A FEAST DAY IN THE COUNTRY – AND THE CITY : Fêting San Antonio in Latin America

San Antonio. La Recoleta Church (Quito, Ecuador). photo © Lorraine Caputo

On this rainy night, the eve of the feast day of San Antonio de Padúa, hundreds of kilometers from Los Crepúsculos, I imagine I hear the strains of his serenade.

¡Ay, mi padre San Antonio

Donde está que no lo veo

Que vine a cantar con él

Y me voy con los deseos!


Qué queréis con San Antonio

Que lo ‘tas  llamando tanto

San Antonio  está en el cielo

Junto con los otros santos


Señores los bailadores

No se vayan a pegar

Los remedios ‘tan  muy lejos

No hay quien los vaya a buscar


Adorar y adorar y adorar a mi padre San Antonio

Adorar y adorar y adorar a mi padre San Antonio


Ay, my father San Antonio

Where are you, I don’t see you

I’ve come to sing with him

And I’ll be leaving with my dreams!


What is it you want with San Antonio

That you’re calling upon him so much?

San Antonio is in heaven,

Along with the other Saints.


It is the eve of the feast day of San Antonio – Saint Anthony of Padua. In the middle of the street of a neighborhood of Barquisimeto, Venezuela, musicians are seated in front of a statue of San Antonio. As they sing their honoring song honoring to this saint, bottles of cocuy (homebrew liquor) are being passed.

This serenade will continue until the wee hours of the morn, when then the all-day procession commences with a mass, and ends with an evening of seven dances…

Iglesia Nuestra Señora de Guápulo (Quito, Ecuador). photo © Lorraine Caputo


Even many years after that night in Los Crepúsculos, the serenade sounds through my mind. Every time I encounter a statue of San Antonio – no matter the season – I mouth the words and sway, dancing to this great saint.


Iglesia de Sn Antonio (M’burucuyá, Argentina). photo © Lorraine Caputo

The feast day of Saint Anthony of Padua is celebrated on 13 June. San Antonio was born Fernando Martins de Bulhões, in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1195. He was contemporary of Saint Francis of Assisi (San Francisco de Asís), founder of the Franciscan order. Saint Anthony became a monk of this order, and was famous for his knowledge of scripture, being able to teach them through simple words and deeds. Thus he holds the title of Doctor of the Church. He died 13 June 1231.

San Antonio is represented by the infant Jesus cradled in one arm. Sometimes he also holds a book or a lily blossom. He is the patron saint of lost causes, lost (or stolen) items, lost people and of the poor. In France, Italy, Spain and his native Portugal, Saint Anthony is the patron saint of sailors and fishermen. In other countries, he is the patron of travelers. On his saint’s day, small loaves of bread are passed out after the mass. This symbolizes San Antonio’s devotion to the marginalized peoples of these lands.

San Antonio is fêted throughout the Americas, from Mexico to Argentina. Today, we shall witness the traditions in two distinct parts of this region: in the deep countryside of Nicaragua, and in the barrios of the city of Barquisimeto, in Venezuela.


Iglesia San Francisco (Quito, Ecuador). photo © Lorraine Caputo


Many moons ago, when I stayed a mighty spell in Estelí, I was invited to accompany Padre Juan and some of the Rugama family to Terrero, a small settlement in the mountains of northern Nicaragua.




Campesinos climb the rocky road

up to the brick chapel

With four guitars & two basses

their song fills the  valley

of these greened hills

Rockets fire into the air


In his glass case carried

in two men’s work-worn hands

San Antonio sways

Mothers & children enter the church

Fathers gather outside

smoking cigarettes

talking about crops & cattle

The Saint rests to one side of the altar

in front of the moss-covered apse

studded with plastic-petalled carnations

made by women of this parish

A large cloth-covered basket

of fresh-baked bread

is placed atop him


On horseback       on foot

the late arrive

One tethers his mare

to a guanacaste tree

Tattered curtains of Spanish moss

floating the blue-white sun breeze

In the distance two women

comedown the camino

They hold the hands of their children´

a baby in arms


Outside Padre Juan confers

with the mass assistants

&the musicians


More & more ascend the slope

to the sanctuary

Another rocket rises into the sky

where light clouds move & form swiftly

The white line of its smoke

the pop of its explosion


The priest & the choir enter the chapel

Men put their discussions aside

&pack into the back


Faces of those unable to fit inside

peer into the open doors & windows


Some compadres remain perched

on the scattered lava boulders

cowboy hats, baseball caps on knees

One holds his daughter on his thigh

The bow of her yellow voile dress

flutters in the soft wind


As the mass unfolds

with the reading of the scripture

the music

with the sermon

& the testimonies of the community

with the celebration of the Eucharist

More families near the temple

children in hand tottering along

children in arms

Men hastily remove their hats


The wafers are placed on tongues

Outside a man lights the fuse

of the rockets with his cigarette

The swooshes       the cracks

of each fill the late morning


The last song is being sung

Two women carry the basket of bread

All within & outside this crowded

church are fed


Amid cries bounding from one another

¡Viva San Antonio!


