The Virgin Mary making her way to the stage.

The Virgin Mary making her way to the stage.

A week before Easter Sunday, the Catholic Community in Quito celebrates Palm Sunday by congregating in the Plaza San Francisco. They set up a huge stage where the festivities begin at 11am. A procession appeared from no where and pushed through the gathering crowd. We were fortunate to be on the side of the plaza where the procession arrived and I hurriedly snapped photos of the Virgin Mary, of Joseph leading an adult Jesus on a donkey, and of everyday Quiteños carrying branches of rosemary and native grasses in bouquets meant to replace traditional palm branches, now an endangered species.

The plaza was awash with people. The sun was shining brightly and many plaid umbrellas protected people from the harsh rays. In fact, I think the umbrella man made a healthy profit on this beautiful sunny day.

The crowd was transient, moving throughout the morning depending on the events at the time. Most listened carefully to the priests as they took turns speaking from the grand stage. At one point, there was a solid and consistent river of people flowing up the steps from the plaza towards the Cathedral where a pair of priests were blessing the crowd with holy water. Some received the sacrament at the top of the steps. Others were just content to watch the goings on from the walkway up above the plaza. Children sat with legs over the edges, baseball caps fell from on high, and the crowd in general was just content to be. Several people sat across the street, hiding in the little bit of shade made by centuries old buildings and putting up with the tour buses and the taxis that occasionally impeded their view.

As the official ceremonies ended, the fun really began. Children in costumes from all over Ecuador took turns taking to the stage. They danced and danced and danced in front of a crowd of proud parents and grandparents and tourists like myself. Ecuadorians love their children and the exclamations of Qué lindo! Qué bonito! Chévere! abounded. People flocked to take pictures along side kids, whether they knew them or not. And the majority of the children smiled so brightly that they outshone the bright sun that afternoon.

Truthfully, we were leery of heading downtown and facing the crowds but after the day was done, I had nothing but great memories! The crowd was huge but never felt overwhelming. And even when I was crammed in the middle, I never felt unsafe. Perhaps this is because I am tall here. At 5 foot 4 inches, I was still able to see where I was headed even when surrounded by locals. And everyone was accepting on this day. Gringos or no, we felt welcomed and though we stuck out like sore thumbs, no one seemed to mind.

If you would like to view these as a slideshow, just click on any of the photos!