Rio Dulce, Guatemala, Christmas
Our Pre-Christmas Party
On December 23rd, we hosted a small pre-Christmas party for our friends here at Monkey Bay Marina. About fourteen people attended. We baked our favorite rum cake and got three gallons of Neapolitan ice cream from the local Sarita store, and Sandy kindly added delicious cookies to the menu. It turned out to be quite a fight to get the heavily frozen ice cream out of the box, but it was finally accomplished using a bowl of hot water and a knife. Once the food was served, everyone settled down in the rancho (a big palapa with lots of comfortable couches and chairs) with their drinks, to watch a somewhat rude but hilarious Christmas movie called “The Ref”, starring Denis Leary. There was lots of ice cream left over, so we suggested to the guardian that he and his family have some. They took us very much at our word, and practically cleaned out the box. It was fun knowing that we had brought such a nice taste treat into their lives … and it put us all very much in anticipation of the grand Christmas morning we had planned for them. More on that, with pictures, is available further on in the web site. You may notice that in one of the pictures a guest is holding up a small, wrapped package. Each of our guests received a gift that Jim had made for them, and there is a story behind the gifts … Jim has become quite proficient in sewing. He has made numerous covers for equipment on our boat, and has also repaired and added skirts to the mizzen sail cover. He has fallen quite in love with the Sailrite marine sewing machine, and was delighted when friend Paul sold him the machine we had borrowed from him. These machines are very heavy, and they come in cases that have only two clasps holding the cases together. Jim was concerned that one of the borrowed cases might come apart, and drop the sewing machine. He responded to this possibility by sewing heavy plastic buckles onto two strong strips of webbing, to strap the cases closed. This worked so well that he decided to make straps for all our friends who had sewing machines on board. And, it seemed likely that those who did not have them would surely have a use for two strong straps. Everyone was delighted, we are happy to say. There are pictures of Jim sewing both on this web site, and on his Maintenance Log on Google Docs. Perhaps an alternative career path?
Casa Guatemala Orphanage - Christmas Eve
The story starts with our laundry … yes, hard to imagine, but it’s true. A local orphanage down the river runs the Backpackers’ hotel, restaurant, and laundry service up here in our area. The hotel is a short dingy ride from our marina, and going there makes getting laundry done easier and less expensive than doing it ourselves here at the marina. The orphanage is called Casa Guatemala, and the manager, a lovely young Canadian woman named Heather, has an office at Backpackers’. Evidently she had been eyeing Jim as a possible Santa for their big Christmas Eve event for the children, and she was absolutely delighted when he cheerfully accepted. This newly found relationship with the orphanage put us in the mainstream of their preparations, which included not only the arrival of Santa by “sleigh” (great pictures of the launcha, complete with dazzling lights and "reindeer") but also preparing a wonderfully festive turkey dinner for the forty orphans, and then serving the 600 Mayan children from surrounding villages each with tamales and a gift! We roped all the folks at our marina into helping … and they forged ahead with great aplomb, starting earlier in the week.
Having the privacy and confidence of being able to talk to women, Heather had shared with us the need for bras and panties for some of the older girls. She also shared Christmas letters to Santa with us, and we were all humbled to see that the single most requested item was socks! This from children who normally wear only flip-flops, or who often go bare footed. But, they usually have one dress up outfit, and everyone, even the boys, asked for socks to go with the special apparel. We ladies pooled our financial resources and hit the streets of Fronteras in search of undies, and, of course, some toys … mostly balls.
On the morning of the 24th, several ladies went to Backpackers’ to help prepare the meal there, which would later be sent by boat down to the orphanage. (The meal was a great success, and it was fun to help serve all the children. We also made a contribution to the food fund, and ate dinner with them.)
At dusk, on the 24th, John, our marina manager, took us to Backpackers’ to get Santa dressed up. Then John returned to our marina to pick up all the folks there and take them down to the orphanage in the marina launcha. We rode in the Santa boat … great pictures of that follow. Jim stood a good bit of the way, waving to the children on shore who look forward every year to seeing Santa floating down the river on Christmas Eve. No way do they think about a sleigh coming from the North Pole. However, they do expect a jolly Santa in a bright red suit and hat. And, as you will see, Jim was fully outfitted in same … and it was a very hot suit indeed. Fortunately, it was cool enough in the evening that it wasn’t all torture, although the pillow belted to his tummy, under the red jacket, let no air through and he was pretty warm at any rate. But, he was wonderful. He kept up the smiles, and the Ho! Ho! Ho!s all evening … even during the gift giving for over six hundred children.
The evening was a huge success, and the smaller children were absolutely convinced that this year they had gotten a visit from the real Santa, rather than one of his helpers. Hopefully, the pictures that accompany this article will convey to you the beauty and wonderment of the Christmas that we were privileged to share. For us, this was an awesome Christmas, indeed.
Following are the pictures we decided to put on our web page. If you would like to see more pictures of the Casa Guatemala Orphanage in general, and specifically this Christmas, please look at these two URL's which are on Facebook. Navidad 2010 and Christmas through the eyes of Brayan and Mario thanks to Gill!!
Some of the letters written by the children to Santa.
