After a mammoth bus journey that took way longer than it really needed too – we arrived in Latacunga…
There’s not a lot to do in Latacunga, and like most visitors – our main reason for being there was to visit Quilotoa Lake! However, having spent so long at sea-level we were planning on spending a little more time than most in Latacunga – we needed to acclimatise a little before heading to Quilotao – which is at around 3,800m above sea level! And at 2,800m above sea level – Latacunga was a pretty good place to do this 🙂
We ended up spending three nights – including New Year’s Eve – in Latacunga… and we actually quite liked it 🙂
As we strolled around the streets of Latacunga the sun was shining, and we stumbled upon some nice buildings, and a couple of quiet plazas.
In spite of the seemingly quiet appearance of Latacunga – this was not the case – life in Latacunga just seemed to be focussed around the main square, rather than on the back streets. The main square was home to the cathedral, the indoor fruit and veg market (and a food court), and an outdoor market – although I’m not entirely sure that this market is always on… I have a feeling it might have been on extra days to allow everyone to get all the supplies that they needed to bring in 2019 with a bang! ;-). The other reason for hanging out on the main plaza was the fact that on a clear day (we scored ONE!) you had an awesome view of the Cotopaxi Volcano – and who doesn’t love looking at beautiful snow covered volcano peaks 🙂 We definitely do!!!! 🙂 🙂
Back out on the streets of Latacunga, New Years Eve preparations were in full force… After having seen how busy the streets were on the 30th December – it was DEFINITELY NOT a typical Sunday in Ecuador! – we were maybe a bit surprised that it was even BUSIER on the 31st… and I’m talking full on busy ALL day!
Ecuador has some pretty unusual traditions when it comes to seeing in a new year – unusual for us anyway, maybe for other South Americans there’s nothing unsual about these traditions at all…
The first of these traditions is monigotes or ‘año viejos’… Traditionally – and it happened quite a bit in Latacunga – families and groups of friends come together at the end of the year to make their ‘año viejo’ – this is a doll type figure made of old clothes that is filled with sawdust or straw, and then adorned with a mask which looks like a face. There are heaps of stalls selling masks – so you don’t have to make your own – some of the masks for sale look like famous people – including politicans. Nowadays, a number of Ecuadorians choose to forego building their own ‘año viejo’, favouring the purchase of a cartoon character monigote instead – as it’s seen as fun for families.
At 12pm on the 31st December families and friends come together to burn their año viejos and monigotes… they represent the year gone by – and the act of burning them is a way of letting go of the old year.
It is said that burning an año viejo which represents a political figure is not necessarily just following tradition – but more is an indication that they would like this person to disappear – and not be around the following year!
The next tradition is underwear… in Ecuador the colour of the underwear you are wearing when the clock strikes 12pm on New Years Eve can alter how your year will turn out! Wear yellow if you are looking for luck and prosperity… red if you are looking for love! If you are looking for something else – who knows – most Ecuadorians – judging by the underwear on sale on the 31st – were only after these two things in 2019!?!
The third tradition is Las Viudas – The Widows… This is basically men dressed up as women! – I kid you not… On New Years Eve in Ecuador it is tradition for groups of men to dress up as women, and then take to the streets to try and get money… which we were told is basically beer money! This money is usually ‘extracted’ from drivers as these groups of viudas hang out on the roads out of town, refusing to let cars drive on until they give them a ‘donation’. We didn’t see any major traffic jams because of viudas – BUT we have read online that it can be a huge issue on NYE!!
As night fell on the last day of 2018, we were safely in our hostal room – we had a room with a view on to a street where all the action was… perfect for us – we got to enjoy all of the New Years Eve bedlam without any of the dangers of being on the streets!!! There are no controlled firework displays in this town – Latacunga was a free for all!
We saw a serious of small ‘firework displays’ taking place over the city… BUT more of concern was the young kids walking along the streets with a kind of rocket device in their hand… the idea behind these devices is that you shake it a bit and a firework fires out the top… shake it some more and another one follows… I’m not sure how many fireworks are in each device. My only thought was – let’s hope they don’t trip and fall, allowing a firework to shoot down the street instead of up in the air!!!
Around midnight the burning of the monigotes started… there were several fires on our street and then more fireworks… and then the ‘jumping over the monigote flames’ started – apparently setting your monigote on fire and then jumping over it is the final way to ‘cleanse’ yourself from the previous year…
After watching the spectacle for a little while, we closed the window and went to bed… what can i say – we are old people who had an alarm set for 6:50am on New Years Day… for some crazy reason we were starting 2019 off with a multi-day hike!?!
So I’ll wish you a happy new year – and leave you with this video of some Ecuadorian NYE action…