Saturday, February 23, 2008

New Years in Jama

Andrea had been talking about New Years since we arrived. It's a very big deal in Ecuador which translates directly into Big Party. The plan was for us to go to Jama a town about 20 minutes south of Tabuga and attend a party with a local family that Andrea has become close with. But of course, first we have to dress up for the occasion! While we didn't exactly put on our finest we did take it up a (small) notch from the dirty clothes we had been wearing and - as is expected in Latin America - made sure to have on plenty of makeup!

Assured by Andrea that we were appropriately dressed and that we would have a good time we got in the car and drove down to Jama. Our first stop was the home where Andrea spends most of her time when in Jama. Her good friend Juan Carlos lives there with his mother Isabel, his dad, his 22 year old brother and his 10 year old sister also named Isabel. Dinner with Juan Carlos' family was quite an adventure. We sat at a formal table with big plastic cups of Coke and ate some interesting things. Isabel made pork which was actually very tasty. She also makes the best plantains in Ecuador (or that we had at least) which Mom and Alex eagerly ate up. And of course there was rice! So at least I had something to eat ;)

After dinner it was time to go to the plaza in Jama where the New Years celebration was taking place. Walking through the streets of Jama was one of the weirdest experiences I have had - we were so on display! The people were openly staring at us while we walked with Juan Carlos' family. They loved it! Little Isabel decided instantly that she and I would be best friends and that she wanted to parade me around town since I was such a novelty. And parade me she did! I spent a good hour walking hand in hand with Isabel as she introduced me to everyone she knew (which was pretty much everyone since it's not a big city). Isabel also decided that she should be the photographer for the event so she also commandeered my camera. Note - all the New Years photos in Jama were taken by the lovely Isabel.

When we got to the plaza our group rented a table and plastic chairs that some men put out for us. And there we sat while drinking beer and watching the people arrive. Juan Carlos' family is well known in the community for a variety of reasons. He claims to have been a pro football player for a time (this is actually true) so everyone thinks they know him. Plus, his dad is extremely active in the religious community and Isabel senior is the local seamstress. Since everyone knew them we they would come over to say hello which involves at least a hug if not a kiss on the cheek. I don't know how may people I kissed on the cheek that night but it was a lot!

Another funny thing about Ecuador is how the women throw their daughters at Alex. All of the ladies were very excited to see him and to meet him. He, of course, provided the obligatory kiss on the cheek to each and every one of them! My favorite story of the night involves a beautiful girl that said she was interested in Alex. So at midnight we told Alex to go over to her and kiss her since it is the custom in Ecuador. Alex got up the nerve to walk across the plaza, tap her on the shoulder, wish her Happy New Years and then kiss her on the cheek. Too bad it was the wrong girl! That's right, he kissed the wrong girl and the "right" girl must have been unimpressed as she was only about 20 feet away. Hilarious.

Let me tell you about drinking in groups while in Ecuador. Again it was the Pilseners which we bought two at a time for our table of 8, over and over again. Two beers gets split among 8 people easily when you only have two glasses. Did I say glasses? I meant small plastic cups. The process is for whoever bought the beer to fill a cup with beer and pass it to the person next to them. When you get the cup it's your job to drink the beer - no sipping here, hurry up! - and give the empty glass back to the person so they can fill it for the next person. It's a little weird to get use to at first but pretty soon I was chugging plastic cups of beer with the best of them.

It was chugging all of those cups of beer that got me dancing in the middle of the plaza in front of hundreds of Ecuadorians all staring at the white girls dancing! Andrea and Juan Carlos party together all of the time and therefore, are great dancers together. They are funny with their dance moves, it almost looked like they were trying out for Dancing With the Stars! Dancing with Juan Carlos' friend was fun and showed me the steps, but it was terribly embarrassing and I still can't believe I did it. See the pictures, there's proof.

When midnight came it was time to burn the effigies. In Andrea's part of Ecuador the people make effigies of people that have had bad years or that need good luck in the coming year. They burn them at midnight to bring the good luck. However, when we talked about New Years with the Kings they said that they burned effigies of people they wanted to have BAD luck in Puyo. Interesting that there was such a difference. Isabel walked me around town some more then to make sure I saw all of the different burnings.

At around 1am we called it a night in Jama and headed back to Tabuga. Mom and I were ready for bed but Andrea asked us to drop her and Alex off in Tabuga proper to see if there were any parties still going on. There certainly must have been! Those two came crawling into bed at around 4am! But that's their story to tell.....

