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Tripbase Travel Reviews

Cotacachi Intercultural Indigenous/Expat Christmas Celebration

by Gary Phillips

(Photos in this story are from previous years when Linda, Gary, Ed and Joanne visited an indigenous village at Christmas time)

You are invited to help bring joy to an indigenous child’s Christmas with your donation to our yearly Cotacachi Indigenous/Expat Intercultural Christmas Party.

Christmas in one of the comunities

In 2009 local leaders met for months with me and Linda to discuss ways to improve intercultural relationships between the growing expat population and the indigenous communities. They were most enthusiastic about the idea for an intercultural fiesta.  The locals love to party and awaited this event with much excitement.

The First Intercultural Indigenous/Expat Christmas Celebration took place on Saturday, December 19th, 2009.   We celebrated the life we all share with fun, good food, more fun, music and dancing.

Animal Cracker/Candy Traditions

Typical gift-giving, with months of shopping for lots of gifts, is not normally practiced in the indigenous communities at Christmas.  But the children have come to expect one small gift—a little plastic bag tied with ribbon and filled with animal crackers, hard candy, and if they’re lucky, a chocolate bar.   The reason for this is simple: Most indigenous parents don’t have the financial resources to do more. 

Gary giving a Christmas bag to little boy

For a child to go without this bag of animal crackers would be like an American child not having Santa arrive with his bag full of toys.  So we expats played Santa and brought a bit of joy to a large number of children.  In return, the indigenous communities gifted the expats with a day of entertainment by the children and a feast of local foods. 

In each of four villages, El Batan, Asaya, Cercado, and San Pedro, the children of the villages performed cultural dances, sang songs and gifted us with enough smiles to warm our hearts for the rest of the year. 

When we reached San Pedro, our final stop, the villagers served a traditional meal which included a taste of a specialty that is only served to honored guests.  That is the highly-esteemed cuy, know to us as guinea pig.

Tour Details

We filled Christmas bags for over 1000 children in four villages.  This was no small task. Volunteers showed up at the Eagle and Condor office on Calle Bolivar right next to the cultural center for two days prior to the event. 

It took about 15 of us most of both days to complete the measuring of candy and cookies, stuffing of bags, and then tying them up with ribbon. Then we had to count them and pack them for the trip. 

Our tour to one of Cotacachi's indiginous communities

Then, at 8:45 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 19, we boarded the Santa Express, a bus that took us over the river and through the woods to the indigenous villages. Leading the way was a pickup truck, volunteered by one of the communities, carrying all the goodies and a bona fide real-life Santa Claus, or as they say in Spanish, Papa Noel.

Fortunately, local expat Robert Baker volunteered to be the fully-costumed Santa Claus for the children.

We ask for a donation of at least $45 per couple and $30 per individual to cover expenses.  More is also very much appreciated! Any donation is gratefully accepted, even if you are unable to attend. 

The local Cotacachi indigenous organization UNORCAC, also asked us to solicit the expat community to provide food baskets (rice, sugar, oil, salt, plus a candy bag for each) for 150 indigenous women from 45 communities.

These are very deserving and dedicated women who freely volunteer their time during the year as birth mothers, community leaders, teachers of traditional cultural techniques and other volunteer activities.    

Any costs not covered is subsidized by Eagle and Condor Internacional and by Rio Tuctara Investverde, S.A., our partner company.

Donation Opportunities

Any left over money from the Christmas party is donated to the UNORCAC high school scholarship fund.

I am going to write more about this fund in a later blog, but in a nutshell, here are some facts.  Only 30% of indigenous sixth grade graduates go on to high school, and of those 30%, a very small percentage actually finish.  Less than .02% goes on to a university.  The reason for such dismal statistics:  lack of economic means.

The good news: for only $16 per month, or $192 per year, the three-year-old scholarship program will send a deserving child on to high school.  The student’s parents will furnish the remaining $100 needed to cover expenses.  Just think about it:  only $300 per year stands in the way of a child's further education and his or her chance to rise from poverty into a life of greater opportunity and success.

If you want to make a contribution, please send a Pay Pal payment to  If you don’t use Pay Pal, write to me and I will give you instructions on how to donate.  Any amount, large or small, is a great help and can be combined with other donations until we have enough for another scholarship.

Last year, all expenses were generously covered by donations to the Christmas party, so Eagle and Condor Internacional and Rio Tuctara Invest Verde each made donations of $192 to send a student to high school.

If you only want to donate to the high school scholarship program, that’s okay too.  Just let us know.  We, and the children, really appreciate your support.  And your donation will go far in showing the mayor, local government and local population that we expats are here to be part of their community.

 Pictures of Previous Events

Ed and Joanne Rogers and Linda and I have provided Christmas bags for kids in outlying indigenous villages for two previous years. You can look at a photo album of our previous trips.

Christmasbags for the children in one of Cotacachi's communities

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