When Angel pulled off his belt and explained that each of us had to give our burning muneca a belting for each year of the 21st century, our participation in Ecuadors New Years Eve celebration took a turn for the weird!  But then, New Years Eve celebration in Ecuador is not your run-of-the-mill holiday.

First we had to go and paddle the Rio Jatunyacuat a great water level, and at about 80 degrees.  It was tough going, especially trying to catch all the surf waves on the fly (well in the speed boats we all paddle today, catching big water waves on the fly is actually a bit tough! But we were up for the challenge).  And then we had to stop in Tena for a quick tour of what was going to go on in the big city for New Years Eve.  Bandstands had been erected, most of the businesses were already closed, and it looked like some serious partying was about to take place.

Trying to balance out priorities on a paddling trip is not too difficult! Kayaking. So we discreetly left town and returned to our monkey lodge to enjoy the NYE festivities with the howler, spider, white face, and churango monkeys.  Once dinner was over, we headed outside the lodge with our bottle of champagne and our four-foot saw dust-stuffed muneca and a dozen firecrackers and a jar of diesel. Not your normal party favors. But here in Ecuador, one of the big traditions of NYE is to burn out all the bad of the previous year and start the new year out right. Your muneca comes with a mask/face but with a little imagination it can be whatever you want it to be: a political figure, your boss, your least favorite rapid on the river…take your pick.

We then stuffed our buddy full of firecrackers and doused it with diesel and then of course, lit it on fire after each of us took a turn with the belt. Still not sure what the belt deal was about, but no one hesitated much when it was their turn.  And if nothing else, it brought out who has a future in spanking and who doesnt!!  Once our muneca was on fire, we all had to jump over it (seriously another tradition) and then we toasted the new year. Once all the fun was over, we spent a moment of contemplation: what a great day of paddling we had, the fact that we were celebrating NYE in Ecuador…world peace… and the thought that the following morning- Jan 01 2007, when friends at home would be doing the ol icebreaker at home, we were going to be paddling the tropical Mishaulli River. That would be short sleeve paddling jackets, sun screen for most of us who underestimated the ecuadorian sun on day one and an awesome creek run.

We started out with traditions new to most of us, and then added the tradition of paddling here in Ecuador: the Quijos Canyon, an awesome day on the Oyacachi, and a final day split between the Cheesehouse and Baeza sections of the Quijos.  And then a soaking in the Pappallacta Hot Springs before reluctantly returning to Quito for flights home.  And good week of paddling with a great group of people.  2007 is sounding good already!