                  ¡Viva San Antonio!


The Saint is carried away

in his glass case

the handles held by those

two sets of work-worn hands

Down the hill

down the winding road

up the next rise

into the distance

Rocket blasts reverberate

throughout the valley


published in: Baobab (2000)


Iglesia San Francisco (Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos). photo © Lorraine Caputo


In further south climes, this popular Saint is also being fêted. One of his largest strong hold is in Venezuela’s state of Lara, where he is the patron saint. The tamunangue music and dances of these celebrations have their roots deep in Africa. It is said to have originated with San Antonio himself, during his missionary work in northern Africa.

My first visit to Venezuela coincided with the fiestas of San Antonio. Friends around the country urged me to get to Barquisimeto, capital of Lara. Yakarí offered to be my guide through the two days of celebrations in the Los Crepúsculos neighborhood. This is home of one of the most traditional troupes, Grupo de Tamunangue Uyama.

The evening of June 12 is the velorio (vigil) to San Antonio, a serenade on the eve of his saint’s day. The next day, mass is said at the parish church in La Unión. The procession then wends through the streets, with dancing and drumming until dusk. At night, the round of dances is performed.




  1. El Velorio / Los Crepúsculos


The warning rockets are fired

one two three & four

with the butt of a cigarette


San Antonio stands in his case

near the door of a house

His wooden capilla

is backdropped by fan-

shaped palm leaves

Two vases of flowers

perch at the front corners

Their carnations scent the evening

a single candle flickers


People gather in the cul-de-sac

awaiting this velorio to begin

Many come & touch his head

his back       & then cross themselves


The strumming of cuatros

& guitarra marruna

                  begins before this saint

Of a septet standing before him

the strains of Ave María Purísima

A rocket fired

&a second

rocket tras rocket


After the song

one troubadour

prays aloud

The standing people repeat

¡Viva San Antonio!

                  ¡Viva San Antonio!


Everyone sits in silver

wrought-iron seats set

in a semi-circle before the Saint

Two troubadours in the front row

sing to San Antonio


Playing kids roam

young teen women gossip—

their mothers & grandmothers, too


Two floodlights brighten

the street, the scenario


A brindis of cocuy

is left for San Antonio

& after a coffee break

the serenade continues

More men join with

cuatros, voice and cincos

Between songs more

cocuy is poured


A grey-rooted, red haired woman

in a bright green shirt

claps with the music

swaying in rhythm

Her palms redden

song after song


These men, their eyes reddening

sing leaning into a compañero

or closes his eyes

They praise San Antonio

la-la-ing with heart & smile

or eyes wide, brows twisted with feeling


As the evening grows older

people move the chairs

into tight circles around the music


And when the velorio

ends at midnight

The musicians suit their instruments

until the next morn,

San Antonio’s feast



poem © Lorraine Caputo


On San Antonio’s feast day, the biggest celebration is in Barrio La Unión. After the morning mass at the parish church, tamunangueros dance through the streets, carrying the beloved saint from house to house. This procession with its accompanying drumming (and copious amounts of cocuy) continues until dusk. After the sun sets, the seven sones (rhythms) of tamunangue are danced by couples armed with garrotes (sticks).

Yakarí and I spent the day being one with the procession. That night, we returned to Los Crepúsculos. For hours we sat on the blacktop street while he explained the intricacies of each dance.

The tamunangue not only honors San Antonio on his feast day, but it is also performed to fulfill a promise (promesa) to him for granting a good harvest, a family request (for wishes of healing, a new home, studies, etc.) or for love conquered.

The tamunangue consists of the Dedicatorio or Serenade to San Antonio, which includes the Batalla (Battle), performed by two men. This is to ask the Saint for permission to present the dances promised to him.

This is then followed by a round of seven dances performed by couples:

  • El Yiyevamos – The opening dance, with the singer directing the dancers with his calls
  • La Bella – An honoring of women
  • La Juruminga – Based rhythms and forgotten African words
  • La Perrendenga – A dance between woman and man, with garrotes
  • El Poco a PocoThree humorous passes compose this dance
  • El Galerón – The couples dance holding hands
  • El Seis Figurado (Seis Corrido) – Three men and three women dance a total of 32 movements, acting out the picaresque calls of the singer


These are just two of the ways San Antonio is fêted in Latin America, in the countryside and in the city, by campesinos and by African descendants. The pueblos of this region wear many other faces, including indigenous. Many roads, there are, yet to wend to continue honoring this saint.


