It's a strange thing for me to be south of the equator 2 days before Christmas. For one thing, this is the first time I've ever been away from my family for Christmas and my birthday. For another, it's hot (at least until about 2:00pm) and while the west coast of BC isn't always white and snowy at this time of year, it's rarely at the 25C range. And finally, I'm avoiding (for the most part) the chaos that abounds at this time of year. No baking, no Christmas cards, no shopping, cleaning, or gift wrapping. It leaves me feeling a bit disconnected from the usual festivity of the season.
On the other hand, I'm in Ecuador! We're still in Quito, having arrived here on Monday, and not scheduled to depart until this coming Monday (we came in on Sam's birthday and leave on mine). Somehow, being somewhat disconnected from Christmas doesn't matter too much in light of all the excitement of being back on the road.
It was a challenging few months leading up to the decision to come back south. I was so sure that it was time to settle back down, find work, get an apartment, etc. Money, obviously, is always an issue, and being an unemployed vagabond does not do wonders for the bank account. But when I sat down and really thought about what feels good - it wasn't such a hard decision at all. Both of us feel so much healthier and happier when we're south. We both thrive in this climate. We left our beloved van, LulaBelle, parked in Victoria, and are back to being turtles, carrying our homes on our backs. We are walking everywhere, hours every day, and getting healthier and stronger all the time.
So this year, I'm observing Christmas from a bit of a distance. As locals scurry around doing their last-minute shopping (who can't relate to that?), Sam and I have been taking advantage of everything Quito has to offer. We've spent hours in the old city, wandering around and enjoying the beautiful architecture and artistic, spiralling design of that part of the city. We've ventured into Gringolandia (a term we thought Sam coined, but is now used by taxi drivers, the Lonely Planet, and who knows who else), more formally known as the Mariscal, a very trendy neighbourhood full of backpackers, hostels, expensive restaurants, and shopping up the yin-yang. We have nosed about in every backpacker gear store we've found (quite a lot, actually) looking for maps (they don't sell them) and prudently not buying all other neat things they do sell.
We've also delved into the cultural aspects of the city. Yesterday we toured an art gallery that had a display of Salvador Dali's illustrations. I know he's supposed to be a genius, but honestly, I just found all the work weird and disturbing and couldn't make heads or tails out of what they were supposed to be about. The other part of the gallery was a display of graphic art (graphic like comic book style, not racy or obscene), produced by contemporary Latin American artists. I liked their work a lot better. After that, we went to the museum at the Convent of San Franscisco. This museum displays "the most exquisite and important religious collection of cultural artifacts and works of art from artists who were part of the extraordinary Quitenian School," (to quote the back of my ticket). I don't know about the exquisite part, but it was certainly a large and interesting collection. I found myself trying hard to find the art works beautiful, and failing. It wasn't so much the subject matter - I'm a huge fan of the inspired religious works of Renaissance painters, for example - but rather that all the pieces seemed less about art and more about delivering a strong lesson about the religious teachings. That makes sense, I think, since art has been used to convey information to those who can't read, and 500 years ago, I would guess that these paintings were an important part of religious education. I have no objection to any of that - I just didn't really like the paintings.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and if we stick to our current plan, we'll head up to the Teleferico (a cable car system up a mountain) for some sightseeing. Not sure yet how we'll spend Christmas day, but on Monday, we'll celebrate my birthday by picking up topographical maps from the Institute of Military Geography and then catching a bus to Mindo. From there... who knows, except that we plan to put all our gear and our new topo maps to good use by trekking through the countryside and getting to know Ecuador intimately by foot!
Happy holidays, all! I hope you are enjoying the hustle and bustle and more importantly, that you enjoy time with friends and family when the hustle and bustle dies down.