Our First Visitors in Tena, Ecuador!


This trip was a long time coming. Sis and Terry were supposed to come to visit back in July, but thanks to the nationwide protests during that time, they ended up canceling their trip a week before they were due to arrive. Shane and I were super excited for them to visit! Somehow, it’s been four years since our Cambodia and Vietnam adventures, so we were long overdue for a trip. Also, we were really excited for someone else to see and experience Tena! We’ve been here for over a year, so our families and friends have heard all about it, but visiting makes it real!

My sissy and me! (Sung to the tune of the 1985 “My Buddy” commercial)

They arrived in Tena on New Year’s Eve, and boy-oh-boy, were we all in for a surprise!

We knew that el ańo viejo (old year) is one of Ecuador’s biggest New Year’s Eve traditions. At midnight, you burn a monigote, a paper mache puppet, so to speak, to get rid of all the bad from the year before. Last year we burned a Covid monigote, which, in all honesty, didn’t really work out in my favor since I got covid 2 weeks later. 🤷‍♀️ This year, we opted for Bugs Bunny (Space Jam version) and a tiger-cat-dog-thing.

2022/2023 monigote selection

This year, there were so many more monigote vendors than last year. Keep in mind these are simply little pop-up shops in the back of trucks and in alleyways. Last year, we saw maybe two people with a couple of options. This year, well, you can see the variety in the pictures! Now, in hindsight, this should have been a sign that we got the covid NYE experience last year… this year, things were back to normal!

And by normal, I mean the Viudas were back!

Viudas in Tena, 2023.

Quite frankly, this was wild to see… funny, but wild given that Ecuador is a pretty religious and conservative country, at least on the outside! 🤪 As the story goes, the traditional monigotes were men, created with a paper mache face and real clothes stuffed with sawdust or paper. Every monigote burned at midnight (obviously) leaves behind a widow, the Viudas. In reality, the Viudas are men dressed in drag, complete with balloon boobies and bootys.

The Viudas first started making their appearance midday, and their main goal was to block the road and collect money to fund their partying. So, you can imagine Sis and Terry’s confusion at seeing men in drag holding a rope across the road to stop cars as they arrived in Tena. 😂

As it got later and the partying continued, we went for a walk down the main road. By this point, for the most part, the Viudas we saw were getting continuously more vulgar, stopping traffic to uh… you can use your imagination… causing huge lines of traffic. As a bystander, it was great entertainment, and those people in traffic at that time of night knew what they were getting themselves into!

I will give a couple of groups credit, though; they were clearly just there to dance! Music was a requirement for any Viuda stop, and, because you’re in Ecuador, each group’s music must be louder than the next. But, this handful of groups had choreographed routines and were really fun to watch! Word on the internet is that some Viudas donate their collections, so I’m choosing to believe that these guys donated to their dance schools.

Oh, did I mention we witnessed all this at ~8:30 pm?! We were home and on our roof by ~10 pm for the fireworks and to burn our monigotes, so I can’t imagine what the street party looked like by midnight!

Like last year, the monigotes were hard to burn (too much paint!), but we eventually got them going! 😆

Disappointed Sis because she can’t start a fire.

The next day was mi cumpleaños!

As an ’86 baby, I turned 27 this year. 🥳💁‍♀️

We spent my birthday at… you guessed it… Shane’s work! 🤦‍♀️

Since it’s a holiday, the research assistants had the day off, so Shane and I were scheduled to cover all the butterfly and caterpillar care. In reality, we wanted to take Sis and Terry to see the university and the butterflies anyway, so it was a perfect opportunity to do so! Plus, they *said* they had a great time seeing (and experiencing!) how everything worked.

Arriving at Ikiam, the university.
Putting them to work!

Other than that, our time in Tena was primarily spent hanging out on our roof (they got to see the volcano!) and eating. 😂 We took them to our favorite breakfast spot for empanadas and bolones de verde (Cafetería Hamilton, if you’re ever in Tena), had fancy coffee at Cafe Tortuga, and finally tried chontacuro!

Chontacuro is a type of worm (grub?) common in the Ecuadorian Amazon. They feed on the pulp of the Chonta palm tree (a Peach palm in English, I think), hence the name. We hadn’t tried them yet for no reason other than the fact that “the place” to try them is in the Archidona patio de comidas. Archidona is the next town up, a whole ~15 min away, so you can understand why we had yet to make it there (she says sarcastically). These bad boys are freshly cooked to order and, to be honest, were pretty good! I can’t really describe the flavor, but if someone gave me a chontacuro without telling me what it was I wouldn’t think twice about it.

And, most importantly, we ate helado con queso, aka ice cream with cheese!

Per usual, our time in Tena was too short. We didn’t go up the tower! We only tried 3 of my 4 ice cream spots! We didn’t eat a typical almuerzo (lunch)! And, we didn’t even take a group photo in front of the Tena sign! 🤦‍♀️

However, we did go rafting and spend two nights at a jungle lodge, so more to come!

I swear, you can see the volcano better in person!

Hasta luego,


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