A VOYAGE INTO THE PAST : The Old Patagonian Express

Juan, our engineer on this day. © Lorraine Caputo


As the 1922 Henschel steam engine leaves its shed, people gather along the long platform to watch its dance as it couples the eight cars for the journey to Nahuel Pan. For some it will be a many-year dream fulfilled, to ride the famed Old Patagonia Express. For others, like that petite, white-haired woman there, this is a step back to childhood when she first came to Esquel. She had been relieved to step out of her carriage after the almost-day-long journey from Ingeniero Jacobacci on La Trochita, as this train is loving called by locals.


The white-haired lady is ready to step back into her childhood. © Lorraine Caputo


El Viejo Expreso Patagónico – also called El Viejo Expreso Patagónico and La Trochita – has been the subject of many books, like Paul Theroux’ epic journey through the Americas, The Old Patagonia Express, and documentaries. It was a challenge to build this 400-kilometer (244-mile) narrow gauge line through the desolate Patagonian landscape. When completed, it was the southern-most regular passenger service in the world. It yet holds that distinction, being the main transport for the Mapuche inhabitants of Nahuel Pan.

All aboard! © Lorraine Caputo


Those villagers slip into the rear car with the workers while the tourists board the five 1922 Belgian-made passenger cars. In the two dining cars, one at either end of the train, doña Jovita will serve coffee and tortaletas, beer and sandwiches during the trip. As our journey begins, guides tell the historical trek of La Trochita.


Inside the Belgian-made cars, built in 1922. In front of the seated woman is a salamandra stove. © Lorraine Caputo


Early 20th Century Patagonian villages were isolated. To get their goods to city markets as a three-month or more travail. Under the 1908 Ley Ramos Majía, these communities petitioned for a connection to the outside world.

Water sources where a steam engine could fill up every 40 kilometers (24 miles) had to be pinpointed in the dry Patagonia plain. In 1923 construction began southward from Ingeniero Jacobacci on the San Antonio Oeste-Bariloche line. Narrow gauge or troche angosta (75 centimeters / 29.5 inch) was chosen because of the land’s mountainous lay. Midway down the line, a workshop was established at El Maitén which still maintains these steam engines and makes any parts needed.

Despite icy winters, the global economic crisis of the 1930s and the high cost of laying the line, cargo service finally reached Esquel in 1945. Five years later the first passenger train arrived, with trains running several times per day. Each journey took 14 to 16 hours, longer in winters. These days, the usual speed of the Old Patagonia Express is 45 kph / 27 mph, with a maximum speed of 60 kph / 36 mph, due the winding nature of the tracks.

In 1993, then-President Carlos Menem turned administration of the railroads over to the provinces. Because many could not afford the maintenance, dozens of lines closed nation-wide, including the Ingeniero Jacobacci-El Maitén leg of the Express in Río Negro Province. With determination, Chubut Province has kept La Trochita alive.


Over the years of taking trains throughout the Americas, I have learned that three things are always true when a train passes:
• Traffic must stop.
• People – especially kids – wave.
• Dogs bark.
© Lorraine Caputo


Between Esquel and the first north-bound station, Nahuel Pan, we cross several modern-day roads. The cars must stop for our passage. We exchange waves as this little train clatters along. A truck on Ruta 40 salutes the Express with a blare of its horn.

La Trochita twisting across the mountainous terrain. © Lorraine Caputo

Watching the terrain of the Old Patagonian Express. © Lorraine Caputo










The Old Patagonian Express on the longest curve of the line. © Lorraine Caputo


Nahuel Pan Mountain rises beige and faded-green on the east horizon. Across the narrow valley are small farms. Birds wing from our approach. The longest curve of the line is just south of Nahuel Pan hamlet. From the last cars, the engine comes into view. Its steam pumps across the blue sky.


The Mapuche-Tehuelche village of Nahuel Pan. Here many passengers will visit the Museo de Culturas Originarias Patagónicas. © Lorraine Caputo


The Old Patagonian Express preparing for the homeward journey. © Lorraine Caputo


The Henschel refills its water hopper at Nahuel Pan and pirouettes to the front of the cars. Further on are several abandoned engines. Meanwhile, passengers visit the Museo de Culturas Originarias Patagónicas and buy crafts from these artisan villagers. With a toot of the locomotive whistle, we board the wooden cars for our homeward journey.


Homeward bound. © Lorraine Caputo


The end of our excursion is nearing. Across the vestibule, I see that petite, white-haired woman looking wistfully out her window of the next car. What memories has this trip brought her? Perhaps the smell of sausages cooking on the salamandra stove each passenger car has. Perhaps the bustle of others gathering baggage and bundles as La Trochita approaches its final stop.


