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Thankful.

21 Nov

Thanksgiving arrives a little earlier here in Australia, so we’re busy stuffing our faces even though it’s really still just Wednesday for most of our friends and family.  This is my favorite of the American holidays, so much so that I requested that my mother make the full turkey feast for us on Halloween in 2011 since we were leaving just a few weeks before Thanksgiving.  We sat around the table with construction paper caps – Pilgrim buckled hats for the men, feathered headdresses for the women – and took turns answering the door for the trick-or-treaters.

Just a few weeks later we were preparing our favorites again with friends in Santiago, thrilled that we got to have a second traditional turkey dinner with expats who craved the stuffing and cranberries just as much as we did.

This year we’re in Melbourne, Australia and we’ll probably have enough food left over to have seconds for breakfast on Friday morning, which might coincide nicely with the actual meal time state side.

All month we’ve been reading the ‘Today I’m thankful for…’ posts of our friends and family on Facebook.  One of the side effects of all our travel has been that we realize how thankful we are, not just on Thanksgiving or in the weeks leading up to it, but every day and for all the things we tend to take for granted.  We all struggle in our lives to varying degrees, but this world is filled with adversity on a scale that’s so enormous many of us can’t even fathom it.  This year we’ve seen poverty in such magnitude that we thought our hearts might break on the spot.  We’ve seen sickness that can’t be treated and pollution that may never be eradicated.

On the flip side, we’ve seen incredible love and generosity between people, even in the face of insurmountable hardship.  We’ve also seen some of the amazing things that people can produce – towering monuments and architectural wonders, as well as art that only begins to scratch the surface of mankind’s creativity.

This year we are thankful for everything.  That’s right everything.  We’re thankful for the times we’ve laughed and fought and cried and sang and danced and mourned and questioned and doubted and hoped.  We’re thankful for our families and our friends and even for the people who don’t like us so much. I guess what I’m trying to say is that we’re so grateful to have our messy little lives in the midst of this one crazy and beautiful world.

Photo Friday – Offerings in Bali

5 Oct

We were fortunate to be touring temples in Ubud, Bali during a holiday based around the full moon (though the celebration only happens either twice per year, or once every seven months…we keep getting conflicting information).  The temples were packed with locals, the women dressed in brightly colored silks while the men wore crisp white shirts and patterned sarongs.   We hung around on the sidelines and watched dozens of women parade by, carrying the offerings – gigantic platters of fruits, roasted duck, and sweets – on their heads.

Merry Christmas!

25 Dec

On the path to the San Francisco glacier

We spent Christmas Eve hiking up in the Cajon Del Maipo (more about that in a future post) and grilling up another delicious steak.

Incidentally, I discovered where Santiago has been hiding its Christmas Spirit.  It was alive and well all along at an enormous mall in Las Condes.   I made a mad dash there late on the 23rd in an attempt to replace the fleece that I lost in Valpariaso, and the instant I entered the doors I was awash in the sparkling lights, heaps of cotton snow, and holiday consumerism that is typical of home.

I managed to get my fleece and get out without being sucked in by the appropriately extravagant window displays, which seemed to scream “Ashley! You totally need a new summer dress!!!”.  I did, however, stick around long enough to see Santa in his rightful place – a giant throne, surrounded by lovely elves in very short skirts.

On the walk back to the subway I cranked up the Christmas mix on my iPod, and the irony of listening to “Baby It’s Cold Outside” while wondering if I had applied enough sunscreen to prevent yet another sunburn, did not escape me.

Feliz Navidad?

23 Dec

In the USA, decorating for the holidays starts so early that you have to be living under a rock somewhere to not realize what time of year it is.  Cities have begun to put decorations on public streets earlier and earlier, while holiday music creeps into the background before the first snowfall in the northern states.

I am a true Colorado girl and it takes a certain mix of signals, including snow, egg nog and lots of blinking lights, to really get me in the Christmas spirit.  Here in Santiago?  Well, let’s just say I keep forgetting it’s even December.

First off, there’s blazing sunshine and sweltering heat every day.

