The start of our new years celebrations in Ecuador included eating papa fritas (aka chips) and sipping on our vodka cranberry concoction that we brought from home. Every new year’s eve, we make the effort to go out and see what the city has to offer. From experiencing new year’s eve in Thailand, Australia and Taiwan, each country has their own spin on how they celebrate the new year. This year, we were in Cuenca Ecuador and had read about some interesting traditions and events that would happen only in Ecuador. Needless to say, we were very excited for the experience of a lifetime.
We made our way to the city center by bus and this time decided to leave Buckwheat at home. With the potential number of homemade fireworks and packed crowds wandering the streets late at night, we thought it would be best for our furry baby to be at home. On the way to the city, we could see many vendors selling masks and life-size paper mache bodies. You’re probably thinking ‘what the hell?!’. But let us explain a thing or two about Ecuador culture.
In Ecuador, new years celebrations are one of the most important events to happen each year. New year’s eve is often referred to as the “los años viejos”, meaning the old years. The celebration of the new year means leaving behind the old you. There are a few things that happen on this day that make it unique. The combination of all these things however, creates a weird and very strange experience, well at least for us.
The typical new year’s eve event that we all have in our minds has always been one that is glamorous and spectacular. They will often have huge promotional banners with celebrities, midnight fireworks and a line up of entertainment aired live on TV. But when we arrived in the city, they were still preparing the stage and there the one and only banner of the new year celebrations happening. It was next to the stage. A drawn up clock. We quickly released that this new year’s eve will be very different from the rest!
Burning of paper mache bodies
As we walked around the city, there were many paper mache bodies just hanging about on the streets, in stores and on cars. To take it to more a literal translation of what new year’s eve represents in Ecuador, the locals had life-size paper mache dolls that represented the ‘you of 2015’, which is then burned at the stroke of midnight. Supposedly the burning of the paper mache dolls also celebrates the 2016 you that will come.
Many people had bought their paper mache dolls and dressed them up in clothes. People would leave them in-front of stores or sitting on chairs in their lawns. It was definitely strange to see, particularly at night when they sort of look like real people just hanging around the city.
We thought this idea was pretty interesting and had wanted to burn our 2015 selves for all the challenges and bad times we had faced. Although these experiences shaped us for the better and we definitely learnt a lot of lessons along the way, it was a good way to let go of 2015 and move on to a new year. We came prepared with a few other items to also burn in order to have a sense of closure and feel we had truly left behind our 2015 selves to make way for 2016.
Endless number of paper mache masks
There were many stalls setup along the streets selling paper mache masks. Similar to the paper mache bodies, you can also get a selection of handmade paper mache masks to represent the 2015 you. Each mask cost $2.00USD and the selection included politicians, cartoon characters, animals and more. Although it was suppose to represent the you in 2015, we found that there were a lot of random masks available, adding to the quirkiness of the night.
It was super fun trying on the masks and deciding which mask would represent our 2015 selves. We probably spent a good hour or two walking around trying on masks. Many people also enjoyed buying 2016 glasses and colored wigs.
In the end we decided to go with more Hispanic looking masks since we spent 2015 living in Chile and Ecuador. Plus they would be super unique, something we could not get anywhere else in the world. We thought it was a good representation of what we had experienced in 2015- trying to assimilate into a new culture and community, trying our best to speak Spanish fluently (mostly Albie’s goal!) and ultimately live long term in South America learning and understanding the culture.
Walking around in these masks, we felt like we blended in more and the best thing of all, no one knew were were Asian! We spent a large portion of the night running around taking photos with our new masks. In the tradition, many people also burn these masks and place them on their paper mache dolls. However, we decided to keep them as a memento to 2015 and in memory of this weird night.
Men dressed as woman
Another odd thing you’ll notice walking around the city, particularly as it was getting darker, are the ample of men dressed as women asking for money. It’s a strange tradition that happens but basically men parade around dressed as women asking for spare change to collect enough money for beer.
We were kind of spooked by it all and decided to stay clear of this and quickly walked past them. It reminded us of a similar tradition done in Chile where students who were starting university the following month would parade on the streets dressed in raggedy clothes, smelling awful and covered in paint. They would ask for donations to help them during their first semester of university, sort of like a funny prank that first year students have to go through.
Paper mache displays
Along the streets, we were also curious about the number of paper mache sculptures and street displays we saw. Many people tied up their paper mache dolls to their car. These were pretty impressive and we especially liked the ones that were well made.
As the night went on, we soon realized that most of the paper mache sculptures had one thing in common, they were scary and often creepy looking. Many of them had a horror theme to them or were just strange to look at. It looked even worse in the dark.
One display in particular was made by the local police and was an educational paper mache display about drink driving, prostitution and homelessness. There were also ones with more a political message, protesting on several topics and issues.
As the night went on, the celebrations started to look like a scene from the movie Vigilante. People dressed up, wearing masks and burning paper mache bodies. We spent a good few hours in the city before deciding to leave. It just became a little crazy and strange for us. We also found out from many of the locals that the bus would not run after midnight and that the there would be limited taxis going the direction we needed to go.
So we decided to leave at about 8pm waiting for a bus that never came. We had to walk a good 30 minutes through the empty streets in the direction of our home before finding a taxi that would take us back. If we had to walk the whole way back, it would of been pretty scary to say the least. Going towards our area, there are hardly any streetlights and no footpath to walk on.
Fireworks at home wit Buckwheat
It was good to be back at home by 10pm so we could spend new year’s eve with Buckwheat. With the new year eve celebrations happening, many of the restaurants were closed so when we came home we ate a big meal and watched a movie. Spending the last moments before midnight in true new year’s eve style, we shared goals of the new year and went outside to watch the fireworks and the our neighbors burning of the paper mache bodies.
Since there were many pockets of people around our area who had setup their own fireworks, the view was still pretty spectacular even though we weren’t in the city center.
The new years celebrations in Ecuador was weird, bizarre and crazy to say the least. It was one of the most unique celebrations of the new year we’ve ever experienced and throughout the night, it felt so surreal. We hope everyone had a wonderful new year’s eve celebration wherever you are. 2016 is going to be a big year for us and we are excited to share with you our adventures to come!