News from Paute
Summer visited Paute last week. The days were clear and warm, the nights clear and cool. A full moon added to the joy; it was as luminescent as ice.
It is festival season in Paute and we got just what we were longing for: the Pase del Niño Parade … and a party. It was a rousing celebration that drew entire families from virtually every one of the dozens of hamlets and villages perched high in the cloud forest overlooking the valley.
Some uplanders wisely descend into town quite rarely, preferring to remain, literally, above the fray, but this is a special time of year requiring participation in honoring the Passing of the Christ child, so they don their finest clothes, wrap their babies in a shawl, and come down to join the congregation.
This is also the season for blushing teenagers from the campo to shyly glance at one another while fussing with their hair and hoping they chose the right clothes to wear. It is an endless story: youngsters tugging free of their mother’s protective embrace, unaware that if love fails them, there will be no remedy for their heartache.
Adults in their finest riding regalia demonstrated their prowess on horseback, commanding their ponies to canter, pace, gallop and race around an ever-changing obstacle course seemingly known only to the sash draped judges who may or, may not, have been concerned at all about the course, who wins, and who is simply along for the ride. They were busy being toasted and toasting until … you know, they were toasted.
Across town, sidewalks were featured in a race of a different sort. Babies in strollers resembling formula one race cars backed by a crew of siblings and parents were jostling their way around an intricate track, often dodging, sometimes pulling aside, all in an effort to weave a path that would allow them, and every other Christmas shopper, to get to where they are rushing.
It was in this light that I fell in love with Ecuador, once again.
It was ignited with the ecstasy of recalling how, during a previous new year — just five years ago — I traded my sequestered life for enough wind to sail here, to live among frantic and exuberant holiday shoppers circling a town square festooned with tiny blinking lights on a pleasant evening in an idyllic farm town of 25,000 people high in the Andes of Southern Ecuador.
It is the stuff of dreams and magic.
Dusk reluctantly claimed the early evening signaling that the festivities were coming to an end, however, there is always one last parade — a caravan of four-wheel-drive trucks full of pilgrims grinding their way over potholed tracks and climbing higher and higher still until they are where they belong: wrapped in fog with the cows and the horses, and the chickens and the pigs and the birds in the sky.
This celebration will be remembered as a standard for the future. It was easy to feel it; there was a comradery of folks from everywhere up and down the valley who came for a single reason – they longed to be together just as they have always been. They wanted to sing the same songs and say the same prayers, they wanted to eat the same food at the same table, all as one.
The Mayor of Paute, Raul Degado, was so happy he posted over 3,000 photos of the event on Facebook as soon as he got home.
The nags that raced, some all day, were cranky and tired and wanted no more than some feed and the comfort of a familiar corral.
Children slept in their parent’s arms, their heads bent over in dreams, and young men and women fantasized possibilities while still wide awake.
I’m sure many families who celebrated Pase del Nino will spend the evening visiting with friends and family over dinner, and dancing, often swaying way into the night, or early sunrise…
I belatedly broke away from the fun to go shopping for holiday stuff. I began by pretending that I would find cool Christmas gifts in the shops circling the downtown square, but nothing struck my fancy. I didn’t see a single cell phone cover plastered with Disney characters, unnecessary stackable containers from China, tight-fitting dresses, or an array of pharmaceutical medicines that a friend might enjoy for a Christmas present, so I called it a day.
However, I did stumble across a new butcher shop, and chatted with the owner who is affable, bi-lingual, and energetic – he even pulled out a quarter section of lamb to demonstrate what cuts he thinks I might like.
When I dropped in on the senoritas – now in their mid-seventies – for my monthly fix of their homemade marmalade, one asked my wife if I was her father visiting from out of town; my surprise was overwhelmed by everyone’s boisterous laughter.
Chican suits me well. It is the kind of place that encourages you to practice stillness and concentrate on listening. If you wait long enough you will hear a voice, 150 meters below on the valley floor, calling for a friend, the ebb and flow of the Paute River swaying between rough and silky, the clatter of birds, the mooing of cows, and a concert hall of dogs causing a fuss.
If you’d like, you can write down what you hear, but it is not necessary. I do so because I feel it is good for me to keep track of where I’ve been and where I’m going. But then, I get lost easily.
In conclusion, I would like to take a moment to thank you, the readers, who grant me the privilege of spending time with you every weekend. We’ve shared laughter and tears, wonder, and confusion; just like family. I have no idea what the future holds, but I will look forward to the new year with a quizzical mind and unabashed affection for each and every one of you. Our time together may be brief, but the memories will last a lifetime.
Happy New Year