An Overlander Christmas

After finally leaving our beautiful river spot, Lee was in charge of the drive north. I was busy dying in the passenger seat from the rather horrid virus I had got. We decided to stay at a jungle lodge that that was right on the edge of the Amazon, to the east of the village of Tena. I love the jungle and despite feeling disgusting I was excited to visit again. Hopefully this time we could do some trips down the huge river that we now drove along next too.

Arriving at the lodge in the mid-afternoon heat, we were greeted by their enormous dog and offered to park up outside. We met one of the owners, a German lady, and enquired about their tours. We knew our friends had taken the boat down the river to Amazoonico, a centre for the local animals, which they recommended to us. Then we found out that they wanted $50 a person to go. The centre is around 2km away and cost $5 to enter and there was no way we could justify paying that amount of money just for a short boat ride. We also read several reviews on other tour agencies saying how the tours are not worth the money and we decided that, in all honesty, with Christmas coming, we would rather save our cash for some fancy cheese!

The lodge too, was somewhat of a let down. We were looking forward to getting some internet after several weeks of rather lacking wifi, but it was completely down. The pool too had clearly not been cleaned for a while and the showers didn’t work either. In the end, we wondered what we were really paying for and despite planning to spend a couple of nights here, we left after just one. Creeping down the short section of dirt road back to the tarmac and praying that Ruby would hold together long enough to get us to back to Ibarra. We felt rather justified in the fact that at the river, we had finally ordered Starlink. Times like these would seen be behind us.

There are a lot of other activities to do in the area of Tena and I was a bit gutted to just be driving off without doing anything. However, Christmas was only a few days away and not only where a lot of the local tours quite expensive, they’re probably not something to do while sick. We decided that the best thing would be to camp at Lago San Pablo, just an hour away from the finca. Here we could stay for free and do some Christmas cooking in advance of the huge pot luck that we would be attending on Christmas Eve. We were also very close to the famous market at Plaza de Ponchos where we planned to stop off for some Christmas gifts.

The drive back from Tena is a long one, but beautiful too. Despite the fact that roads here are good, the hills are still something to contend with. From our low altitude jungle camp, we climbed over 4000m in a matter of hours, before dropping down into the Quito once again.

To her credit and despite her problems, Ruby drove the whole thing without even needing to stop to let the engine cool.

In Quito, we diverted to a big supermarket on the outskirts where we stocked up on some Christmas goodies, before heading out north towards the laguna. A long day of driving, it was nearly dark by the time we left Quito and we would be completing the last section in the dark. Normally, we switch on our off roading LED’s as we reckon we would rather annoy people by shining light in their eyes than not be seen with our one dim headlight that actually works. This time though, we had left our roof rack behind and we relied on our normal terrible lights. We tailed a lorries slowly up the hill to be seen, although there is a surprising about of street lighting in this country.

Eventually, we arrived at the turn of to the laguna. Google diverted us pointlessly around through the town, probably adding on another twenty minutes of driving to what had already been around 8 hours. By the time we had parked up and popped the roof at the end of a small dead end road to the boat launch, we were so tired we didn’t even eat, falling straight into bed.

It seemed as ever, we had picked the local party spot. At least this time, rather than drunk kids we got some rather more sensible adults. They did stay and drink to 3am, but the music was at a surprisingly reasonable volume and we slept anyway, our night punctuated by small yappy dogs.

The next day, I walked to a shop to stock up on drinking water we had never refilled, before cracking on with the Christmas cooking. Lee was submersed in creating our latest video and I had a nut roast to make. I pottered around the van, trying to take it easy and not sneeze over the food I was making for everyone. No one was going to want to share this. Lee fortunately seemed to have escaped the lurgi, making him the designated driver for the foreseeable future. We were debating whether to stay here another night and hope it was quieter or move, when I saw them arranging trestle tables with paper plates and setting out cutlery through the window of the building next to us. We began to pack.

There are many free spots on the laguna and we headed around to the next decent sounding one. This was on a piece of grass wasteland by the lake. Behind us were fields of crops and the local women walked their cows and pigs through the clumps of grass on the lake shore. This was definitely not the party spot and we had no fear of being disturbed here.

We spent a few peaceful, but very cold, nights at the lake shore. We cooked our food in advance and by the time we were ready to leave on the morning of the 23rd of December we were all set. The main problem now, was one of storage. The nut roast and carrot cake not really having a proper home, balanced ominously near the cats in the back as we headed to Otavalo market on this beautiful sunny morning.

It was the perfect place to buy some gifts for the secret santa that would be happening tomorrow, as well as finally get myself the poncho I’d been wanting since Colombia. We stocked up on hippie items and got final bits from the nearby supermarket before heading to the campground at the finca where we would be stopping for over Christmas.

Just over an hour later, we rolled through the gates and were offered our original spot from the last time we were here, nearly two months ago. Ruby had made it, and now we could relax and enjoy our Christmas with what had turned out to be a large gathering of overlanders. This was going to be some pot luck!

Somehow, Christmas is not Christmas unless there’s a lot of people. Therefore, despite the fact that we hadn’t really wanted to return to the finca, we had. We arrived on the 23rd of December, ready to celebrate in European style on the 24th. I spent the remaining time cooking the last of our contribution to the shared meal we would be having that evening and by mid afternoon on Christmas Eve, people were congregating in the restaurant. Two huge trestle tables began to fill with food and we began to meet some of our fellow travellers.

The food was pretty incredible, each camper contributing something. We had a selection of salads, mains and deserts. Our nut roast was nearly all gone and the carrot cake followed suit. With people from all over the world, we had a pretty varied selection of things to try, some of which I had never tried before. A typical Colombian desert and a salad inside a tower of crepes, stuck in my mind as new foods I hadn’t seen before. We ate and we drank. For the first time in a week, I allowed myself a beer and we stayed and chatted as people slowly returned back to their vans. The whole thing was over by around midnight and it had definitely been a lovely evening and something to remember. Now that we had covered the social aspect of Christmas, we planned to do our own version tomorrow, before leaving the finca the following day.

As ever, things do not go to plan. We had bought some smoked salmon specially. Christmas day is always smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and bucks fizz. Lee woke up feeling ill though and we decided we’d save our special breakfast for New Year instead when we could both enjoy it. It seemed the nasty virus which I was just starting to shake had finally caught up with him. We ended up staying boxing day at the same spot too, before decided to move on the 27th. We would head to Laguna Cuicocha for a day or two to hike the crater lake before planning to celebrate New Year in Otavalo. Little did we know what would happen the next day, and so in blissful ignorance we said our goodbyes and drove up into the nearby mountains for a good ‘ol hike and some free camping.

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