This year I spent New Years Eve in Ecuador and can honestly say it’s the most insane, strangest, craziest New Years celebration in all of South America (and for the world in that matter). I helped the locals burn down their city, chased the bad demons away for the coming year and supported the local economy by drinking a lot of booze.
Ecuador is the only place in South America in which on New Years Eve macho straight men dress as women and beg for money. Begging is a nice way of putting it. It’s a crazy night of lady-boys, fire and drunkenness that is better witnessed than explained. I was told about it before going to Ambato (a city south of Quito by 2hrs with a pop. 400,000k) for the celebration but I really didn’t comprehend what it was all about until I saw it with my own eyes.
To see more pictures click on the posts below:
- What I Did For New Years
- What I Did For New Years: Part II
- What I Did For New Years: Part III
- What I Did For New Years: Part IV
There are two main parts to the New Years’ celebration in Ecuador:
- Viejos are elaborate effigies, basically dummies that are stuffed with wood chips, straw or newspapers, that represent someone. A lot of the times it can be politicians, celebrities or even someone you know and at midnight the locals will torch them in the streets. A viejo can either be good or bad, depending on what the person is stating and wanting in the New Year. I seen a lot of political dummies that represented the bad politics of the government of Ecuador, with viejos of Ecuador’s current president, Rafael Correa Delgado to Chavez from Venezuela (who Ecuadorians think their president is a puppet to). The most seen viejo was of Michael Jackson, which I assume was because they love him and of his death this year. The three viejos we burnt were of a friend of my girlfriend (Andrea), an American home-stay kid from Philly that is staying with the family and teaching English in Ambato (Brandon) and a little niece of the family.
- The ladyboys! The tradtion, dating back to pagan Roman and pre-Roman Spanish traditions, is that men dress as women representing the widows from the year. They beg for money that they use later on in the night to buy booze with and get drunk with. The way it works is a group of boys will take a section of the street and block it. Cars cannot pass through without paying a few cents and people walking by are subject to the same treatment. You can run but for some reason these straight guys can run super fast in high-heels, so it won’t do you any good but it’s all in fun. If you are tight-fisted with your money and don’t want to pay any money then you shouldn’t be out on the streets that night, as everyone that is, is expected to play along with the celebration. Some guys can be really aggressive (I was only attacked once) and will use tactics like climbing into cars to get their money. I seen one guy who even got on a bus and sat on the bus driver until he coughed up some change for the ladyboy.
Other traditions are to eat 12 grapes at midnight, which you make a wish for each one, representing each month of the coming year. Another is to pack a bag or suitcase and walk around the block at mid-night to ensure travel for the coming year and another is wearing yellow underwear which is supposed to bring positive energies for the New Year.
We started out the night walking the streets so I could get some photos of the action. I wasn’t sure how well any of the photos would come out considering it was going to be so dark but ended up using a flash and high ISO setting to capture all the shots, which worked out wonderfully! You couldn’t walk more than 20m without running into a a group of lady-boys begging for money and found myself penniless before the night was over because so.
At around 11:00 pm the firecrackers start to take effect and you can see them shooting all over the city. By mid-night the sky was lit up like the fourth of July, with kids walking around with Roman Candles, people throwing black-jacks into burning viejos to people setting off crowd pleasers that rain fire. For about 3 hrs the town had a glow of fire and smelled of smoke. It’s a late night celebration and people partying till daylight. The next day in any city is like a ghost town as everyone is hungover from all the drinking the night before. To give you an idea how big it is, on Christmas Eve and Day you can find things open in Ecuador but on 01Jan you would be hard pressed to find a gas station open, let alone a store.
If you’re anywhere near Ecuador during the Christmas break and want to do something different for New Years, then head there as you will see something unique. There isn’t another celebration like it that I know of!