Text and Photos by Bartley D’Alfonso
America – both North American and South America – loves a parade, especially during patriotic holidays. It is when we commemorate our Independence and freedoms, by paying homage to those who serve (or have served) in uniform, especially to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Our adopted country, Ecuador, and our new home town of Cuenca are no exceptions.
Friday was the of the 197th anniversary of Cuenca’s independence from Spanish colonialism. Although Cuenca’s independence of 1820 lasted only three month – the city was actually an independent republic during the short period – the independent country of Ecuador was formed two years lager. The large, impressive military parade (El Desfile Cívico Militar) honored not only those serving in the military, but those in civilian uniform as well, including first responders, the fire department, the different police departments, and even students who attend military academies.
Avenida Huayna Capac was transformed into a parade route, filled to the brim and overflowing with spectators lining the sidewalks, elbow-to-elbow. To the uninitiated, it looked like organized chaos: hawkers worked the crowd, selling umbrellas, plastic seats, brightly colored toys, cold drinks, cheap watches, hot pink cotton candy, oblivious to the large emergency vehicles and military hardware passing by, inches by.
Because Friday morning was sunny, many in the crowd hoisted umbrellas, blocking the vision of those standing in the back. This made it almost impossible for me to get any clear photographs until I climbed a gate and onto the top of a tall and large electrical panel (the exact location shall remain classified as top-secret).
What truly impressed me was how the crowds reacted as the various police departments paraded by. It was nice to hear the onlookers applaud heartily, even for the police officers donning full riot gear. I couldn’t help but to visualize – and compare – memories of recent episodes of rioting in the streets back in the U.S. I wonder in how many other countries the citizens actually applaud their military and police forces. In fact, many times the parade was delayed by families posing for “selfies” while standing next to the troops, the police, and their large trucks and vehicles.
It was also nice to see how Ecuador remembers the soldiers who fought along with Simón Bolívar and his generals. Many parade participants wore brightly colored Napoleonic-era military uniforms while riding horses adorned with period gear.
And yes, there was even the Queen of the Firemen smiling and waving to the appreciative crowd.