New Year’s Eve, or Año Viejo, is a big deal in Ecuador.  It is easily one of their biggest holidays and celebrated by all with much fanfare and many wacky traditions.  With my friends Gretchen and Juniper visiting from the States, I insisted on being in a bigger city 
to experience all that Ecuador had to offer.  
Riobamba, in the central highlands, is where we landed, and I can’t imagine that Ecuadorians in any other city could have had more fun.  In case you want to visit me next year, here is a guide to Ecuadorian New Year’s Traditions!
First, you have to have a monigote.  A monigote is essentially a doll, made of your old clothes and stuffed with paper.  The face you put on it can be a representation of yourself, or you can add a photo of someone you respect or admire.  You can also buy just the head or a mask
and stuff the body yourself.
If you don’t want to make a monigote, there are thousands on every street corner to buy. 
They come in all styles and sizes; small, medium and large. 
All of these monigotes are burnt as effigies at midnight, sending the bad spirits of the previous year up in smoke.  Before burning, people might also place messages, or cavalas, inside their monigote.
The message could be a list of bad events or people who treated you poorly.
While the monigote is burning, it’s also a tradition to jump through the flames and over the ashes
to spiritually cleanse your body as well. 
Gretchen found her likeness on the street!

Then, you need to get some red or yellow underwear.  I had read in numerous guidebooks that you wear the red underwear if you want love and passion in your new year, and you wear yellow underwear if you want wealth in your new year.  Late in the evening, I was chatting with this vendor and asked her what the colors meant.  She said she didn’t know what the red was for, because everybody always wants the yellow, the wealth, for next year.  So, there’s the unofficial poll of what most Ecuadorians wear.  What color do you think I was wearing?

Next, starting early in the day, you have to be ready for some crazy spontaneous parades 
with revelers filling the streets.  And the costumes?  The wackier, the better!
Notice the monigote tied to the front of the car… a common sight. 
The highlight of all New Year’s Celebrations are the Locas Viudas.  These are young men who go all out dressing as women, or other hideous characters, and party throughout the day, well into the night.  A viuda is actually a widow, and historically, women who lost their husbands during the last year would take to the streets to publicly morn their husbands and beg for money.  In the last 20 years however, the tradition has really changed.  We were driving along the Pan American Highway for many hours on December 31st trying to get to Riobamba.  Starting well before noon, we spotted many groups of these modern “Crazy Viudas” in the street.  They essentially stand in the road, accost your vehicle and ask for spare change…  which becomes their beer money as the day carries on.  

I was in the back seat, and these two groups came upon both sides of the car.  I had the windows down to take pictures, and they reached in from both sides to tickle and harass me.  It was all in good playful fun!  We gave them some requisite change, and then they asked for more “for the Baby”.  It was so hilarious.

These Viudas were so serious about getting people to stop, they chopped down some trees
and dragged then across the highway.  
As the night went on the Viudas got a little more risqué.  The common theme was exaggerated curves and coordinated dance moves….. think pole dancing around, and on top of, a car!  
Throughout the city, the Viudas staked out a corner with a huge monigote to burn, and a giant set of stereo speakers blaring their dance music.  Even the local fireman got in on the action with their personal monigote and their very own Viudas.
The streets of Riobamba were alive with thousands of people and so much laughter!
Other New Year’s traditions include getting an empty suitcase and running around your house several times.  This is to ensure good luck in your travels throughout the coming year.  You also might fill your shoes with coins in hopes of receiving more wealth in the coming year. 
Of course, all Ecuadorian holidays include lots of blinking lights, fireworks, sparklers 
and thousands of people setting them off in the streets- all at the same time.  
Festivals are always a wild scene in Ecuador!
And last, but not least, you need 12 grapes.  Each grape will grant you a wish
during each of the 12 months of the coming year.  I forgot to eat my grapes.  
I’m not sure what more I could possibly have wished for.
At midnight, the burning of the monigotes commenced, along with a huge fireworks show throughout the streets of town.  I needed to take a long bus ride back to Ibarra on New Year’s Day, so I left my hotel at 5:30 in the morning.  On the way to the bus station, I saw people still dancing around their burning monigote.  Like I said, Año Viejo is a very big holiday!
 It was so fun to share my first Ecuadorian New Years with my friends.  
Thanks to Gretchen and Juniper for coming to Ecuador!  
If you want a good party, come to Ecuador next year!
Feliz Año, Everyone!