Feliz Año Nuevo

The note on this viejo says, 'My name is Fernando Cordero. My children hate me, that's why they want to burn me."

We celebrated New Year’s Eve by taking a stroll in the Centro Historico and gawking at the cathedrals Quito is famous for. I wanted to take a photo of La Compania de Jesus, but was stopped in mid-flash by an officious toad who refused to budge on the rules, even on a holiday.

The church is covered completely in gold-leaf and so shiny, I had to fight the urge to shield my eyes. Despite its awesomeness, I would not describe the ostentatious decor as beautiful – it is too reminiscent of something sweet & tawdry – a giant foil-wrapped bom-bom, instead of the usual incense and mystery that I like so much in cathedrals.

After touring the churches, we walked to the Plaza Grande, where there was a parade with much merriment and dancing. In Ecuador, the parades are interactive and we joined in, following the partying crowds around the city. The parade featured a whole host of religious and cultural personages, and like the country itself, these seemingly opposing groups merge together to form something unique.

There were folks in conquistador and indigenous costumes, as well as witches, angels, saints, princesses, goats, and of course, a king and queen. A shaman led the procession, also functioning as DJ.

The crowd headed to the presidential palace, where there were several protests going on. One of them consisting of angry union workers waving tiny año viejos aloft on their shoulders and chanting for equal pay. Año viejos, if you haven’t guessed by now, are clever effigies that celebrate the end of the year, often sporting funny or political messages. We saw some great ones after the procession, when it is traditional to walk around the Avenida Amazonas picking out your favourites. Among the popular ones this year:

1. BP petroleum employees

2. Deforestation workers along with appropriately endangered flora and fauna

3. Politicians (primarily Ecuadorian but also Obama and Hilary)

4. Woody and Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story

This Viejo-maker had it in for everyone!

We spent the evening drinking mojitos in a terrace bar with wonderful views of the Avenue of the Volcanos.

Some folks we befriended told us about the Ecuadorian new year superstitions:

1. If you run around the block very quickly with your suitcase, you will travel in the new year.

2. If you wear yellow underwear (actually on sale on more than a few street corners), it will bring you great prosperity.

3. If you put money in your shoe you will be wealthy.

4. If you strike an Ano Viejo twelve times on the head at midnight (one to represent each month) good things will happen in the next year.

While tempted, we didn’t do any of those things, except number 3, and that was more to deter thieves than to bring us wealth. But who knows? Maybe we’ll be lucky.

At midnight, the Viejos were thrown into funeral pyres and lit simultaneously. We sang Auld Lang Syne but didn’t partake in the leaping over the fire tradition, although we noticed a few seared trousers. After there was nothing left of the effigies but ashes, the crowds began to disperse. Tired and happy, we went to bed smelling of smoke.

Happy New Year to all don’t forget to sport yellow underwear and run around the block with your suitcase if you want excitement in 2012.

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