Happy New Year everyone!
MPI Ecuador is back from vacation and ready to start a new quarter. While some of the PDs returned to the States for the holidays, others stayed to travel around Latin America and visit with friends and family. Four of us traveled to Peru before Christmas and hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. We spent four days walking in the footsteps of the Incans, sleeping in tents, visiting ruins, and hearing the rich history of the area (not to mention carrying 20lb backpacks). We finished the hike exhausted and sore, but the experience was definitely vale la pena. Two of our PDs visited Guatemala, Taylor traveling with Jesse and Fiona (Nicaragua PDs) and Watkins with his mom after a trip to Belize.
Nicole, Rachel and I got the opportunity to spend New Years Eve in Ecuador, which was a very different experience than we were used to. A few days before the holiday we started to see these almost life-sized dolls called año viejos spring up on doorsteps, in storefronts, and tied to hoods of cars. These dolls are made to look like famous people, politicians, or family members, and represent the year that is passing. In Quito they hold huge competitions to see who can make the biggest and best año Viejo and win a cash prize. At midnight on New Years Eve family and friends gather in the streets to burn the dolls as a way to get rid of bad luck and negative energy from the past year.
All throughout the day busses were stopped in traffic as random fireworks went off and guys dressed up as women begged for change at stoplights… not something you typically experience in the States. These “women” are supposed to represent the widows of the año viejos who will be burned at midnight.
A friend of ours Christian invited us to spend the evening with his family in Selva Alegre, a neighborhood nearby, so we got to experience all of these rituals first hand, along with an explanation of their meaning. We wore red underwear (for love in the new year) and jumped over the fire where they burned an effigy of Christian’s younger primo Gabo. Although slightly overwhelmed by all the new traditions and superstitions, I think we succeeded in securing ourselves a lucky, love-filled and prosperous 2012.