In Caibarien, our room at SeÃ±ora Virginia’s casa is occupied. She arranged for us to stay at her friend SeÃ±or Eladio’s house until the lone Italian tenant leaves Christmas day. SeÃ±ora Virginia’s husband, SeÃ±or Osmany, reminded us that we should consider eating inside the casas for the rest of our stay in Caibarien because the holidays are the only time the town is mobbed by tourists.
Eating home-cooked meals in Caibarien was an easy request for us to fulfill: the town doesn’t have much to show for except for horse carriages. We asked SeÃ±or Eladio for chicken for dinner because it was the simplest meal to prepare. But when it was time to eat, we were also served pork and shrimps. He told us that it is tradition to eat a feast on Christmas Eve. We are grateful each time we are shown hospitality and abundance at meal times.
Remedios, the next town over, is famous for its parrandas, festivals that go all night and into the dawn. We arranged for a cab to drive us there to witness the two sections of the town “compete” for the honor of having the best light show. The two districts, Carmen and San Salvador, prepare long in advance, and in secret, build tall towers of lights and fireworks with a different theme each year. Tonight we saw Indonesian gods and Egyptian-style temples erected on giant static floats situated in each corner of the town plaza. We bought a couple of beers inside the El Louvre bar and people watch in the main square. We even bought a “champagne” bottle for US$2.40 to celebrate!
We read that the event originated when a local priest told the children to wake the residents up for midnight mass by making noise. It soon became a tradition. We sat in on the mass, which continued even though the noise from the festivities outside and of people milling about inside made it impossible to hear any part of the service. Imagine trying to listen to the priest while the person next to you has his video camera on recording every detail of the light show outside. Imagine trying to hear the prayers while vendors continued to walk around selling souvenirs. We decided to leave in the middle of the sermon as soon as churchgoers started running out to witness the fireworks show, all while the priest was delivering his homily. We stepped out to find several men relieving themselves on the church walls from all the beer they have been drinking since the afternoon.
Our driver was waiting for us. He drove us home while he listened to us, amused as we describe the whole party as loco, crazy. It’s officially December 25th and I’m a year older, but it’s also time to sleep so that we can wake up in a couple of hours and celebrate Christmas on the beach.
We awake to the jingle that I will most often repeat and use to annoy the boy throughout the rest of the trip: Calieeente! El paaan! The bread man was doing his early rounds and he was loudly selling his hot bread just like the balut men of the Philippines. I drink my coffee on the balcony and watch the cookie man pass by with his Styrofoam box full of freshly-baked cookies (Koooki! Koooki! Koooki!). The ice man unloaded his melting goods from his horse carriage (Hielo! Hielo! Hielo!).
We say good-bye to SeÃ±or Eladio and move back to SeÃ±ora Virginia’s a few blocks away. We settle in and unpack our belongings. For the first time since our Belize trip a few months ago, I pack a day bag containing our bathing suits, beach blankets and towels. I prepare our reading books and my compact Scrabble, ready to spend six hours on the beach.