The summer fields of Patagonia. © Lorraine Caputo


All year long, through winter snows and summer fields of thistle, Esquel visitors hop the Old Patagonia Express, once or twice weekly in the off season, daily at holiday times. Once monthly, the ride goes as far as El Maitén, where the maintenance workshops can be visited. In the high season, nighttime rides are offered from Esquel to Nahuel Pan. Another regular run of La Trochita is from El Maitén to Desvío Thomae. About once a year, foreigners charter La Trochita to do the entire line, from Esquel to Ingeniero Jacobacci, a four to five-day excursion. Schedules are posted on the website.

The second weekend of February is the Fiesta Nacional del Tren a Vapor (National Steam Train Festival) in Maitén.


Gazing into the mighty Henschel’s innards. © Lorraine Caputo

Guiding the Henschel to bed. © Lorraine Caputo

At the end of the day’s run, La Trochita mounts the roundtable to be turned around before entering the locomotive shed. © Lorraine Caputo

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

It is time for our bimonthly roundup of my poetry and travel writing continuing to appear in journals and on websites around the world. Today, we travel to various corners of Latin America, including Argentina, Chile, Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands.

Spend the afternoon browsing through the list (with links) below …. and stay tuned for more poetic and narrative journeys coming up later this month!

Until we next meet …..

Safe Journeys!

The latest edition of DoveTales – focused on Refugees and the Displaced – includes three of my poems.


“Quake,” “Salto Bosetti” and “Two Petals” in River Poets Journal (April 2017)

“A Thousand Miles,” “Dance for a New Year” and “In Exile” in DoveTales (2017), theme: Refugees and the Displaced


Sunset. Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela, Galápagos photo © Lorraine Caputo



Andes Transit

Tips for Safe and Comfortable Bus Journeys


Insider’s Galapagos / Galapagos Travel Planner

3 Tips for Multi-Generational Galapagos Islands Vacations

Going Solo in the Galapagos Islands

The Best Time to Take a Galapagos Vacation

5 Reasons to Visit Galapagos in 2017

Galapagos Islands: What Happens in April

Welcome Home, Lonesome George!

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

It has been awhile since I was last in this corner of cyberspace (13 December 2016, to be precise). I want to offer my apologies.

The reason is that during these past few months, I was involved in a large, dream project. (More on that in a future installment of my publications round-up!)

But once again, I am picking up the threads of other creations – and I look forward to sharing with you many more articles, poetry and photo-essays here at Latin America Wanderer.

If you have any suggestions or requests for future topics, please leave them in the comments below.

Despite being caught up in that huge project, my poetry and travel writing still continued to appear in journals and on websites around the world. Spend the afternoon browsing through the list (with links) below …. and until we next meet …..

Safe Journeys!


My newest chapbook of poetry : Notes from the Patagonia. photo ©Lorraine Caputo


Notes from the Patagonia (Chicago: dancing girl press, 2017) – chapbook / poemario

“Meditating Twilight” in Blue Heron Review (Winter 2017)

(+ photography!)

“Within this Obscure Dawn,” “Isla Alacrán, “Chi (Standing Five Elements),” “Infinite” and “Traversing the Night” in Peacock Journal

El Estero is one of the many secluded beaches just outside of Puerto Villamil, and among the Top 9 Things to Do and See on Isabela Island in the Galápagos. photo © Lorraine Caputo

El Estero is one of the many secluded beaches just outside of Puerto Villamil, and among the Top 9 Things to Do and See on Isabela Island in the Galápagos. photo © Lorraine Caputo


            Insider’s Galapagos / Galapagos Travel Planner (including ghostwritten articles)

Galapagos Islands: What Happens in March

Galapagos Islands – What Happens in February

Isabela Island: The Galapagos Islands’ Wild West

Baltra Island: The Galapagos’ Fifth Inhabited Island

Galapagos Islands: What Happens in January

Top 9 Things To See And Do On Isabela Island

Floreana Island: Longest Occupied Galapagos Island

FÊTING THE SUN: The Andean Raymi Festivals

FÊTING THE SUN: The Andean Raymi Festivals

The equatorial sun on the June solstice. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The equatorial sun on the June solstice. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The solstices and equinoxes are important times of the year, especially for peoples with earth-based religions. At these seasons, they gather across the globe to welcome a new year, or prepare for the sowing or the harvest season. From the northern hemisphere to the southern, in Europe and Asia, in Africa and the Americas, the people honor the sun and Mother Earth.

Throughout the America, these solar events are celebrated. In the Yucatán of Mexico, Maya descendants and New Age practitioners descend on Chichén Itzá. Throughout South America’s Andean region, from southern Colombia to northern Chile and Argentina, indigenous nations mark the solstices with raymi, or festivals. The most famous of these celebrations is the Inti Raymi, celebrated on or near the June solstice. In the Patagonia, traditional Mapuche celebrate the June solstice with Tripuinta, their New Year.

