Greetings from the green mountain city of Loja, Ecuador’s eco-friendly and culture-packed city!! Think colourful Spanish colonial-style buildings with wooden balconies overlooking plazas filled with families, friends and couples united to celebrate the blessing of life with hugs, kisses, laughs, street food and corn or sugar-cane based alcohol,
and fireworks–since yesterday afternoon, of course.
Wherever you may find yourself on this first evening of the New Year, I hope you may be filled with the warm feeling of the closeness of family and friends over the past weeks, regardless of what you may have celebrated.
While I just spent my 4th holiday season thousands of kilometres away from my own family, I can’t help but smile at the feeling of inclusion, togetherness, love and joy that I have felt during each and every day of this holiday season and the other three that I have spent on student exchanges and internships in Latin America and Europe. I have such a wide circle of friends–that might as well be my relatives because we have come to know each other so well–and we know that no matter how far away we may be from one another for months or years, when we are face-to-face we will definitely disfrutar el presente (enjoy the present). While I do miss my blood relatives, I also miss many host parents, host siblings and cousins, and countless friends scattered on several continents. Thank goodness for the Internet.
After much work all month long, the days leading up to Christmas were filled with Project Chiclayo and Centro Esperanza Christmas celebrations. On December 24th when I went to La Ladrillera to deliver two children’s storybooks to two families who had not yet received their respective gifts, I couldn’t have felt happier to be surrounded by children and their parents who came to greet me and wish me a Merry Christmas once they knew I was in the village (news travels fast there with children dashing from home to home to deliver messages all day long).
What I thought would be a short visit—before finishing making a few Christmas gifts and heading to visit my “sister-in-law” in hospital, pregnant with twins —turned into a three-hour visit, in between visiting with half a dozen families, playing with kids and eating a delicious ceviche and arroz con pollo lunch which I was offered by one family I have come to know very well. I even met three children from a family that will be new to Project Chiclayo this year. And I nearly fell over due to being ‘attacked’ by hugs from every direction before I left the village (now incredibly hot, dry and mosquito-filled with summer here), although that is what happens every time I go to La Ladrillera. 🙂
I spent the rest of the 24th at the hospital and then with my (former) host family, celebrating a very quiet and somewhat subdued Christmas, what with their son, daughter-in-law and our much-loved mother-in-law stuck at the hospital. But we still enjoyed a delicious Peruvian meal, laughed our heads off and remembered many good times we have shared since last Christmas, which I also celebrated in their home. We woke up on Christmas morning to enjoy panetón, air- and meat-filled empanadas accompanied by hot chocolate (yes, that is tradition in a city where it is about 25 degrees Celcious on Christmas).
This past year has given me so much to be grateful for and visiting with a friend and her fiancé here in the peaceful city of Loja is just another set of memories to add to the list. At midnight last night we were out in the street among many young nieces and nephews watching fireworks and paper dolls being burned by the neighbours (yes, that is a tradition, both here and in Chiclayo), that after a too-good-to-be-true homemade dinner accompanied by salsa music and two adorable dogs. We didn’t have the energy to stay up late as we have all be helping out with the opening of a restaurant owned by my friend and her fiancé that opened only 12 days ago—and I have to give it to those two: it not only looks amazing, but it is home to mouth-watering food and memorable service.
We have been cycling on two different days since my arrival a few days ago: once along a river and along the side of a mountain overlooking this long valley, and once right down the centre of the valley, along a 10km bike trail running through a seemingly never-ending park bordered by a river and farmland dotted with cows, horses and crops of tomatoes and all sorts of fruit trees. Actually, there is hardly a distinction between the farmland and park as the animals are free to cross between the areas, meaning cow dung was the only thing to get in my way of gliding along the trails—which I almost did while distracted by the picturesque bright green mountain views in every direction…
…OK, I will stop bragging…but seriously, if you ever make it to Ecuador, make sure to come to Loja—it won’t disappoint you with its progressive embracing of culture and environmental initiatives. (By the way, I did pay for that second bike ride with a mild sunburn.)
To my family: I love and miss you and I am happy to say I will be seeing you later this year. We have a lot of catching up to do.
To all of my faraway friends: sorry for being horrible at keeping in touch on a regular basis; accept my sporadic emails and Skype calls as my best effort in the context of my sometimes very spontaneous but always very busy Latin-American lifestyle. I hope to see you soon to make some more face-to-face memories.
To everyone else: best wishes to you and your family; may you have a year full of friendship, hope, love, health and many promising opportunities. If you are a blogger, please do keep posting!
And to you all: thank you reading/deciphering my often rambling trains-of-thought! Cheers to the New Year!