Sometimes you can’t even plan out the coolest things, because you don’t know what they are until they sort of just happen to you. It was one of those birthdays.
We had been canyoning in Baños on Saturday, and my birthday was Sunday. Remember I said our guides were a married couple? And we all know how friendly Ecuadorians can be. Well, for some reason, this couple took a liking to us, and at the end of our canyoning day, they asked us what we were doing the next day. It went something like this:
“Do you have plans tomorrow?”
“We want to go white-water rafting.”
“What are you doing in the afternoon?”
Us, now all guarded like typical Americans, “White-water rafting.”
“And after that? Do you have plans?”
Elliott had long forgotten my birthday or would he have said we were busy right away, but I was curious. “We don’t know… after rafting, we don’t have any set plans yet.”
“We would like to invite you to have dinner at our house, to meet our family, and to meet our son… we think you will like him. We would like very much for you to come and join us.”
This conversation followed no particular or personal interactions whatsoever – just our canyoning guides giving us typical canyoning instructions and us following them and being friendly and saying we were scared and having fun. Kind of unbelievable, right? But in a good way, if you let it be. We jumped at the chance, and when Elliott had a minor panic attack upon remembering my birthday a half hour later, I assured him that for this lover of new experiences, dinner at the house of new local Ecuadorian friends would be just perfect. We could always go out another night.
Fast-forward 24 hours: we arrived an hour later than expected (as our rafting trip ran late), and our new friends’ first words were, “Wow, you are so punctual!” We smiled at one another and said nothing as this is what to expect when an Ecuadorian invites you to a timed event. In fact, we have been told it is rude to arrive on-time for a party in Ecuador – you must arrive at least one half hour late to be polite.
Within five minutes we had met the two-year-old son, the sister and nephew, and been told we were going to someone else’s house for, of all things, a birthday party! It was their friend’s birthday and his wife was throwing him a surprise party. We walked over together and Elliott mentioned to our friend that it was also my birthday, but she seemed unfazed. We didn’t mention it to our hostess, as we weren’t sure if it might be rude to infringe on someone else’s birthday by making them share the celebration with me.
The evening was fun, and we got to participate in everything from food and decoration set-up to the actual surprise to local customs and games. There was a table with many snack foods in the middle of the room, and after the surprise, a short speech from the birthday boy and some photos, everyone dug into the food and it was all eaten at one time.
Then the cake came out and we learned that the tradition is for the birthday person to “smell” their cake, and while they are doing so, someone else pushes their face into the cake! (We didn’t quite get what they wanted us to do, so finally his wife bopped him on the head and his face went in the cake as expected.)
There was some dancing and then we played three or four games in Spanish, which was a real treat for us as we had never learned any local games before. (Then again the wife was from Spain so who knows if they are games from Spain or Ecuador?) The other guests found our lack of knowledge to be even funnier than the games themselves. There was karaoke in which we were encouraged to participate… but then there was that whole we-don’t-know-any-Spanish-songs obstacle:)
At the end of the night as people left, Elliott mentioned to our hostess that it was my birthday too. Suddenly there was a frenzy as she asked us how we could have withheld this information, and said it was custom to celebrate together if I had a birthday as well. And a few minutes later someone brought out the center piece of the cake, with a new birthday candle on it, and everyone sang to me and I had to blow out the candle. (Not sure if I was supposed to make a wish but I did just in case!) And by the time I had forgotten all about the new-to-us tradition, so when our hostess said to smell my cake, I did without even thinking… and I got the cake-smashing:) It was a proper Ecuadorian birthday.