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Story Continues - Our First Trip to Tabuga

It's time for me to get this story finished. For all of you that keep asking what happened after arriving in Tabuga - now you'll know!

So we awoke in Tabuga on New Year's Eve ready to learn more about where Andrea lives and the people of Tabuga. We woke up pretty late after driving the whole day before and not getting in until after 1am. Alessandro and his family fixed us an amazing breakfast with fresh fruit, bread and Italian meats. I watched them pick a GIANT papaya right from the tree and then cut it up for us. It was awesome.

Alessandro's ranch is a great eco-tourism place. We had our own house complete with kitchen, dining room and two beds. The only not cool thing - tons of spiders. I mean tons of them. Andrea says they're wood spiders and that they wouldn't touch us but I was freaked. If I hadn't been so exhausted the night before I'm not sure I would have been able to sleep. But she was right, the spiders never bothered us.

The people and animals there are fantastic. Alessandro is helped by his girlfriend Cleopatra (Cleo) who is very progressive Ecuadorian woman. She hosts a radio show on Sunday mornings and is involved in the community. In addition, Alessandro's mother was visiting from Italy while we were there. She was a riot and spoke to us in rapid Italian that we (of course) didn't really understand. The farm also has a dog family that lives there and we played with the dogs quite a bit (look at the albums to see Blanco and Flea/Negrito playing with Toni and Ang). Like all dogs in Ecuador these dogs are filthy and aren't cared for in the traditional American sense. They're all matted and aren't allowed inside. One of the dogs is a little black puppy that was the cutest thing ever if you could look past his gooey eyes, crusty face and slight smell. The family appropriately called him Flea (but in spanish). We called him the Little Black One or Negrito. Too cute.

After fueling up for the day with some breakfast we hopped into the car to go to Tabuga and meet Andrea's "family". Tabuga is a beautiful village filled with some of the friendliest people I have ever met. It is an extremely poor area with a population of about 400 people. See Andrea's blog for a better description. The people where all excited about our arrival and many were waving to us from their windows or yard as we drove to Andrea's house.

When we got to Andrea's we met her parents, two teenage brothers and her younger brother Angel. Here is where we got our first taste of Ecuadorian manners and customs. Even though the house living room was completely empty minus a TV and some chairs, they pulled out the chairs and made us sit there while they stood around us and stared. Very funny. Andrea's mom gave us yogurt as it is custom to offer some sort of food or beverage when a guest comes over.

Andrea had asked Mom to bring gifts down for everyone in her family so we got to see her mom receive plastic oven mitts - she thought they were hilarious! Angel got a cool Tonka truck and he liked it so much he didn't want to take it out of the package. Really cute.

We also got to see Andrea's room for the first time. It's funny how much it resembles a typical American dorm room. Andrea has lots of decorations and has used every inch of her room to maximize space. She even has a hammock that she pulls down and when she sits in it she sort of hovers over her kitchen table. Look for a shot of her in the photo albums. It was really nice to see just where she lives and that her place is safe. Plus her family is extremely nice and they take care of her.

The family has a really nice house by Tabuga standards. We only saw the first floor (I assume the bedrooms were upstairs) but their kitchen is large and set up with (fairly) modern cooking equipment. They also have a "real" toilet in an outhouse-like bathroom. In fact, they just rebuilt their bathroom prior to our arrival and it is now concrete and not wood - fancy! In the backyard the family has a large birdcage with a bird of prey in it. So cool to see up close (again look at the photo albums). Andrea did say that the bird is endangered in Ecuador though and so the family isn't really suppose to have it. I hope I haven't blown their cover by posting it here ;)

We brought a few Frisbees down to Ecuador so Alex decided to teach the children of Tabuga his favorite sport. Alex, Angel and another local boy played for a while. The other boy, Richard, was a natural. Angel, not so much. There was plenty of chasing the Frisbee around as it was thrown into bushes, gardens and rock piles. It was adorable to watch though and the kids loved Alex - I guess I should say they love Alex since he is still there!

After playing in Tabuga and meeting people it was time to head back to Alessandro's for some rest and to get ready for New Year's. We wasted our afternoon away lazily swinging in hammocks and reading. Does it get better than that?

After a great Italian late lunch of shrimp and pasta we started getting ready for our trip to Jama for New Year's Eve. We had a Crosby Family Photo Shoot thanks to Alessandro and Cleo (they liked seeing us "dressed up") and then jumped into the car for the 20 minute drive to Jama.

Wanna know what we did on New Year's? - You'll have to wait for the next post. That adventure deserves it's own entry!