Feliz Navidat! A Moving Christmas Experience.

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
Trip End Dec 31, 2018

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Where I stayed
Tonito Hotel Uyuni
Read my review - 5/5 stars

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Feliz Navidat! Feliz Navidat!

Can you beat Antarctica? We did today, in humble little Uyuni, Bolivia on Christmas Day.  

As a group of 11 privileged Western travellers, we filed into a little whitewashed building , with squeaky wooden floors carrying 30 brightly coloured backpacks and our own Santa in tow.  In front of us was a Nativity scene and home made Christmas decorations. Santa (aka Lance from Australia) sat out the front and we spread ourselves out around on little wooden forms along the sides of the room. Suddenly the sound of 30 happy children could be heard and the first tentative, shy faces peered around the door.

Feliz Navidat!!  The children called as they came in and their eyes bulged as they saw Santa and then focused on the pile of brand new backpacks next to Santa. The children filled up the empty spaces next to us all and looked with anticipation and wonder as the head of the orphanage made a speech.  The gist of this which was interpreted for us by Sussy and Chris the owners of the Tonito Hotel, where we were staying, was that this Christmas, the presents were the result of the wonderful generosity of a couple of English travellers (Bart & Penny) who came to Uyuni  two years ago and visited the orphanage. When they got married recently, they asked their wedding guests to donate to the orphanage instead of giving gifts. The result was that today, we were most exceptionally privileged, to be on hand to see the children receive special Christmas gifts. The orphanage head told us he was very proud of his children's achievements and that four children from the orphanage had finished high school and were going onto further studies. He was also proud to say that all the children were studying English.

We are not ashamed to say that we are both still "tearing up" over the experience we have had today. This was certainly enough to make any grown ups cry. Our fellow travellers were on a Kamuka tour led by Fiona who, we by chance met up with in Mendoza Argentina. Fiona said she would love us to catch up at Christmas so we changed our plans accordingly. So glad we did!

Next to me sat a shy little boy of about 11 years. After coaxing, he whispered his name was Luis and he asked my name. He stroked my arm and looked at me in wonder, as first the littlest toddler girls were called up to see Santa. Each age group and sex were called up to receive their backpack, which were filled with practical items and some fun things as well. This was all wonderfully co-ordinated by Chris and Sussy from Tonita Hotel. All our fellow travellers took children under their wing and gave them Christmas hats, bracelets and lots of hugs. The hugs were what the children seemed to really want. We conversed in the little Spanish we had or the English they had learned. I gave Luis a necklace that had been given to us by our lovely hostel owners in Easter Island, made of shells. Avan told him it was for good luck. His solemn little face broke into a smile. We teared up again.

The children all filed outside to have their photo taken with a big banner to thank the benefactors, then some of the older pre-teen girls said they would dance for us. They started a folk dance and then began getting us Westerners up to dance with them. I was happy for the younger girls from the tour to be a part of this, but Luis took my hand and wasn’t going to let me get away with not dancing! What a wonderful  uplifting experience to do a Bolivian folk dance with happy orphans on Christmas Day!

Some of the Kumaka girls let the children take photos with their cameras. It was such an exciting experience for the children to take their photos then review the digital image. There was so much happy laughter and chatter.

Puffed out from dancing, Luis and I sat down and continued our rapport. I showed him a map I had of Australia and one of Bolivia where he pointed to Uyuni where he lived. Avan gave him one of our travel cards with our photo and he clutched it to his chest as a treasured possession. He recognized that on the card was an email address and he said through gestures and words that the orphanage has a computer.

It was time to go and have our wonderful Christmas lunch back at the Tonito Hotel. We all felt reluctant to let go of the moment but the Kumaka tour had a bus to catch at 2pm to their next destination and we had one to catch at 8pm to La Paz. We said our goodbyes to the children with lots more cuddles. I gave away my sun hat and Avan found some lollipops in his camera bag to give away that he had been saving for a moment such as this. Luis looked up and me and said “Uno Momento”. He went to his bed in his dormitory and came back with a key and presented it to me as a gift. I can only imagine that one day he found this key and it has been a valuable keepsake since. Now he was giving it to me.

Lance, our Santa, cheerfully greeted all the children in the streets on the way back to the hotel and horns tooted as Bolivians took in the bizarre spectacle of Santa and 12 Westerners calling out Feliz Navidat!!    

We arrived back at the hotel, a group of emotionally charged Westerners, forever changed by our unique 2010 Christmas experience.  

Later a huge electrical storm commenced and rain and hail bucketed down. As it got closer to the time we needed to catch the bus we were getting a bit worried. To our delight Chris and Sussy owners of the Tonito hotel would not hear of us trying to get to the bus station in such a storm and drove us to the station for our overnight bus to La Paz. True Christmas spirit - thanks Chris and Sussy!

As a footnote, if anyone would like to assist the Aurora Orphanage in Uyuni to help keep this very worthwhile Christmas tradition, please contact Chris or Sussy Sarage of the Tonita Hotel email tonitatours@yahoo.com - together we can make a difference.

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