As you can probably guess from this video, Montañita Ecuador is one wicked place to celebrate the New Year. I have never witnessed a celebration quite so intense nor celebrated with such intense people.
The New Years tradition in Ecuador is known as Quemada del Año Viejo. The ritual entails burning effigies resembling frustrations, struggles and failures of the past year so that the new year can start fresh from the ashes. The original tradition called for burning paper mâché likenesses of symbols such as unpopular political figures or the devil. Although all we saw aflame in the streets and along the beaches were giant cartoon characters and the like. I guess the tradition has taken on a more light hearted tone, which is probably a good thing since the origins of Quemada del Año Viejo are believed to come from a particularly virulent outbreak of yellow fever in which thousands of corpses were burned in the streets. Yikes…
We knew we were in for an interesting night as we noticed giant paper mâché transformers and Spongebobs on the roofs of cars and on just about every doorstep as we drove from the airport in Guayaquil to Montañita. Once we arrived at the coast we learned we were in THE place to celebrate the new year in Ecuador.
Upon nightfall, fireworks erupted constantly overhead from every direction and didn’t stop until after 4am. The scene on the beach was nuts. Thousands of people gathered on the sand, beers and cocktails in hand, cold replenishment only steps away from push cart vendors or the infamous Calle de los Cocteles (Cocktail Street).
As midnight neared the paper mâché effigies began to blaze all around and the bombardment of fireworks intensified. Someone grabbed the leg of a giant burning bull and drug the fireball through the hoards. Small children ran around launching roman candles into the crowd and throwing strands of black cats at each other. It was pure, euphoric madness. A little girl, no more than 6, let off a bottle rocket in my direction and it exploded on my camera. Nothing was harmed but it made me jump for sure.
At midnight a group of about 2 dozen surfers paddled out into the pitch black ocean, screaming and wooping at the top of their lungs. In the center of the crowd a massive fire roared while people young and old jumped and spun over the flames. One brave soul pranced right through the blaze, damn near catching his nuts on fire. After successfully completing his fire walk, he turned around and walked right back through the mass of flaming comic book characters and was lifted up by the crowd and declared the craziest of the crazies.
I have to say I am pretty optimistic at the way 2017 is shaping up after burning away the strife of 2016 at Quemada del Año Viejo in Ecuador.