New Years Eve in Quito

Posted on January 4th, 2011

New Years Eve in Quito
By Eric Walton

It is the giddy aspiration of many otherwise sensible people to spend New Years Eve amid the chaos and cacophony of Times Square and to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with complete strangers donning ridiculous hats and silly glasses as the iconic ball descends and the new year begins. And while I am certainly grateful for such people, whose presence helps make New York City the vibrant and culturally important place that it is, as a person who is profoundly annoyed by noise-makers and people who use them, I've never shared their desire to celebrate New Years Eve in Times Square and the event has always struck me as something most New Yorkers contend with, rather than enjoy.

Of course there are many, many other things to do on New Years Eve in New York City, but as a resident of Hell's Kitchen, a neighborhood adjacent to Times Square, I find that the sound of those cheap plastic noise-makers becomes bothersome at around four o'clock in the afternoon and totally unbearable by nine.

How thankful I was then to spend this New Years Eve in the beautiful district of La Mariscal in Ecuador's capitol city of Quito.

The festivities began early in the day and included live music, street performers, fireworks, the burning of effigies and the presence of many heavily-armed military personnel. And the closest thing to a noise-maker was a street vendor selling those bird-whistles that fit entirely in your mouth.

And thanks to the miracle of digital photography and the wonder of the Internet, I can share the highlights of this wonderful celebration with you.

Rio Amozanas is the avenue on which many Quitoans gather for New Years Eve and the apartment in which I was staying was only a few blocks away. The avenue began to fill up at around two o'clock and by seven, there were thousands of people on the streets and dozens of street vendors made sure that nobody who wanted fried pig-skin, exotic fruit juice or cigarettes would have to do without.
This stage-hand is putting the finishing touches on an elaborate display of effigies in which Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is represented as a puppet-master who is controlling the president of Columbia and another figure who was identified as Falso Positivo.
This puppet is like the Justin Bieber of Quito. I don't know if he has his own cartoon show or motivational-speaking franchise or what, but people could not get enough of this guy.
Dudes with guns. This was a very common sight throughout Quito and not just on New Years Eve. It was also common to see a fellow with a pump-action shot-gun standing guard outside any store that sold electronics, or any merchandise that was worth more then forty dollars.
This young man is juggling three clubs and his own hat!
Folks, you have not seen adorable until you have seen a tiny Ecuadorian child in a monkey suit. Behold: The Epitome of Cuteness! OMG!
Perhaps inevitably, the majority of "effigies" on display were basically enormous corporate dioramas advertising the goods and services of various companies. The cell-phone company Porta was responsible for this display in which two little space-chums were riding space-gadgets of some kind. Innocent though the design may have been, tell me that handle-bar doesn't look exactly like a space-penis.
Perched several stories above Rio Amazonas, this balcony-dweller had an enviable view of the festivities. The best I could do, as a humble groundling, was take his photograph and then publish it on the Internet.
There were about a billion or so of these little guys surrounding several larger effigies on a platform. Here's a little cyber-experiment for you: look at the eyes of the one on the right, then move around the room. His crazy little eyes will follow you!
New Years Eve in Ecuador is somewhat like Halloween in America, in that people will often dress up in costumes and wear masks and wigs. This street vendor is selling paper-mache masks and an effigy of a Japanese cartoon character that will later be consumed in the merciless flames of conviviality.
Though there was a city-sponsored fireworks display later in the evening, it was rather modest by American standards. The disappointment was more than compensated for, however, by the ready availability of fireworks on the street. Roman candles were a dollar and were lit up and fired whenever and wherever people felt like it, which is precisely the kind of de-regulation I can get behind!
These children are doing exactly what I would have been doing at their age. This wire frame and flaming paper-mache hoof are all that remain of a once-great effigy of a horse.
While we Americans are accustomed to New Years parties lasting at least until midnight, such is not the case in Quito. By 10:30, almost everyone had left Rio Amazonas and gone home (or elsewhere) to be with friends and family (sans noise-makers) as the clock struck 12:00 and the new year began.
© 2010 Photographs and text by Eric Walton, Copyright 2010

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