Baños, Ecuador

Today we’re proud to feature a post by Melissa Ruttanai, a world traveler and the blogger behind World Winder. She and her husband, Neil, have been traveling the world and recording their experiences since they married in 2006. You can follow Melissa on Twitter at @MelissaRuttanai

by Melissa Ruttanai

For over a month, I’ve called Baños, Ecuador my home.  While snow has pummeled my homestate of New York, thin clouds skim off the Andean Mountains and into the river valley, a simple prelude to a warm afternoon.  Three and a half hours south of the capital Quito, Baños is a spa town that boasts mineral-rich hot springs and cascades that plummet all around town’s edge.

When I moved here with my husband Neil, we thought it would be a nice place to see spring in Ecuador and ease into South American living.   We needed an ideal place to rest and work for a month, and found a beautiful town pulling itself out of winter and bursting into spring with festivals, block parties, and all night fireworks.  Loving every moment of the season, we realized that October and November is a time for celebration.

Block Parties

Baños is a small town with safe streets, fresh bread baking on every corner, and a colonial basilica crowning its main plaza.  Like us, many foreigners come for a vacation and before the week is up, sign a lease for a new apartment.  Within days of moving in, we saw little signs of festivities: candle vendors at the church, rose petals scattered throughout the streets, and the faint echoing sound of a band playing across town.  We didn’t know any better.  We had no idea that each neighborhood took turns throwing parties.  Like any other street festival, food was sold, children chased each other, and music played past midnight.

It seemed simple and, well, festive—until it was our block’s turn to boogey down.  At 6 am the fireworks began.  Crack-crack-BOOM!  I jerked out of bed, swallowing my heart back into my chest.  At the window, I craned my neck out into the street.  Streamers hung from every telephone line and vans were pulling to the curb.  At 9am, the marching band struck up their first notes and wove their way up and down the neighborhood.  Trumpets swung from side to side and massive drums ricocheted the bass from building to building.

By noon, we opened our door in shock.  Our entire block had transformed from a narrow lane into a concert hall.  Giant speakers lined sidewalks as four men rigged wires and arranged tables.  The skeleton of a stage sat in the middle of the road and still the band played on.  Watching our neighbors shuffle supplies and equipment from houses to street, we saw our landlord, Mayra, packing her kids into the car.  Her face resigned, she held her youngest son on her hip.  “Do me a favor and keep an eye on our building.  I have to sleep at my mother’s tonight.  The noise is too loud.”  When I asked how long the block party lasted, her eyes widened slightly.  “Past 3 am.”

Neil and I couldn’t be happier.

As sunset approached, Saturday night began and the party came to us.   Marching bands gave way to organized talent shows.  Singers, dancers, and performers took the stage.  They belted out high notes, swung dance partners around, and kept the crowd jiving past three and toward dawn.  Like all barrios, a princess of the neighborhood was chosen, which gave rise to further celebration.  As fireworks shot through the night sky, our new neighbors invited us into the mix and offered something to eat and drink.  Grandmothers swept up after young kids and teenagers milled about with their friends in tight groups.  Our street was unrecognizable as hundreds of people packed into self-contained parties.  All ages and multiple generations attended the festival, every one proud to represent their neighborhood and celebrating the place they call home.

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