Heart racing, I run for cover as a deafening explosion sounds in the sky above. The first blast is followed by another, and another. Men lie in the street like splayed Bambis as indifferent flames consume them.
Spectators watch nonchalantly while their children gleefully add bits of paper to the burning bodies.
I’m at the beach, and the clock has just struck midnight on New Year’s Eve.
The Street Scene
In Montañita, elaborate life-sized dolls are constructed in preparation for the end of the year holiday. The homemade figures represent all of the negative things that happened in the previous year. After midnight, they’re lit on fire as a symbolic cleansing.
Every kid that’s developed fine motor skills is equipped with an endless supply of firecrackers, bottle rockets, and other fun maiming devices to play with. Just walking down the block requires a careful calculation of the coordination abilities of these armed and excitable pyromaniacs.
Hugging the walls closely, we sprint like cheetahs chasing gazelles until we make it to safe territory – the beach. After my eyes adjust to the darkness, I see that though the immediate danger of toddlers with explosives has dissipated, we now have to maneuver through 2000+ people in various stages of debauchery.
The Beach Scene
Two shirtless surfers jog past, boards in hand. A few men, shouting drunkenly, play in the ocean wearing nothing but their whitey-tighties. Couples fall over each other in various states of dry humping.
Young girls gyrate their hips wildly off beat to bad techno, hoping to attract the attention of someone… anyone. Hippies sit outside of their tents in groups, passing joints and sharing cervezas. Rows of men stand pissing in the ocean.
Others wander, out of their mind, lost in time and space. Some sit in the sand, alone, preferring the serenity of solitude. Others stand in groups, overwhelmed by the drunken revelry, unsure what to do with themselves.
After playing witness to the freak show for a couple of hours, we begin our trek back home. A large crowd of solemn locals are arranged in a circle in front of the church. Curiosity reels me in like a moth to a flame (literally). Before me is the most prominent figure of the town, an orange robot with a crazed smile on his face, taller than a one-story house, alight with flames.
The locals stand, mesmerized by the flames, in silent contemplation. I feel this particular ritual is private, so I fall back and stand in the back row, hungrily chomping popcorn I had bought from a street vendor a few feet away.
The symbolic display moved me figuratively, and the intense heat literally, so I respectfully turn my back on the burning giant. I walk away, greedily eating the last bits of my snack before my companion asks for more.