Many members of the Latin community have been attending this function for years, as it's a great way for the community and their friends to mix, chat, dance and generally have some good old Latin American fun! Alex and I had never been before. We had been invited by our dear friend Linda, who I believe is the voice of Latin America in Melbourne, and I have thus dubbed her Ms Latin America Melbourne. If you want any information on any Latin American event in Melbourne, Linda will either tell you first, or she will certainly find out about it. Needless to say, being first timers, Alex and I were really looking forward to it. Linda, who has been going for some 20 years, organised a group of us and we were all to set up camp in a designated area on Freddy's property. I was really looking forward to it. I'm a bit like that with anything new. It's the thrill of trying something different and experiencing something new!
Over the last 10 months or so, I have made some amazing new friends, either Latinos or people who have some kind of Latino connection. It all began at Ivan's birthday party mid last year really. Ivan is Peruvian, and it was there that I met Linda, and through Linda, Karen and her Ecuadorian husband Jesus (who are now in Ecuador; take a look at their blog, http://www.llamasbailando.blogspot.com/). It was also through Linda that I met Kirrily. Linda is a match-maker, but not of the romantic kind. She seems to have this amazing ability to be able to connect the right people at the right time. Coincidence or synchronicity? I have no doubt that meeting Linda was no mere coincidence and it has opened up another wonderful chapter in my life!
Kirrily and Linda would be driving up in her car, and Alex and I in mine. It had been a crazy week at work, and I had been too exhausted to pack the night before, so (as usual, my Dad would say) I packed at the last minute, getting up early on Good Friday to do so. Linda and Kirrily arrived at around 10.00am, as we were still madly packing, organising and stuffing. After a quick breakfast and some espresso thrown into a thermal flask, we were off...to the tune of my Dad shaking his head and saying, "You should have left earlier!". He was probably right, but yeh, whatever. The drive up was pleasant enough, even if we were stuck in traffic for the best part of the first hour. We wanted to get out of Melbourne, but guess what....so did half of Melbourne! We made a few stops, had some snacks, drank some (bad!) but free coffee at one of those roadside stops which plead you to take a break and stay alive. OK, OK, it wasn't meant to be gourmet coffee, and the intention of using caffeine to keep you awake wasn't a bad one! Time seemed to roll pleasantly by, and in no time at all we were in Glenrowan, being greeted by the big looming statue of Ned Kelly, who is almost (I said almost!) as popular as he is! We gave him a wave and kept going, as Freddy's property was actually another fifteen minutes or so out of the township.
The rollicking hills behind the township were beautiful, in true Australian country form. I wound down the windows and drew back some of that fresh and unpolluted air. In many ways, we are still the lucky country! We probably rocked up at around 3.00pm, by which time many other campers had already set up, or were in the process of doing so. It was great to see everyone banding together and helping each other out. No cabins here! This was strictly a camping-style set up......big tents, small tents, caravans, marquees.......if the Hilton was your requirement, this certainly was not the place for you! We met Freddy almost immediately, as he was driving around a tractor giving several of the young kids a ride. This all looked like it was going to be fun. I wound down my window and introduced myself.....as you do!
We arrived at our "spot" to find Yoni there first. He was already "set up" as he sleeps in his van. Yoni hails from Peru, and is an amazing jeweller, creating all of his own pieces. They are all made with passion, and are centred around the Pre-Colombian and Inca culture (which as most of you would now by now, holds a very special place in my heart). Each piece is individual, and in fact that is exactly what the name of his business Juklla means. Take a look at his fabulous web site, http://juklla.com/.
In no time at all, we had set up our camp site. No sooner had we finished than the others started rolling in. Our international campsite consisted (apart from Alex, Linda, Kirrily, Yoni and I) of Rosa (from Spain) and baby Indira; Raquel (Bolivia), her husband Bodhi (English but of Sri Lankan extraction) and their children Dylan and Naomi; Matt and Mae (Malaysia) and gorgeous baby Freya. Camped up just behind us were the Elsburys with their beautiful adopted daughter Olivia, who was born in Bolivia.......Olivia from Bolivia! It was a veritable United Nations! Parked not too far from us were Carlos and Nury (Peru) and their beautiful girls, Belinda and Rebecca. Naldo too, who is Carlos' uncle, but looks more like his brother. Staying with them was Tomoko from Japan. Another fun bunch of people...actually Carlos, you are a pisser! You had me in fits of laughter for a lot of the weekend. C'mon, bring the party on!
