Fiestas de Quito – Founder’s Day in Quito
Ecuador’s capital city is in a wild, festive mood as it celebrates the Fiestas de Quito. This most exciting of Quito’s festivals kicks off annually in late November with the crowning of the Reina de Quito (Queen of Quito), and it concludes on December 6th, the anniversary of the city’s founding in 1534. The Fiestas de Quito were first celebrated in 1959, when a small group of friends decided to revive some of Quito’s lost traditions. Since then, Quiteños have taken to the streets every year to party in their neighborhoods and congregate in the historic center’s central plaza to dance and imbibe. There are also some customs, like bullfights, cuarenta and chivas, which residents associate closely with the Fiestas de Quito.
A lot of the action during Fiestas de Quito used to take place within the city’s two bullrings. The two arenas were used to present bullfights throughout the course of the week, and it was during those days that nearly a dozen bulls would die at the hands of national and foreign matadores (bullfighters), some of which came all the way from Spain to partake in the tradition that saw them wield the sword, lances and the iconic red cape. For many Quiteños, this tradition was a means of connecting to their Iberian past, but a greater number remained skeptical of its cultural purpose given that bullfighting was nothing more than an ‘imported’ tradition which – far from giving Quiteños a sense of identity – distanced the people from their indigenous roots and ancestries. This was a highly controversial topic within society for decades up until the latter group finally gained so much political traction and force in recent years, that they ended up invoking a movement to modify the course of the bullfights if not to ban them entirely. On May 7, 2011, the Ecuadorian government held a national survey regarding the matter throughout the provinces, a poll which ended up shedding light on the fact that many weren’t in favor of the bullfighting tradition. What came to pass then, as law, was that from then on only a third of the number of lances could be impaled upon the bull and that the bull’s death could not take place within the ring itself (in front of the public) but instead had to occur concealed, within the walls of the stadium.
This partial victory for the bullfighting opposition, along with the fervent animal-rights protests that enshrouded the bullrings and plazas, led to a considerable decrease in the number of attendees to the events and, as a result, a decrease in business and popularity. Attendance fell so much in 2012 that the bullfights were held at only one of the city’s two bullrings (La Belmonte), revealing the slow yet certain phasing out of this once highly celebrated tradition. That isn’t to say any of the other traditions that garnish Fiestas de Quito – such as Cuarenta or the booming Chivas – have disappeared. The municipality and government have put together cultural activities and events to compensate for the dwindling popularity of bullfights however, with big, open and free concert shows to the public throughout all of Quito just being one example.
Cuarenta is a traditional card game in Ecuador’s highlands, but it is most commonly played during the Fiestas de Quito. Whole offices will stop work early to relax with some beer and cards. The game is not complicated, but it is addictive. Players, either individually or in teams, hope to capture their opponent’s cards by matching their value. Each captured card is scored as one point, and the winner is the player or team that gets to forty points.
Even if you don’t participate in the Fiestas de Quito revelry, it’s hard to avoid seeing and hearing the iconic chivas. These old wooden buses, converted into mobile dance floors, cruise around the main arteries and plazas of the city center. As the chivas arrive in nightlife hotspots, revelers pour out and begin dancing in the street. If you want to catch a ride on one of the myriad chivas, befriend a Quiteño and start asking around. You’re bound to score an invite.