Traditions – of indigenous, migrant and other populations – also exist near the poles, where the solstices mark the shortest and longest nights of the year. Above the Arctic Circle in June and below the Antarctic Circle in December, the sun never sets. Instead, it inscribes a circle on the edge of the horizon.

Ushuaia (Argentina), 1309 kilometers (814 miles) from the Antarctic Circle, at the December solstice. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Ushuaia (Argentina), 1309 kilometers (814 miles) from the Antarctic Circle, at the June solstice. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Interlude : Celebrating near the Poles

In Alaska, my co-workers anxiously awaited that day. As it approached, the car would be outfitted with supplies and a group would pile in to make the 400-kilometer (250-mile) trek up to the Arctic Circle. North of Fairbanks, the Dalton Highway was unpaved. Dangers included getting stuck in mud, bottoming out the car and ripping the oil pan out, and accidents. The risks, though, were outweighed by the excitement of seeing the Midnight Sun and having a break from the grind of scrubbing toilets and attending guests in a national park.

In Ushuaia, the longest night is celebrated in June. During the short day, races take place on a ski run constructed on the main street. At dusk, a group of us headed out to watch the Marcha de Antorchas (Torch Parade). A hard snow was spitting across the darkening sky. Down at the Town Hall, people were dancing at the live music hosted there. That event closed the night with a massive fireworks display.

But my interest was up at Parque Yatana, Ushuaia’s last stand of native forest where the native Yaghan people have a cultural center (25 de Mayo and Magallanes). We huddled around a blazing bonfire, listening to traditional legends, singing and drumming until the pale winter dawn began to paint the sky.

The solar calendar at Monquirá, near Villa de Leyva, Colombia. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The solar calendar at Monquirá, near Villa de Leyva, Colombia. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Marking Time

The solstice is when the earth is at its closest (summer) or furthest (winter) tilt from the sun. It is a time when the sun appears to stand still. The longest day and longest night occur at this time. The further north (or south) you go, the longer the time of light or darkness. Upon passing the Arctic and Antarctic Circles, you’ll experience over two months of pure light in summer, and pure night and twilight in winter.

The equinox occur midways between the two solstices, in March and September. As its Latin roots imply (æquus = equal + nox = night), the day / night ratio at all corners of the Earth is 12 hours / 12 hours. Only at the equator are days and nights equal all year long.

Naturally, the dates vary of when the equinoxes and solstices may occur: 19 – 21 March, 20 – 22 June, 21 – 24 September, and 20 – 23 December.

To calculate the date of the solstices and equinoxes, ancient societies constructed henges or stone calendars to show the sun’s movements. A particularly spectacular one is at Parque Arqueológico de Monquirá, called “El Infiernito” by locals. This ancient Muisca site near Villa de Leyva in Colombia has two parts. The first is a calendar of 36 stones in parallel lines that marks the sun’s movements, showing the time when the earth (and the women) would be most fertile and planting should begin. The second is a phallic forest where Muisca women performed fertility ceremonies.

Raymi ceremonies are usually held at places of historical important, like archaeological sites. In Quito, Inti Raymi is celebrated on Plaza San Francisco, where some claim Inca Atahualpa’s palace once stood. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Raymi ceremonies are usually held at places of historical important, like archaeological sites. In Quito, Inti Raymi is celebrated on Plaza San Francisco, where some claim Inca Atahualpa’s palace once stood. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The Raymi

Although the raymi solar festivals are associated with the Inca Empire, they are, in fact, millennia-old traditions. even. These ceremonies show veneration and respect to the sun, Pachamama (Mother Earth), the moon and stars, and celebrate the planting or harvest seasons. Rituals include baths, purification and healing ceremonies, as well as thanks giving to the powers of the Cosmos.

After the arrival of the Spaniards, the Raymi and other celebrations took on a Catholic façade. In this way, the indigenous could maintain their traditions in the face of the Inquisition and other deadly threats. This meant moving the dates of celebrations to that of a particular saint or other holy day, or incorporating it into the nine-day novena preceding the saint’s days. The same phenomenon probably explains European traditions like Midsummer’s Eve, which coincides with John the Baptist’s feast day.

The Andean indigenous cosmovision has four festivals or raymi: Inti, Kulla, Kapak and Pawkar. all include dancing, disguises or costumes, and special foods.

If you are traveling at any of these seasons, your best chance of seeing (and perhaps joining in) on the festivities are in areas with a strong indigenous sense of pride, especially in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. Remember to be respectful of the ceremonies – and, please, ask beforehand if photos are allowed to be taken.

