In this monthly column, project coordinator Megan van der Moezel writes about her experiences in Quito. Livin’ la vida Local: a humorous beginner’s guide to this fascinating country. This month a column about new year traditions in Ecuador.
By Megan van der Moezel
Happy New Years everybody! It’s hard to believe that it is 2018 already. And more difficult still, that I am already half-way through my year in Ecuador. Part of the reason that time flies, I believe, is that there are so many holidays here. No matter when you visit this beautiful country, you will always be able to participate in some celebration or other during your stay.
The Empire of Feriados
In fact, I vote that Ecuador should be nicknamed the ‘Empire of Feriados’. Not only because of the sheer amount of them. Also because of the interesting twists that people here give to generic world-wide celebrations. Sure, you can shoot some fireworks and drink something bubbly at midnight on December 31st. But admit it. This tradition can get a tad boring after the 10th consecutive year. I therefore found myself happily agreeing with the – slightly morbid – Ecuadorian version of celebrating the new year. Let’s make some human-shaped puppets and set them on fire in the streets instead!
My first real-live experience with this custom, took place when I was having high-tea with my family in a fancy restaurant in Quito. Did I mention my parents and aunt came to Ecuador to visit me in December? One of the staff was making the rounds with a paper doll called Luigi. It was a fairly straight forward affair. “Hello, this is Luigi”, the male staffer smiled, waving the doomed creature in our faces. “Would you like to join us for his cremation”? Why yes! Don’t mind if we do.
So with the other guests, we followed the staff and poor Luigi onto the patio. There, we sipped our free champagne and watched the fire slowly consume him. While he burned, we ruthlessly cheered as the attendees took turns jumping over his remains. It is said to bring good luck, jumping over a burning año viejo. And who am I to turn down some suerte for the new year?
Luigi was not the only victim we saw that day. By the time the clock struck midnight, his brothers and sisters were going up in flames all over the country. We were celebrating with the volunteers at ALTAR, the bar where we organize our biweekly language exchange. I had just put my parents in a taxi back to their hotel, when I realized it must be 2018 already. As I walked back to the bar, fireworks started going off in the distance. People were hugging each other on the street, celebrating next to countless burning bodies.
And then it was gone..
It was easily one of my most memorable New Year’s eves. Although that was also partly because that night I got robbed for the first time. After a few hours of dancing, I was getting ready to take a cab home. My bag, money, and telephone were all right where I left them. My beloved fleece sweater, however, was not. This was problematic. First of all, nights in the Andes get rather cold, making the abductee one of my most essential items of clothing. The bigger issue though, was that I had put my house keys in one of the pockets.
So I spent the next half hour crawling underneath chairs and tables, and fondling other people’s belongings in the search of my own. I even shot withering stares to every person wearing something even vaguely resembling my stolen property. All in vain, I am sad to say. Up till this day, my dear traveling companion remains missing.
With these eventful December festivities behind us, it is high time to turn our attention towards the next event. Which happens to be the one that I have been dreading for months. Carnaval. Also known as ‘The Main Reason I Fled My Native Noord-Brabant At Seventeen’. Apparently the practice takes on a different form in Ecuador. I’m not sure it is an improvement though. It mostly sounds like a cruel mixture between the Asian water-festivals and the Dutch Days Of Drunkenness. People bombarding you with any (semi-)liquid they can find. Be it water, foam, or motor oil. It might turn out that there is no safe place to hide. But I sure will look.
© Local Dreamers, new year traditions during volunteerwork in Ecuador