Each village in Ecuador has its own unique festival, a treat for any traveler. Last summer I had the opportunity to visit a traditional fiesta in the small village of Machachi, about an hour south of Quito. Set in a lush valley along the Avenue of Volcanoes, Machachi is best known for its mineral water. Towards the end of July the town is transformed with the festival of El Chagra.
The word Chagra comes from Quechua (the language of the Inca still spoken in Ecuador today) and means parcel or piece of land. The Spanish originally taught the Chagras, or Andean cowboys, their trade. Today the Chagras live in the highlands of Ecuador. Twice a year these accomplished horsemen round up cattle from the highlands and bring them to a ranch or hacienda.
The annual rodeo in Machachi demonstrates the customs and skills of the Chagras and features sports competitions and parades. I watched the parade of Chagras as they strutted down the town’s narrow streets on their horses and showed off the ensembles they wear in the highlands to keep warm. They were dressed in traditional wool ponchos (different designs represent different localities), hats, scarves, and llama or goat hair chaps. Their saddles were replete with ornate carved wooden bucket stirrups. Women and other family members, dressed in their own traditional costumes, danced behind the Chagras as the sounds of folkloric Andean music played by local bands filled the air. Stalls with traditional Ecuadorian food lined the streets and drinking was abundant.
My friends from Quito who took me to the fiesta were first time visitors as well and enjoyed it as much as I did. I was the only foreigner in the crowd. Visiting a traditional fiesta in an Ecuadorian village is the best way to get to know the social and cultural customs that have been part of the lives of the locals for centuries.
Photos from El Paseo del Chagra