Here’s a short video of Paul and my New Year’s revelry in Cuenca, Ecuador. Locals here celebrate with a unique tradition in which they burn life-sized dolls representing the old year in order to start the new year with a clean slate. These effigies are simply old clothes filled with sawdust, cardboard and newspaper and at midnight they drag them out to the streets, douse them with gasoline and the blazes begin.
Lots of neighborhood groups work together to build elaborate themed displays of these Old Men. We saw acerbic political commentary, clever takes on global warming, and other displays that were just plain absurd.
And since this is Latin America there were plenty of costumes, loud music, fireworks, dancing in the streets, food and good fun kept everyone entertained throughout the whole evening. An unusual but amusing way to ring in the New Year!
One Sunday every four months Cochabamba celebrates “Pedestrian Day,” a surreal phenomenon when all streets in the city are closed to motor traffic (except emergency vehicles) and residents take to the streets en masse. Side streets remain tranquil and quiet, with dogs sleeping on the pavement and the only sounds are children playing soccer on fresh asphalt fields.
Major thoroughfares are filled with dance groups, live music, children’s’ rides and of course a huge variety of food. Families and friends gather, grab bicycles and head to the fume-free streets for a day of healthy fun in this fair city.
The Día del Peatón holiday started in thirteen years ago in response to the choked streets of Cochabamba and to raise consciousness about fossil fuel pollution in this especially congested city.
From the start it was a huge success and something residents now look forward to and genuinely enjoy. Today an estimated 300,000 citizens, young and old, fill the city’s streets. A study this year determined that contamination levels are 80% lower on Día del Peatón, reason indeed to leave the house and breathe in some much cleaner air.