Monday, December 26, 2016

The Salsa Carollers (for a Peruvian Christmas)

26 December 2016

It's always interesting to experience a holiday in another country.
So, Christmas in Lima.  We missed all of this last year, because we flew to Santiago, Chile.  Didn't know that Christmas in Lima is a blast.  Literally!

On Christmas Eve day, our hostale manager invited us to dinner that evening.  She said there would be other guests there, they had a big turkey, and it would be fun.  Things got started a bit after 9 PM, with a gathering of other people staying here - the group was mostly people from Colombia and Brazil, and a few people spoke some English.  So we had some conversations in English and Spanish, while music played in the background.  (I recognized one piece which we danced the merengue to in our ballroom dancing class!)

Of course, we wanted to bring a gift for our hostess, so we picked up a paneton (the Spanish word for panettone, the Italian Christmas bread) after sampling this brand at the supermarket.  (And it was served for breakfast this morning, the day after Christmas.)

Anyway, dinner was served maybe around 9:30-10 PM, with wonderful turkey, rice pilaf with raisins, and a tasty potato salad.  Red wine, and dessert was a cheesecake with sort of a blueberry topping.  
Then people got up and danced to the music - I'm guessing it would qualify as salsa dancing, but like tango, there's the North American version and the South American version.  So not exactly (or much like) what I know, but still lively and fun.  Not that Richard and I danced, but I watched for a while.

We went back up to our room - and there were occasional firecrackers, Roman candles, bottle rockets, and even huge fireworks going off.  A few right outside our window, so we could see the flashing and exploding colors.  Others down the street, loud enough to hear but not close enough to see.

Until midnight!  At midnight, the festivities absolutely erupted!  Huge fireworks, tons of firecrackers, things flashing and banging and booming and exploding all around us!  I love fireworks, so we ran downstairs to see what was happening - though everyone else was still dancing and/or hugging each other and wishes everyone Feliz Navidad.  I was grabbed for a few hugs, gave my own Feliz Navidads, and headed down the street - and there were actual huge exploding fireworks going off randomly all around the sky!  Some we could see, some were reflected in apartment windows.  Like a chaotic New Year's Eve but for Christmas!!!!!  How exciting!!!!

Things continued for a while, with people running around setting off strings of firecrackers on the street, but it was quieter by about 2 AM, so I finally went to sleep. 

Christmas started out fairly normal, with things quiet and slow.  Breakfast at the hostale.  Back to our room to check email and figure out what we wanted to do - and then we could hear a small brass band playing Christmas carols, getting closer and closer!

They came wandering down our street, about five or six men wearing Santa hats, with a saxophone, a trumpet or two, a couple of drums - playing music and holding out baseball caps for monetary donations!  They played "Feliz Navidad" and a couple of carols like "Joy to the World" - all with a very salsa beat in their style!  

I stood at our window and took some photos, but didn't have any change to toss down to them.  (And I know, from Myanmar, that bills thrown out of windows tend to waft and not go directly to people.)

It was just a very funny way of carolling, to come walking from house to house with this little salsa band!

This is one of the things we've noticed in travelling around South and Central America:  things seem familiar, because these are western cultures, and predominantly Christian (usually Catholic), and so it feels somewhat similar to the US, where we grew up.  The culture doesn't immediately come across as so very different and foreign, the way all of Asia and many of the Pacific islands felt - when we not only didn't know the language or culture, but we often couldn't even read the signs on buildings or streets.

But Central and South America really are very different from North America, and we feel that every time we come to something like a celebration of a holiday.  When was the last time you had fireworks for Christmas?  (I've never seen this, ever - though I don't celebrate Christmas.  But have you ever seen fireworks anywhere in the USA for Christmas?  And isn't it a fun idea?)

So even though the culture feels familiar and similar, then there are these startling differences that make us think, "Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore."

Sandwiches.  You'd think sandwiches would be, well, sandwiches.  And yes, there are some vaguely familiar sandwiches.

But most sandwiches are presented in a triple - which is pronounced TREEP-lay.  Yes, this is a triple-decker sandwich.  Four levels of bread, three different fillings.  Always served only a half at a time, because you really are getting two slices of bread, and a half portion of three fillings.

My favorite are the tuna salad-egg salad-tomato triple.  Then there's the egg-tomato-avocado triple.  A mixto (pronounced MEEX-to) is pretty much always ham and cheese, and is often served either as a double-decker sandwich, or on a croissant.  Plus almost always heated so the cheese is a bit melty.

We've also seen seven layer sandwiches, some a work of art.  Really, picture seven different fillings, lots of vegs in there with the cheese, egg, ham, or chicken.  Each layer of filling a different color.  No idea how someone opens their mouth big enough to take a bite.  

And the money!  I love the bills!  You know how in most of the world, paper currency usually has a picture of a famous person on one side of the bill.  The other side usually features an historic building.  Right?

So this is Peru.  And what is the single most famous historic building in Peru?  Okay, not one individual building, think group of buildings, or archaeological site.  Of course, Machu Picchu.  So the ten soles bill features Machu Picchu on the back!!!!  With some pre-Columbian artifacts as well.  How cool is that???  I absolutely love it!

The twenty features a wall of the ancient city of Chan Chan, which is up north near the modern city of Trujillo.  This city flourished in the period between about 850 to 1470 CE and was the capital of the Chimu civilization.  This civilization lost influence after the Inca gained power.

On the back of the fifty, there's the New Temple of Chavin de Huantar, another archaeological complex north of Lima (and at an elevation of over 9000 ft).  This temple was built by the Chavin culture in (approximately) 1200 BCE, so it's some 3000 years old!!!

Finally, the back of the 100 sol bill features the Gran Pajaten, located in the northern Amazonian region.  This is an archaeological complex that goes back to about 200 BCE, built by the Chachapoyas civilization.  It also is possibly the city thought to be El Dorado, the city of gold, which the Spanish conquistadors sought.

Who knew money could be a mini art history lesson?

If you want more information, I found this great website:

We're still enjoying our time in Lima - it's a great little city.  We visit the kitty park, visit our neighborhood cafés, eat takeaway meals in the park, and spend a little time in our nearby casinos.  (Where we were served the holiday snack of hot chocolate and a small slice of paneton one afternoon!)  

We now have our Brazilian visas in our passports, so we're good on that.

Richard still has a bit more dental work to finish up - his dentist is on a holiday break, so we're just waiting until he's back and things can get finalized.

Once we know when we can leave, we'll figure out where we want to go.  We have a plan that begins in early February, but that leaves part of January to maybe visit another country.

We'll keep everyone posted!

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