Day 56 – Firestarter

New Year’s Eve starts with a relatively relaxed morning after the early starts of late.  We enjoy a delicious breakfast (fried egg topped rosti) and then I catch up on the blog whilst watching Niki trying to photograph hummingbirds.

I am reminded of an old Kit Kat advert in which the photographer sits patiently watching a panda enclosure without a sign of life, and the moment he turns his back to eat his Kit Kat, two Panda’s emerge on roller skates and do a display round the enclosure only disappearing seconds before he resumes watch (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RmmieeHlZvQ).

Hummingbirds are fast buggers and again we are left missing the longer 400mm lens, but eventually Nik’s patience pays off and we get a couple of shots.  With bird photos taken we decide to use the facilities and play a game of Pétanque – a fun couple of games resulting in victory for me but also a regret that I chose to wear a white t-shirt as I get rather grubby.

We say goodbye to our crazy caravan and our wonderful host Ignacio et al, and head into Mindo a little early for the bus and grab lunch at somewhere called the Beehive. Owned and run by a lovely German/Ecuadorian couple and we share a traditional Bavarian platter which is delicious, Niki tries drinking Spetzi (a Bavarian drink of Fanta and Coke mixed), and we finish it off with some the best  homemade brownie (still warm) drizzled with homemade honey.  Lou, you have some competition!

Aboard our bargain bus ride back to Quito (£1.50 each) we are once again “treated” to the local music. Time for the headphones…

We have a little fun creating and listening to A to Z playlists on the phones. Mine is clearly cooler than Niki’s and before anyone leaps to Niki’s defence I have two words. Aswad. Five. Enough said.

Back at our now regular Quito accommodation, and we do a laundrette visit for the 3rd time whilst we are here.  It has started to feel a little like a home as it’s given a bit of consistency to an otherwise migratory lifestyle.

Due to the time difference we are able to use FaceTime, email and Facebook to send New Years messages aplenty to our friends and family round the world before heading out to celebrate New Year Ecuadorian style with Mohammed and Lidan (the Iranian couple that we met with Celsey and Kyle after the Galapagos trip).

Plaza Foch is the place to be apparently.  The square has a stage with live bands of questionable quality on for the evening (some very dodgy Ecuadorian punk music on – Another Man’s Rhubarb would have gone done a storm), and is full of both ‘Gringos’ and Ecuadorians.  The latter outnumber the former considerably, and it doesn’t feel like the “Gringolandia” it is sometimes called.

We experience some very traditional Ecuadorian New Year’s traditions, the most noticeable and inexplicable is that of men dressed as women.  Apparently nothing helps you celebrate the passing of another year than a bit of cross-dressing?!?  A bit of research into the subject sheds a little illumination on the activity, but not much.  I found the following explanation (if you can call it that):

“One of the strangest New Years traditions here is that teenage boys dress up as the female viudas (widows) of the Año Viejos, accentuating their breast and butt areas with balloons or pillows, and block off the streets asking for money. Due to this, it is very difficult to get around the city, so keep in mind that travel times may take longer than expected.”

The other prominent tradition is that of the Año Viejo.  This is a large dummy made from old clothes and given a mask (the local name is monigote, but the nearest thing in the UK would be a bonfire Guy), and you see them carried round by people or attached to cars (either the front or the roof) during the evening.  Then at midnight they place them on the ground, wherever they are, and set fire to them.  Seeing the square alight with fires, and then shortly after, seeing groups of locals arm in arm jumping over the flames (for luck) is extraordinary.  The idea is that you burn away all the bad things from the last year before the start of the new one.

We witness some people struggling to get theirs to light, but are quickly helped by a chef who pops out of the kitchen with a good volume of petrol.  A short pour and….woof!  Not sure that people are bothered about keeping a safe distance.

Then the square is full of people dancing the salsa to the bands as the night draws to the close.  I start with the usual uncomfortable shuffle (than I managed to pull off to an acceptable fashion during our first dance) but am quickly taught some steps by an Ecuadorian friend of Mohammed, and enjoy joining in fully with the festivities.

I was thinking whilst I have the midl embarrassment of dancing in public, that at least I have been saved the annual embarrassment of mumbling the verses of Auld Lang Syne….sadly not as Niki decides to share the tradition with our new Ecuadorian friends and we finish the night in that all to familiar cross-armed circle trying to teach the lyrics of a song we don’t know that well ourselves at 1am in the morning.

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