Inti Raymi

  • June solstice
  • Catholic façade: Saint John the Baptist (San Juan Bautista), whose feast day is 24 June

Inti Raymi (Sun Festival) is the most famous of the Andean sun festivals. For communities south of the equator, this marks the longest night and the coldest time of the year. Like Northern Europe’s Winter Solstice or Yule celebrations, it is a beseeching to the Sun that he return, bringing life back to Earth.

Inti Raymi was banned by the Catholic Church in 1572. It continued to survive, though, in secret or hidden under the guise of San Juan Bautista.

The most renowned Inti Raymi is held on Saint John the Baptist’s day. This is the full-out, theatrical performance held every 24 June in Saqsayhuaman, near Cusco, Peru. It recreates the grandiose ceremonies designed by Inca Pachacútec and described by the chronicler, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. Entry to the event is free; but if you want a seat during the five-hour ceremony, expect to pay top dollar.

In Bolivia, the June solstice is a national holiday: Año Nuevo Aymara, or the Aymara New Year.

Kulla Raymi

  • September equinox
  • Catholic façade: Virgin of Mercy (Virgen de la Merced), whose feast day is 24 September

Kulla Raymi (Planting Festival), called Coya Raymi in Quechua-speaking areas, is dedicated to the moon (Quilla) and to women. Pachamama is fertile and thus, it is time to plant the year’s crops. As well as being a fertility ceremony, a purification ritual is performed to drive away negative energies and spirits.


Kapak Raymi

  • December solstice
  • Catholic façade: Christmas, which is 25 December

At Kapak Raymi (the Great Festival), the female energy of the Universe is at her peak. It is the time of the release of potentials: in politics, and in family, personal and community relationships. It is also an important time for children and their growth. Now is when spiritual and political leaders are celebrated and the baton of power is passed on.

Pawkar Raymi

  • March equinox
  • Catholic façade: Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin (Anunciación), which is 25 March, or with Carnaval

Pawkar Raymi (Flowering Festival) is when thanks are given for the fruits of Pachamama. Water is another honored element (and commonly used in Andean carnaval celebrations). This raymi also involves a purification ceremony as well as a communal meal that includes potato, mote (hominy), cuy (guinea pig), chicha and other foods.

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

I hope you have been enjoying my offerings in this corner of cyberspace.

As well, my poetry and travel writing is continuing to appear regularly in journals and on websites around the world.

This week, I invite you to pop overs to other corners to check out my other publications!

Safe Journeys!


Ever ready to give a poetry reading: My “traveling poetry” books with over 25 years of works, in English and in Spanish. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Ever ready to give a poetry reading: My “traveling poetry” books with over 25 years of works, in English and in Spanish. photo © Lorraine Caputo



“One Shoe,” “Our Lady,” “Giving Birth,” “Bewitched” and “A Thousand Miles” in The Fem (7 May 2016)

Adam Levon Brown’s Interview of me about poetics

In search of Charles Darwin on Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos. photo © Lorraine Caputo

In search of Charles Darwin on Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos. photo © Lorraine Caputo




10 Fun and FREE Things to do in Lima


            Insider’s Galapagos (ghostwritten articles)

Following in Darwin’s Footsteps in the Galapagos Islands

7 Galapagos Places Named for Charles Darwin

4 Galapagos Species Named for Charles Darwin

Galapagos Islands: what happens in June


Carnaval in Santa Marta (Caribbean Coast, Colombia) is a much more down-home affair than in Barranquilla. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

Carnaval in Santa Marta (Caribbean Coast, Colombia) is a much more down-home affair than in Barranquilla. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

It’s been several weeks without dry clothes in this high-altitude city during the rainy season. It hasn’t been because of the daily storms – oh, no.

It is Carnaval.

Every morning, we leave the hostel in Quito’s Centro Histórico and walk to a restaurant on Plaza Santo Domingo for breakfast. On García Moreno, near the Arco de la Reina, a woman sits aside a low, makeshift stand setup. Her wares are water-filled balloons, old IV bottles filled with water, buckets of water. A man hands her some sucres and launches a balloon at a friend awaiting a bus.

As obvious foreigners, we also get doused – both coming and going from breakfast.

We change into dry clothes before heading out to see the sites, like the equator at Mitad del Mundo, and to sing selections from the Sound Of Music in front of the Basilica (and unknowingly disrupting a mass). And of course, during the course of the day, we were inevitably soaked again.

But in this season of afternoon rains, our clothes never seem to dry. And being mochileros (backpackers), we only have three changes of clothes. We are eternally, infernally damp until this party ends with Ash Wednesday, 4 March.

Oh, but we join in the festivities. (Or would it be fairer to say that we sought our revenge?)