Christmas Party For Our Guardian's Children
In Guatemala, it is customary, and indeed almost necessary, for any outsiders who are in residence here to have a property Guardian. Often this is a shared responsibility amongst rotating guards who carry weapons, or, as is our case at Monkey Bay Marina, there may be a Guatemalan family in residence. These presences affect a measure of security and safety, as well as providing maintenance support for the property, and also enhance good relationships with the locals. We are fortunate to have a happy and helpful family of six who live in a small residence here (a little wooden building with palm thatched roof, an outdoor sink, and an open fire for cooking). Early in the fall, we who have our boats in the marina, and Hal, who used to live here (and who is so close to the family that the youngest child is named after his grandfather) started collaborating on what we would like to do for the family for Christmas. Money would, of course, have been welcome, but, by law, the owners of the marina must pay the Guardian a month’s salary as a Christmas bonus. Since our Guardian and his family live very well by Guatemalan standards, and we didn’t think they really needed more money at this time, we opted for the fun stuff.
And again, Jim donned the Santa Claus suit, and prepared for the delighted surprise of children. How very lucky (and sentimental) he is to have this gift. His eyes do sparkle when he does this, and every so often, if you look rather closely, you can see a little extra moisture there. Children in all nations call out to him on the streets around Christmas time, wondering if they have lucked into a special sighting of Santa. I know he has wonderful memories of this Christmas with so very many children. And his gift of exuding happiness extended to all of us who are far from home and missing our own children, of all ages, so very much.
Our marina manager, John (great picture of him in a Santa hat, with a distinctly “Grinch” expression on his face ;-) kindly managed the Christmas present fund, to which we all contributed, and he did the shopping. Our biggest excitement was getting a Notebook computer for Alan, the oldest boy. Alan is now 12, and is a delightful and smart boy … really, almost a young man now. (If he was a girl, he could, by law, marry if he wanted to do so. But, boys must wait until they are 16.) Alan does go to school, and does well there, though we despair over the poor education here, and wish that we could help him towards better opportunities. He is so bright and very ambitious for his age. We were also tickled to be able to get the two girls their very first bicycles, with training wheels. There isn’t much room for them to ride around here, but there are the big rancho area and some board walkways that are not part of the docks … fine for beginners. In the pictures, you can see charming Abby, with the dark hair and sparkling eyes, who is 5; and, Bertilda, who is built like a little tank, and is just as tough, and who is 3. The baby of the family is Tomas, now a bit over 1. He is readily identified as the cutie on the elephant tricycle. We also pooled our pictures of the family, and gave a nice photo album to Efrain (the father, and Guardian) and Yanira (the mother). There is also a picture of Santa giving a Christmas kiss to Petra, a lovely young woman whom John is helping go to school near here. We all contributed some Christmas cash to John’s efforts on Petra’s behalf.
We had a wonderful Christmas morning. We had dressed up the rancho with Christmas decorations, including a very clever and dearly appreciated wall hanging of a Christmas tree, complete with baubles and lights, that my sister, Kathy, gave me some years ago when she swallowed the hook. Our daughter-in-law, Tina, had provided some sparkly, fold-out silver snowflakes some years ago, courtesy of a beer company, I think; and, we had lights from the marina Christmas box … despite the best efforts of our resident curmudgeon, John, to bah-humbug the decorations. Of course, you will notice that it is John who is down on the floor adjusting bicycles heights and playing with the children.
No Christmas morning is complete without hot chocolate and marshmallows, and lots of homemade cookies, and we were no exception. As is usually the case, the children wolfed down the taste treats, and became absorbed in their gifts. We adults toasted one another with mimosas, courtesy of Terry and Sandy, and wandered away to our boats to prepare for the Christmas luncheon that awaited us up river.
Christmas Luncheon At Las Mexicanas/Kangaroo's
Knowing that we had a very busy Christmas schedule ahead of us, and being well aware of the wonderful food that our friends, Graciela (the Mexican owner of Las Mexicanas Restaurante) and Gary (the Australian owner of Kangaroo’s Restaurant) planned for the holiday, all of us at Monkey Bay Marina made reservations early for a Christmas luncheon at their combined establishment. Originally, it sounded as if there would be about 20 people, mostly us, and the gathering would be almost like a family occasion. However, when word got out that Graciela was preparing Mexican pork leg, Gary was preparing prawns, “Aussie-style”, and their friend Pierre (a wonderful professional French cook from Canada) was doing turkey with all the trimmings, the numbers swelled. The restaurant was stuffed with over 60 people, and the staff got a little overwhelmed. But they did a wonderful job, despite someone having bumped a very sharp chef’s knife off a table and having it stab poor Pierre in the foot. We, along with our friend, Jennifer, a 20+ year resident here on the river, headed back to the kitchen to help out. Jen and I peeled potatoes and apples, and graciously performed a few quality control checks on the food, and Jim carved the turkeys.
Due to the surprising number of people (not all of whom had made reservations, of course), dinner was delayed for quite some time, which fueled the attendees with extra drinks, louder voices, and rather creative dancing. When the food arrived, it was delicious. There wasn’t enough for seconds, which was a shame, as we could have really stuffed ourselves. But, no one went away hungry, and we had a merry time visiting and enjoying the atmosphere of being way back up in the jungle. The picture of the food is of the dessert, which was homemade chocolate chip ice cream and chocolate covered strawberries.
Most of the accompanying pictures are of the Monkey Bay contingent arriving at the restaurant in our dinghies, which is the only way to get there. This is our main mode of travel as there are few roads, and most places here are accessible only by boat. This is a delightful way to travel, given that the weather is almost always wonderful. As you can see from the smiling faces, we were all anticipating a good time … and the hosts did not disappoint.