Our Christmas week started out with a children's parade right outside our windows. Dressed in their finery and strewing rose petals as they walked, the parade was led by a manger scene on a float. Many of the youngsters were dressed like Biblical characters from the nativity. This was a 8 o'clock in the morning!
Brian & Shelley went out grocery shopping while Jan stayed at home waiting for the workmen to fix the leak in the ceiling. On return, Brian & Jan went out to pick up some coffee and see Jan's travel agent while Shelley stayed at home waiting for the workmen to fix the leak in the ceiling. Finally, when we were all at home and both the boys were down for an afternoon nap the workmen arrived (around 3:00). They stayed until around 6:00 melting pipes & strewing ceiling tiles & cement chips everywhere. When Shelley first asked the English speaker workman if this would take care of the leak, his response was: "I don't know!?" and a shrug of his shoulders.
"At least he's honest" Shelley told Brian later on.
We've still got a 2 foot hole in the ceiling but it does seem the leak is gone. One bright spot was that our neighbour, who owns the apartment upstairs (which was the source of the problem), came down to see if everything was OK. Through discussing it with her, we finally had a pretty clear understanding of what the problem was. Somehow knowing is easier than a mystery leak.
That evening we went to a Christmas concert at Eglesia Corazon de Jesus, which is only a few blocks from our place. It was put on by the Orquesta Sin Fonica de Cuenca and they played everything from Irving Berlin's White Christmas to several pieces we had never heard before but which were obviously big favourites with Ecuadorians. The concert also featured a terrific tenor (Juan Carlos Cerna) and an outstanding soprano (Vanesa Freire). Ms. Freire wore her hair in pigtails and was about 4 1/2 feet tall but she had a voice 5 times bigger than she was! We sat with a couple of other ExPats who we just happened to run into there and when the orchestra played a medley of traditional North American and European carols we finally felt like it was really Christmas.
Bright & early the next morning (8 a.m.) we were out the door heading to the bus station for our trip to Loja and then on to Vilcabamba. We arrived in Vilcabamba at 4:30 and proceeded directly to our hostal (Jardin Escondido) where we were immediately escorted to our rooms, unpacked in like 5 seconds, and rushed down to have their wonderful (!) tortilla soup. The concrete road between Cuenca & Loja, which they were just starting last February/March when we last took this trip, was well on its way. There were certainly rough patches on the road but they'd made great progress. We wondered out loud how the progress would be going now that the price of crude oil was way down.
After supper our first night, we set the pace for the rest of our trip by taking a wander through town, sitting in the square people watching for awhile and then going to bed early and sleeping 12 hours! Somewhat groggy Christmas Eve morning, we headed down for a breakfast of fresh fruit, eggs, Vilcabamba's hearty specialty bread, coffee & fresh squeezed juice. After breakfast we took another tour around town and discovered one of their major bridges had been washed out since last we'd been there.
We continued in our arduous undertakings by valiantly trying to get a picture of the hummingbirds who flocked to Jardin Escondido (without success) as well as the little yellow birds with the big voices (with success). Shelley went for a swim in the pool (very refreshing) and the boys, totally exhausted from our busy schedule, had a good long afternoon nap.
We're sorry to report that the only cappuccino place in Vilcabamba is no longer in business. The first thing we did upon arrival back at home in Cuenca was brew up a good cup of coffee. Every night we were alternatively awakened by chickens in panic, roosters crowing just because they can, dogs braying at the moon or doing their job barking at people walking past and motorcycles roaring up the street. We'd take turns turning on the light and reading for an hour and then going back to sleep.
We were lucky enough to catch a Santa event for the children of Vilcabamba. Santa (who'd lost an awful lot of weight) and his helper (a rather rotund clown) danced to salsa music and gave the children small presents.
The reason we'd decided to go to Vilcabamba for Christmas was that the winter manager of Jardin Escondido puts on a full meal deal Canadian Christmas dinner for all who are around. It was a lovely evening, where we stuffed ourselves on canapés and bubbly wine & red wine & nut dressing, turkey, cranberry sauce (which the manager was very proud to have been able to find), gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, ice cream, chocolate sauce and strawberries. Jan ate 2 plates! Shelley's stomach hurt. Brian got happy as a result of being able to drink for the first time in several weeks.
One of the resident ExPats advised us that the Valley of Longevity rumour about Vilcabamba was a conspiracy designed by a real estate agent who has since been banished from Ecuador. Apparently the agent would talk the local people into adding 20 or so years to their age and: "The guy whose picture is on all the T-shirts, he's dead!" We don't know ~ just reporting what we heard.
Boxing day was spent strenuously sitting in the square admiring the local parrot & of course, eating. Shelley stepped on the scale upon arrival home and immediately instructed Brian: "Don't ask!"
Bussing home between Loja and San Lucas we took a different lower road (all dirt) along a river. When we'd taken that route in February/March we'd assumed it was because the upper road had been washed out, but now figured out that this particular bus serviced this lower road. It was a fascinating drive through rural Ecuador picking up and dropping indigenous people and their baskets of fruit & corn & what have you; very scenic and a part of Ecuador most folks don't get to see.