Christmas spirit in the Santiago cemetery

Second, there are no trees.  Christmas trees I mean.  Even in NYC there were makeshift stands lined up along the Avenues starting as early as mid-November.  Practically anywhere with a small patch of floor space, be it an office building lobby, the supermarket, or the deli on the corner of 16th and 6th Ave, would have a tree up no later than the first week of December.  Interestingly enough, we saw quite a few miniature trees all decorated up during our trip to the main cemetery here in Santiago earlier this week.

Third, the traditional decorations are few and far between.  I’m used to seeing storefronts dripping with tinsel, lights and elaborate window displays. Storefronts that demand you spend your precious holiday dollars with them because they have exactly what you need and you can’t get it anywhere else.  Here? Well, every once in a while we see a paper Santa face (circa 1976) hung in a window.  In Valparaiso we were eating in a little restaurant and it took us the better part of an hour to notice the one solitary Christmas bulb hanging by a pathetic strand of garland at the top of the window.

I don’t mean to say there is NO holiday spirit to be seen in Santiago, I mean Chile is officially a Catholic country and Christmas is a national holiday here.  We have seen wrapping paper for sale in a few places, there was a display of decorations available for purchase at a local market, and we heard the Spanish version of ‘Walking in a Winter Wonderland’ at the supermarket a week ago.  It’s just that our senses haven’t been assaulted with holiday cheer like they would be at home.

We have, however, seen Santa in a few surprising places.

Santa decorations were spotted in Lima, Peru at the very beginning of November!

It's too hot for reindeer in Valparaiso, so Santa rides the boat like the rest of us.

The economic downturn has apparently extended it's reach to the North Pole as evidenced by the fact that Santa is moonlighting with Groupon to help pad his income.

How will we be spending our Christmas?  Since most everything will be closed, we’ll be cooking at home (helllloooo grilled pork tenderloin with homemade mango and apple chutney…and this, recipe is at the end of the post), sampling a traditional Chilean holiday drink called Cola de Mono (kind of like a White Russian, or a Mudslide), skyping with family, and watching the season finale of Dexter online.

Happy Holidays, wherever you may be!

Feeling the Love in Ollantaytambo

13 Dec

Ollantaytambo, Peru

We intended to spend just one, or maybe two days in Ollantaytambo.

The thing about intentions is that you never really know where you might end up if you let them run off course.

On our way back from Machu Picchu we decided to stop over in this little village – there are more ruins there and I have a vague recollection about it being one of the places where the Inca really held out on a battle against the Spanish.  In any case, those ruins are included in the tourist boleto and we were hell-bent to get our money’s worth on that particular purchase.

"I can haz snuggles?"

We chose our hostel based entirely on the fact that the write-up said they had cats, and we really miss our own kitties.  It was as simple as that.

We arrived exhausted after getting up at 5 am and tromping around in the scorching heat all day, so we were a little disoriented when we walked into the common area and found a group of people popping champagne and the hostel owner scurrying around with bags of groceries and packages of flowers.

We had walked into a pre-wedding celebration.  The hostel owner’s sister was to be married the next day, and she was frantically trying to finish preparing for the festivities.

Recalling the insanity that was the night before our own wedding, we asked if there was anything we could do to help.  It didn’t take long before we found ourselves chopping carrots, peeling garlic, arranging flowers, hanging garland and moving tables and chairs around.

Flowers dry in the sun

By the next morning, we had been invited to attend the two-day celebration.  We were told to be ready to go at 9.

Good thing the groom has a sense of humor...

Apparently the bride has a long history of being late, and this day was no exception.  As we waited, we got the opportunity to get to know the groom and his family (from Germany) and receive our traditional decoration to wear to the first ceremony, which was really a two-for-one with a civil service and the traditional shaman ceremony.

Justin gets some traditional flair

To begin the traditional ceremony, the wedding party and guests paraded through town, following the Shaman who spent the better part of the 20 minute walk blowing on a conch shell to alert our presence to everyone in the area.

We wound our way through town, over a fence, into a horse meadow, past some crops, over an irrigation ditch and into a cornfield.

There are small ruins scattered all through the Sacred Valley, many of which are never seen by tourists as they are too small or are located in someone’s field.  I can’t think of a more stunning place to be married.