One day, Dewy – who had a room with a private bath overlooking the street – bought 200 balloons. A water fight ensued with the neighboring families to the left of the hostel and across the lane. One kid to the left bombed two nuns walking below and perfectly pitched a globo (balloon) through the open door of a bus, hitting the driver. The final outcome: four broken windows for our team and seven for the neighbors.

Another day, a joyous fight broke out between the hostel staff and the guests. Everyone was running from level to level around the interior patio, dumping buckets and lobbing balloons to victims below (or above). Then the owner walked in – and everyone disappeared, leaving behind several centimeters of water pooling in the patio.

Indeed – we had arrived in Ecuador’s capital city right during Carnaval.

We’d come to Quito for the Quest Gang meeting: 29 February at high noon at the main bus station in Quito, Ecuador. So focused on our goal were we that we didn’t even take note of the calendar. Anyways, Carnaval is one of those holidays that no-one really pays attention to, unless you’re from New Orleans or Italy or some other place that host riotous street dancing and music.

But what in the devil was this with all the water?

I bought a bunch of post cards from the kiosks at the backside of the Presidential Palace, and sat down to write thank you notes to friends I stayed with on the trip down through Mexico and Central America:

Dear ____,

I have arrived safely in Quito and in time for the 29 February meeting. Nine of us showed up from five different continents. And – also just in time for Carnaval. Boy, do they have a strange way of celebrating here: with water! It’s like a huge water fight, with people throwing balloons at each other, or dumping buckets of water as you pass by on the street. Insane!

Again, thanks for hosting me when I passed through. Hope to see you as I travel north again in a month or so!

And when I visited those friends on my north-bound swing, I learned much more about how Latin America celebrates Carnaval. Elio in Panama said, “What’s so strange about that? That’s how we celebrate here!” Nicaraguan Noel, like me, also found Ecuador’s customs bizarre. (But then, in his country, they are in the midst of the seven-month-long dry season when Carnaval arrives. To have a nation-wide water fight would be a sinful waste of a precious resource.)

Carnaval in Santa Marta, Colombia. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

Carnaval in Santa Marta, Colombia. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

From the southern United States to Tierra del Fuego, we are in the throes of Carnival – or Mardi Gras, as it is known in Louisiana (USA).

This celebration occurs in the weeks before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Catholic Lent. The pre-Carnaval season begins 6 January, the feast of Epiphany (Day of the Three Kings).

Carnaval is a huge street party, to let loose one last time before Lent is observed. Carnival began in 14th-century Italy. It blended pagan fertility rites with Catholic ideology: The coming of Spring with the impending 40 days of Lent (when traditionally an observant gives up meat and other foods, or even habits like drinking and smoking) and Easter observances (the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus).

The Saturday preceding Ash Wednesday is an official holiday in Brazil and Panama. In these countries, as well as in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela the Monday and Tuesday proceeding the solemn day are also holidays.

Drums and clarinet characterize Colombian Carnaval music. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

Drums and clarinet characterize Colombian Carnaval music. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

Bon Temps Roulez!

In Latin America (including French New Orleans, Louisiana), Carnaval is a huge parade with lots of drumming, music, dancing and fanciful costumes. Whatever the local brew is – whiskey, rum or chicha – will keep the revelers fueled.

The pre-Carnaval season kicks off big time in Pasto and other southern Colombian towns, with the Carnaval de Negros y Blancos (28 December – 7 January). This festivity is recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. It has its roots, in reality, in the indigenous Quillacinga harvest festivities, celebrated after the December solstice. These days, this Carnaval begins with a water fight on Fools’ Day (28 December). The calendar year ends with the parade of the Old Men, a Latin American-wide fixture of New Year’s Eve. 5 January is the Blacks Day. This was originally a day of rest for the African slaves. In modern times, pastusos (natives of Pasto) don black face. 6 January is Whites Day, and faces whitened with talcum powder. Floats and murgas (dance and drum troupes) are featured on this day. In some communities, 7 January is Reds Day, honoring the indigenous population. Throughout this Carnaval, expect lots of talcum powder to fly.

The Carnaval Andino in Arica (Northern Chile) brings together this city’s diverse population: mestizo, African and Aymara. Here is an Aymara dance troupe. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

The Carnaval Andino in Arica (Northern Chile) brings together this city’s diverse population: mestizo, African and Aymara. Here is an Aymara dance troupe. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

Another note-worthy pre-Carnaval celebration rolls in Arica, in the extreme north of Chile, with the Carnaval Andino con la Fuerza del Sol (Inti Ch’amampi). Here, not only are the streets alive with the dancing of the Aymara people, but also Arica’s significant African-descendent population. It is Chile’s largest carnival celebration, and is held for three days in January or February.

