The Two Worlds of Cañar

Dear Friends: The two worlds of Cañar have never been clearer to me than this past month, with the Fiesta de San Antonio de Padua in Junducuchu, a Cañari village high on a mountain above the town, and the “town” festival as the “Archeological and Cultural Capital of Ecuador.” The former, an eight-day fiesta built around a tiny saint reportedly found in a local field many years ago; the latter a self-declared affair created in 2000 to draw national attention to humble, homely, backwater Cañar, whose main “archeological” distinction is its proximity to the Ingapirca ruins nearly two hours away. Since then, the town holiday has grown into a two-week extravaganza that included, god forbid, a Moto-Fiesta with a punk concert. AND it happened on the same day. On the Saturday afternoon of the San Antonio procession, the SUV of the friends I was with couldn’t make it up to 11,000 feet Junducuchu (clutch burned out), so we came down to town for a bite to eat and ended up at the motorcycle/punk event with a bunch of gentle giants dressed in black leather. A sight in Cañar I will never forget. Michael and I happened to arrive in Cañar on the very day of the first declared holiday, January 26, 2000, to find a parade blocking the streets while we were looking for a place to live. All these years later, the event has grown to last from January 17-28 and includes a “bank holiday” for schools and official businesses, a massive parade with a queen wrapped in ostrich feathers, followed by days of events such as poetry and photography competitions, and battle of the bands concerts.

But back to the Fiesta de San Antonio, which I’ve been documenting since 2006. I love the rukuyayas, the “festival fools” who work very hard for three days, leading the processions, gamboling about, saying rude things, playing tricks, asking for coins, and entertaining the crowd with their acrobatic antics. In their homemade masks, it’s impossible to know their identities and I usually stay clear of them, as they love to tease the gringa. But this guy played nice and allowed a photo.


This year the Fiesta de San Antonio was more colorful and exuberant than I’ve seen, with larger crowds, partly the result of the three-year Covid hiatus. And the Saturday and Sunday I participated were beautiful weather days, which helps the fiesta spirit.

On the domestic front, I know I’ve said before that our comfort here depends on the fireplace, where we sit, eat and watch movies from about 5:00 every day. And that means a constant supply of firewood that begins with Chirote, who drives by in his big truck and yells “MIKITO” from the street. This leads to loud discussions in the patio, bad jokes about how “Judy will go off with another man and ‘cuckold’ Michael,” a run by the two of them to examine some wood, negotiation on a price, and finally the wood delivery. Then begins Michael’s labor, as he hauls, cuts and stacks the wood. Then, of course, he has to build the fire and feed it until bedtime.

Meanwhile, Chirote continues to drive by regularly to keep an eye on our wood supply and yell HOLA MIKITO from the street. 

A final note on the two worlds of Cañar. Mid-term elections were held this past Sunday, and our indigenous mayor, Segundo Yungsi, was running for a second term against a “town” candidate, Pablo Padrón. While news of the winning candidatesr fom the rest of Ecuador began to trickle in on Sunday night, Cañar was a blank. Sunday night… Monday… Tuesday… until today, when the news became official: Yungsi has won by about 4,000 votes – a count that was apparently known on Sunday night soon after the polls closed. But the delay was caused when Pablo Padrón the town candidate, pulled a TRUMP, cried fraud and demanded a recount. This bought out two groups of supporters holding vigil during the recount outside the elections office in the provincial capital of Azogues. Among one of those groups was our goddaughter, Paiwa, who now works for the municipality and was called on to spend two long nights in Azogues. This morning she told us the count is final, Yungsi has officially won, but she said the Padrón supporters yelled ugly racist taunts during the vigil. Although many of the townsfolk are saying, “We need a change!” Segundo Yungsi will be Cañar’s only second indigenous mayor in the nearly 200 years since the town was established.

