Our last night in Ecuador provided a bizarre finale to our month-long stay and an equally bizarre introduction to the month ahead in Peru.
Rachael and I had chosen a nice little restaurant for dinner where we contentedly stuffed our faces and planned our route, despite feeling very much worse for wear after a full day on horseback. There wasn’t a single part of us that didn’t feel as though it were still bumping up and down rigorously – a bit like how your legs are when finally reaching terra firma after months away at sea, still imagining they’re having to deal with the rolling of the waves.
Not that I’ve ever spent months at sea, but you get my drift.
We both ached from head to toe and stiffness was fast setting in. The combination of horse-fatigue and copious amounts of the local brew (complete with a snake at the bottom of the glass) meant we were in no fit state to effectively flee any danger that lurked around the dark corners en route back to our hotel.
Or even while still in the restaurant itself, as we soon discovered.
As we cautiously steered our fragile bodies through the room and towards the exit, two of the waiters suddenly appeared in front of us, blocked our paths and began firing water pistols at us. The shock and randomness of it rooted us to the spot before we quickly realised we had to move fast or take a total soaking.
Thanks to horse-gate, however, moving fast was still not an option, hence we navigated our way past them painfully slowly and arrived home drenched and bemused.
The following day we made our way to the bus terminal, feeling only marginally less crippled; recovered enough to be able to run in the opposite direction from a gang of small children armed with giant water guns trained very much fully on us.
What in the name of all things dry was going on?
Passing through a street market it was obvious that there seemed to be a special offer on water pistols, water balloons, hoses and all manner of receptacles for launching anything wet. I asked a stall holder what the attraction was and was told that it was, ‘Lent of course!!’ Further investigation told me that for the four holy weeks, this part of the world took it upon themselves to fire water at anyone at all with no fear of repercussion.
Thank god, I told myself, that we were en route to Peru.
Nonetheless, we still had a few hours in Ecuador and I had no intention of being defenceless and so bought my own water gun and immediately filled it. Within minutes I had cause to corner two nuns behind a door and fire water over the top of it while they cowered silently, using their veils as protection.
Well, they started it.
Soon we were waving adios to loca Ecuador and were on the road to the much drier climes of Peru.
The entire journey, the bus driver kept his eye open for the many people who littered the pavements with water balloons ready to throw into open windows of passing vehicles. To help them, he would slow down and open the door, ensuring they were able to lob the weapons inside with no problem.
Needless to say we were sat in the front seats and were soaked through.
Not a very appropriate way to present yourself to border police, but then neither was having a fake gun – although no explanation was deemed necessary.
We gleefully reached Trujillo and settled in for a far less wet adventure in Peru.
The next morning at breakfast, we witnessed scenes of residents on the top floor of a three story building throwing water balloons down on pedestrians below. It didn’t matter who they were; children, the elderly, business people – everyone was fair game. Turned out that the month amnesty of drenching people in whatever way you can wasn’t restricted to Ecuador – it was the entire continent of South America.
There was nowhere to hide.
Not a day of our month there went by without us being the highlight of someone’s day as it was fairly evident that higher points were scored for successfully hitting a ‘gringa’.
By the time we made it to Cusco to acclimatise for hiking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu it was the long-anticipated last day of Lent. There was a strange tension hung in the air around the city and it was strangely quiet.
We had tickets to a league football match and were amazed to see that not even the players were immune from being victims to the water sport. Each time a player came anywhere close to the crowd they would be obliterated by water balloons and guns.
Walking back afterwards, the roads were empty – it seemed everyone was too scared to be out. It was almost as though a huge showdown was being planned that would see water cascade through the city like a river.
We stuck our heads down one side street and saw nothing. We ventured down, hastily trying to reach the end without being targeted. Passing an alley we heard a, ‘Psst, psst.’ It was a cigarette vendor, hiding in the shadows and togged up in layers of waterproofs to protect his valuable stock. Single cigarettes could be bought and Rachael gave in to temptation, embarking on a transaction that would take some time as all she had was a high value note.
He had no change and invited us to stroll a bit further up the street where he would get some from his friend. We followed and waited outside while he went in with Rachael’s money.
It took no time at all before the rumbling of a van could be heard turning into the street. It was immediately obvious that there was trouble afoot. The driver spotted us and pointed; the passenger doors slid open. They were just yards away and there was hardly any time to react.
‘Run!’ I shouted and galloped back in the direction of the alley to the sound of cheering, laughing explosions. I dived into the alley just in time, managing to only be hit by shrapnel. I buried my face in the dark wall and didn’t come up for air until the sounds had died down completely and I was convinced the van and its occupants had gone.
When I did so, I realised I was alone. Rachael wasn’t with me.
I peeped out and spotted her exactly where I had last seen her. The closer I got, the more it looked like a scene from Bugsy Malone.
It was utter carnage.
The culprits had been armed with splurge guns, water balloons, paint and flour. Rachael was pinned to the wall, her outline still visible when I peeled her away. She had been determined not to forgo her change and took the full brunt of these fiends’ arsenal.
With little now left to lose, we decided to walk defiantly through the city centre and approached Plaza de Armas, the large main square which was normally teeming with people.
We made a run for it, foolishly believing we were going to make it. But then, with only a few yards left out in the open and with no cover, all hell broke loose.
From behind enormous wheely bins appeared highly excited gangs who could hardly believe their luck. They’d probably been waiting all day for some sucker to run the gauntlet and now, here came not one but two. Not only were they gringas but one of them was clearly slightly ‘special’ and had already been hit badly.
There was nothing we could do but accept our torment. Two entire bins of water were tipped over us amid squeals of laughter from the gangs by now incapacitated with joy. Crowds gradually appeared from their hiding places and joined in the mirth, knowing that such an overwhelmingly successful hit signalled a truce for all.
Lent was over for another year and not a minute too soon.