Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

2012! We kicked off the year in style here in Cuenca, Ecuador. Dressed up in our finest, we headed off to a fancy restaurant that was recommended on a blog I stumbled across, to treat ourselves to some fine dining and a cup o’ cheer. It was closed. Undaunted, we roamed the city centre for a half hour or so looking for something that was open – apparently, things are done a little differently around here, for that was no easy task – and eventually came across a nice little place near the main plaza. You would think (at least, I did) that every restaurant would be open, lights blazing, music blasting, ready for all celebrants. But no. Not so here in Cuenca.

Anyway, we found our restaurant, ordered a bottle of ridiculously expensive wine ($30 for Casillero del Diablo? At BC Liquor Stores, it’s about $17 – and BC LDB is not exactly known for its cheap wines) and ordered our meals – filet mignon for Sam and Chateau Briand for me – at $7 per entrée. Our wine arrived, already opened, with a cracked and saturated cork and visible sugar crystals dancing down the insides of our glasses. And thus began the education of our waiter in proper presentation of a bottle of wine to his guests. There are reasons for the rituals, after all, and after lengthy discussion and explanation, the wine was taken away and a new bottle – with the cork still firmly in place – was delivered. I’m sure the waiter was delighted with his education. The fresh bottle of wine (an Argentinian wine whose name I can’t remember) was acceptable, the food was excellent, and the overall experience very pleasant. We settled up our bill, headed off to find a café Americano and some dessert, and prepared to let the evening really get started.

We walked around the historical centre of Cuenca for awhile, looking for somewhere interesting to insert ourselves. There were people wandering the streets, but strangely, there still didn’t appear to be many establishments open and lively. One night club had lights flashing and music blaring, but wasn’t open to the public until 1:00am. Another place looked promising – it had speakers outside, music blasting, people mingling on the sidewalk… but it turned out to be a fast food chicken joint. Still, we kept wandering, looking for the party that had to be out there!

We had been noticing for several days that there were big, stuffed dummies everywhere. Every highway was lined with vendors selling dummies – people-shaped ones, movie characters, cartoon characters, and Smurfs. Smurfs everywhere. Weird. Sometimes they were propped up outside stores. Some people had them strapped onto their cars, either on the roof or on the bumper. Others were carrying them around. What, we wondered, was the point of all these effigies?

So as we wandered the streets of Cuenca, looking for a party, everything started to become clear. Sort of. First, we finally found a party. Or so we thought. As we turned a corner, we saw at the end of the block a huge throng of people and heard loud, rocking Latin pop music. When we actually joined the crowd, we saw that they were gathered around a large display of human-sized, but immobile, Smurfs. No one was dancing or singing or carrying on. They were just gathered around, staring at the Smurfs. It was kind of like a Nativity display, but… Smurfs. What the hell? It was totally inexplicable. It still is. Since we are not Smurf-worshipers and there was nothing interesting actually occurring, we moved on to another crowd of people, this one dancing to a live band of human-sized humans on a stage. Thank goodness for activities we can understand! We joined in for a dance or two, then continued our quest to immerse ourselves in NY Eve – Ecuador style.

And at last, we found what we were looking for. As we turned onto a new street, a group of young people were gathered around, beating their effigies with sticks and lighting them on fire. Much more exciting than the smurfs! We had noticed fires throughout the city all day, and assumed that they were due to the burning of the dummies, but we still weren’t sure what the meaning was. Not surprisingly, the burning effigies represent a letting go of the old and embracing of the new. Once the fires are good and hot and blazing, people jump over them, focusing on everything bad and ugly and old from the past year that they want to be free of. Sam and I joyfully joined in this celebration, jumping over the fire on our own, and then together, hand in hand, letting go of everything from our lives as individuals and as a couple that we don’t want or need, and embracing the new, positive, good things to come.

After jumping over the fire, we were invited into the establishment that appeared to be hosting the fire, a little café called “OM”, where there was plenty of libation being passed around. The popular drink of the house was a hot beverage tasting kind of like pears, and was undoubtedly alcoholic in nature… whatever it was, it was tasty! And there was a lot of it. The highlight, though, was the assortment of kindly men who patiently tried to teach me how to salsa dance. It’s a tricky business that. I could usually manage to get my feet going ok, but then I was supposed to add in some kind of circular hip motion… and then the shoulders! That’s way too much at once, I don’t know how any of them manage it! My teachers were all lovely and kind and patient and I had a blast. I think the amount of hot pear drink they poured into me helped somewhat – likely without it I’d have run away without trying at all!

All in all, we rang in 2012 with love and laughter and joy, releasing the old, embracing the new, and feeling so blessed to have been welcomed into what amounted to a family party so wholeheartedly and graciously. It promises to be a good year! I hope your new year is equally full of love, laughter and joy. Embrace the adventure!

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