Across a valley surrounded by millenary volcanoes, defying the cold wind of the Andes with their “ponchos”, hats and zamarros are the «chagras» riding their steeds. For more than 140 years, these enigmatic cowboys guardians of the “paramo” have been the protagonists of one of the most representative festivities of Ecuador: the Parade of the Chagra.
Every year, coming July, the skilled riders and their horses leave their haciendas to take the streets of Machachi. To the sound of the town bands and dressed in their traditional costumes, they light up a great party where the “chacarera” culture of the Ecuadorian Andes unfolds.
A bit of history
Although there are many stories about the true meaning of this parade, each one holds a deep mysticism with culture, and tradition.
The story goes that in 1877, after the eruption of the Cotopaxi volcano, the locals organized themselves to herd the cattle back to their stables. The challenging nature did not overcome the tenacity of the ranchers who, riding their horses, managed to round up the livestock.
There are also those who say that the celebration comes in gratitude for the Lord of the Holy School, patron of the city, which is said to have protected the town of Machachi from the volcano’s eruption.
To this day, the anecdotes of this hard work and the faith of the Chagras have been passed on from generation to generation, highlighting the value of cooperation and the solidarity of the countryside.
This celebration also matches the cantonisation of Mejía. This is why the population comes together in a celebration that exalts the chagra, the farmer and stockbreeder of the Andes, the ones who keep culture and tradition alive.
Nowadays, the Chagra’s parade is a 1.55 mi parade along the main streets of Machachi. Hundreds of local chagras and chagras from other provinces of Ecuador gather in their best attire, horses and “chacarero” skills. In addition, the chagras of the year are elected, as well as the beautiful women chagras of the paramo and the valley.
In addition, the chagras of the year are elected, as well as the beautiful women chagras of the paramo and the valley.
Parade cars, village bands, livestock and other traditional features from the Andean country life are on display in the parade.
For all the cultural richness that awaits in the «Valley of the 9 volcanoes», in 2016 the World Equestrian Tourism Organization declared Mejía as an «Equestrian Tourism Destination», since it offers its visitors the opportunity to traverse 14 horseback riding routes, in the midst of the striking landscapes of Machachi, Aloasí, El Chaupi, Alóag and other countryside parishes. The activity is offered in local inns and tour operators that have specialized guides. The cost varies according to the trail and the services it offers.
Also, in 2018, this festival was declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Ecuador to highlight the contribution of the Chagras to the country and thus strengthen their identity.
This distinction seeks to promote the cultural knowledge, gastronomy, clothing and other traditions of the area, especially horse breeding and cattle care.
The “Paseo del Chagra” festival is an excellent opportunity to visit Machachi and discover its culture. To marvel at its enigmatic Andean landscapes and taste its delicious traditional cuisine, where the flavors of “cuy” (guinea pig), fried pork, baked pork and “mortiño” (an andean berry) based meals stands out.