The ceremony was long (3 hours), and at times, intense.  We didn’t understand most of what the shaman was saying, but overall we got the gist of what was happening.

Unlike most weddings we’ve been to, the ceremony involved a lot of guest participation, especially with the parents.

At one point the men and women were separated and sent into different areas.  We gathered in our circles, the women with the bride and the men with the groom.  We were given some kind of herbs to smoke (not those kind of herbs…) and as we each took a puff, we were asked to give some words of wisdom, advice, or support to the bride and groom.  It was an interesting mix of thoughts, given in German, Spanish, and English and was mostly about marriage and love, but also about staying true to yourself and finding support when you need it.

Mom and sister give advice to the bride.

Something we found very interesting was that during the “I do” part of the ceremony, the bride and groom told each other not only what they liked about their partner, but also what they didn’t like.  People we have spoken to about this ceremony are often confused as to why we would be so drawn to this part since the general consensus seems to be that you shouldn’t be telling your loved one what you don’t like about them, especially at your wedding.

Let’s be real here.  People don’t typically love everything about their partners.  The thing about marriage is that if you go into it thinking everything is going to be perfect and that love conquers all, well, you’re in for a hell of a surprise.  Marriage is a partnership and, like all partnerships, there will be times when the partners don’t agree.  Love, in and of itself, doesn’t solve problems.  People solve problems.  What drew me to that portion in the ceremony was the fact that it was so honest.  They were saying that they loved each other for all the ways that the other person is so wonderful AND that they loved each other in spite of whatever imperfections they might have.   They were really committing, openly and clearly, to their partner as a whole person.

Near then end of the ceremony a young girl came running up with a plastic bag filled with fresh milk.  The parents of both the bride and the groom took turns tossing cups of wine, and this milk, to the four directions.  Afterwards, the bride and groom took turns pouring the rest of the wine and each guest drank from the same cup.

Justin partakes of some ceremonial wine

After it was all said and done, we headed back to the hostel for the first night of the fiesta and a huge homemade meal.

The next day was the traditional Christian ceremony and large reception.  It was held a few kilometers outside of town at Tulupa, a restaurant in yet another stunning little valley.

Tunupa Restaurant in the Sacred Valley

The ceremony was lovely, the food was excellent, and the pisco never stopped flowing.

Like most events where people have been drinking and dancing for 6+ hours, there came a point when the crowd started to get tired and began to take a break from the dancing.  There is a way to stop this.  It’s called “Crazy Hour” and it involves scary clowns with balloons, masks, bizarre hats, confetti, foam (yes, foam) and a serious dose of dance music.  Within seconds everyone, and I mean EVERYONE was back on the floor whooping it back up.  Amazing.

Exhausted, happy, and very drunk we finally piled into a minivan, with the groom’s family and friends, to be carted home sometime in the wee hours of the morning.   The journey may or may not have included rambunctious group singing of various American rock classics, and a rousing chorus of Mein Hut Der Hat Drei Ecken…the only German song I know all the words to.

When we started out on our adventure around the globe we left our itinerary wide open, knowing that we wanted to be available to take advantage of whatever the universe might present for us…for example, a random invite to an incredible wedding.

For more pictures, check out the slide show:

Being Thankful in Santiago

24 Nov

This Thanksgiving is the first of many holidays that we will spend abroad and away from our families on this journey.   It’s not, however, the very first holiday I’ve spent abroad (Thanksgiving in Florence, 1999 springs to mind…what a feast that was, and a story for another time), so one thing we know already is that the holiday is about your own acknowledgement and celebration in whatever way works for you.

I happen to LOVE Thanksgiving, in fact it might even be my favorite holiday.  The food is a huge part of it, but the other part is about really taking time to reflect on your blessings, and to acknowledge the gifts that the universe has granted us in this life.

Before we left we celebrated an early Thanksgiving (on Halloween), and tomorrow will we celebrate again with friends in Santiago, Chile.

Thanksgiving on Halloween 2011

At this moment I am grateful for two turkey feasts in one month!

In all seriousness though, we are thankful for so many things.

We have loving and supportive families.  

We have incredible friends.

We have the opportunity to travel and follow our dreams.

We have each other to share this journey with.

What are you thankful for today?

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