Solar rant aside (see previous post) I was staying with a family in a rural village on an island out in the middle of Lake Titikaka and it was Christmas Eve. We had been told that there would be a celebration at the village hall starting at 10pm and going til midnight, when (allegedly) baby Jesus was born. Not only were we to attend this party that was way past my bedtime, but we were to be dressed in traditional local garb by our hosts. Oh joy.
After dinner I had a few hours to kill before the fiesta, so I sat out on the balcony dividing my attention between the meteor shower in the sky above and the lightning show going on across the lake in the mountain range of Bolivia. The stars were so incredibly clear and bright at that altitude with no moon that I could almost see the llama and alpaca of local lore, not to mention the Southern Cross and Orion's Belt upside down.
Soon enough 10pm came around and our hosts brought out the traditional skirts, shirts and shrouds to dress us in. The three of us roommates had a good laugh at ourselves wearing poofy skirts and bright scarves sinched tightly around our waists, which didn't help with the whole breathing thing. Then we followed our host mom up in the pitch dark through the paddocks, over the stone wall, across the path and finally to the town hall, breathing heavily by the time we arrived.
Musicians at the party
What ensued was one of the weirdest parties and certainly the most different Christmas Eve party I ever attended. Not many of the local villagers showed up but most of our tour group was there, all dressed in traditional clothes with regular pants and shoes sticking out from under panchos. There was a band of two flute players and one drummer who played traditional songs which we all danced to. Fortunately my roommate Clarey brought a bottle of vodka to share so the five minutes in between songs where everybody caught their breath in complete silence (dancing at 13,000 feet is no joke) were a bit more bearable. Like I said, it was a weird scene. But fun and heartfelt.
At midnight our host families presented us with necklaces of fresh flowers and around the village fireworks that could easily blow off a finger or two shot off from random locations. Our host mom walked us back to our house through the paddocks and over the stone walls, which I was grateful for because I never would have found my way alone. I took off the traditional clothes with a breath of relief, took two sleeping pills, fell into my moderately comfortable twin bed and fell blissfully asleep.
The next morning was Christmas, which didn't seem to be different than any other morning except that Clarey shouted Feliz Navidad!! and gave me a big hug when I came down for breakfast. Gotta love the Brits. Our breakfast consisted of fried bread and instant coffee, and shortly after Rofino headed out to work in the fields. Christmas isn't really a big deal in Peru and this village only started celebrating a few years ago. Carnival, which coincides with the indication of how their crops will fare for the year, is their big celebration. I found their lack of enthusiasm for Christian holidays delightfully refreshing.
Our host mamas
After saying our goodbyes to our families, all 23 of us piled back into the boat and headed to the island of Taquile, which is famous for their knitting men. We took a beautiful walk around the island, learned about some of the rather archaic traditions of the islands (at church men sit in the pews and women sit on the ground, women always walk 5 meters behind their husbands, they can't drink alcohol or chew coca leaves until they're married...), had a nice lunch, piled back into the boat and headed back to Puno.
1 sol for a bracelet and a photo (about $0.30)
The group that I was thrown in to for this portion of my trip have been traveling together for weeks and are all quite close. They made arrangements to do a Secret Santa and go for dinner afterwards. I didn't want to impede on their family celebration but in spite of the fact that I am somewhat of a Grinch, I really didn't want to spend Christmas night alone in my hotel room. I asked if I could join them for drinks after their festivities and of course they welcomed me with open arms. I arranged to meet them at their hotel, went and had an alpaca cheeseburger for dinner by myself, had a nice chat with mom and dad, and headed back to my hotel to clean up.
When I showed up to the group's hotel they were wrapping up their Secret Santa with bottles of champagne and Cusqueña beers, and they informed me that Santa had come for me as well. I got to sit on Santa's lap (an Aussie bloke with a big beard and a pillow under his shirt) and open a little gift. I was truly touched by this gesture of being included by this close knit group of people who I had only known for two days.
Wanting to return the favor (and being the little shit that I am) I convinced a few of them that it is an American tradition to shotgun a beer on Christmas night, so a few of us went out on the street and sprayed beer everywhere. I had forgotten that at high altitude carbonated drinks are even more fizzy, so chugging a whole beer at once was a painful but fun experience. Good times.
After drinks I joined them for my second Christmas dinner and felt very loved and included by this cool and interesting group of travelers. I'm now in the airport of Juliaca - the bus ride here was much better than the previous one, thanks for asking - and head to Lima for one night before leaving for Costa Rica tomorrow.