Santa Claus Found Me

CHACHAPOYAS, PERU — I arrived in Chachapoyas on Christmas Eve, following two brutal days of travel through the boondocks of Ecuador and Peru. (Read about it here.) Exhausted beyond belief and not knowing anyone in town, I was fully prepared for a lonely Christmas highlighted by an early night's sleep. But somehow the spirit of Christmas wasn't going to let me off the hook that easily, and everything turned out merry and bright.

This was going to be my Christmas dinner - a Panetón purchased at the store.

As soon as I arrived in town I checked into the Hostel Revash, a family-run hostel across the street from the Plaza de Armas. An hour later as I walked through the lobby I was stopped by the owner, a genial man named Carlos.

"I noticed you arrived alone tonight. Do you have plans for Christmas eve?" he inquired.

Conceding that I didn't, Carlos extended an invitation that I wasn't expecting.

"I hate to see anyone spend Christmas alone. I would be honored if you would join my family for our traditional Christmas dinner tonight," he said.

I was caught off guard; I wasn't expecting to be invited to Christmas dinner by a total stranger. Gathering my thoughts I quickly accepted. Carlos responded with a large smile.

Shortly before midnight there was a knock on my door. Carlos, smile still on his face, led me toward the back of the building where his family lived. I found myself in large room with a table decked out in full holiday cheer, a blazing fire in the fireplace, and Carlos's immediate and extended family there to greet me. Carlos explained that his family had owned the building for over 150 years, and it was tradition to have important gatherings in this room.

Over a steaming hot dinner of turkey, scrumptious vegetables, fresh bread, and abundant champagne, Carlos and his family made me feel like one of their own for the evening. Following dinner the entire party moved to the fireplace where Carlos had another surprise in store. Pulling out a guitar, he proceeded to play folksongs while the rest of us drank wine and did our best to sing along for the next several hours. By three or four in the morning we finally gave in and returned to our respective homes.

A blurry photo of an after-dinner toast.

It was a small gesture that Carlos made, but his unexpected hospitality really brightened my Christmas. For one evening I really felt like I had a family right here in Chachapoyas, Peru. My Mom and Dad sent me an email on Christmas Day asking if Santa Claus found me this year. Yes, he found me. Except instead of a read suit and a bag full of toys, he sported a sweater and a guitar!

Merry Christmas, everyone!