Lynsey and I made it back to Cuenca from our whirlwind vacation just in time for the new year. As our bus descended from El Cajas and into the outskirts of the city both she and I shared the feeling that it was good to be home. Our trip took us to remote indigenous villages, coastal fishing towns, and everything in between, but maybe it took seeing all that to realize that Cuenca has a special combination of elements that make it very livable for us. The city has it's faults, undoubtedly, but for this moment we both agreed that there wasn't another place in Ecuador we'd rather call home.
Early on in the research phase about Cuenca, way back last summer, we read up on some of the New Year's traditions in Cuenca and throughout Ecuador. One that peaked our interest was the burning of paper machet effigy dolls. One would assume that to burn an effigy doll the figure would most likely have to be sinister; something you want to leave behind in the previous year. While this is true, and many of the dolls (including ours) were villains of sorts, the tradition can also be bent the other way. One student of mine explained that they made a doll of his uncle because his uncle had done a lot of honorable things in 2012, and they wanted that trend to continue. The result of this good/evil blend of dolls was that we were curious to see all the dolls (some set up in scenes on the street) and try to figure out what they might represent.
Lyns and I decided to go all out and agreed that we should buy our own doll. However, it was later in the afternoon on New Year's Eve, and our options were fairly limited. We ended up finding a young guy selling dolls to passing cars on a corner near our house, but his selection was not very extensive. He had three different sizes of Chucky (yes, Chucky the murdersome doll from the classic 90's horror flick Child's Play) and Mickey Mouse. Though we understood that burning a doll could have either positive or negative connotations, something just felt weird about tossing Mickey into the flames, so we went with Chucky. I'm now walking around the streets of Cuenca with a 4-foot Chucky doll under my arm! Along with our friends Sarah and Larry, the stage was set for a fun night.
Though we saw tons of Chucky dolls for sale, people seemed to love the fact that I was carrying Chucky. "Chooky," they'd say with smiles, as I gave a knowing look back to let them know that I, too, was looking forward to seeing him burn. One of the most pleasant things about New Year's in Cuenca was the outpouring of families into the streets and the fact that otherwise dead (and occasionally sketchy) streets came to life. People had set up elabote scenes along the streets with a plethora of dolls, many with potent political commentary. Check out the photos below for a few of the highlights...
As we came closer and closer to midnight I got increasing pressure to toss Chucky into a few of the fires that had already popped up in plaza San Francisco, our spot for the night. "Buzzing" locals encouraged me to go for it, but I held strong, having been told by sober locals that the tradition was to wait for midnight. When the time came, fireworks boomed and Chucky went up quickly with a mix of fellow villains and admirable heroes in the heap of flame. Also, in the spirit of tradition, I took a running start and jumped over our pile three times for good luck. Apparently, a firework went off in the pile just before I went over so kids, don't try this at home. Thanks to our friends Sarah and Larry for catching it on video.
With that, we walked home through streets full of burning effigies and people dancing in the streets. We realized we only had four months under our belts in Cuenca, and thought about how much our lives had changed already. In that spirit we entered 2013 with eyes open and ready to see what awaits us in 2013.
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