My Cusquanian friends & myself had organized a "Chocolatada" to bring Christmas to a remote village high in the mountains above Cusco, & being the largest I was deemed the best Santa! The villages don’t have much money, as they mostly survive off their land, so Christmas is a bit of a non-event, which is all rather sad for the children of course.
The word chocolatada is name for the whole event of helping out the poor kids at christmas, & is peruvian Tradition, that I was keen to get involved with.
We had all chipped in to buy milk, chocolate, biscocho’s (sweet bread with fruit, like a mini paneton) sweets & toys for about 100 kids, & this took quite some time to organize into goodie bags for boys & girls.
We set off in two cars, up, up & up some more into the mountains behind Cusco. After we could go no higher at somewhere round 4,400m the road finished, but we continued on the remaining very poor dirt track. There was a lot of mud making the wheels slip & there was a rather large drop off into…..well I don’t know where as I could not see the bottom. Best not to look!
After about 40 mins a small flat-ish piece of land with about 7-8 houses came into view – Huancabamba!
Gathered round the side of the schoolhouse was a handful of kids & family not doing much. All that was about to change!
The two cars turned up & emptied all out goodies, taking over a small adobe building next door, to prepare the hot chocolate.
I pulled on my white beard & kicked into character with a Ho Ho Ho, turned up the Christmas carols on the music box & started setting up a Christmas tree outside the school.
Within a few seconds there was quite a gathering with kids arriving from all directions & I soon delegated decorating the tree to my eager new mini-helpers. It was quite sad though, as I had to explain what to do. Obviously they had not ever seen a Christmas tree before.
I had bought along some secret weapons too, & they proved to be a great hit – 100 long balloons.
I didn’t really know how to make decent shapes, but soon learnt as the pressure was on with more and more kids arriving by the second. Hats were easy, but as for animals - well the first few were so poor that I got the kids to try a guessing game, trying to work out what I had just made, oh dear.
After about the 10th one I could make a Perro – yes finally an animal shape - a dog!
That then stirred things up for Santa, as of course straight away there was more requests “Can I have a Llama please Santa”
“Errr OK….Sure!” said a worried looking Santa.
Strangely, they all turned out just like a dog, but with a longer neck - Ho ho ho.
The rest of the gang were busy preparing the Hot Chocolate in the old house. A small fire was soon going, & judging by the black on the roof & walls we were not the first to build a fire in here either.
We bought we had got everything we needed, the milk, chocolate – oh yes, big solid bars of the stuff. We ended up grating the chocolate bars with a pocketknife, but it worked well enough & soon a few gallons of the stuff were brewing away on the fire.
After dishing ut the drinks & sticky buns, it was time Papa Noel got out his huge sack of goodies, so the rest of the gang organized all the kids, boys on one side & girls the other.
Alternating girl-boy, everyone got a present & all wanted a large hug from the Santa Claus – Awwww.
Then came the news that there was one more child to visit, hiding up in the house on the other side of the road. Well not to worry Santa would visit her too of course.
This turned out to be quite an emotional side trip, & something I will never forget, as here was a 26-year-old girl, with just one arm, no legs & learning disabilities. She could not move, so had simple lain in that bed ALL her life, next to the guinea pigs & sheep – Wow!
I will never, ever forget her surprised face as I walked in …….. she actually squealed with delight.
It was simply the best thing that had ever happened for her, as she had not been anywhere, & suddenly here was Papa Noel, who had come to see her.
As all she wanted was to have lots of hugs from Santa, who was having trouble hiding his tears & was glad of the big fluffy beard.
She loved her new doll & her mum helped her eat the cake, but she was more interested in the fact that Santa was in her house.
This is what the season of goodwill is all about!
I am sure many of us give a little something to charities, especially around Christmas, but I would guess that most westerners simply pop some cash in a collecting tin somewhere, & never see where or what is actually does.
Peru has opened my eyes, & this event made all of us feel very happy in our efforts, a job well done!
I, for one, cannot wait until next Christmas, to get the big red suit out again.