we had a lovely walk. After our walk at about noon, Wayne, Mary, and I rode our bicycles downtown to get one of our favorite festival treats – a coconut drink made from fresh coconut milk, milk, coconut extract, sugar, and ice blended together, with more fresh shredded coconut and sweetened condensed milk on top! There is a vendor that sets up a stand every time there is a festival here to make and sell the drink and we love it.
But, the ride that usually takes five minutes took more than a half hour as we stopped, walked, and wove our way around the stopped cars and burgeoning crowds.
One quick note regarding safety. I have lived and worked in large cities in the United States like New York City and Los Angeles. It seems that whenever a large crowd forms in those cities there is a high likelihood that trouble will break out and people might be injured or threatened. Here in Ecuador, we do not feel threatened when large crowds form. For one thing, it seems to me that Ecuadorian people do not mind crowds as much as we North Americans do. Even on overcrowded buses and when stopped in traffic, most of the Ecuadorian people we have seen still smile with a shrug of their shoulders as if to say, “No problem.”
In addition to the general less violent nature of Ecuadorianos, there is also a visible police presence on the beach and in town during Carnivale and other festivals. Mary got this picture of some officers with dogs. We never saw any problems, but the police were ready in the event someone got too rowdy.
As large as the crowd seemed to be on Sunday, our friends told us that there would be many more people in town on Monday, so at about mid-day on Monday, Wayne and I set out again to go downtown and through San Aleo over to San Jacinto to see the crowds. I took the following pictures about noon on Monday.
These three above show our usually sleepy central town area with vendors setting up to sell carnivale necessities. Interspersed among the scores of cervesa stands were many stands like this selling spray foam which people use to spray at friends and randomly spray into the crowds.
There were also scores of artisan vendors selling crafts, jewelry, sunglasses, and lots of different types of food!
It was still early in the day, so most of the crowds were clustered at the beach. Here is the beach in San Clemente looking north.
And here is the San Clemente beach looking south from downtown.
The roads and beaches of San Aleo and San Jacinto were equally packed.
Wayne and I decided to try coming home via the main highway and back roads, but these were also filled with people coming to town in trucks, buses, cars, motorcycles, bicycles and on foot! We wove and walked our bikes around and finally got home where we have determined to hunker down until the crowds dissipate.
A friend of ours named David did go into town at about 4 PM on Sunday (before the big crowds arrived!) and took the following video clip which shows a crowd of people generally dancing and having fun. Note the foam spray shooting out over the crowd. I wish I had an exclusive franchise to sell that stuff!
Already this morning, most of the people who were staying in the motel rooms in our complex have packed up are leaving and by tonight or tomorrow morning, San Clemente will return to its sleepy little self!
Life is good (and occasionally rowdy) in Ecuador.