It occurred spontaneously without any of the pressure that normally accompanies the buildup to and carrying out of the holiday season. And it happened in the most unlikely of places – a youth hostel in what was formerly the most violent city in the world – Medellin,Colombia.
I’ve blogged previously about my do-over in Palenque and the non-ending of the world celebration in Guatemala. Also the joyful five day Festival de Blancos y Negros in Colombia. Somewhere on that trip between confirming that the world was going to keep spinning in Lake Atitlan and getting covered with espuma in Pasto, Christmas Eve and Day loomed on the calendar. And my peregrine son, Zach had joined me in Guatemala to launch his own three month backpacking trip through Central and South America. We needed a place to land for Christmas enroute to southern Colombia.
Medellin, Colombia had been recently featured in travel publications as an up and coming place to visit and live. Formerly the 1980’s stronghold of Pablo Escobar, the head of the brutal Colombian drug cartel, Medellin had rebooted itself after the death of Escobar with a new reputation as a haven for expats and tourists. The city also knows how to celebrate the holiday season with an extravagant multi-million dollar show of holiday lights all over the city and along the Medellin River so we’d have something festive to do when the city closed down while families gathered for two days. I booked The Wandering Paisa, a hostel that sounded promising because its owners were two brothers from Seattle. It had a tiny private room with bathroom for me and a dorm for Zach allowing us to have our own age-appropriate hostel experience. I could retreat to my room with a book or sight see on my own while he hung out with the younger dorm crowd.
We arrived late on the evening of December 23rd and after dumping our backpacks, I checked out the hostel. Clearly and by a significant margin, I was the oldest guest. The group on the couch made space for me to watch Game of Thrones which they’d been binge watching all day and I’d never heard of. Someone asked if I wanted a beer and because I was sure there was no pinot grigio or pouilley fume to be had in the hostel’s tiny bar, I nursed the beer through two episodes of grisly deaths and a back story that everyone but me knew. I started feeling sorry for myself. It was Christmas and I longed for a tree, Its A Wonderful Life, caroling and hot buttered rum. Before Zach left to go bar-hopping with the hostel crowd, I told him I was going to move into a nearby hotel (one with a Christmas tree) the next day. We could meet for Christmas Eve dinner and to exchange gifts and anything else where he wanted to join me.
Late the next morning when the first of the late night crowd wandered into the kitchen, he informed me they’d discussed my plan to move at the bar the night before and decided it couldn’t happen. It was Christmas. They were young international travelers – all away from home. They needed a Christmas Mom. He promised I didn’t have to do anything; they’d do all the cooking for the Christmas feast. The Hostel Christmas Mom. Who could resist that?
On Christmas Eve Day I bought wine and table decorations. That night, all of us piled into taxis and went to the Medellin River to walk through the lights. On Christmas Day while a crew of them worked in the kitchen, I gathered mismatched tables and chairs from all over the building and decorated our makeshift long table. The Hostel Christmas Mom wasn’t about to be a slacker when it came to mothering on Christmas Day.
Everyone dressed in their cleanest, least wrinkled clothes for dinner – a non-traditional assortment of wonderful food washed down with copious amounts of wine. There were plenty of exchanged travel stories and jokes and good-natured teasing. There were multiple languages. There were toasts to the people who would be leaving the next day to travel onward and there were plans hatched by those staying on for things to do over the next few days – all with insisted invites for me to join them. No solo sight-seeing or book reading for me. It was lovely. It was a Christmas to remember. It still ranks as one of my top three Christmases. After dinner everyone left to head for the bars while I crawled into bed. The next morning I stumbled into the kitchen to make coffee and couldn’t find the coffeepot among the piles of dirty dishes. And so, while my hostel children slept, I filled up the sink with hot water and began doing dishes. Because, I was, after all, The Hostel Christmas Mom.