Before coming on this trip, one of the many thoughts that crossed my mind was what in the world celebrating Halloween in Ecuador would be like - or whether we would celebrate at all. I can now say that a few days ago I celebrated the coolest and most unique Halloween of my life so far, on the island of Shandia.
We began the day with a bus ride to the starting location of our two-day white water rafting expedition, a part of the trip I had been looking forward to for a long time. We also had been planning our costumes for a while so we couldn't wait to break them out that night, but for the day we stuck to face-paint. We painted creepy clowns, skeletons, and plenty of unidentifiable lines and shapes, that turned even creepier once we got on the water to raft. Let's just say white water rafting and face paint don't mix well-proven by the extremely unsettling face of our instructor Lee as the red and white clown paint streaked down his face...
After some very fun hours and occasionally frightening moments of rafting, along with a quick hike to a beautiful waterfall where we each got to take our turn at a 20 foot jump into beautiful blue-green water, we arrived at our destination for the night - Shandia island. The island was beautiful, and after docking our rafts we were quickly greeted by the local children who lived nearby. They were all extremely friendly and talkative with our group, and it wasn't long before the topic of Halloween came up. "Halloween! Hoy es Halloween! Tienes dulces? Disfrazes?" We were pleasantly surprised by how much they already knew about the holiday, talking about Dracula and scaring us with their "boos!" It was a blast hanging out with them for the afternoon. After dinner that night - which included pumpkin soup, not quite the same as carving pumpkins, but nonetheless a lovely ode to Halloween - those of us who had costumes put them on. Not having much to work with at the local stores the previous week, we had gathered strands of tinsel most likely meant for Christmas decorations, along with Disney princess themed birthday hats. We wrapped and tied the tinsel all around our bodies and put the hats on and called ourselves piñatas! The kids immediately loved those costumes and by the end of the night almost every single one of them was wearing some piece of our tinsel strands around their waist or arms (a fun mess to clean up in the morning!).
After playing and dancing around in our costumes for a bit and applying face paint to many of the local children, the whole group gathered around the bonfire for a special performance from some of the older children of the island. We all found our seats, crowded by adorable local children sitting on our laps, and watched and listened to a beautiful song and dance in Kichwa. After a bit we were all grabbed by our hands by the kids and invited to dance to the music with them. With the guitar playing, the girls singing, the bonfire roaring, and everyone in their costumes dancing, I couldn't have asked for a better moment.
Following the dancing and singing, we exchanged stories. We learned about the history of the island and how it came to be, and in return we explained more to them about Halloween and how exactly we celebrate it in the United States. We told them about trick-or-treating and candy and dressing up, and then broke out our candy stash for some make-shift trick or treating of our own (because what would Halloween be without it). We each spread out with a couple handfuls of candy while the kids walked around to all of us chanting "trick-or-treat" and gathering all the lollipops and caramels they could fit in their mouths and hands. Then, after saying our goodbyes and goodnights to the kids who all had school early in the morning, we all finished off the night by roasting marshmallows on the bonfire for a little while and crawling into our tents to prepare for day two of the rafting trip.
All in all, I can say with certainty that I will never have a Halloween like I did this year again in my life. It was fun to be able to be goofy and enjoy the holiday, but more importantly it was amazing how it brought two very different groups of strangers together for the night to enjoy each other's company and to celebrate and have a good time all for one common reason. I never thought that I would have Halloween to thank for so many special moments and memories that I know I will cherish forever.