In other parts of South America, communities are also dancing the pre-Carnaval season away, as if preparing for the big events in the week or so before Ash Wednesday.

A typical creature that appears on Colombia’s Carnaval scene is the Marimonda. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

A typical creature that appears on Colombia’s Carnaval scene is the Marimonda. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

The biggest parties are in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and Barranquilla (Colombia), which is another UNESCO intangible Cultural Heritage. Lodging is booked months in advance, and tickets for Rio’s Sambodromo competitions sold out.

However, you can find festivities in many other parts of the continent. Outside of Barranquilla, the cities along Colombia’s Caribbean coast have more down-to-earth, community-focused dancing in the streets. A typical creature that appears on this region’s Carnaval scene is the Marimonda, which is named for the black mico monkey that lives in the Caribbean coast forests. The long nose of the humans’ costumes refers to the long tail and long tongue of the other primate – though some equate it to another body part. Both creatures exhibit risqué behavior.

Big celebrations are also held in Salvador (Brazil); Tilcara, which has an Andean-style celebration, and Gualeguaychú, which is Brazilian-influenced (Argentina); Oruro, also a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Hertiage (Bolivia); and Ambato (Ecuador) where Carnaval coincides with the city’s Fiesta de las Frutas y de las Flores (Fruit and Flower Festival). Montevideo (Uruguay) has the world’s longest Carnaval, lasting 40 days. El Callao, in the Río Orinoco delta of eastern Venezuela, has a distinctly Caribbean feel, due to the large Trinidadian population of the town.

Snow in tropical climes? Nay – it’s cornstarch a-flurrying in Santa Marta (Colombia)! photo © Lorraine Caputo

Snow in tropical climes? Nay – it’s cornstarch a-flurrying in Santa Marta (Colombia)! photo © Lorraine Caputo

Not only is there music, dancing and drink, but also all sorts of things may be thrown: water, eggs, paint and cornstarch. A common feature of Carnaval in the Andes is the public water fights in which all passers-by are victims.

It is a sunny, early February day in Copacabana, Bolivia, on the southeast shore of Lago Titicaca. I have come here for a month to finish writing a book on the banana companies in Central America. If I finish, then I shall splurge with a trip to Machu Picchu.

The village celebrated its patron saint – the Virgin of Candelaria – on 2 February. But still throughout the day and night, I hear the troupes wending through this town, and through the countryside settlements. The men and women dance, sing and play without ceasing, continuously chugging chicha and chewing coca leaves. Of the myriad traditional dances, I find the morenada with its clacking toys to be the most fascinating.

Indeed, the Virgin’s feast day has seamlessly blended into the Carnaval season, which will end on Ash Wednesday (on 17 February this year).

As I cross the plaza in front of the beautiful basilica, I feel a stream of water hit my side. I turn around to see a boy – about ten or eleven years old – hiding behind a tree. He has a massive water gun in his chubby hands.

Memories of Carnaval in Quito pass through my mind. There is no way I am going to spend weeks at this altitude (much higher than the Ecuadorian capital) being eternally wet, and running the risk of coming down seriously ill.

With a glare, I walk straight up to the kid and lay my hand on his long, plastic weapon, pushing it to one side. “Do not ever do that to me again, please. Do you understand?”

He looks at me dumbfoundedly and nods yes.

“Good. Thank you.” And I walk away to continue my tasks.

Until that Wednesday when this soaking nightmare ends, I cautiously cross that plaza where the young boys lay in wait. But when they see me come, they point their guns’ nozzles down and timidly greet me. Thank goodness!

Since approximately the beginning of the millennium, customs have changed in Quito. The huge water fights have been outlawed. Slowly travelers have learned this – especially after a visit from the police explaining the newcomers cannot toss balloons from a terrace four stories up.

Nowadays, the capital’s residents celebrate with tossing raw eggs and colored flour. Water continues to play a roll, being shot out of fancy mega-water pistols. The most popular weapon, however, is carioca, or spritz foam.

In Quito, Ecuador, the preferred “weapon” is spritz foam. ©Lorraine Caputo

In Quito, Ecuador, the preferred “weapon” is spritz foam. ©Lorraine Caputo

Ever wonder how Easter is calculated on the Western Calendar?

So wherever you happen to be, join in the Carnaval festivities. Let loose of the winter doldrums and have a wild time during this pre-Lenten time! If you are traveling and want to plan ahead, here’s how you can calculate when the Carnaval season will be:

Easter Sunday (or Resurrection Sunday) is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the (northern) Vernal Equinox.

Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter Sunday; the week between the two Sundays is known as Holy Week or Semana Santa. Forty days before Palm Sunday is Ash Wednesday; this period is known as Lent. Before that is Carnaval!

Carnaval falls in either February or March, and Easter Week in March or April.