Freddy and Ada had a great set up, including an undercover area where people could sit and eat, a stage and an area to dance. They had also organised several bands to play over the long weekend, including Inka Marka (which Linda manages), Los Inkas (from Sydney) and possibly Bolivia's most famous singer, Luis Rico. Here in Australia on tour Luis Rico made the effort to come out all the way to Glenrowan. His music was forged during the tumultuous periods of the 60s and 70s under various military coup d’etats and dictatorships in Bolivia. He was definitely a crowd pleaser! Throw in some salsa and some traditional Bolivian dancers (Bolivia Mia, based in Sydney) and folk music, and they had people moving to various grooves over the duration of the entire long weekend.
On the first night, I boogied my butt off...well, salsa-ed my butt off! When I wasn't dancing with Alex it was with Naldo (originally from Peru, and another friend via Linda). We seriously danced for hours. I also attempted to follow Andy Jaregui (originally from Bolivia) and now residing in Canberra, of Los Chavos, dance to some traditional Bolivian music. He is a truly amazing dancer! It was loads of fun but much harder than I thought. I did however manage to keep up with him. I never cease to amaze myself sometimes, as I look back and say, "Did I REALLY dance for that long?"...the answer is usually yes!
I want to add that all of the above mentioned groups, individuals and dancers are accomplished both Australia - wide as well as internationally. Please take the time to take a look at their web sites or links.
On the Saturday morning a small group of us went to Beechworth, for the Easter Golden Horseshoes Fesival. It was nice to get out and stroll around. There were lots of crafty type stalls and the usual food, food and more food. It was a nice excursion. Later that night, there was more dancing back at the ranch, so to speak. Now, did I mention that Matt is a chef? Well, he is, and boy can he cook! He was whipping up some pretty spectacular plates with......whatever was available, really. Sunday was a lazy and laid back day, where all Matt seemed to do was cook....and all we seemed to do was eat. Not sure how exciting this all was for you Matt, but we were all stoked! Whilst some people started to leave on the Sunday, others such as ourselves, stayed around until Monday. You know what they say...when you are on to a good thing, stick to it!
Dancing, eating, campfires, chatting, making new friends...it was all so much fun! But you know what else they say......all good things must come to an end. The time had come...to pack up and say our goodbyes! Last but not least, we went to say goodbye to Freddy, Ada and Chaska, and thanked them for a brilliant 4 days. We will definitely be back! It was mid-afternoon by the time we took off, and before we knew it, we were home.
Next week we would be having our wonderful friends Yuji and Yuko visiting us from Japan, and in May we are off to New York and Ecuador to see Alex's family. I repeat, life really is good....we have nothing to complain about!
Dedication: To my "new" friend Linda. Although I have not known you for quite a year Linda, you have been the catalyst for me meeting so many more amazing people. You are a wonderful, bright, intelligent and fun loving person, and I feel proud and honoured to have you in my
life.....as does Alex! Thanks for being you...it's the very reason I love you! Don't change for anyone, except for yourself! I see us being "partners in crime" for a very long time to come!
"Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better." - King Whitney Jr.
Note: Jesus (Ecuador) and Karen usually come camping, but this year they did not, as they are currently in travelling in South America. I thought I would pay them homage by putting up a photo of them the night before they flew to Ecuador in February (I miss you heaps guys!!!).
(Photos: 1.- Ombi and Chaska at Latin Camping. 2.-Linda! 3.-L to R: Ombi, Kirrily and Linda at the camp site. 4.- The beautiful countryside around Glenrowan. 5.- The camp site by night. 6.- Yoni and Cesar at the camp site. 7.-The flags of the Latino United Nations. 8.- Ombi and Carlos having a boogie. 9.-Olivia Newton John and John Travolta move over....make way for Carlos and Ombi! 10.- The girls and the iron chef. L to R: Kirrily, Ombi, Linda and Matt. 11.- Matt making donuts....delish!!! 12.- Saying goodbye. The gang from L to R: Ombi, Carlos, Nury, Raquel, Alex, Linda, Mae, Matt, Tomoko and ? 13.- More goodbyes. L to R: Ada, Freddy, Alex, Linda, Leilina and Raquel. 14.- Karen and Jesus' last night in Australia. L to R: Ombi, Jesus, Karen and Linda)