New Year’s Eve, Quito Style

{photos courtesy of my dad}


Pick your “old man”.

These are sold on the street corner by the dozen. They go for about $6, plus a mask. These dummies are called “viejos”, which means old men. They represent the year past. We have a similar symbol in Western literature:

Apparently they have something similar in Goa, India, as well:

Next, choose a mask  for your dummy and set him up outside your house. Some neighborhoods will create a little scene with their dummies with a palm frond shelter, other homes just prop their guy up by the front wall. We saw one posed outside a downtown business with a simple sign pinned to his front: “The Boss.”

Then, head for the street party on Amazonas Avenue, in the business district. It’s like Marti Gras, Halloween and summertime fairs in one.

Buy a mask, or some other plastic piece of anatomy. Vendors will charge you just a dollar, or 50 cents as the night wears on.


In years past, this street festival was punctuated by live music and float-like displays. The crowds in front of the music stages would often be so thick with bodies that to pass through you had to press your way through, inch by inch. The displays of dummies would make political statements or critique some event from the past year. They were a lot like larger than life-size political cartoons. This year, we hit the street around 9, and it seemed that things had already wound down. We saw about three of these:


Later some friends speculated that so many are afraid of the government that they aren’t willing to make a public statement about politics. Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa has fined and imprisoned the top three newspaper editors for speaking out against him.

Finally, at midnight, you dump your “old man” into the street and set him on fire. Stuffed fireworks optional.

Flag down a taxi, if you can, to get home. Most cabbies take the night off. Agree on a price before you get in because it’s after hours and a holiday and the meters aren’t on. When you get home, though, the driver will still try to charge you more. Fling your money in the cab and run to an apartment building with an armed guard, in case the driver comes after you. Some of them carry guns. Wait until he gives up and leaves, then head to your house.

The old year is done.


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