Burning dummies, random fireworks, red bras, begging gringos and revelry usher in the new year

Jan 1, 2022 | 1 comment

La Merced Plaza in Cuenca’s historic district was one of the most popular gathering points for New Year’s celebrants on Friday night.

By David Morrill

When the clock ticked over to 2022 Friday night, an observer with an elevated vantage point, say from the Turi overlook or a highrise condo, witnessed Cuenca’s skyline explode with fireworks. At street level, the smell of gunpowder mingled with sawdust smoke from burning año viejo dummies to create an other-worldly scene of revelry and random explosions.

An año viejo dummy jumper clears the flames on Presidente Borrero Friday night. Another jumper was not so lucky.

At midnight on Av. Remigio Crespo, a foreigner of unknown origin mounted a footstool in the middle of the street, drink in hand, and proclaimed “Feliz año nuevo,” “Happy new year,” and “Bonne année” to nearby partiers.

Although police cars roamed the areas where crowds gathered, there was no attempt to  stop the burning of the dummies or public drinking, both prohibited under recent Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. One cruiser, its lights flashing, waited patiently on Presidente Borrero for the flames of a dummy pyre to burn down before moving through.

Even past midnight, street vendors were peddling the traditional New Year’s grapes and yellow and red underwear in El Centro. For the uninitiated, celebrants who eat 12 grapes are granted 12 wishes for the new year while those wearing red undies will find love and those wearing yellow will come into a financial fortune.

For some, just watching the año viejo dummies go up in flames was fun enough.

There were also the dummy fire jumpers who, according to legend, will be granted good luck in the coming year if they successfully clear the flames three times. According a social media video, a jumper on Remigio Crespo was not so lucky, falling head-first into the fire although the follow-up post said he suffered only minor burns.

Most jumpers are aware that some of the dummies are packed with fireworks that go off during the immolation. Each year, a handful of careless jumpers show up in local emergency rooms, hit by fireworks. Cases of pyrotechnic enemas are not unknown.

Just before 12, a drunken Cuencana struggled to put a red bra on over her sweater outside a Calle Larga bar. Nearby, a disheveled young gringo with a big dog was trying out his “Buddy, can you spare a dime” routine, which was mostly turned down until another gringo, this one elderly, gave him a dollar, insisting that it go to providing the dog a good meal.  .

According to a radio report, the largest crowds gathered on Calle Larga, La Merced Plaza, Remigio Crespo and several locations on Av. Las Americas. “I’m having a blast and so is everybody else,” said a young British backpacker on Calle Larga. “The drinks are cheap, the fires are fun and the cops are leaving us alone. The only problem I see are the fireworks. People are not watching their aim and I just saw a seven-year-old running down the sidewalk with a lit Roman candle.”

Happy New Year!

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