In a taxi ride taking over three hours from Guayaquil to Montanita, I gazed out of the windows at this strange land, feeling nothing but awe and gratitude to the universe for this experience.
With my headphones on and Coldplay in my ears, I snapped moments as we whizzed on by.
“I landed in a world I hadn’t seen. When I’m feeling ordinary, when I don’t know what I mean…I think I landed where there are miracles at work. For the thirst and the hunger, come the conference of birds.” ~Coldplay, A Head a Full of Dreams
In Ecuador at the stroke of midnight, people around the country bring effigies of politicians, pop culture figures, and other icons of the year to torch in the streets. This tradition of burning the “año viejo” (“old year”) is symbolic of cleansing the bad from the previous 12 months before the new year commences. If you’re going for extra credit, you can even jump the flames 12 times for each month, although you risk joining the effigy yourself in the fire.
The tradition of the effigy burning is said to go back to an 1895 yellow fever epidemic that hit Guayaquil especially hard. That year people packed coffins with the clothes of the dead and set them in flames, the act being both a symbol as well as a purification rite. Now the figures that are burned are much more lighthearted and elaborate, with some towering effigies vividly painted and paraded through the city, while some families make due with sort of scarecrows stuffed with newspaper and covered with a mask purchased from one of the many street vendors. Before the evening’s arson, men will dress as the “widows” of the effigies and beg for money in mourning in the streets. http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/new-years-effigies-ecuador
But, before all of that, these effigies are displayed for all to see on the streets of the cities.
Below are the New Year’s Eve 2015 images from Simon Bolivar Avenida on the Malecon in Ecuador:
Año Viejo (Old Year) vibes are prevalent on the streets in these last days of 2015 as both adults and children carry around homemade papier mache fictional and political characters, wishing everyone a Feliz Año Nuevo (Happy New Year) and asking for money to be put in the cup/box that they’re either carrying or have taped to their creation. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, Ecuadoreans burn all of these characters with the belief that they are setting fire to 2015, destroying any bad energy possibly built up from the last year, and preparing to begin anew. More on this tradition in the next post. For now, take a look at some of the characters interspersed throughout, as well as the city of Guayaquil in general.
Guayaquil is the biggest and most populated city in Ecuador. It was named after an indigenous chief “Guayas” and his wife “Quil.” They chose to die together rather than to surrender to the Spaniards. Myth or historical fact, I’m not sure.
First impressions derived from the taxi ride from the airport and a brief walk around, Guayaquil reminds me of Venezuela (probably due to all of the safety warnings from Ecuadoreans themselves) and Cuba, especially Havana (the way the city center is set up and probably because of the Malecon.)
My head is a bit foggy due to lack of sleep and adjusting to the altitude change. You get tired faster and you find decision-making a sincere challenge.
I ate some local food (cheese empanada and a bolon: green plantain dumpling mashed with cheese and rolled up into a ball) but my body was craving cold, cold, cold (!) like ice cream and Coca Cola. Terrible, I know, but the altitude-challenged brain wants what it wants. And they aren’t forthcoming with ice here, unless it’s already in the big buckets of juice or chicha they’re selling.
Upon quick inspection, something that has sparked my curiosity and I can’t find anything on the internet about them; cartoon characters seemingly made out of papier mache or something, standing upright all over the city with boxes taped around the necks. Possibly, it’s a colorful, less intense, way of begging?
The pictorial begins with The Guayaquil Cathedral and proceeds from there: