The main event of the day was a birthday party for Janette’s 14-year-old niece and 11-year-old nephew, who celebrate birthdays only a few days apart. It was more like an extended family reunion at her sister’s house, down the valley from Quito. It was such a pleasant time, and I was so grateful for how everyone included me in a very intimate gathering. Janette introduced me as her “hija” or daughter to everyone present. I wish I could recount everyone’s name and relation, but unfortunately most of it escaped me. There were six or seven young cousins running around, and two my age – Diana and another girl who seemed a bit older. Then, there were four couples to whom the young kids mostly belonged, and then a bit of an age gap to my Mom, her sister, and another grandmotherly figure.
The neighborhood where we were for the afternoon was very beautiful. It was in a more rural area, gated at the entrance and again for each house, with high concrete fences surrounding the spacious grounds. Shards of glass were embedded along the top of the walls – a sign that, despite the well-off appearance of the neighborhood, this was still a city in a developing country with enough crime to make two gates necessary, apparently. Once inside, however, the compound was stunning. The main house was a rambling hacienda-style building, with whitewashed stucco walls and dark wood beams topped by red tiles. Flowers and outbuildings dotted the yard and garden, including an aviary of parakeets. Even though the house was outfitted with modern appliances, the rustic feel gave the impression that it must be decades old.
And the food! We started with “choclo” or corn, served roasted on a stick with shredded cheese and butter. Absolutely delicious. With lunch, there was some kind of sausage (chicken, I think) with soft, white French-style bread (but without the hard crust), fresh cheese, and a spicy salsa. I gathered that these were all meant to be eaten together. Janette’s brother then served thick slices of beef tenderloin and roast chicken, and we passed various other dishes around the table.
After lunch, the adults sat outside on the lawn talking while the kids amused themselves, mostly with the four-wheeler or “cuadro” – yes, I accepted a ride from the birthday girl, and yes, I almost died. The family also had a few dogs, including the CUTEST pug, reminiscent of Franny’s “Betty la Fea”. Later, around 5 o’clock, we gathered to sing Happy Birthday (first in English, strangely enough, followed by the Spanish version I was familiar with from grade school). There were two delicious, homemade gooey chocolate cakes, one for each child, and – I guess this is a tradition here – at the conclusion of making a wish and blowing out the candles, each child went to take a small bite of the cake only to have their siblings and cousins push their faces into the cake!
We left soon after the cake. So far, no headaches from the altitude, but I am incredibly tired. I’m not sure what we’re doing tomorrow yet. I know I have to get my visa registered, but Janette mentioned something about taking tomorrow to rest – sounds good to me!