Early on a chilly Sunday morning, the distant sound of a tinny brass band drifted over the Plaza de la Independencia. I stepped onto the 2nd floor balcony of the Hotel Plaza Grande to see a colorful parade of celebrants strolling over the petal-strewn streets of old town, Quito.
Dressed in costumes of northern Andes villages, girls danced by wearing delicate white blouses tucked into layered skirts of richly embroidered petticoats fringed in macramé. Fellows wore dark blue tunics over knee-length pants. Each wore rounded white felt hats festooned with colored ribbons and pompons.
In a curious mixture of Christian symbolism and native culture, Wise Men on pantomime rag camels followed attenuated angels; these followed by musicians and llama herders.
A young boy, standing not much taller than the animal he led on a rope, wore a rainbow striped poncho over white alpaca leggings. His mother was wrapped in a cotton shawl (panis) with a hand made woven bag (shigras) tied over her shoulders; her luxurious black hair bound by a brightly colored ribbon (cintas).
It was the last Sunday of Advent, 2008 and the procession terminated on the steps of the San Francisco cathedral, several blocks away. Dating from 1534, this is the American continent’s oldest church. Catholic Mass was said under a canopy erected on its broad plaza, made of large stone blocks that once formed the walls of an ancient Inca temple.
Quito, Ecuador lies high in a valley basin at the foot of an active volcano - Guagua Pinchincha. Watching dancers whirling and dipping with such energy was dizzying.
Or was it the thin air of this capital city that lies at an altitude of over 9,300 feet?