Cañar Book Club

Dear Readers: I’ve been on a reading tear lately on my iPad, mostly e-books from the Portland library that give me only three weeks – and then they tend to come all at once. So this past month I’ve gone down the Annie Ernaux rabbit hole (forgive me!) with A Woman’s Story, A Girl’s Story, and The Years. I loved the first two and am finding The Years hard going, as the author has removed herself from the narrative and writes as an observer of the post-war years in France.  I also read The Book of Goose by Yuyun Li, and Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah, the 2021 Nobel Prize winner from Tanzania but has lived many years in the UK.The first had me puzzled, wondering at the point of the relationship between two young women in rural France; the second was a wonderfully written, old-fashioned tale set in German East-Africa in the early 1900’s, on “the effects of colonialism and the fates of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.” I have always loved Elizabeth Strout’s books, but I’m really beginning to be bored with Lucy. In Lucy by the Sea, Strout’s third book with this protagonist, Lucy seemed to have lost all sense of direction and self confidence as she waited out Covid with her ex-husband William in a house by the sea in Maine. Please take me back to Olive Kitteridge!

Joanne in Mexico: Just read Foster – a miracle of a book. Claire Keegan is a master of spare prose that evokes a world now nearly gone. With a few words, flicks of the wrist, she captures complete characters. I can see why the Irish school system teaches her books. 

Bruce in Portland: On the reading front, I’m thoroughly enjoying The Ballad of Perilous Graves by Alex Jennings. He evokes an alternative New Orleans, using powerful language to make the magical mundane. I finished Lincoln Highway. Too on the nose.

Irene in Salem: My favorite book I read this year was Atomic Love by Jennie Fields. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do. It is well written and an easy read.

OK, dear readers, I need more book suggestions for the March chronicle. Until then, stay safe, keep in touch, and keep reading!! 





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5 thoughts on “The Two Worlds of Cañar

  1. Love the photos – of the firewood & Fiesta de San Antonio. It’s a great celebration, well – the indigenous one is! How were the cuy this year?

  2. hi – it’s been a very long time, but wanted you to know I have faithfully read your posts over the years and thoroughly enjoy them, and the world view they offer. Glad to see the two of you vital and thriving. As are the brother and sister Woodfin’s on Whidbey Island. Travel now being a bit easier not quite post Covid, I hope to get down the coast one of these days and when you are back in Portland, perhaps a visit after so many years. If you ever want to stay at my Whidbey house for a getaway, just say the word; I’d vacate, have my own getaway, for the price of feeding my cat.
    I just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s newest “Demon Copperhead” so good! Also Mary Roach, science writer, “Fuzz – When Nature Breaks the Law”, humorous, informative, captivating. And now I’ve just started one recommended to me “Horse” by Geraldine Brooks; I’m only 50 pages in but it has grabbed me; I love a good wordsmith who has done their research. Taking Nancy Pearl’s advice, if a book doesn’t grab me, then down it goes and then on to the next. Happy reading! Lee

  3. Judy, Your evocative photographs are a glimpse into an alternative world, every beautiful image luminous with historical memory! Seeing the iconic photos of Michael makes me think that he should contact the local Catholic Church and apply for local saint status. St. Miguel, the Hewer of Wood. The idea is sure to catch fire–and attract more gentle giants bikers in black leather.

  4. I LOVE your adventures and colorful photos!! And also love the imagination of those that make the masks. Thank you for the education I’m receiving from your posts!

  5. Sister Jude, this was a most wonderful chronicle..from the brighter than usual
    parade to the wild punk “The Outlaws” motorcycle gang and concert.
    Michael cutting the wood, so beautifully stacked, and you with the naughty
    person in the mask! As many other said, you bring this part of the world
    into our lives. Thank you.
    My books.
    Circe by Madeline Miller. If you think humans are crazy, meet the Gods!
    Very well written , enlightening and entertaining.
    The Book of Joy
    Lasting Happiness in a Changing World.
    A conversation between His Holiness the Dalai Lama
    and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
    Everyone, sincerely, should get this book and just have it by their bedside.
    Love, your sister Char

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