After spending New Year’s in the Galápagos, I’ve realized New Year’s in the US is missing several key things that Ecuadoreans have:
The week leading up to New Year’s Eve, we were seeing lots of little papier-mâché dolls around town. It turns out these are called “viejos” (literally: “olds” or “old men”) and they’re made so they can be burnt at midnight on New Year’s. By New Year’s Eve, these dolls were everywhere. Most of the taxis had viejos strapped to their cars. Restaurants all had a viejo for their restaurant. Even the ATMs had them:
We heard two different explanations for the viejos. The first explanation is the nice one. You make a viejo of yourself or your friends and family and burn it to get rid of all the things you don’t want to bring with you into the new year. The less cute explanation (and the much more common one we heard) is that you burn people/things you don’t like because you don’t want them messing up your new year with all their stupid crap again. Politicians especially are popular viejos to burn.
Depending on your interpretation, Mi Grande (the owner of this restaurant, viejo) either really likes or really dislikes Lady Gaga. A lot of the viejos were accompanied by signs. I can’t understand all the Spanish, but I think this one is explaining what the viejo is and what he did in 2010?
At midnight, it was time to burn a viejo, so we went to Fede and Toto’s house to watch them torch their viejo.
When they broke out the gasoline, I knew it was going to be good.
Because the viejos “die” at midnight, there’s also this thing among guys where they’ll dress in drag as the “widows” of the viejos and cry and ask for money to get them through the new year because they no longer have their viejo husbands to support them. The Ecuadoreans think this is hilarious, not because cross dressing is especially novel (I saw a fair amount of cross-dressers in Quito), but because there’s so much machismo that guys these same guys acting like blubbering women is really funny to them.
After midnight, the plan was to go to the pier to jump off into the water. I was under the impression that this was like an island tradition, but it turned out that it’s just like a Fede and his friends thing. But that doesn’t mean it can’t have a quaint island superstition attached to it. They jump off the pier to symbolize that January 1st is the “jumping off” point of the new year and that if you had any problems in 2010, you should leave them “underwater.” Sounds real, right?
I was a little nervous about the pier jumping part of the night because when Rachel told a woman in town that we were going to do it, the woman looked horrified and asked me, “¿Tú también? ¡Dios mío!” This was a woman whose 4 year old son was next to her lighting firecrackers in his hand and throwing them into a crowded street. And something we were doing was worrying her. But it turned out to be not so scary and oh so awesome.
Everyone jumped in at once, then got out and jumped in again over and over for about 40 minutes.
After we dried ourselves off, we headed to the big outdoor party back in town.
Turns out they take New Year’s pretty damn seriously. I left at 4:30 AM and not only was the party still going strong, but there were little kids like 7 years old still dancing. Yes. I got outpartied by 7 year olds. A lot of them, at that.
I went out to get breakfast at around 9:30 AM and San Cristobal was a ghost town. The only place I could find that served breakfast had just two other guys in it and one of them was so wasted he couldn’t sit upright. Meanwhile, his friend was still pouring him beers and inviting me to drink with them. After I finished breakfast, I was walking down the street and I passed a little old man who turned to me with a huge beaming smile and said, “¡Feliz año!” and gave me a hug.
Best New Year’s ever.