A belated Christmas update…

Hola todos,

Sorry for the delay in this post…while it seems like I have all the time in the world, it also seems to fly faster here than it does back home.  Going to work on New Years too, and also some other things to post before I leave on Sunday for Mission Month where I won´t have access to anything really.

Noche Buena…Christmas Eve
In doing things that aren´t typical (like being in South America for Christmas) we decided to take a 1.5 hour car ride up to Tarata.  Those of us who went were Mo, Mo´s family, Jessica, myself, and two of our neighbors in Habitat Martin and Edith.  Tacna sits about 20km from the coast and while we can see the mountains from where we are, we most certainly are not in the mountains.   But after a lengthy car ride we had made it a long ways (i don´t know how far exactly) and we had climbed more than 3000 meters (roughly 10,000 ft).  It was a gorgeous ride and nice to get out of the desert and see lots of vegetation.

After arriving we checked out the church  and sung by the market to grab some bread for the day and maybe explore the possibility of getting some breakfast.  Being Xmas eve there werne´t many vendors or people in the market, but fortunately there was the bathroom attendant who didn´t take the day off.  Paid my 50 cents and got my paper so that I could do my business…you have to take advantage of these opportunities when you aren´t sure the next time you´re going to be given the opportunity to go.  Not that I would have minded popping a squat in a farm or along the trail as we were hiking, I just thought it would be better in the present company to get my business out-of-the-way.

The hike was beautiful…and I hope to show pictures at some point, but as for now you just get the words.  We hiked down into a valley, crossed a river, and back up the other side.  It was so much fun to get out of the desert and see some real vegetation.  And it even rained a bit…the real kind of rain, not the puny mist that has happened twice in the last 8 weeks here in Tacna.   This also gave me time to enjoy the presence of other gringos…sometimes you just need a break from the

One of the cool things we got to see on this hike were the ruins, well not really ruins ruins but the bases of long defunct granaries the Incas used to store food once harvested.   They were well up on an opposing mountain side so we didn´t get to explore them, but non-the-less still cool.  The other really interesting thing was up in some “caves.”  Really just some massive boulders and rocks overhanging the trail which we climbed up in between…but in there exists an altar to Mother Earth (pachamama) as was explained by our guides from Habitat.  There were a bunch of bones on the altar left from the various animals that had been sacrificed for the blessing of the earth upon the harvests in the region.

After reaching the far side and climbing up through the rocks we got to hang out on top of the side of a mini-mountain while we waited for a taxi to take us up another 15 min to the Baños Termales.  Here I played with the panoramic function on my camera and hopefully it turns out well…but again, at the moment I don´t have the pictures with me.  It was unbelievably gorgeous and made me really excited for our home in Andahuaylillas which is quite nicely nestled in a valley with many mountains.

The Baños were a great way to end the day trip into the mountains…it allowed for us to relax in on the side of a mountain in a bath heated by the flowing magma beneath the Andes Mountains.  So relaxing to be in the aura of the mountains and relax in a bath.

After getting back to Tacna, I took advantage of a few free hours in the day to take a nap before the evening festivities.  Mass was at 7:30 in Habitat with the Jesuits.  It was jammed packed which was a change from the normal Sunday mass.  Granted many people had traveled down from Tacna (about 15 min by bus to the north) to go to the Jesuit Christmas mass, but it was still a cool feeling to be in a standing-room-only Christmas eve mass.  To close the mass the Jesuits had all who spoke different languages to give a short merry Christmas message.  Languages included among the audience were: Spanish, Aymara, Quechua, French, and English…pretty cool to be in such a diverse crowd and a nice way to bridge some of the language gaps.

After mass we went around Habitat with Fr. Fred and delivered a few Christmas baskets for some families that wouldn´t really have a Christmas dinner…the families had been chosen by Fr. Fred and we were just along to sing carols and be present to the gifting.  Once this was accomplished we made for the center of the city with everyone else.  Many of the volunteers were going to one family´s house, but I was headed off in a different direction to spend the evening with my host family.

Christmas here works a lot like New Years in the States.  The night before is more important than the day of.  There is a countdown to midnight.  There are fireworks, lots and lots of illegal fireworks.  We toast champagne.

Dinner was served around 11pm and the mass in the Vatican was put on the TV behind the table.  But we promptly interrupted the Pope when it got close to midnight to listen to the radio and the countdown to midnight.  But we didn´t really need a countdown, as you could tell when it was midnight by the amount of fireworks outside.   There is no “official” fireworks display for the city of Tacna, but I don´t think it´d be necessary.  Everyone thinks they´re an expert and everyone buys their own fireworks to shoot off.  It was quite a sight as everyone in the neighborhood was shooting off fireworks and all you had to do was stand in the middle of the plaza in front of our house and look in any direction to see a colorful display.

After a while the fireworks started to die down and we all went back inside to sit, converse, and open presents.  My family isn´t huge on the presents deal, or at least I didn´t see it Christmas Eve…but my sisters did get a Wii at their grandparents house which probably was the doing of their parents.  And then the visiting began.  The way it works is you chat with your family and guests for a while and then go out to visit other families and friends.  I didn´t understand how this would work because if everyone goes out, then there is no one at home to be visited.  But we were one family that was to stay put…my grandmom didn´t want to or need to or for some reason didn´t travel so we had some friends visit us.  My sisters and dad went to their grandparents´ house to spend the night around 2am.  And around 3am our visitors had all left and I got to go to bed.

Christmas day
A bit more tranquil, but we hosted a lunch with a lot of people.  It was fun though and they put me in charge of the grill (a real honor given the importance of the meat)…I think that the grandfather used to the one in charge and since he died in March they haven´t really used the grill…but we used it for the pork on Christmas.  It´d been marinating for 3 days and was amazing…my grilling skills didn´t really make a difference given the excellence in the preparation beforehand (of which I had nothing to do with).

And that was Christmas…