I’m celebrating my third New Year’s in Ecuador. This was my first on the beach, though. The other two were in Cuenca and my experiences there seem like a kid’s birthday party compared the coastal festivities.
The first year we went to El Centro. We ate dinner, bought fireworks, and then shot them off on the sidewalks around San Francisco Plaza. As I walked by a group of young boys, one told me to be careful because he was shooting a firework off. I thought I should’ve been the one telling him to be careful.
We shot more fireworks off near the University of Cuenca and Anos Viejos were burned in the streets. My wife, son, and I all fell asleep just after midnight as fireworks continued to explode.
Last year we were outside of Centro. Loud music played around us early in the evening and noise from a club echoed from far away. At 11 p.m. we all went to bed, only to wake up at midnight to large fireworks in the distance. We sat in bed with the curtains open and watched the fireworks explode for about an hour.
This year we’re on the coast, and the celebration was much different.
It started slowly. We went out to eat for lunch and then took a swim in the pool as the sun set. Guests of our neighbors arrived for the festivities, we drank champagne, and watched the fireworks. We relaxed in hammocks and ate candy. We greeted our neighbors and made small talk.
I took a walk down our street to survey the crowds that were building. An old man sat outside reading the newspaper by a porch light. Another man danced alone in his living room as loud music played.
My son did some sparklers with other children and teenage girls took selfies in the street as they showed off their semi-formal dresses. The dresses made much more sense later.
At 11:30 everyone came out of their houses and off their front porches to burn Anos Viejos on the beach. And everyone was dressed nicely. One whole family even matched–they all had white dress shirts and white dresses on. I asked a neighbor about it as we walked down the road. He told me we were under-dressed in our shorts, t-shirts, and flip flops. It was too late to turn back, though, he said. The fire was beginning soon.
Out on the sand people held drinks and cameras. Anos Viejos were piled up high at a not-so-safe distance from the crowd. The burning was off to a slow start so one smart guy brought out a bottle of gasoline and the bonfire exploded!
Huge flames lit up the beach and firecrackers that were stuffed inside the Anos Viejos were banging. Rockets were set up and launched into the sky. People were shouting and kids were running around. Music was playing–music that still hasn’t stopped.
Back at the house my son was determined to stay awake all night by chewing giant gum balls.
On New Year’s morning I woke up early, made some coffee, and took a walk to see the damage done. Ashes were scattered on the sand, sticks from fireworks stuck out of the ground, and the music kept on going. Neighbors were outside again — or still outside — sitting in hammocks, swimming in the pool, and walking on the beach.
New Year’s lunch was fried fish, rice, and patacones at one of the small seafood places. Some people ate at the restaurant, others were served at the pool or in hammocks under pavilions in the sand.
Then, on the night of New Year’s day, I was ready to recover. But it was déjà vu. Music was still playing, people were still drinking Pilsener and Club in the street, and fireworks were going off everywhere. At midnight, there was a surge in fireworks, as if the new year was re-starting.
By January 2, the party was still going on. The music was still playing and the firecrackers were still exploding. The pool and beach were packed with people eating seafood and drinking beer.
My partying was done, but the neighbors seemed to be just starting.